Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 11, 2014

A note to trolls, assholes, and company

Filed under: Internet — louisproyect @ 10:30 pm

This blog is not Hyde Park. It is my living room.

It is set up to hold all comments made by first-timers in the moderation queue until I release them. I don’t mind people comparing me to Christopher Hitchens but if this is your first comment here, it will probably be deleted if you, like some moron whose first-time comment is being held, use a bogus email address. By that I mean an address that does not show up on a Google search. It is one thing to be a troll, it is another to be an anonymous troll.

I have been an asshole on other people’s blogs over the years (not so much lately–getting mellow in my old age) but you always knew it was me rather than a sock puppet. If you want to bait me, then your best shot is if you’ve used a legitimate email address with a cyber-trail even if it is associated with a bogus name. Who gives a shit, really? All I can say is that your chances of sticking around are enhanced if you have something intelligent to say about films, music, 20th century history, etc. If your whole purpose here is to play Lenin to my Kautsky, I’ll kick you the fuck out faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

Socially Relevant Film Festival 2014

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:39 pm

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 4.33.52 PM

Rated SR is the clever short name for the Socially Relevant Film Festival that will be held at the Quad Cinema in New York between March 14 and March 20. To my knowledge this is the first time such a festival has been held and based on the evidence of the six films I’ve seen, it would be very good if it became a permanent feature of New York’s rich cultural and political tapestry.

It might be obvious from my Counterpunch review of “From both sides of the Aegean” that the subject of ethnic cleansing in Turkey is very close to my heart. Despite my love of Turkish culture, I feel an even deeper connection to the people who have resisted forced assimilation.

That in essence is the subject of Hamshen Community at the Crossroads of Past and Present, a documentary directed by Lucine Sahakyan that takes us into the remote hinterlands near the Black Sea to meet Armenians who were Muslimicized and Turkified in the 16th century long before the genocide and expulsions of the 20th century. Since Turkey has historically regarded them as countrymen, they have managed to avoid the brutal treatment meted out to Christian Armenians and Kurds even though they speak an Armenian dialect that is on the decline. Even if the language disappears, it is doubtful that their traditions will as well since Hamshen identity is as powerful today as it was a half-millennium ago based on the evidence.

The film has a charmingly old-fashioned quality as the director narrates throughout the film in Armenian about all the good-hearted and lovely people she meets in a virtual travelogue. In some ways, the film transported me back to 1958 when feature films were often preceded by a 15-minute “short subject” with a title like “Along the Silk Road” or “Welcome to Wine Country”.

Although they number less than a million, the Hamshen are used to fighting above their weight. The film mentions that despite their Muslim affiliations, atheism and Marxism have also gained wide acceptance—explained perhaps by their proximity to the USSR in its infancy. Today you can see pictures of Che Guevara carried at their protest marches.

Although the film does not have a trailer, this performance by Hamshen musicians above should give you a good idea of the pleasures found in a documentary that includes lots of folk music and dance from this altogether appealing nationality. If Turkey ever found itself, it would do everything it could to preserve Hamshen ethnic identity along with that of the Kurds. That would be as much a contribution to their civilization as the Topkapi palace.

In Offside Trap, factory worker and HR manager fall in love despite class differences

Offside Trap is a German narrative film obviously very much influenced by Lauren Cantet’s 1999 Human Resources that pits a yuppie son who works in HR against his  dad who is an assembly-line worker in a  plant that is facing cuts. The son has been told by the bosses to come up with a downsizing plan whose first victim will be his dad.

In Offside Trap the HR employee put in charge of slashing jobs in the German branch of a multinational that makes washing machines does not like the idea of eliminating people who have worked there for decades but her professional pride makes it somewhat easier. But when she meets and becomes infatuated with an assembly-line worker who is determined to fight the cuts, the same kind of tension shapes the plot. Oddly enough, it evokes the 1957 Desk Set that starred Spencer Tracy as a computer expert whose plans to replace workers with machines outrages long-time employee Katherine Hepburn. Like Desk Set, Offside Trap verges on romantic comedy rather than the grimness of Human Resources. The title of the film refers to the company soccer team that is made up of men who are trying to build solidarity with workers in other factories owned by their bosses who operate out of the USA.

It is very topical, dealing with the blackmail that workers face nowadays in places such as Boeing and Volkswagen. Take cuts or else we shut you down—that’s the boss’s ultimatum. It is not surprising that a film tackling this conflict comes from Germany rather than the USA.

Coal Rush is a documentary that reminds us that corrupt and greedy energy producers can poison and kill us by dumping their waste products into water supplies other than through fracking. This is a story about Massey Energy using spent coalmines as a reservoir for slurry, the byproduct of treating coal with water and chemicals just before it is loaded into railroad cars that seeps out into the surrounding countryside.

People living in economically devastated Mingo County are enduring a virtual epidemic of cancer, serious skin diseases and organ damage from water that comes from their wells, often colored brown, foul-smelling, and impossible to drink.

The film is focused on a class-action lawsuit against Massey and interviews with the people who have suffered because of this giant corporation’s criminal behavior. It is galling to see their TV commercials throughout the documentary that—like BP’s—blather on about their commitment to Green values. The CEO of Massey is one of the nation’s biggest scumbags who would not even use water from a well on his own property because it was fouled by his slurry. Massey’s defense was that well water has never been safe to drink. In a just world, CEO Don Blankship would be put in prison for life and forced to drink the water from wells in Mingo County.

Penetrating through the policy debates about immigration heard on FOX, CNN or MSNBC, Stable Life introduces us to an undocumented Mexican husband and wife originally from the ravaged state of Puebla who work as grooms in a California race track stable and their three children. Although they are impoverished by American standards and are crowded into two rooms, they feel blessed to be on their own and doing work that gives them pleasure. The oldest son has begun racing horses and the two younger kids treat the stables like a playground while the two remaining children remain in Mexico until they can put together the funds to bring them into the USA “illegally”.

Throughout the film, La Migra remains a constant threat even though no American would dream of living in their conditions and working for such low pay. Despite the hardships, the family enjoys simple everyday pleasures like barbecues and birthday parties. The one person who should watch this film is the current occupant of the White House who has deported record numbers of “illegals”. Come to think of it, he should watch it from a cell next to Don Blankenship’s.

Ira McKinley is a well-known African-American video activist in Albany who is the subject of The Throwaways, a title that refers to how capitalist America treats people like him and those whose cause he takes up through his citizenship journalism. In many ways he is the counterpart of the people in Syria who have used Youtube to document Baathist brutality. For McKinley, it is the racist killer cops of Albany who need to be exposed.

When McKinley got out of prison in 2002 after serving 3 years for a drug violation, he found obstacles in his path everywhere to getting a job and becoming a normal functioning member of society. Determined not to go back to prison, he has cobbled together a decent existence even if a marginal one. His real ambition, however, is not to get rich but to serve as a “tribune of the people” as Lenin puts it in “What is to be Done”. He is a ubiquitous figure in Albany’s Black community using his camera to document police misbehavior.

This article from Albany’s Times-Union newspaper should give you a flavor for the kind of filmmaking made possible by digital cameras by the courage of men and women who understand the power of film to communicate themes of social relevance:

Ira McKinley, all 6 feet 4 and 270 pounds, lumbered across the hushed, carpeted vastness of the seventh floor of the State Library in baggy jean shorts, oversized T-shirt, unlaced white sneakers and L.A. Dodgers baseball cap flipped backward.

He moved past the reference desk and dropped into an upholstered swivel office chair at a cubicle in front of a computer terminal. He leaned back, charged a cellphone and started answering emails, just like he owned the place.

The State Library serves as a de facto office for the 49-year-old Air Force veteran, community activist, filmmaker, ex-convict and homeless man. He is a producer and creative force behind the documentary film “The Throwaways,” a narrative that traces McKinley’s troubled past and the larger struggle for economic and social justice in the city’s impoverished South End and beyond.

It’s an angry rant captured with handheld cameras, panning shots of abandoned buildings, closeups of clenched fists at local protests and interviews with frustrated inner-city residents and a hip-hop soundtrack. McKinley is well-read and articulate, his politics a mash-up of Malcolm X, Cornel West and Angela Davis.

“Ira got impatient with the traditional route for social change and decided to get vocal and to push back,” said Bhawin Suchak, the film’s co-director, producer, cinematographer and editor. “I hope people will be inspired by Ira’s story. He faced a lot of tough things and overcame them.”

Filmed with $10,000 raised through Kickstarter, a rough cut of “The Throwaways” was screened locally last winter. McKinley is trying to schedule showings around the state this fall in a bid to raise an additional $45,000 for post-production in the hope of landing a distributor.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, “but I don’t give up easily.”

Read full article

To be quite candid, Forward 13: Waking Up The American Dream breaks no new ground in its jeremiad against America’s rich, prompted in large part by the director’s personal calamity in 2008 when both his business and home were lost like so many millions of other Americans. Since he was a producer by profession, he was in a better position to oversee the making of the film and lining up a financier—one Adam Bronfman who is the son of Edgar Bronfman Sr., the whiskey empire magnate and former President of the World Jewish Congress. The son has Huffington Post, Salon.com, the Nation Magazine type politics as opposed to his right-leaning father.

Pat Lovell, the director of the film, shares those politics so you can expect an hour-and-half of the sort of thing you can hear on MSNBC most days, with the Koch Brothers pilloried and laments about the erosion of American democracy. With the constant presence of Obama operative Van Jones throughout the film, you have no trouble figuring out the film’s viewpoint.

Despite all this, I found it fascinating—more from Pat Lovell’s personal experiences than his political analysis. He grew up in an oil family from Houston and enjoyed all the benefits of wealth and security. When the 2008 recession smacked him in the face like so many other Americans, he was determined to get to the bottom of things. He is still not there but hopefully his experiences will help to take the next step in consciousness, which is to make the leap into seeing that is the capitalist system rather than greedy individuals that threatens the planet.

March 9, 2014

Thoughts triggered by Max Blumenthal tweets about Ukrainian fascists

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,imperialism/globalization,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:14 pm

So I think I am getting the hang of this twitter thing. Basically it allows a wide range of “personalities”, whether from Hollywood or those who write for the Nation, to keep their followers (literally, that’s what they are called) to keep track of their comings and goings, or their musings—the sort of thing that used to be found on lavatory walls. Like this:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 2.01.30 PM
Just as importantly, it allows the latter group of personalities to make observations about current events without taking the trouble to explain themselves, after all 140 characters does not give you much room for thoughtful analysis. The strategy is to post a link to a picture, a Youtube clip, or an article (probably in descending order) that speaks for itself. When I have asked one of these people for further explanation, they ignore me. Who can blame them, I guess.

Of all the personalities I follow, none epitomizes this form of communications more than Max Blumenthal who has unleashed a steady stream of links to Youtube clips, etc. that would lead any sensible person to conclude that Ukraine is roughly equivalent to Germany after Hitler’s election in 1932. This is typical:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 2.09.59 PM

If Max had a blog like Richard Seymour, another personality into twittering, then it might be possible to engage with him. I suppose if I had a big megaphone like Blumenthal, I wouldn’t put up with disagreeable riffraff myself. But then again, thinking about what a prick I can be, I probably would.

Although I admire Max and consider him one of the leading lights of the liberal left, I have to wonder how much grounding he has in Marxism. Probably none, I’m afraid. Nazism and all the other forms of fascism were defense mechanisms against a rising proletarian resistance to economic ruin. Once fascists come to power, they break the back of the socialist left and the trade unions by imprisoning or killing its leaders and members alike. You know how Martin Niemüller put it: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist; Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.”

While there are theoretical debates among Marxists about whether fascism was a meaningful threat after WWII (for reasons too complex to go into here), you can say that the Greek junta of 1967 and the Pinochet dictatorship had many of the same characteristics of classical fascism, first and foremost the need to destroy a militant left and trade union movement.

So I wonder what exactly this has to do with the Ukraine. I can’t imagine that the fascists have any enemies in the Western half of the nation since people like Blumenthal probably regard them as having the same mindset as most Israelis. I can just see him going down the streets of Ukraine with his video camera getting somebody chosen at random to blurt out how much they love Stephen Bandera, the patron saint of the Ukrainian right.

One wonders how much success he would have in finding such people given the findings of a scholarly poll on attitudes toward the armed forces during WWII. It turns out that 75 percent of Ukrainians would have backed the Soviet Army while Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army was a choice of only 8% of the respondents. You can read all about it here.

I’ve heard from one well-known leftist that fascism was not so much a threat against the Ukrainian working-class but against Russia. I tried to picture what that meant, that fascist gangs would pour across the border and launch storm-trooper type attacks on a working class that is not particularly well-known for general strikes and the like? From what I can gather, it is not so much that but fears—particularly those raised at places like Global Research—that a united front of the EU, NATO, the Obama White House, John McCain, Nicholas Kristof and Ukrainian fascists is plotting to provoke a war that will open Russia up for imperialist penetration after the fashion of the wars in Yugoslavia. They see Putin as a Milosevic type figure mounting a nationalistic defense of his nation’s assets. I have heard this argument repeatedly from the Global Research left whenever something like Chechnya or Georgia crops up. Even when Western imperialism shows little interest in going to war (or even gives its benediction to the suppression of the Chechen revolt), nothing changes. WWIII is always on the horizon.

Do any of these people have any idea of the character of the Russian economy? Here it is from Russia Today, the horse’s mouth:

Russia in world’s top 3 recipients of foreign investment for first time – UN

Published time: January 29, 2014 14:55

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Russia reached a record $94 billion in 2013, a leap of 83 percent on the year before according to a United Nations report. Russia follows the US and China as the third most attractive country for investors.

The Global FDI research published by the UNCTAD – the UN agency responsible for international trade and development – has Russia jumping 6 places from its 9th spot in 2012.

The shift was primarily caused by the UK’s BP taking an 18.5 percent stake in Rosneft as part of Rosneft’s $57 billion acquisition of TNK-BP.

“FDI in the Russian Federation is expected to keep pace with its 2013 performance as the Russian Government’s Direct Investment Fund [RDIF] – a $10 billion fund to promote FDI in the country – has been very actively deployed in collaboration with foreign partners, for example funding a deal with Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala Development Company to invest up to $5 billion in Russian infrastructure,” the report says.

The RDIF sealed 6 long-term investment contracts worth above $8 billion last year, which also included deals with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, France’s Caisse Des Depots International, Italy’s Fondo Strategico Italiano and the Korea Investment Corporation, the fund said in the e-mailed press-release.

As Blumenthal’s daily diet of “the fascists are coming” tweets arrived, a ring of familiarity set in. Hadn’t I heard of such a spurious amalgam before? And, bingo, I finally figured out the origin this morning,

That’s Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Der Fuhrer. For decades now, enemies of the Palestinian people have tried to smear all forms of resistance to the Zionist state as sympathetic to Nazism and/or anti-Semitism.

Zionists love to bring up what Hitler said whenever they debated people like Max Blumenthal:

Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews. That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine….Germany would furnish positive and practical aid to the Arabs involved in the same struggle….Germany’s objective [is]…solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere….In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world. The Mufti thanked Hitler profusely.

They pull the same crap with Hezbollah. A photo of one of their rallies has made the rounds on many Zionist websites:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 3.23.47 PMThe NY Sun, an arch-reactionary an arch-Zionist newspaper, is fond of slinging mud at Hezbollah:

Hezbollah’s Nazi Tactics

By STEVEN STALINSKY | July 26, 2006

“Just like Hitler fought the Jews, we are a great Islamic nation of jihad, and we too should fight the Jews and burn them.”

— Hisham Shamas, political science student, at a symposium hosted by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV at Lebanon’s largest and only government-run university, Université Libanaise, November 29, 2005

Hezbollah celebrates Holocaust denial, as well. “Jews invented the legend of the Holocaust,” the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said on April 9, 2000. During an appearance on Al-Manar on February 3, Sheik Nasrallah called Europe’s leading Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, “a great French philosopher.” On February 23, Sheik Nasrallah appeared on Al-Manar and praised another leading European Holocaust denier, David Irving, for having “denied the existence of gas chambers.

(I defended Hezbollah against the charge of anti-Semitism here https://louisproyect.org/2007/02/06/is-nasrallah-an-anti-semite/.)A

Hamas gets the mud slung at them as well. Here’s a photo of a recent rally:

The picture of Sisi and Hitler carry the words: “Hitler killed the Jews for his people, al-Sisi kills his people for the Jews.”

I think that Hezbollah and Hamas make all sorts of mistakes but linking them to fascism is a filthy slander that only Zionism is capable of, especially offensive considering how Gaza has become Israel’s Warsaw Ghetto.

Although I doubt that this will make much difference to Blumenthal or any other liberal who has made up his mind that the Ukrainians are scary, beady-eyed monsters ready to lynch the first Jew they get their hands on, this is what Ukraine’s official Jewry had to say about the fascist threat:

An open letter to Vladimir Putin from prominent Ukrainian Jews has accused the Russian president of using false claims of ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism to legitimise intervention in Ukraine.

“Historically, Ukrainian Jews are mostly Russian-speaking,” begins the letter, dated Friday March 7, which calls on Putin to withdraw his forces from Crimea.

“Our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform you.”

The signatories, among them scholars, scientists, businessmen, artists and musicians, firmly reject the line put forward by Putin in a press conference on Tuesday that the protest movement that removed president Viktor Yanukovich was made up of “anti-Semitic forces on the rampage”.

“Your certainty about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, which you expressed at your press conference, does not correspond to the actual facts,” the letter continues. “Perhaps you got Ukraine confused with Russia, where Jewish organisations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.”

And while the signatories accept the existence of “some nationalistic groups” in the anti-Yanukovich protest movement, they insist that “even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behaviour”.

“And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government – which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.”

Finally, and even more incontrovertibly, there’s the statement made by highly reputable researchers on the Ukrainian and East European far right:

We are a group of researchers who comprise specialists in the field of Ukrainian nationalism studies, and most of the world’s few experts on the post-Soviet Ukrainian radical right. Some of us publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals and with academic presses. Others do their research within governmental and non-governmental organizations specializing on the monitoring of xenophobia in Ukraine.

As a result of our professional specialization and research experience, we are aware of the problems, dangers and potential of the involvement of certain right-wing extremist groupings in the Ukrainian protests. Following years of intensive study of this topic, we understand better than many other commentators the risks that its far right participation entails for the EuroMaidan. Some of our critical comments on nationalist tendencies have triggered angry responses from ethnocentrists in Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora living in the West.

While we are critical of far right activities on the EuroMaidan, we are, nevertheless, disturbed by a dangerous tendency in too many international media reports dealing with the recent events in Ukraine. An increasing number of lay assessments of the Ukrainian protest movement, to one degree or another, misrepresents the role, salience and impact of Ukraine’s far right within the protest movement. Numerous reports allege that the pro-European movement is being infiltrated, driven or taken over by radically ethnocentrist groups of the lunatic fringe. Some presentations create the misleading impression that ultra-nationalist actors and ideas are at the core or helm of the Ukrainian protests. Graphic pictures, juicy quotes, sweeping comparisons and dark historical references are in high demand. They are combined with a disproportionate consideration of one particularly visible, yet politically minor segment within the confusing mosaic that is formed by the hundreds of thousands of protesters with their different motivations, backgrounds and aims.

Here are some of the researchers who signed this statement, starting from the top:

  • Iryna Bekeshkina, researcher of political behavior in Ukraine, Sociology Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine
  • Tetiana Bezruk, researcher of the far right in Ukraine, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine
  • Oleksandra Bienert, researcher of racism and homophobia in Ukraine, PRAVO. Berlin Group for Human Rights in Ukraine, Germany
  • Maksym Butkevych, researcher of xenophobia in post-Soviet Ukraine, “No Borders” Project of the Social Action Center at Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Vitaly Chernetsky, researcher of modern Ukrainian and Russian culture in the context of globalization, University of Kansas, USA

Now maybe all of them are secretly in cahoots with the ultraright. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next intercept of a phone call between one of them and a Svoboda goose-stepping thug to prove that. Let’s see when the Russian security forces come up with. My only advice is to read it very carefully since they have a way of slinging the bullshit around.

Honduras, Venezuela, and crime: the double standard

Filed under: crime,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 1:49 pm

Mary Anastasia O’Grady: don’t ask her to be consistent as it is a waste of time

Wall Street Journal, June 29 2009
The Americas
Honduras Defends Its Democracy
Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Hugo Chávez’s coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation’s constitution.

It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking.

But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya’s abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground.

Read full article

* * * *

Wall Street Journal, August 22 2010
The Americas
Chávez’s Next Big Problem: Crime
Rising street violence in Venezuela is beginning to hurt the president among his constituency.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

When a photograph of 12 chaotically strewn, naked corpses at the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas ran on the front page of the Venezuelan daily El Nacional 10 days ago, Hugo Chávez reacted with indignation.

But his ire was not directed at morgue management or, since the dead were most likely murder victims found in the street, at those responsible for public security in the capital.

Mr. Chávez was angry with the newspaper. He immediately blasted the wider press for its recent reports on Venezuelan violence, which has reached epic proportions. A Chávez-controlled tribunal soon issued a ruling prohibiting the publication of such graphic images. After an international outcry of censorship, the ruling was amended to apply only to El Nacional and one other newspaper.

Why, then, should the morgue photo cause alarm? Perhaps because in the runup to the Sept. 26 national assembly elections, the issue of violent crime in poor neighborhoods risks awakening voters.

Though the government has stopped publishing official crime statistics, the nongovernmental Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) has claimed there were 16,047 murders in 2009. This is up from 14,589 in 2008 and 4,550 in 1998, the year Mr. Chávez was first elected.

Read full article

* * * *


Honduras murder rate falls in 2013, but remains world’s highest

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:52pm EST

(Reuters) – The murder rate in Honduras, the Central American country with the world’s highest number of homicides per capita, fell last year according to a United Nations-affiliated report released on Monday, although the number of “atrocious crimes” ticked up.

Honduras has suffered a wave of violence in recent years, as Mexican drug cartels have expanded into the country, enlisting local street gangs and using the country’s often lawless Caribbean coastline as a pit stop for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America.

The murder rate fell by 6.5 percentage points in 2013, a security institute sponsored by the U.N. and part of Honduras’ national university said in its annual report.

Migdonia Ayestas, who leads the institute, told Reuters that violent homicides fell to 79 per 100,000 people last year from 85.5 in 2012.

“But we saw a noticeable increase in the number of atrocious crimes, including mutilations and decapitations, with bodies thrown into the street, which cause terror in the population,” she said.

The atrocities, which are a relatively new phenomenon in Honduras, bear the hallmarks of Mexican cartels, who engage in a grisly form of one-upmanship to instill fear in rival gangs.

Honduras, a country of some 8.5 million people, suffered an average of 19 murders each day in 2013, down from 20 the year before, the report found.

Neighboring El Salvador has regularly had the No. 2 murder rate for countries not at war, although comparable figures were not immediately available.

Putting an end to Honduras’ cycle of violence was the main theme in last year’s election, won by the National Party’s Juan Hernandez. He has vowed to restore order, adopting a militarized approach to taming the warring gangs.

Critics say a similar military-led move in Mexico, rolled out by former President Felipe Calderon in 2007, only served to increase the violence as the cartels splintered, creating dangerous power vacuums.

Others fear the possibility of rights abuses as soldiers do a job usually performed by police.

March 8, 2014


Filed under: Film,philosophy — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

Although it should be obvious at this point that I am mainly interested in reviewing films that have a social and political agenda, every so often I run into something that harkens back to my preoccupations as a young existentialist. What is the meaning of life, and perhaps more importantly how do we come to terms with our inevitable mortality? But when we discover that the state has the right to interfere with our personal existential decisions about exiting life, then it does become political. When I was 21, these matters were more theoretical than they are today, now that I am 69 years old and can’t help but notice that’s the average of people written up in the N.Y. Times obituaries, including Harold Ramis, the groundbreaking comedian who died on February 24th.

“Honey” (Miele), an Italian film directed by Valeria Golino, opened yesterday at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Honey is the pseudonym used by a very young woman who has made a profession out of administering euthanasia. The first 15 minutes or so of the film show her going about on her rounds, instructing the terminally ill or those suffering chronic illnesses that have become unbearable on how to take the barbiturates she picks up on her frequent trips to Mexico City. In pharmacies that she never visits more than once, she asks for the brand of the drug requires no prescription since they are meant for sick animals, like your pet poodle. The bottle in fact carries a picture of a dog.

She likes to think of herself as an angel of mercy but one senses that she has some mercenary interests in the job since dropping out of college has left her few alternatives. She lines up assignments from a doctor who she is having an affair with behind his wife’s back. Since Honey spends much of her time in a hedonistic fashion–either swimming in the ocean behind her beachfront apartment or hanging out in bars picking up men behind her lover’s back—she is a symbol of the threat to traditional values of the sort upheld by the Vatican.

A trip to meet her latest client, a man named Carlo in his mid-70s, leads her to question everything about her role in society as well as right to make existential decisions of the most basic sort. After her first trip to his lavishly furnished apartment, she discovers that he is neither terminally ill nor clinically depressed (he might be the latter but the film leaves the question open so as to challenge your preconceptions.) As he explains to her, he has seen and done everything that he wanted to and has made up his mind to check out. Perhaps the best way to describe his state of mind is weltschmerz, or world-weariness—a term that is identified with Schopenhauer’s philosophy. When I read Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolfe” at the tender age of 17 or so, I completely understood why the hero contemplated suicide when he had to put up with the pain of living:

He who has known the other days, the angry ones of gout attacks, or those with that wicked headache rooted behind the eyeballs that casts a spell on every nerve of eye with a fiendish delight in torture, or soul-destroying, evil days of inward vacancy and despair, when, on this distracted earth, sucked dry by the vampires of finance, the world of men and of so-called culture grins back at us with lying, vulgar, brazen glamour of a Fair and dogs us with the persistence of a emetic, and when all is concentrated and focused to the last pitch of the intolerable upon you own sick self.

I had never known a day of gout attacks but I certainly knew what it felt like to wake up in the morning and feel just as out of sorts as Hesse’s character. It was what they called adolescent turmoil and seemed that half the students at Bard College suffered from it.

Golino’s film is brilliantly done. The cinematography, the acting, and the casting put to shame all the crap from Hollywood I endured in November and December as the NYFCO awards drew near. The film is basically a two character philosophical dialog between two people who begin to find comfort in each other’s company even if it appears that Honey will not be able to convince Carlo that life is worth living.

In spirit, the film is related to Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, a 2012 film that dealt with an octogenarian couple’s ordeal when the wife is stricken by a nearly paralyzing stroke. Despite her weakness, she does everything she can to hasten death despite her husband’s attempt to keep her alive. Unlike Haneke, whose goal most often seems to be to make the audience uncomfortable in Steve McQueen fashion, Golino is more interested in showing the small pleasures afforded Carlo in his waning months as a beautiful and caring young woman tries to persuade him to choose life over death.

Of course, such decisions should be totally up to the person who is affected, not by the church or the state. If and when I face the inevitable knock on the door that we all have to face one day, I don’t want someone like President Obama or NY’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan sticking their nose into my business.

With respect to the big D itself, I hope to be able to see things as philosophically as Fred Feldman, a Bard College graduate three years ahead of me. Fred has sort of carved out a niche for himself professionally as the death expert. He wrote “Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death” in 1994 and articles for scholarly journals such as “Some Puzzles about the Evil of Death” that can be read online. Here’s an excerpt:

My answer is a version of the traditional view that death is bad (when it is bad) primarily because it deprives the deceased of goods-the       goods he would have enjoyed if he had lived. I have attempted to provide my answer within a predominantly Epicurean framework. I have assumed that hedonism is true, and I have assumed that when a person dies, he goes out of existence. I have attempted to show that even if we grant these assumptions, we can still maintain that death can be evil for the deceased. I have furthermore attempted to show that if we formulate our account properly, we can provide satisfactory answers to some puzzling questions: “How can death be bad for the deceased if he doesn’t exist when it occurs?” “When is death bad for the deceased?” “Is there an illegitimate comparison between the welfare of the non- existent and the welfare of the existent?” “Why is death worse than prenatal nonexistence?” Along the way, I have also discussed the merits of some other proposed solutions to the puzzles.

Well, with all due respect to Fred and Epicurus, I’ll stick with Sartre.

A Reichstag fire in Kiev? Not so fast

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 2:59 pm

Olga Bogomolets, the source of the Reichstag fire narrative that she disavows

Despite the fact that the two articles below undermine the claims made by RT.com and the conspiracy-minded members of the Western left, all revolutionaries have an interest in seeing the matter of a “false flag” investigated. If it is revealed that fascists in an alliance with the conventional bourgeois politicians now running the country pretended to be Yanukovych’s cops and opened fire killing many protesters, that’s something that must be revealed. It would go a long way toward isolating the ultraright and those rightist politicians who conspired with them.

The Toronto Star
March 8, 2014 Saturday
The truth about what Olga really saw; Current death toll may not reflect true number of those killed in Kyiv two weeks ago


Though Ukraine’s journey out of revolution remains fraught with the potential for more violence, the fog of war has lifted enough to make better sense of the inferno that engulfed central Kyiv two weeks ago.

Those three horrifying days on Independence Square, Feb. 18 to 20, stunned the world, with cascading images of flaming buildings, flying bricks, Molotov cocktails and protesters felled by sniper’s bullets ultimately sent then-president Viktor Yanukovych into permanent exile.


One especially explosive conspiracy theory emerged Wednesday in a leaked phone call between EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and her Estonian counterpart, Urmas Paet.

The tape, which the Estonian foreign ministry confirmed was accurate, features Paet outlining a conversation with a woman named Olga, who told of evidence showing that police and demonstrators alike were killed by the same bullets.

“So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers, it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.

Russia Today feasted on the story, presenting it as evidence to back President Vladimir Putin’s allegation that the deaths on Kyiv came at the hands of opposition provocateurs.

The Olga in question was identified by Russian media as Olga Bogomolets, a Ukrainian doctor who worked throughout the clashes to treat wounded.

Told of the tape, however, Bogomolets denied having any such conversation. She said she has no such evidence as she was never in a position to compare wounds.

“During the entire confrontation in Kyiv, I did not have access to law enforcement officers who died, and therefore I could not give any information on the nature of the injuries,” she told Ukrainska Pravda.

“I’m a doctor, not a forensic medical examiner to give this kind of assessment.”

* * * * *

The Globe and Mail (Canada)
March 8, 2014 Saturday
Doctor no ordinary revolutionary;

Olga Bogomolets, who has had two offers to join new government, is being pressured to run for president



She has been one of the most prominent figures in the popular uprising that has shaken Ukraine and driven the country’s president into exile. So when Dr. Olga Bogomolets turned down two offers to join the country’s new unity government, it sent a signal that not all was well between the protest movement and the politicians now running the country.

She is no ordinary revolutionary. She comes from a long line of doctors, so renowned in Ukraine that one of the country’s leading medical schools is named after her great-grandfather. She’s also a popular singer, art collector and founder of a prestigious dermatology and cosmetology clinic.

When protesters took over Kiev’s Independence Square last fall to demonstrate against President Viktor Yanukovych, Dr. Bogomolets rushed to their side and organized a network of makeshift medical clinics for the movement, known as Maidan. And when a group of protesters and police clashed in a deadly confrontation last month, Dr. Bogomolets stood among the corpses in the Hotel Ukraine and became the public face of the grief and horror of that day.


She has already been the subject of one dirty trick. This week someone leaked a telephone conversation between the Estonian Foreign Minister and EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, which suggested that the doctor had said both protesters and police used snipers during last month’s clash. The revelation caused an uproar and called the protest movement into question.

Dr. Bogomolets insisted that she did not indicate that protesters used snipers. She simply relayed to the Estonian minister what she saw that day – protesters shot in the head and heart. “What I saw were people who were killed by snipers and only on [protesters’] side.”

While she won’t commit to running for president, she said that she is ready to serve her country. “I understand that we have to do something because if we [don’t] all these people who died, they just died for nothing,” she said. “I’m ready to serve the people. It doesn’t matter how. When God gives you opportunities you have to give your heart.”

March 7, 2014

The disinformation campaign on the Ukraine gathers momentum

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:05 pm

This morning I found a link to an article on Facebook from a Marxist professor that should have not passed the smell test. The article called the killings at Maidan on February 20th as a provocation organized by the government similar to the Reichstag fire using fascists to kill protesters. This charge has become viral as a result of a phone call between a EU official and the Estonian foreign minister. It should be noted, however, that in the phone call it is stated that the snipers killed cops and protesters alike. I do wonder why there was a need for this since the conflict had already reached the point where gunfire had been exchanged by both sides. You can see a BBC report below that refers to a sniper shooting from a hotel window and who is identified by the green helmet customarily used by protesters. This hardly sounds like someone pretending to be a cop. But more importantly, you can see cops using rifles at 1:21 into the clip.

Now, how does this square with the assertion made in the article:

What provided the rationale for the coup d’état was the killing of demonstrators by uniformed snipers, blamed on the previous government. The overthrown president, who has since fled to Russia, was accused of mass murder, and the new government demanded his extradition (a dumb move, since Russia’s constitution forbids extradition). But there are serious questions about this interpretation of events: the special forces were never issued rifles…

For the conspiracy-minded, I am sure there is an explanation for the divergence between the claim that “the special forces were never issued rifles” and the footage that showed otherwise. Everybody knows that the BBC is an imperialist outlet and that we are much better off relying on the trustworthy RT.com. Well, sure, I guess.

The article would certainly lean in that direction given its remarkable panegyric to Vladimir Putin:

Now, Putin is only the most competent Russian leader since perhaps Peter the Great, enjoys greater popularity among his own people than Bush and Obama ever did put together, and is a respected statesman around the world, which, by the way, sees the US as the greatest threat to world peace. Putin’s first great initiative, dictatorship of the law, transformed a once lawless Russia into a generally law-abiding state, though slightly too conservative and restrictive for some people’s taste. His second great idea, sovereign democracy, made Russia almost completely impervious to Western attempts at political manipulation.

Add to that his economic successes (Russians’ incomes have doubled repeatedly while US incomes have stagnated) and his foreign policy successes (his government recently prevented a major conflict in Syria, then engineered a rapprochement between the West and Iran) and you can begin to see why he makes US State Department apparatchiks and assorted US neocons absolutely livid with rage.

I have neither the time nor the motivation to take this pile of garbage apart but will note that Putin’s wealth-producing policies were not enjoyed equally by the Russian population. In light of this, it is easy to understand what would drive Ukrainians to the barricades when they lived under a government (or governments, to be more exact) that followed the same policies and produced even more meager results for those below the status of the one percent:


Russia’s rich double their wealth, but poor were better off in 1990s

Fall of Soviet Union brought wealth only to society’s elite, researchers say
rish russian women shopping

Wealthy Russians shopping in London. Photograph: Gary Calton/Network Photographer

The richest slice of Russian society has doubled its wealth in the past 20 years, while almost two-thirds of the population is no better off and the poor are barely half as wealthy as they were when the Soviet Union fell, according to researchers.

Experts at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) found that the purchasing power of the average Russian has grown by 45% since the early 1990s, but income disparity is widening by the year.

The report reinforces a widely held view that oligarchs got rich quick by snapping up the country’s choicest assets in the turbulent post-Soviet period.

Yevgeny Yasin, scientific director of HSE and a former economics minister, said: “The principal issue for Russia‘s economy and society today is the level of inequality. Only the best-off 20% of the population is successfully participating in the rise in prosperity which became possible as the result of creating a market economy.”

Food is slightly cheaper relative to income and simple pleasures have become more accessible. The average adult buys more vehicles and televisions and can afford more alcohol and cigarettes than at the beginning of the 1990s. “Drinking, smoking and burning around in a car have become a lot cheaper,” the report found.

But most Russians can only stare in envy at the super-wealthy with their Bentleys and dachas. According to the report, income inequality between the mid-1980s and the mid-2000s has increased eight times more than in Hungary, and five times more than in the Czech Republic.

The huge gap between rich and poor “largely negates the economic and social achievements of recent years,” the HSE report said.

Yasin added that the study indicated there were “two Russias”. The wealthiest fifth of the population received a pay cheque equivalent to 198% of its value in 1991, while the poorest fifth made only 55% in real terms. In total, 60% of the population has the same real income or less than the average 20 years ago.

“Many things are required to change this,” said Vladimir Gimpelson, one of the authors.

“We need more political and market competition, enforcement of property rights, rule of law, systemic change in labour market institutions and stronger social protection for the needy.”

The widening gulf comes as the World Bank recorded an overall drop in poverty. A report by the bank published on Sunday found the percentage of people in Russia living below the poverty line – meaning those who earn less than 5,900 roubles (£130) per month – fell from 13.2% in 2009 to 12.7% last year. It attributed the fall to increased pensions, public sector wages and benefits for job seekers, and predicted that continuing economic growth would push the figure down to 11.2% this year and 10% next year.

However, the report repeated a past admonition that Russia must diversify its economy to reduce its reliance on oil and gas exports.

Two prominent Russians much richer today than they were 20 years ago have published income declarations, showing their earnings dropped between 2009 and 2010. Prime minister Vladimir Putin declared £104,000, compared with President Dmitry Medvedev’s £70,000.

Band plays fascist anthem at Maidan?

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 2:13 pm

A comment by a Ukrainan Marxist to Marxmail:

“A well-known Ukrainian writer and performer Sergii Zhadan was beaten. For those who think that Maidan is fascist overall here’s a video of Zhadan and his band performing at Kharkiv Maidan.”

From Both Sides of the Aegean

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Greece,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:52 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 7-9, 2014

Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean”

In the Wake of the Ottoman Empire


It would be hard to imagine a documentary making more of an impact on the mind, the heart and the eye than Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey-Greece: 1922-1924” that opens at the Quad in New York on March 21.

When I ran into Ms. Iliou before a press screening at the Quad on Tuesday, she described her new film as a follow-up to “Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City”, a film that I reviewed for CounterPunch almost a year ago.  The first paragraph of that review referred to my personal connection to the terrible tragedy of September 1922:

In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.

As in the first film, Iliou draws upon a treasure trove of historical photos and film footage, interviews with academic specialists in Greek and Turkish history, and reminiscences of the children and grandchildren who were driven from their homeland both through naked terror and through “legal” decisions made at the top by cynical politicians. Given the pain—both physical and emotional—visited on the Greeks and the Turks, the distinction between illegal and legal becomes moot.

While the film would be of particular interest to someone like myself, it has a universal message for those who cannot but be aware of the toxic after-effects of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims fought to defend statehood claims like vultures fighting over dead meat.

full article

March 6, 2014

Simon Diaz and Sean Potts pass on

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 9:39 pm

NY Times, February 25 2014

Simón Díaz, Venezuelan Folk Musician Heard Worldwide, Dies at 85


 Simón Díaz, one of Venezuela’s most popular singers and comedians who also earned recognition worldwide for his prowess as a player of the cuatro, a guitar-like instrument, died on Feb. 19 at his home in Caracas. He was 85.

His death was announced by his daughter, Bettsimar Díaz, who did not offer further details. In recent years he had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease.

Known as “Uncle Simón,” Mr. Díaz had been a presence in the cultural life of Venezuela and neighboring South American and Caribbean countries since the mid-1950s. He first gained attention as the host of a radio show of folk music called “The Plainsman,” whose popularity led to a recording contract and more than 50 albums and CDs in which he mixed traditional songs and original compositions.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/25/arts/music/simon-diaz-venezuelan-folk-musician-dies-at-85.html

New York Times, March 5 2014

Sean Potts, 83, Master of the Tin Whistle and a Founder of the Chieftains, Dies


Sean Potts, who learned to play the tin whistle from his grandfather in the 1930s and for a time made an international career out of it as a founding member of the traditional Irish band the Chieftains, died on Feb. 11 in Dublin. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by his son Sean.

Mr. Potts was self-conscious as a boy because, unlike many of his peers, he was drawn to the old music his grandfather John would play with friends in the parlor of his house in Dublin. The grandfather, who had moved to the city from County Wexford, in southeastern Ireland, in 1891, favored tin whistles and uilleann pipes.

Sometimes, after tilling the soil of the small plot where the family grew vegetables during World War II, John Potts would play a tune, then insist that his grandson try to match him note for note.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/arts/music/sean-potts-who-played-tin-whistle-for-the-chieftains-dies-at-83.html

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