Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 21, 2012

Bard College, Israel and the Palestinians

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 12:12 am

Peter Beinart

Walter Russell Mead

The Fall issue of the Bard College alumni magazine came with its regular New Republic type propaganda, this time taking the form of an article by Peter Beinart titled “Israel’s Challenge: Can Democracy and Zionism Coexist?” Sigh, all I ever wanted to find out from an alumni magazine is whatever happened to Shoshana Rosenberg, the art major who liked to listen to Olatunji records when we were having sex. Why do I have to put up with sermons from the right wing of the Democratic Party? I want my tuition money back, all $8000 of it.

Beinart’s article was actually a speech he delivered at Bard last spring on his new book “The Crisis of Zionism” at the invitation of the campus chapter of J Street, a liberal Zionist group that is viewed in AIPAC circles as little different from Hizbollah. To show you how unhinged groups like AIPAC are, J Street is a group that now states:

Israel’s current military operation is a response to the hundreds of rockets that have rained down on Israel from the Gaza Strip over the past year. Every day, Israel’s southern residents carry with them the fear that a sudden Qassam rocket could change their world forever.

It should be said that Beinart has been the target of the American Likudniks as well. When he was invited to speak at the annual Jewish Book Fair in Atlanta, the powers-that-be disinvited him. In my view, this is not so much a sign that Beinart’s views are progressive but that official Judaism is veering ever more sharply to the right. Given time, they will be ostracizing Alan Dershowitz. (Well, maybe not.)

The talk was sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, one in a host of liberal think-tanks largely paid for by George Soros. It is useful to remember what Hannah Arendt once said about the kind of people who run Israel today and the well-funded lobby that speaks on its behalf. This was an open letter to the N.Y. Times on December 4th, 1948 signed by her, Albert Einstein, and other Jewish notables:


Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.

The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin”s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.

Read in full

Breinart’s speech was filled with all the old bromides. I found this one particularly nauseating:

Most of Zionism’s founders were people who originally wanted to live in the countries of their birth in Europe, and who desperately hoped that Europe would live up to the Enlightenment liberal ideals that they believed in fervently. They reluctantly came to the conclusion that they could not live safe, full lives in Europe, and that the Jewish state could be more true to Enlightenment principles than the countries they came from.

Talk about denial. Let’s look at one of these champions of “liberal ideals”, a fellow named Israel Zangwill who was born in London in 1864. At one time he was an advocate of colonizing Palestine but later on favored settling in any territory deemed ripe for a takeover. This was a guy who championed Jewish emancipation, woman’s suffrage, and peace among nations—just the sort of high-minded person Beinart was referring to.

But from Wikipedia we learn:

In 1901 in the New Liberal Review, Israel Zangwill wrote that “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country”.

In a debate at the Article Club in November of that year, Zangwill said, “Palestine has but a small population of Arabs and fellahin and wandering, lawless, blackmailing Bedouin tribes.” Then, in the dramatic voice of the Wandering Jew, “restore the country without a people to the people without a country. (Hear, hear.) For we have something to give as well as to get. We can sweep away the blackmailer—be he Pasha or Bedouin—we can make the wilderness blossom as the rose, and build up in the heart of the world a civilisation that may be a mediator and interpreter between the East and the West.”

In other words, the “democracy” that Beinart blathers on about was democracy for the Chosen People, not the dirty fellahin. If there is any real difference between the original aspirations of the Zionist movement and that of the French in Algeria, it is lost on me. At least the pied-noir spared us liberal, democratic pretensions.

Apparently some students at Bard were not taken in by Beinart’s nonsense. In a profile on Peter Beinart that appeared in New York Magazine a couple of months after his appearance there, we learn:

In late April, Beinart takes an Amtrak train out of Penn Station and heads two hours north, up the Hudson Valley. Like any author flogging a book, Beinart has become a familiar presence on the speaking circuit—although, given his book’s subject, his particular circuit largely consists of synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Hillel houses. Oftentimes, he faces a hostile audience. At the Columbia Hillel, he debated Daniel Gordis—the event was promoted as a “Heavyweight Fight on Zionism”—and was heckled. “I feel like from the clapping I have about a quarter of the room,” Beinart said during a rare moment of applause, “which is better than I expected.”

On this April evening, Beinart’s schedule calls for him to be at Bard College. It is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, and he has been invited by the school’s J Street student chapter. The mood, however, is anything but festive—although this time he is facing anger from his left. As he walks into the lecture hall, he is handed a flyer by a student protester that reads celebrate ­israeli ethnic cleansing “independence.” He then spends most of his 90 minutes insisting to those in attendance that Zionism is not racism and that Tel Aviv is not the center of all the evil on Earth. When it is over, Beinart looks whipped. “I wish Jeff could have seen that,” he says.

(The “Jeff” referred to immediately above is Jeff Goldberg, another “liberal Zionist” who shares Beinart’s early support for the war in Iraq and tepid criticisms of Israeli policies.)

My guess is that Leon Botstein has probably evolved toward a J Street type of Zionism. He is smart enough to show his new clothing by advising (I’m sure) the alumni magazine to include Beinart’s speech. He has also attempted to burnish his reputation among progressive Jews by defending the right of the International Solidarity Movement to have official status on campus.

Over the past several weeks, Bard College and I as its President have been the object of unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and often vitriolic accusations regarding a student group on campus that has chosen to affiliate itself with an organization called the International Solidarity Movement. Some of those who have posted on blogs and written emails claim that ISM is a “terrorist” organization committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and its people. The information on the Bard ISM student website is being misrepresented to suggest that the college and its students are involved with illicit activities, encouraging and training terrorism.


One can only welcome the president’s stance on this issue. Anything else of course would have been a sign of gross capitulation to the Israel lobby and clearly an unwise course of action.

The latest IDF blitzkrieg on Gaza has elicited a “think piece” by Bard professor Walter Russell Mead, who I have described once as the school’s Thomas Friedman. Titled “America, Israel, Gaza, and the World”, the article attempts to answer the question “Why aren’t the Americans hating on Israel more?”

Mead cleverly tries to make his position more tenable by reducing ostensibly radical positions to a caricature: “Others allege that a sinister Jewish lobby controls the media and the political system through vast power of Jewish money; the poor ignorant Americans are the helpless pawns of clever Jews.” Well, the fact is that the major media is careful to omit any analysis that is to the left of Peter Beinart, but few of us blame this on “Jewish money”—starting with me. Israel gets kid gloves treatment because it is a reliable protector of American imperialist interests in the Middle East. Once upon a time Walter Russell Mead, before he became fat and sloppy at the trough of academic privilege, understood how this worked—at least to some degree.

This is the Publishers Weekly blurb on Mead’s “Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition”, written in 1988, when Mead apparently still had some dim memory of a leaflet he wrote 20 years earlier:

Since the end of World War II, Mead asserts, the United States has maintained the largest empire in history. This neoimperialism, he argues, is built on intervention in the domestic affairs of Third World countries and coercive political efforts to block those countries’ sustained economic growth. Both Nixon and Carter tried to regulate change in underdeveloped nations in ways that would be acceptable to U.S. corporate interests.

Nowadays, Mead enjoys a perch at the American Interest, a magazine with an editorial board including the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Niall Ferguson, Bernard-Henri Levy. What the hell. If you are going to sell out your youthful beliefs, you might as well do it in grand style.

Assuming a kind of professorial neutrality, Mead draws a contrast between most people on earth who are appalled by Israeli barbarism and the “Jacksonian” American people who do not believe in proportionality. This is a reference to Andrew Jackson who did not believe in fighting by the rules. I would say that the fate of the Palestinians and the Cherokees—seen side-by-side—gives some credence to that.

Mead tries to explain the average American’s response:

Thus when television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed.

Key to Mead’s presentation of the American mindset is this analogy:

Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed.

But that’s where Mead drops all pretensions of being a James Chase Professor entrusted with the hard-earned $50,000 dollar a year education of Bard students and becomes what he really is beneath the pretensions: a crude propagandist of the sort that pops up regularly in the op-ed pages of the N.Y. Post.

While Mexicans certainly had grievances against American imperialism (the reference to Canada of course was absurd–almost as absurd as Ali G. advising  Brent Scowcroft to bomb Canada), imagine if the American Southern slavocracy had defeated the North and colonized Mexico in order to reproduce the plantation system. To make it work, it would find it necessary to expel the native peasant population into El Salvador and Honduras. At that point, it would be logical for the expelled Mexicans to fight for the right to return to their homeland.

Once upon a time Mead might have understood this. Nowadays he is an addled old sot drunk on his own propaganda.

November 19, 2012

UK Jewish MP: Israel acting like Nazis in Gaza

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 5:22 pm

November 18, 2012

Jews against Zionism

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 1:22 am

Jewish Anti-zionist demonstrators protest near to the Israeli embassy in central London on November 15, 2012 outside of the Israeli embassy in central London.

November 17, 2012

Busted by the sociobiologists, and busting back

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

Irven DeVore

For Irven DeVore, this picture explains Hugh Hefner’s deal with 21 year old women

Four days ago I got this comment on my blog from one Claire DeVore beneath an article on Napoleon Chagnon:

I am curious about your photo copyright. My agency represents Doctor Chagnon I have no record of your requesting use of the final image. Please contact me at cdevore@anthrophoto.com

I had used a photo of Chagnon that turned up in a Google image search, just as would most bloggers. Furthermore, the photo was not retrieved from www.anthophoto.com but from the Boise State College website, without any attribution to Ms. DeVore’s company there. In any case, I did not care that much about using that particular photo so I replaced it with another and then followed up with a message to her.

I already replaced it, assuming that the photo in question was used in the article you commented on. Btw, I got it from the Boise State website, not yours. There was no copyright notice there, as far as I know. I should add that I am very respectful of intellectual property. After all, what would our wonderful world of capitalism be without it?

Apparently the crack got under skin since she followed up with this:

Capitalism?  Hardly.  My website doesn’t make a profit.  I keep it running to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples we worked with.  I lived with the !Kung San when I was seven years old.  “Profits” are sent back to the Kalahari People’s Fund for many of those images.

As to Nap’s photo I try to keep a tight hold on those for obvious reasons, after the Tierney attack.

Thank-you for removing it.


Claire DeVore

This bit about living with the !Kung San and the reference to “Nap” intrigued me. Who were these people? A trip to the website turned up three names in what is apparently a family-run operation:

Nancy DeVore – Image Procurement, Billing, Professional Services
(617) 868-4784, ndevore@anthrophoto.com

Dr. Irven DeVore – Professional Services
(617) 868-4784, idevore@anthrophoto.com

Claire DeVore – Image Procurement, Pricing, Billing, Research
(617) 484-6490, cdevore@anthrophoto.com

From what I can gather, Nancy is the wife of Dr. Irven DeVore, a Harvard professor emeritus, and Claire is their daughter. Acting on a hunch, I googled “Irven DeVore” and “Napoleon Chagnon” and turned this up:

Chagnon, who retired this year as a professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Barbara, still retains his eminence in the field. Irven DeVore, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, says, “Chag was both first and thorough. First in the sense that very, very few anthropological studies have been carried out by an anthropologist who was first on the scene. Thorough in the sense that Chag has visited at least seventy-five Yanomami villages on both sides of the Venezuela and Brazil borders. I cannot think of a comparably thorough survey among any cultural group by any anthropologist. Chag gathered very detailed and documented data on the villages–so much so that another investigator could study the same population and come to a different conclusion. Chagnon’s study was ‘scientific’ in the best sense of the word.”

This is from Patrick Tierney’s November 6, 2000 New Yorker article on Napolen Chagnon that would get a full-blown treatment in  “Darkness in El Dorado”. This book triggered a huge debate that divided anthropology between Chagnon supporters and those who agreed with Tierney, even with qualifications.

I wrote a series of articles on Chagnon, including the one that had the photo Ms. DeVore wanted removed. I think her problem (and more likely that of Chagnon and Professor DeVore) was more with the text than the picture, as the first few paragraphs would indicate:

When I first got word of the Jared Diamond/New Yorker magazine scandal, I could not help but think of Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomami. Just around the time that the Marxism list was launched, a big fight broke out among anthropologists over Chagnon’s fieldwork with the Amazon rainforest Indians provoked by the publication of Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon”. Sides were drawn in the profession between those pro and con Chagnon, who at least unlike Jared Diamond had professional qualifications in the field. In doing some preliminary research on the Chagnon-Tierney dispute, I have learned that some experts in the field without any apparent axe to grind have faulted his research.

I plan to revisit the controversy in light of what I have learned about evolutionary psychology, particularly through my reading of Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” but want to start off by posting some excerpts from the fifth edition of Chagnon’s “Yanomamo”, a book that was titled “Yanomamo: the fierce people” in its initial publication in 1977. Given all the controversy his research has generated, it is understandable why he would have dropped the term “fierce people”, especially since the global perception that they are facing extinction. It would be like writing a book in 1940 titled “The Aggressive Jew”.

Now that my curiosity was piqued, I wanted to see what this guy Irven DeVore was about. I couldn’t imagine that he was as bad as Chagnon (who could be?) but wanted to see where he stood in the oft-compromised world of anthropology.

On May 11, 1993 the Washington Post had a survey article on new glossy magazines devoted to making scientific issues understandable to the unwashed masses. One of them was Omni that was launched by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. In an issue devoted to “Sex and Violence among the Primates”, there was an expert the magazine interviewed who assured its readers that sex and violence against women is in our genes. Just look at the mating habits in monkeys, “particularly certain species wherein the female gives sex exclusively to one male in exchange for protection from other males” in a manner “eerily similar to certain human relationships.”

That expert was Irven DeVore. No wonder why he would take the side of a total dick like Napoleon Chagnon.

DeVore’s views on male domination were spelled out in a series of articles on the baboon, whose aggressive behavior among males and male domination over females supposedly is the key to human society.

This typically biological determinist approach was dismantled in an Autumn 1991 issue of “Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society”, published by the U. of Chicago. Titled “Baboons with Briefcases: Feminism, Functionalism, and Sociobiology in the Evolution of Primate Gender” and written by Susan Sperling, it takes on the male domination is in our primate genes theories almost always written by males.

Early sociobiological views of the evolution of human gendered behaviors incorporated primatological data and viewed males and females as having differential reproductive strategies. Because of the presumably greater “investment” of female primates in infant rearing, female behaviors were viewed as selected because they advanced a female’s chances of gaining male protection during vulnerable periods for herself and her offspring (offspring are seen as fleshy packets of shared genes). Females frequently were pictured as conservative, coy, and passive. By contrast, it behooved males to inseminate as many females as possible, thus forwarding their attempted genetic monopoly of the future. [E.O.] Wilson wrote: “It pays males to be aggressive, hasty, fickle and undiscriminating. In theory it is more profitable for females to be coy, to hold back until they can identify the male with the best genes. Human beings obey this biological principle faithfully.” DeVore and other sociobiologists have maintained that the sexual and romantic interest of middle-aged men in younger women and their presumed lack of interest in their female age cohort stem from selective pressures on male primates to inseminate as many fertile females as possible [emphasis added].

No wonder Bob Guccione would want to interview Irven DeVore on women. One can just as easily imagine him as a frequent guest at the Playboy mansion especially in light of “the sexual and romantic interest of middle-aged men in younger women and their presumed lack of interest in their female age cohort stem from selective pressures on male primates to inseminate as many fertile females as possible.”

Dr. DeVore puts himself forward as an expert on everything primate and human. When feminist students at Harvard demanded a Women’s Studies program, he opposed them—stating that the class he taught on social relationships should be sufficient. I doubt that they were assuaged in light of his observations in an April 1986 issue of Science magazine:

Soap operas have a huge following among college students, and the female-female competition is blatant. The women on these shows use every single feminine wile. On the internationally popular soap Dynasty, for example, a divorcee sees her ex-husband’s new wife riding a horse nearby. She knows the woman to be newly pregnant, so she shoots off a gun, which spooks the horse, which throws the young wife, and makes her miscarry. The divorcee’s own children are living with their father and this woman; the divorcee doesn’t want this new young thing to bring rival heirs into the world to compete with her children.

Whole industries turning out everything from lipstick to perfume to designer jeans are based on the existence of female competition. The business of courting and mating is after all, a negotiation process, in which each member of the pair is negotiating with those of the opposite sex to get the best deal possible, and to beat out the competition from one’s own sex…. I get women in my class saying I’m stereotyping women, and I say sure, I’m stereotyping the ones who make lipstick a multibillion dollar industry. It’s quite a few women. Basically, I appeal to students to look inside themselves: what are life’s little dilemmas? When your roommate brings home a guy to whom you’re extremely attracted, does it set up any sort of conflict in your mind?

To my readers with kids in high school: don’t waste your money sending them to Harvard. They’d be better off at a good state college, especially one that does not have imbecile sociobiology professors eager to shove sexist theories down their throats.

New Syrian opposition leader unacceptable to American imperialism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:40 pm

Obama says US not ready to recognize or arm newly formed Syrian opposition group
By Associated Press, Published: November 14

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he’s encouraged that the Syrian opposition has formed a new, more representative leadership council, but the U.S., unlike some other countries, isn’t ready to recognize the group as a “government in exile” or to arm it…

Obama said the U.S. needed more time and wanted to make sure that the group “is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.” He also said the U.S. isn’t considering sending weapons to the opposition because of concerns the arms might fall into the hands of extremists.

“We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition and one of the things that we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures, is that we are not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks that would do Americans harms, or do Israeli harm or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security,” he said.



The new leader of Syria’s opposition has a history of statements that are anti-Semitic, outrageous, and sometimes downright bizarre.

Khatib’s animosity toward the West is similarly evident in his writing. In one article, written in 2011, the new coalition leader speaks of “stupid American, cunning British, and malignant French diplomacy.” He also accuses Western powers of propping up the old Egyptian regime and working to weaken the country for their own ends. “The collapse of the Egyptian regime is the beginning of the international regional system’s descent,” he writes. “The collapse of Egypt itself is an enormous Israeli desire [emanating] from its frightening project to split the region into repugnant sectarian entities.”

The new Syrian opposition leader doesn’t hesitate to stoke Muslims’ fears of persecution at the hands of the West. He posted on his website a flamboyant Dutch Radio report on the imminent ethnic cleansing of Europe’s Muslim minorities, based on statements by right-wing European figures and Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Tunisia’s Islamist Al-Nahda party, which is now a major partner in the country’s coalition government.

Khatib is also a fan of Qatar-based Egyptian televangelist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. His website places Qaradawi on equal footing with Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation set off the Arab revolutions, and praised the Egyptian preacher as “our great Imam.” Qaradawi is a controversial figure who has been denied entry to France and Britain for his support of suicide bombings — he has described such attacks, when used against Israel civilians, as “evidence of God’s justice.” Given Qaradawi’s Qatari connections, Khatib’s praise of the cleric may be an indication of where his loyalties lie.


November 16, 2012

Martin Fay, Fiddler With the Chieftains, Dies at 76

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 2:43 pm

NY Times November 16, 2012

Martin Fay, a classically trained violinist who helped revive traditional Irish music as a founding member of the Chieftains, died on Wednesday in Dublin. He was 76.

His son, Fergal, confirmed the death.

The Chieftains formed in 1962 as pacesetters of a new movement to reclaim the pure musical traditions of Ireland from the relatively slick commercial-sounding groups that had come to dominate the folk stage. Mr. Fay played haunting fiddle lines and contributed popping rhythms by knocking together a pair of bones, a time-honored Celtic instrument. His fiddle is the first sound heard in the Chieftains’ music for Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film, “Barry Lyndon,” a performance that helped propel the group to world recognition.

In 1989 the Chieftains were appointed official musical ambassadors for the Republic of Ireland, a role they fulfilled by performing with the Rolling Stones, the Boston Pops, Willie Nelson and Luciano Pavarotti. They entertained Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Ireland in 2011. They played before the pope and on the Great Wall of China. They have made more than 40 albums and won six Grammys.

Mr. Fay was born in Dublin on Sept. 19, 1936. Inspired to take up music after seeing a film about the violinist Niccolò Paganini, he studied the violin and won a scholarship to the Municipal School of Music in Dublin. He played in the orchestra of the Abbey Theater, Ireland’s national theater.

Increasingly fascinated by Ireland’s indigenous music, Mr. Fay was recruited by Sean O Riada, the leading figure in reviving the old music, to play in the ensemble he led, Ceoltoiri Cualann. Paddy Moloney, who played the traditional Uilleann pipes (the Irish bagpipes), and was also a member of Ceoltoiri Cualann, started the Chieftains. The other original members, besides Mr. Fay, were Michael Tubridy on wooden flute, Sean Potts on tin whistle and David Fallon on the bodhran, a kind of drum.

Mr. Fay stopped touring in 2001 and retired the next year. Mr. Moloney is the only original Chieftain still playing with the group. (Mr. Tubridy and Mr. Potts left in 1979, Mr. Fallon in 1965.) The other current members, now a quartet, are the fiddle player Sean Keane, the vocalist and bodhran player Kevin Conneff and the flutist Matt Molloy.

In addition to his son, Mr. Fay is survived by his wife, Grainne, known as Gertie; his daughter, Dearbhla Fay; a sister; and a grandson.

The Law in these Parts; In the Family; Generation P

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 1:25 am

I doubt that any missile launched by Palestinians in retaliation against the latest and most appalling Israeli-imposed massacre in Gaza will have anything near the firepower of “The Law in these Parts”, a documentary that opens at N.Y.’s Film Forum tomorrow.

Produced and directed by Israelis, the film consists of director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz interviewing retirees from Israel’s military legal corps, the kind of character played by Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” but in this instance a few deeply evil men, openly cynical and amoral in a way that epitomizes the Zionist entity. Now in their 60s and older, they were responsible for drafting the laws that Palestinians had to live by in occupied territories. When Alexandrowicz asks one why they did not simply have them live under Israeli laws, he shrugs his shoulders and says that this would entail negative consequences. When asked to spell that out, he replies that this would have meant that they had the same rights as Israelis, something clearly unacceptable to a brutal occupying power. After a while, it is hard to resist coming down on the side of the equation that gets people like Alan Dershowitz so worked up, namely Zionism = Nazism. I doubt that the men who drafted the Nuremburg Laws would come off more despicable than the crew that agreed to be interviewed by Alexandrowicz.

When he points out to one interviewee that the judges assigned to Palestinian cases in the occupied territories acted as if they were carrying out orders from the IDF, the man replies: “Order and justice do not always go hand in hand.”

Alexandrowicz is careful not to jump down the judges’ throats in standard Mike Wallace “Sixty Minutes” style since they most likely would have aborted the project. Instead he allows them to hoist themselves on their own petard. Speaking to a friend earlier about the latest blitzkrieg against Gaza, he remarked that the IDF tweets reflect a power that cares little about public opinion. In most instances of imperialist (or sub-imperialist) slaughter you get crocodile tears over how unfortunate it is to launch a war, but with Israel you get this: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” This brazen declaration of Israel’s homicidal intent is something that comes straight out of the fascist playbook and should be a reminder to the liberal left that clapped insanely over Obama’s re-election that they need to clean up their act. This is the iron fist of the Obama administration standing behind the Israeli government:

There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

–Mark Toner, State Department spokeman

When Alexandrowicz asks a judge whether Israelis would live under the same system of justice that Palestinians in occupied territories are forced to endure, he replies that he is not interested in hypothetical situations. This reply and the general posture of the retired colonels who generally constitute the legal corps is one of complete disregard not only for the meaning of a legal system, but the humanity of the people over whom they rule.

More than anything else, the film is razor-sharp critique of the laws underpinning the occupation system that has allowed a half-million Israelis to evict Palestinians from their land in the West Bank. When international law stipulated that occupied lands could not be taken over, the Israeli judges invoked the “Mawat Law”, a code from Ottoman days that allowed land further than the sound of a “rooster’s crow” to be settled by an outsider. This quaint institution from antiquity was used as the basis for a new law that allowed the massive penetration of the West Bank using bulldozers backed up by machine guns.

The press notes for “The Law in these Parts” explains the motivation of the director:

In mid 2004, I got a phone call telling me that Ahmad S., a boy who had just turned 16 and was one of the hardly-­‐seen participants in The Inner Tour, was taken from his home in the middle of the night by masked Israeli soldiers. Ahmad was charged with throwing stones at a military Jeep and was held in a maximum-­‐security prison. After confessing during interrogation, Ahmad was scheduled for a remand hearing in a military court. His family asked that I join them.

For the first time in my life I found myself in an Israeli military courtroom, witnessing the mechanism with which my society purports to administer justice to Palestinian residents of the territories we have occupied since 1967. This event profoundly changed my understanding of the situation in which I live.

There were many striking differences between trials I had seen in regular civilian courts in Israel and Ahmad’s military trial, but the thing that disturbed me most was that I was witnessing a supposedly legal procedure, an effort to bring a “criminal” to trial, something that I, like any law-abiding citizen in a democratic state usually support. But there was one major problem – this 16-year-old boy was not part of the society that was indicting and convicting him.  Neither Ahmad nor his parents ever had any democratic way of influencing the law by which he was now being tried: the Law of Occupation, the same law which enabled an Israeli settlement to be erected on their family lands. Everyone was “playing along” but the truth was that Ahmad and his family didn’t really think that by resisting a military occupation he committed any sort of crime.  Ahmad was the subject of a legal proceeding, but the concepts of justice and law, words that were repeated again and again during the trial, belonged to someone else.

After seven and a half months Ahmad’s trial ended. The Judge ruled that the time he had spent in prison for the period of the proceedings would suffice as a punishment for what he had done. These seven months led me to try to understand the Law of Occupation.

Also opening tomorrow, and at the Cinema Village in N.Y., is “In the Family”–hailed as a masterpiece of indie cinema but one that never made it outside the film festival galaxy. At 169 minutes and very deliberately paced, it might be mistaken at first (as was certainly the case for me) as a “problem” movie of the sort that is shown on the Lifetime Channel. Or more accurately, the Logo Channel on cable TV that features shows geared to the gay community.

Written, directed and starring Patrick Wang, it depicts a custody battle over the six-year old boy being raised by “two daddies”. One of them is Joey Williams, a furniture craftsman played by Wang who owes his name to his adoptive parents. He lives with Cody Hines and Cody’s son Chip from an earlier heterosexual marriage. The film opens with the three enjoying domestic bliss, something that is a refreshing departure from the doom and gloom scenarios we have grown accustomed to from Hollywood with films like “Philadelphia” or “Brokeback Mountain”.

However, gloom does arrive abruptly early on with the death of Cody in an automobile accident. Not long afterwards, Joey discovers that Cody’s will instructed that his sister Eileen would raise the boy in the event of his death. One can only surmise that he had failed to update his will since it was clear that he regarded Joey as equal to him in having both rights and responsibilities over child-rearing.

The film takes a while to gather steam but once it does, it is with the power of a locomotive. The final scene is a courtroom drama involving Joey and the straight parents whose lawyer seems to have crawled from beneath a rock. At one point he asks him if he is a pedophile, a provocation that is probably too much for Cody’s sister and brother-in-law. They may not approve of their nephew being raised by a gay man but they are far too educated and “tolerant” to abide by such accusations.

The story behind the making of the movie is almost as dramatic as the movie itself. Patrick Wang graduated from MIT with a degree in Economics and a concentration in Music and Theatre Arts. According to the press notes, he started out professionally as an economist. In that capacity, he studied energy policy, game theory, and income inequality at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Harvard School for Public Health and other organizations.

Using money that he had saved from such an establishment job, he put a half-million dollars into the film and stubbornly tried to get a theatrical release even though distributors were not interested. Fortunately, the quality of the work sold itself and New Yorkers have a rare opportunity to see something that not only is top-notch film-making but an eloquent but carefully modulated statement about the essential humanity of same-sexers.

Finally, we come to “Generation P”, a Russian film also opening tomorrow. Unfortunately, the publicity did not mention where it is opening. Perhaps this is just as well since I did not find it very interesting even though it was supposedly “serves a sharp critique of consumerist culture as well as the current political situations in Russia and here in the U.S.” Well, who would want to pass on that?

Directed by Viktor Ginzberg, a Russian émigré born in 1959 that came to the U.S. with his parents when he was fifteen, and was educated at the New School in N.Y., it is an attempt to transform Viktor Pelevin’s cult novel of the same name into a film (in Russia the title is Generation П). Although I have only read a good 30 pages or so of the work on Google books, I feel relatively confident in stating that the film’s problems are related to the source material. Just as the earnest effort to transform Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” into a film ran into the glass ceiling of arguably the Bard’s worst writing, so Ginzberg was thwarted by what I surmise to be a bad piece of writing.

Pelevin’s novel is a satire on the advertising industry that sprang up in the early 90s, a period described by one of the characters as a kind of gold rush that might not last more than a couple of years. The character is an old friend of the main character Babylen Tatarsky, who he recruits to his advertising company.

Although advertising is a symbol of decadence just as it is in “Mad Men”, a work that Pelevin’s novel has been likened to, the film (and obviously the novel) treats the industry as a kind of launching pad for a laborious and ultimately exhausting mind trip having much more in common with Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” than the reality of post-Soviet society in the early 90s. For example, the admen put together a computer graphics system that creates the virtual reality of a politician who runs for President of the Russian republic. The problem is that it has so little connection with the real dynamics of the period that it might as well have been about Brazil.

The other problem is that about a third of the film is devoted to long stretches of Tatarsky’s hallucinogenic drug taking that we are supposed to find interesting. I personally am bored by anybody writing about his or her LSD or mushroom trips and wonder why Pelevin would think that this is worth our time. Ginzberg, who introduced the film at a special screening at NYU, told the students to enjoy the trip. At 67, perhaps I am feeling my age, but sitting through the film was about as much fun as a trip to the dentist.

November 12, 2012

Who says the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson wasted their money?

Filed under: capitalist pig,financial crisis,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 8:54 pm

David and Charles Koch

Sheldon Adelson

One of the things heard incessantly since Election Day is that the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson did not get their money’s worth. Alternet’s R.J. Eskow spoke for many of his co-religionists:

I should be a better person than this, but I take no small amount of satisfaction in knowing that Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers wasted lots and lots and lots of money this year.

It is necessary to put this into perspective. The Koch brothers spent $400 million. That represents just .008 of their combined personal fortune of fifty billion dollars. Forbes Magazine shared my perspective when it came to Adelson:

Yes, Sheldon Adelson crapped out on Election Day. But Adelson has plenty of more chips to place on the table–billions more.

True, the casino billionaire spent at least $53 million on this election cycle with little to show for the investment. And while it’s a massive amount of money for most people, and most companies, it’s pocket change for Adelson. The Las Vegas Sands boss is worth $20.5 billion. My colleague Clare O’Connor drew this great comparison yesterday: “Imagine an average person with a $100,000 net worth buying a pair of Tory Burch shoes ($250). You’d care if you lost them, but you wouldn’t be ruined.” Adelson’s $53 million is gone. The billionaire isn’t going anywhere.

Although I am not privy to the innermost calculations of such characters, I think that they share one thing with me, namely a belief that there is no room for compromises when it comes to electoral politics.

Historically this was not always the case with the Republicans. The most notable example in recent times was the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower who Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, described in these terms: “Could Eisenhower really be simply a smart politician, entirely without principles and hungry for glory, who is only the tool of the Communists? The answer is yes.” He also stated: “With regard to … Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason.”

It should also be noted that Fred Koch, the paterfamilias of the reactionary gang, was a founding member of the John Birch Society and that his sons’ funding of the nativist and racist Tea Party movement reflects a continuity with the past.

It is important to understand that at one time “Eisenhower Republicans” enjoyed hegemony in the party. Despite the tendency of the Communist Party and many 60s radicals to dub Richard Nixon as a looming fascist, he had plenty in common with Eisenhower, for whom he served as Vice President for two terms. In an interview with Howard K. Smith in January 1971, he said “I am now a Keynesian”. Can anybody imagine that empty suit President Obama saying something like that? This, in fact, is where he stands:

Reagan spoke to America’s longing for order, our need to believe that we are not simply subject to blind, impersonal forces, but that we can shape our individual and collective destinies, so long as we rediscover the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, person responsibility, optimism, and faith.

That Reagan’s message found such a receptive audience spoke not only to his skills as a communicator; it also spoke to the failures of liberal government, during a period of economic stagnation, to give middle-class voters any sense that it was fighting for them. For the fact was that government at every level had become too cavalier about spending taxpayer money. Too often, bureaucracies were oblivious to the cost of their mandates. A lot of liberal rhetoric did seem to value rights and entitlements over duties and responsibilities.

Barack Obama, Audacity of Hope, p. 31-32

Some people, especially younger people who have no memory of liberal Republicanism, believe that Ronald Reagan transformed the Republican Party. In reality, the seeds were planted in 1964 when Barry Goldwater said in his acceptance speech as Presidential candidate for the Republican Party: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Come to think of it, he was right.

Goldwater’s aim back then was to transform the Republican Party into a conservative party. In doing so, he found a counterpart among many liberals who yearned that the Democratic Party become more purely liberal. In practice this meant purging the party of the Southern racists, something that turned out to be unnecessary after Nixon adopted his “Southern Strategy”.

Today there are no important liberal Republicans. Arguably, the last one standing was Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who defected to the Democratic Party in 2009 three years before his death. (It is not so well-known that Specter was a Democrat to start with, from 1951 to 1965.)

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats never could be mistaken for a liberal party after George McGovern’s candidacy in 1972, at least when it came to presidential nominations. Starting with Carter, there has been a steady drift toward the ideology of the Democratic Leadership Council, a nasty collection of rightwing politicians who began defining themselves as “New Democrats” in the same spirit of Tony Blair’s “New Labour”.

In March 2009, Obama told the New Democratic Coalition, a group described by politico.com as “comprised of centrist Democratic members of the House, who support free trade and a muscular foreign policy”, that he indeed was a New Democrat.

Before Bruce A. Dixon split with Black Commentator, a website that eventually became typified by Bill Fletcher Jr.’s pro-Obama think-pieces, he wrote an article titled “In Search of the Real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate resist the DLC?”. For some reason, this must have nettled candidate Obama who took the trouble to write the ‘zine prior to his election:

Dear Black Commentator:

I read with interest, and some amusement, Bruce Dixon’s recent article regarding my campaign, and his suggestion that perhaps my positions on critical issues facing this country are somehow being corrupted by the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).  Given that Bruce [and I] worked together back in 1992 to empower communities through organizing and the ballot box, I wish he’d taken the time to give me a call and check out his facts.

To begin with, neither my staff nor I have had any direct contact with anybody at DLC since I began this campaign a year ago.  I don’t know who nominated me for the DLC list of 100 rising stars, nor did I expend any effort to be included on the list beyond filling out a three line questionnaire asking me to describe my current political office, my proudest accomplishment, and my cardinal rules of politics.  Since my mother taught me not to reject a compliment when it’s offered, I didn’t object to the DLC’s inclusion of my name on their list.  I certainly did not view such inclusion as an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform.

This, of course, was still at the time when Obama was trying to fool some people into thinking that he had liberal credentials. After his election, he dropped any such pretenses. In his re-election bid, he made no effort to reestablish such credentials since so few people would take him seriously. Instead, his super-PAC spent hundreds of millions of dollars making the case that Romney was a greedy, out-of-touch bastard. The ads reminded me of Pee Wee Herman’s rejoinder to his tormentor Francis in “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure”: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Well, I know what Obama is. He is a liberal Republican, maybe even a centrist Republican. In fact, if anybody can tell the difference between a Gerald Ford and a Barack Obama, except for their pigmentation, they have a talent for splitting hairs second to none.

Yes, Virginia, there has been a realignment in American politics, at least on the Presidential level. We have conservative Republican presidents going back to Reagan, but with the Democrats we get nominees who are indistinguishable from Gerald Ford or Howard Baker. But when one of these slobs gets elected, as happened last Tuesday, we get the liberal pundits greeting it once again as the second coming of the New Deal.

Returning to the Republican Party, the question of Koch and Adelson’s money being “wasted” deserves further interrogation. I strongly recommend a look at Chris Kromm’s very fine Southern Voice, where you can find an article by Chris titled “Did Big Money really lose this election? Hardly.” Chris writes:

The fact that TV ads are most effective with less-engaged voters might explain money’s continuing influence in state and local races, which receive far less media exposure and voters may know even less about the candidates and issues.

As Facing South and The New Yorker showed, in 2010 an onslaught of outside spending in North Carolina by outside money groups led by Republican donor Art Pope was a key factor in fueling a historic GOP takeover of the state legislature.

That put N.C. Republicans in charge of the once-a-decade redistricting process, producing new maps which the John Locke Foundation — which is largely funded by Pope’s foundation — readily admits were crucial to enabling the GOP to expand its power in the General Assembly in 2012.

Money’s state-level influence in North Carolina continued this year, too. According to FollowNCMoney.org, a money-tracking website run by the Institute for Southern Studies, more than $14 million from super PACs and other outside groups poured into N.C. state races.

Of the top 10 spending groups in North Carolina — which made up more than 90 percent of the $14 million total — seven were Republican-leaning groups, who outspent their Democratic-leaning counterparts by more than a two-to-one margin.

And unlike the national super PACs, conservative spending groups in North Carolina enjoyed a much higher winning percentage: Of the 10 races that attracted the most outside money, nine ended in Republican victories. (As for Pope, he and his operatives are well-represented in the newly-elected GOP governor’s transition team.)

But even if Koch and Adelson type funding had less of an effect in the South and elsewhere, that would not prompt such donors to wash their hands of their project, which is not limited to immediate and measurable goals. They are building a reactionary movement that is seeking to turn back the clock to 1890 or so. By spending hundreds of millions of dollars, they push the political agenda to the right. In doing so, the “centrist” politics of a self-avowed New Democrat like Obama shifts to the right along with them.

More to the point, the reactionary agenda of the Koch Brothers is ultimately shared by many corporate bosses who never would be caught dead at a Tea Party rally. Nothing symbolizes this better than The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that gained some notoriety after its heavy paws were detected in the struggle against Scott Walker in Wisconsin and, even worse, their support for “Stand Your Ground” laws that resulted in Trayvon Martin’s murder.

In the outcry over their Koch-funded skullduggery, some major corporate members were forced to drop their affiliation, including Walmart, Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The people who run these corporations are not that interested in ideology. What they are interested in, however, is protecting their class interests. The ultimate explanation for the rightwing assault on our standard of living, our safety on the job, our right to a job, our health, and our right to express our opinion, is a declining rate of profit. While it is not within the purview of this article, and more importantly my limited expertise, to explain why there is such a tendency, suffice it to say that the good old days are gone forever. Despite the rhetoric of a Ronald Reagan on one side and a Barack Obama on the other (all proportions being guarded), well-paying jobs is a thing of the past.

I do recommend an article by Marxist economist Michael Roberts who blogs at http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/ titled “Does it matter who wins?”, written the day before the election. It is a close look at the economic prognosis of the U.S. and concludes on this note:

For me, the bellwether for the health of US capitalism is the rate of profit.  That shows little sign of returning to levels seen in the late 1990s, let alone back to the golden age of the 1960s.  A low and probably falling rate of profit implies a low rate of new investment ahead, with unemployment staying well above ‘normal’ levels.  And it implies the likelihood of another slump in production before the next four years are over along with the continuance of the Long Depression, now in its fifth year.  And remember the Long Depression that started in 1873 lasted 20 years.

Given these prospects, the bourgeoisie will be forced to rely on the carrot and the stick—or perhaps more accurately, the soft cop and the hard cop. With declining profits, the ruling class will be forced to cut expenses both privately and publicly. Wages will be pushed down, mostly as a result of the threat of runaway shops our outright closings. Expenditures on education, health and the environment will be cut as well.

In the long run, the U.S. will look more and more like Detroit with the wealthy living in gated complexes and the poor forced to make do with less and less. Furthermore, as Hurricane Sandy demonstrates, “natural” disasters will weigh more heavily on the less privileged.

Under such circumstances, there will be mounting anger of the sort on display throughout Southern Europe. The more far-sighted members of the ruling class are planning ahead, to see what powerful and ultimately lawless measures will be necessary to suppress any revolt that threatens their hegemonic rule. And, as well, the more far-sighted members of the working class, including the intelligentsia that has thrown in its lot with this class, will be required to put together an audacious and intelligent plan of action that can meet such scum head-on and defeat it.

Belle Harbor segment on “Sixty Minutes”

Filed under: disasters — louisproyect @ 3:19 pm

The other day I posted a link to a video I did out in Belle Harbor, a mostly Irish and Italian subdivision of the Rockaways, where an old friend lives and where I have spent many pleasant weekend afternoons over the years playing chess on the beach.


Last night the lead story on “Sixty Minutes” was on Belle Harbor, including some of the same images in my video. You can watch the segment here:


November 10, 2012

Jairus Banaji 2012 Deutscher memorial lecture

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 11:23 pm

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