Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 14, 2017

Chasing Coral

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 6:00 pm

Richard Vevers was once a very successful advertising executive in London who made a career change by moving to Australia in order to start the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, which creates virtual ocean dives using special 360 degree still cameras to document life on the ocean floor around the world. Not long after he began this project, he began to notice that once-familiar marine life was disappearing at the same time that parts of the Great Barrier Reef were beginning to turn a sickly white. Was there a connection? As a rafter of scientists point out in the Netflix-produced documentary “Chasing Coral” that opened today at the IFC Center in New York, the world’s reefs are virtual nurseries for many fish lower down on the food chain that feed on the vegetation the reefs support. Naturally, the smaller fish get eaten by the larger fish as part of a biosphere that has been around for 10,000 years when the reefs started to materialize out of the tiny polyps that cohered not far from beaches all around the world. The polyps were related to their much larger relatives, the anemones and jellyfish, and were capable of building a limestone shell around itself after the fashion of clams and oysters.

In addition to opening at the IFC, “Chasing Coral” can also be seen on Netflix now. If Netflix has lost the capability of featuring leading edge narrative films, at least they can be given credit for producing important documentaries such as this, “The Ivory Game” (about poaching elephants), “The White Helmets” and Ava DuVernay’s “13th”.

Practically nothing can kill the polyps that exist on the borderline between animal and minerals except a small change in water temperature. So naturally you would expect that climate change is responsible for the death of half the world’s reefs today through “bleaching”, the death knell of millions of polyps that have formed massive colonies going back nearly 10,000 years. Not only will fish be impacted, so will the approximately billion people who depend on them as a source of protein.

“Chasing Coral” features Devers and a cadre of marine biologists setting up time lapse cameras to capture the transformation of reefs over a forty day period. The film is both ravishingly beautiful in its depiction of healthy underwater life and chilling as it illustrates their death. Watching miles of ghostly white reefs is scarier than any science fiction movie you are likely to see this summer.

Jeff Orlowski produced and directed “Chasing Coral”. He was the perfect choice for the job since he had also produced and directed “Chasing Ice” in 2012 that deals with melting glaciers using time-lapse cameras, something that was very much in the news this week as it was reported that a trillion ton ice shelf the size of Delaware had detached itself from Antarctica and began floating away into the ocean. Scientists believe that unless climate change is arrested, all of Antarctica will have floated away as soon as 200 years from now. For the people who rule the USA today and other industrialized countries, that hardly seems worrisome. Their concern is more on their quarterly earnings report.

But as Orlowski’s documentary points out, the life expectancy of coral reefs is thirty years. If a billion people lose a major source of protein, the results will be catastrophic. The urgency of this problem requires people to become informed about the issues, starting with seeing the film either at the IFC or on Netflix.

Five years ago, a book titled “Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth” was published. Edited by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis, it warned that films like “Chasing Ice” and “Chasing Coral” trafficked in “catastrophism”, a tendency that undermined revolutionary politics by creating a sense of fatalism. In review of the book focused on Yuen’s chapter on global warming titled ‘Catastrophism’ book on environmental movement: a prescription for abstention and defeat, Ian Angus of the Climate and Capitalism website took issue with the author’s attempt to stake out a position so far to the left of people like Al Gore that it risked producing a sectarian abstentionism from mass movements in which such politicians took part. Indeed, this is exactly the sort of problem the antiwar movement faced in the 60s when SDS members disavowed mass protests because a liberal Democrat was a featured speaker.

While not exactly reproducing Yuen’s arguments, I found a Jacobin article by Daniel Aldana Cohen, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, succumbing to the same “leftish” moods. Titled New York Mag’s Climate Disaster Porn Gets It Painfully Wrong, it is an attack on an article titled The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.

Cohen complains that the word capitalism appears only four times in an 8,700 word article but quotes not a single word of the article itself. Unlike him, I think it is a good thing that an article like that appeared in a magazine devoted to sybaritic pleasures such as where to get the best hamburger in NY or how to find discounted Armani jackets.

Apparently Michael Mann has critiqued some of Wallace-Wells’s predictions that he finds overly pessimistic but that does not trouble Cohen as much as the failure of the article to address what he calls “eco-apartheid”. I am not exactly clear on what he means by that but it would seem to be referring to the possibility of the rich being able to build sea walls while the poor in places like Bangladesh drown or starve.

While Wallace-Wells does not offer any sort of political solutions in his article, least of all socialist revolution, it does at least recognize that the poor will suffer most:

It is not just the hajj, and it is not just Mecca; heat is already killing us. In the sugarcane region of El Salvador, as much as one-fifth of the population has chronic kidney disease, including over a quarter of the men, the presumed result of dehydration from working the fields they were able to comfortably harvest as recently as two decades ago. With dialysis, which is expensive, those with kidney failure can expect to live five years; without it, life expectancy is in the weeks.

Maybe a little bit of history will be useful. In the late 50s, an anti-nuclear movement began to take shape largely because young people like me were scared about the possibility of a Third World War, which was much more palpable than the ridiculous articles that appear so frequently on the World Socialist Website. A group called SANE emerged that attracted many students who would begin to develop a radical analysis of American society based on the ruling class’s willingness to act on the basis that it was better to be dead than red. For those who became Marxists, it was activism on anti-nuclear and civil rights issues that were the first steps breaking with hegemonic idea during the Cold War.

David Wallace-Wells’s article might be the first one read by a New Yorker that serves as a wake-up call on the environmental crisis. Yes, it is great that a Jacobin article mentions the word capitalism forty times rather than four but in the final analysis size matters.



Andrzej Wadja’s Search for Freedom

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Poland — louisproyect @ 12:26 pm

When Andrzej Wajda died last year at the age of 90 after having just completed “Afterimage”, he was one of the last of the great auteurs of the 60s and 70s, leaving only Jean-Luc Godard (now 86) the sole survivor. Demonstrating their appreciation of his role in this golden age of cinema, the European Film Academy presented Wajda with a lifetime achievement award, only the third director to be so honored after Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. His body of work would be a topic in itself worthy of consideration by CounterPunch readers but beyond his achievements as a filmmaker there is something else that recommends his films, namely their focus on one of the big political questions of our epoch–especially after a full century. What was the impact of the USSR on its own people and those like the Poles living under its control? Widely recognized as an anti-Communist director, he might be a polarizing figure to many who see the geopolitical divide as demanding alignment with the Kremlin—either pre or post-Communism. As such, his work demands attention, however you stand on this question insofar as his reputation and influence will persist long after his death. Was Wajda an enemy of communism or was his mission to create films that transcended narrow ideological considerations?

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July 13, 2017

The Story of O.J.

Filed under: african-american — louisproyect @ 11:28 pm


The lil radicals now online assailing Jay-Z for propagating that oxymoron Black Capitalism have got it all wrong. Try Black Tribalism, my nuh. Try Black economic nationalism, to be specific. Marcus Garvey wouldn’t be mad at Hov’s 4:44; nor would Garvey’s hero, Booker T. Washington; nor the heir apparent of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam; nor Berry Gordy neither. Not to mention David Bowie, who related how, when he first shook P. Diddy’s hand, Diddy said, “Wow, strong grip — I need to meet your trainer.” To which Bowie retorted, “That grip’s not from the gym, Puff. That’s from forty years of trying to hold on to your money in the music business.”

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July 12, 2017

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton: Saudi Arabia’s snitches

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

On July 6th Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton co-authored an article for Alternet that fingered one Bilal Abdul Kareem as an al-Qaeda member, something that put not only his right to travel freely in jeopardy but also his life. Given the intensity of the “war on terror” under both Obama and Trump, such accusations might give the military or the CIA the excuse to do to him what they did to Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011—end his life with a Predator drone strike, as well as that of his teen-age son two weeks later. Not satisfied with their murder, Donald J. Trump ordered a strike on al-Qaeda in Yemen that resulted in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 8 year old daughter. So, if you are going to accuse someone of being an al-Qaeda member, you’d better be damn sure you are right.

What do these two snitches point to as proof? They write, “In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.”

Habituated at this point to shoddy reporting from people like these two creeps, I clicked the link to the Al Arabiya article for more information on Kareem’s membership in a group Donald Trump is committed to exterminating. I imagine that the liberals who read Alternet on a regular basis couldn’t bother checking the article since if the Katzenjammer Kids said it, it must be true.

It turns out that the article is a diatribe against Qatar in keeping with Saudi Arabia’s recent attempt to bring the impudent emirate into line, including an ultimatum to shut down al-Jazeera. Did I mention that Al Arabiya is the Saudi news agency that was created to compete with al-Jazeera but from the royalist right?

The article is titled “Al-Nusra religious leader, prominent ISIS supporter defend Qatar” and describes Qatar as the nerve center of jihadist terror in the Middle East and Bilal Abdul Kareem as one of its key operatives. It makes a bald assertion that “What’s interesting here is that Abdulkareem had traveled to Doha for the panel [sponsored by the Brookings Institute] from the Syrian city of Aleppo. He went to Doha although he joined al-Nusra in 2012.” So, if Al Arabiya, the official propaganda arm of the Saudi monarchy, says that Kareem was an al-Nusra member, it must be true. You have to believe the Saudis, don’t you, especially when they are a major player in the war on terror.

Taking note that Kareem denied being a member, the two jihadi-hunters, second only to Pamela Geller in investigative skills, offered some more irrefutable evidence:

However, one of Abdul Kareem’s closest colleagues has also been accused of membership in Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise. Akif Razaq, an employee of Abdul Kareem’s online media group, On the Ground News, was recently stripped of British citizenship for his alleged involvement with al-Nusra. A notice presented by British authorities to Razaq’s family in Birmingham accused him of being “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group” and declared that he “presents a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.”

During Abdul Kareem’s Facebook video response to the Al Arabiya report, he was seated beside Razap. Razaq has also co-hosted On the Ground News segments with him.

What did they used to call that? Guilt by association? This is more than guilt by association. It is guilt by association squared. Razaq has been accused? So who accused him? The fucking British authorities? How in the hell did these two stooges end up using the word of the “British authorities” to help sentence men such as this to execution by Trump’s out-of-control police state?

It turns out that the “al-Qaeda-aligned” group he was punished for joining was none other than Kareem’s On the Ground News.

Let me get this straight. Kareem is guilty because he is associating with Razaq and Razaq is guilty by associating with Kareem? Where is Franz Kafka when we really need him?

Moon of Alabama, a website that can be described as ground zero of the batshit Assadist conspiracy-mongering universe, was incensed with Blumenthal and Norton’s article. The screwball in charge wrote an item titled “Syria – The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats – Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek” that rightfully accused the two boys of reversing previously held opinions without explaining why. I don’t think it takes much brains to figure out why. They do what they do for the money. Writing articles opposing Assad won’t pay the rent. All you need to do is look at the wheelbarrows of cash that poured into the pockets of people writing salutes to Seymour Hersh’s brilliant investigative reporting that contained the totally unscientific claim that fertilizer contains organophosphates (it is phosphates). I invite anybody to find a bag of fertilizer containing the organophosphate poisons normally found in pesticides in a farm supply store. If you do, I will personally eat it.

The article basically charges Blumenthal and Norton with plagiarism, pointing out that Vanessa Beeley, one of their recommended authorities on Syria, wrote a piece for 21st Century Wire on August 4, 2016 that they obviously poached. Titled “SYRIA: CNN Normalizes Suicide Bombers and Embeds Reporters with ISIS and Al Qaeda”, Beeley’s piece is her customary Islamophobic tripe holding up Bashar al-Assad as the last best hope for civilized values in Syria. This is the kind of shit that would have made Goebbels blanch.

I don’t know what Beeley is complaining about. There’s plenty of money out there for every Assadist to make a good living. It’s like writing articles hailing the Moscow Trials in 1938. If chief prosecutor Vyshinsky was praised for his integrity in the NY Times of all places, you could sell the same kind of article anywhere.

Today, there’s nothing more scary than some guy in a beard who backs sharia law and yells “Allahu Akbar” after firing an missile that blows up a regime tank. Gee whiz, if we don’t stop them in Iraq and Syria, they might come to Bushwick and destroy our way of life.

Max Blumenthal has become a new Christopher Hitchens in his quest to exterminate Sunni jihadists, even if it requires American power. If you go to 6:50 in the Real News interview above, you’ll see what I mean. He says:

In its zeal to bleed … Russia and Iran, the National Security State has completely abrogated what should be its top mission, which is to take on these Sunni jihadist organizations, which have repeatedly attacked soft targets in the West, caused chaos—they should be fighting them. Instead they are using them as proxies in many cases to bleed Russia and Iran and Syria as well—countries which pose no…which have no intention of attacking the United States and which are active in the fight against ISIS.

I don’t think it could be much clearer than this. Blumenthal is urging the “National Security State” to escalate its war on terror. To use more Predator drones, to kill alleged al-Qaeda operatives like Bilal Abdul Kareem and Akif Razaq whose guilt is established by their willingness to interview its members, and to top it all off to achieve victory in places where the Sunni jihadists held sway. Just look at the photo of liberated Mosul to get an idea of what gets Blumenthal salivating.


Apparently, my worries about Blumenthal and Norton’s piece helping to undermine Kareem’s survival were not ill-founded.


My debate with Tim Anderson on Syria: Reflections on the collapse of solidarity

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:51 am

Source: My debate with Tim Anderson on Syria: Reflections on the collapse of solidarity

July 10, 2017


Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:42 pm

On July 22nd, Showtime will be premiering Laurie Poitras’s “Risk”, a deeply flawed and controversial film about Julian Assange that he has described as a “severe threat” to his freedom. Despite Assange’s words, the best way to describe the film is as a study in ambivalence. As the director of a documentary on Edward Snowden (“Citizenfour”), Poitras and Glenn Greenwald made clear that their sympathies were with the whistle-blower. In making what amounted to a companion-piece to that film, Poitras adopted a cinéma vérité style that was punctuated by her own commentary in very small but highly critical doses. The problem is that her negative feelings toward Assange are not exactly supported by the footage, which cover familiar territory. Most importantly, you are left wondering whether she agreed with James Comey and the Hillary Clinton camp that Wikileaks acted as a “cutout” for the Russians who provided hacked emails from the candidate’s campaign that supposedly elected Donald J. Trump.

As highly useful background to the film, a June 29, 2017 Guardian article  hints at why this might have been the case:

While Poitras is no fan of Hillary Clinton, she does question the timing of the Podesta emails (John Podesta was chairman of Clinton’s election campaign), thought to have been hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks in October/November 2016 just before the election.

But the major cause of her disaffection was the charges brought against Assange for sex crimes in Sweden. In one of the more disturbing scenes in the film where Assange was hung on his own petard, he is discussing a PR campaign to help his cause with a Labour Party politician named Helena Kennedy who warns him against referring to a “feminist conspiracy” for his own sake. He shrugs this off and alludes to a “tawdry, radical feminist” plot instigated by a woman who launched a lesbian nightclub. Like Bill Maher and Donald Trump, Assange seems to lack what Freud called the super-ego, a mechanism responsible for conscience. Or it could equally be the case that as Assange built up a cult around himself, he lost the capacity for self-criticism. Considering how the British SWP shot itself in the foot over a leading member’s Assange-like behavior, it appears to be a communicable disease.

Stupid enough to say these things on camera, Assange continued on his bumbling ways throughout. In one of the more grotesque scenes, we see Lady Gaga making a pilgrimage to the cult figure in the Ecuadorian Consulate where she seems a bit put off by his appearance in a suit and white shirt. Pointing to a closet with his piled up laundry, she says he should wear a “dirty, fucking T-shirt” so he’ll look like a rebel. She follows up with questions like “what’s your favorite kind of food”. It’s enough to inoculate you against Gaga, if her awful music wasn’t reason enough.

It seems that Assange has a preference for healthy food since another female sex symbol (erstwhile, admittedly) made another pilgrimage in December 2010 to bring him a vegan meal and words of support. That was Pamela Anderson, the 49-year old former star of “Baywatch” who condemned the “made up sexual allegations” against him.

Another sexual predator who has second billing to Assange in the film is one Jacob Appelbaum, a hacker who was a key lieutenant to Assange and a highly placed technician in the Tor Project that was designed to build a secure communications channel for activists. In June 2016, he was accused of sexual abuse by women working in the Tor Project. Like Assange, he has denied all the charges. Poitras mentions casually in passing that she had been “involved” with Appelbaum.

As might be expected, Assange still has his supporters, especially those who see him as a man on horseback in the geopolitical chess game that pits the West against Russia and its allies. Thomas S. Harrington, a professor of Iberian Studies in Trinity College in Connecticut, wrote a piece for CounterPunch titled “Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras that he described as “self-involved, reachingly [sic] melodramatic and filled with unfounded innuendo.” Harrington concludes that Gandhi was also a pretty awful guy in his own way but steers clear of assessing Assange politically. Since fools rush in where angels fear to tread, we might have expected WSWS.org to take up the fight against “Risk” on political grounds. They opine:

The various critics, wealthy and conservative, hardly make a secret of the fact they perceive Assange to be a disrupter of the social order and political system they hold dear. The most hostile of all are those remnants of the old protest generation, who still perhaps expressed opposition to the Iraq invasion in 2003. What they can never forgive Assange is that, for all his political limitations, he did not fold his tent, like they shamefully did in the mid-2000s, and join the pro-war, pro-imperialist camp.

Did I mention that they describe the sexual charges against Assange as “voiced by a noxious alliance of feminists, pseudo-leftists, establishment media figures, right-wing tabloid scum and various mouthpieces, acknowledged or unacknowledged, for the US State Department and CIA”? Well, at least they are consistent, having written profusely in defense of Roman Polanski when fled the USA to avoid arrest for having sex with a 13-year old girl.

Unlike Poitras, I have no problems with the Russians hacking Democratic Party emails and using Wikileaks as a cutout. If American politicians don’t want to be embarrassed by things they say privately, they’d better think about what they were saying in the first place.

The USA does this sort of thing on a scale that dwarfs Putin. It unleashed the Stuxnet worm on the Iranian computers used in atomic energy research that led to infections of computers in other countries as collateral damage. After the NSA developed malware to be used against its “enemies”, hackers got a copy and used it for a ransomware attack that infected computers used in critical care applications in hospitals around the world. This is not to speak of how it interferes in elections around the world, including Nicaragua when it was governed by the Sandinistas. The NED pumped millions of dollars into their opponents’ election campaigns without even bothering to cover it up. This takes the kind of brass that not even Putin would display.

Poitras’s documentary is very much worth seeing but it doesn’t begin to penetrate into the inner contradictions of Wikileaks that would have been present even if Assange had not been such a flaming asshole and sexual predator. A documentary should be made but not in the cinéma vérité style that suited Poitras’s someone subjective needs.

That documentary should cover matters such as how Wikileaks promoted a dump of hacked emails from Turkey that supposedly exposed wrongdoing by the ruling AKP. It turned out that no such information was present in the emails. Instead, as former Marxism list subscriber Zeynep Tukfeci pointed out, it contained “spreadsheets of private, sensitive information of what appears to be every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey, including their home addresses and other private information, sometimes including their cellphone numbers.”

It would also address Assange’s questionable personnel decisions such as designating Israel Shamir as its spokesman in Russia. Shamir is a disgusting pig who fits neatly into the emerging Red-Brown alliance being consolidated across Europe with generous support from the Kremlin. You have to ask yourself why Wikileaks would want to be associated with someone like Shamir who wrote an article on immigration and race that is filled with nativist trash like this: “In order to defend their policy of destroying society by influx of strangers, they invented and propagated a new blood libel, that of ‘racism’. People who resist the imposition of mass immigration are deemed ‘racists’ and precluded from participation in the scripted television discourse.”

Shamir urges immigrants to defer to the sensibilities of those whose turf they have penetrated: “Admittedly, I never tried to annoy the native inhabitants by playing loud foreign music, practicing strange customs in public, or purposely behaving in offensive ways.” When Shamir wrote a CounterPunch article 5 years ago supporting the Kremlin for cracking down on Pussy Riot for its “offensive” behavior, I answered him in my very first article on CounterPunch. As someone who first discovered himself culturally by reading William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, reading Shamir makes me wonder how such people can ever think of themselves as rebels. For me, the attitudes of people like Shamir remind me nothing more than the ignorant and racist garbage I heard from people in my very backward village that was accurately described once by Karl Marx as “rural idiocy”.

If you really want to understand Assange in political terms, the best place to look is not in the batshit crazy WSWS.org but in his first attempt to participate directly in electoral politics in the name of the Wikileaks Party that ran him for Senate in Australia in 2013. The party had a six-member executive committee that included Assange.

Another member was John Shipton who gave an interview to Sputnik News that sounded very much in line with Israel Shamir. When asked about Russia’s role in Syria, Shipton replied:

The Russian diplomatic skills are a triumph, and with the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the BRICs last year in Far East and this year Syria and the Ukraine. There is diplomatic triumph second to none, and in our view the Russian President and Foreign Ministry people wish to bring peace to allow development.

But for me the biggest problem with Wikileaks is how it has fostered the growth of conspiracist thinking on the left ever since its inception in 2010. In November, 2006 Alexander Cockburn wrote an article titled “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left” that accurately sized up a malaise on the left attributable to the decline of Marxism:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.

What Cockburn neglected to mention, and what has been unfortunately reflected in CounterPunch all too often both under his editorial direction and Jeff St. Clair who succeeded him, is a reliance on the “smoking gun”, which is more often than not a Wikileaks cable from a US policy analyst or diplomat that supposedly proves that the Syrian revolution was hatched in Washington. You don’t need to learn political economy from Marx if you can find a cable that says something to the effect that Assad “has to go” or some such formulation. Also, how much difference is there between the “inside job” analysis on 9/11 and the “false flag” explanations of the two major sarin gas attacks in Syria? Is there that much difference between the WTC controlled demolition nonsense and Seymour Hersh blaming a bomb dropped on fertilizer for the death of 80 people and the wounding of 600 in Khan Sheikhoun?

Even a publishing house that is virtually synonymous with Marxist political economy eroded its own credentials by publishing a book like “The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire” with an introduction by Assange himself. Verso sent me an advance copy of the book that I found totally useless for understanding the US Empire since I tend to prefer the sort of class analysis found in David Harvey or the late Peter Gowan, who was a veteran of a Trotskyist groupuscule when he joined the New Left Review editorial board just like Tariq Ali, who unfortunately has succumbed to conspiracy theory himself.

You can get a flavor of this book by reading professional liberal Robert Naiman’s chapter on Syria that was reproduced on Truth-out in 2015 as “WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath”.

Showing much less interest in class relations in Syria than in US State Department cables, Naiman cites one dated December 13, 2006 that was written by William Roebuck, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus. Roebuck alluded to “actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send” that will bolster the opposition to Assad, including the Saudis providing media openings to Abdul Halim Khaddam, leader of the opposition-in-exile National Salvation Front.

This and other such Wikileaks material leads Naiman to conclude:

We are told in the West that the current efforts to topple the Syrian government by force were a reaction to the Syrian government’s repression of dissent in 2011, but now we know that “regime change” was the policy of the US and its allies five years earlier.

What’s missing from Naiman’s chronology is the period immediately preceding 2011, when American policy had reversed itself from Bush’s much more aggressive policies. If you look at the two years just before the Arab Spring, there is every indication that Syria had come in from the cold.

On March 26, 2009, Robert Worth wrote an article for the NY Times titled “With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk” that was about as far from the spirit of Roebuck’s cable as can be imagined.

Only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah. The United States and its Arab allies mounted a vigorous campaign to isolate Syria, which they accused of sowing chaos and violence throughout the region through its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Today, Syria seems to be coming in from the cold. A flurry of diplomatic openings with the West and Arab neighbors has raised hopes of a chastened and newly flexible Syrian leadership that could help stabilize the region. But Syria has its own priorities, and a series of upheavals here — including Israel’s recent war in Gaza — make it difficult to say where this new dialogue will lead.

It is not just a matter of the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France led the way with a visit here last September. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was said to be furious at the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed him warmly in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this month. Photographs of the two men smiling and shaking hands have been on the front pages of all the major Arab newspapers, along with frequent headlines about the “Arab reconciliation.”

At the root of these changes is Syria’s alliance with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the other major Sunni Arab nations once hoped to push Syria away from Iran through isolation, and now — like President Obama — they appear to be trying sweeter tactics. For the Syrians, the turnabout is proof that their ties with Iran are in fact useful, and accord them an indispensable role as a regional broker. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries “have great stakes in maintaining good relations between Syria and Iran, because at difficult times they will find Syria helping them,” said Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister of foreign affairs, during an interview here.

The picture accompanying the article speaks louder than a thousand words, including all of those that appeared in Naiman’s stupid article.

Finally, let me conclude with a nod to Chase Madar’s review of “Risk” that appeared in the London Times, which although behind a paywall can be read on Madar’s FB page. Madar is the author of the “The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower” and would never be confused politically with someone like me. Here is a telling excerpt:

Poitras has been filming Assange for more than six years, from his press conferences to his (elective) confinement in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, after Interpol put out a warrant to question him on sexual assault charges in Sweden. She has turned from in-house video­grapher to critical journalist who has fallen out with Assange (though as she tells it in her voiceover, he asks her not to say that they have fallen out). Poitras has now been attacked by Assange’s lawyers for not allowing their client to review the final cut and for putting him at additional risk by bringing the raw footage to the United States where it might be subpoenaed.

The main narrative arc is how Assange went from being an icon of the global Left to becoming – temporarily, and surreally – the saviour of the American Right. “I love WikiLeaks!”, candidate Donald J. Trump grinned at a campaign rally last October when reading from the emails that some hacker had stolen from the Democratic National Committee and passed on to the website. (Trump mentioned or quoted Wikileaks’s Clinton leaks some 160 times in the last month of his campaign.) Assange, once the scourge of the American nationalist Right for publishing classified logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars as well as a quarter of a million classified State Department cables, suddenly became, in eye-rubbingly oneiric scenes, the bosom ally of Fox News media figures such as Sean Hannity.

Assange’s flirtation with the American Right didn’t stop there. His Twitter feed passed on the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a paedophilia ring in the basement of a Washington, DC pizzeria and he oxygenated rumours that Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Committee intern who was murdered in an apparent botched robbery, had been the source of the DNC leaks – and paid for it with his life. This was eagerly taken up and, despite explicit entreaties to stop spreading the rumour from Rich’s grieving family who had to fend off the vigilante “help” of conspiracy loons, the “story” continued. The story of Julian Assange is in some ways a depressing study in how quickly Enlightenment heroes can turn into conspiracy-freak sideshow acts.

July 8, 2017

Phosphorus, phosphates, organophosphates and phospine

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

The Assadist narratives on the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas incident of April 4, 2017 have fallen into two categories. The first, similar to that put forward around the East Ghouta attack of August 21, 2013, claims that it was a “false flag” incident in which rebels gassed their own supporters to open the door for a “regime change” operation. The second, which has been put forward by various agencies and individuals such as Seymour Hersh, was that a legitimate bombing attack on a jihadist headquarters accidentally struck some materials that produced toxic fumes that killed 80 people and injured 600. For some such as Hersh, the materials were either relatively benign such as chlorine used to cleanse corpses in keeping with Islamic burial guidelines or fertilizers containing organophosphates—the same chemical compound that sarin gas is based on. (It happens that Muslims use soap and that it is pesticides that contain organophosphates, not fertilizers.) Others claim that the jihadist warehouse was a chemical weapons factory that incorporated phosphorus-based chemicals that were never intended to be used as pesticides or fertilizer but only to kill people—sarin gas on the cheap, so to speak.

When I noticed Hersh’s gaffe about fertilizer that his fact-checker Scott Ritter somehow managed to gloss over, I decided to take a closer look at the phosphorus/phosphate/organophosphate question since it is easy to get confused over the differences.

The first reference to organophosphates was made by ex-military intelligence Colonel Patrick Lang just three days after the attack and hewed closely to Hersh’s account. Lang said that the Russians briefed the USA that the attack would take place and that it was aimed at jihadist headquarters. Lang states:

The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians. [emphasis added]

Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell who we are supposed to trust because he “learned” hard lessons from his boss’s role in fostering a “false flag” narrative about Saddam’s WMD’s, told essentially the same story but with a fudge factor:

And this warehouse was alleged to have ISIS supply [sic] in it and indeed it probably did. And some of these supplies were precursors for chemicals (or possibly an alternative they were phosphates for fertilizing)… Conventional bombs hit the warehouse and the wind dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.”

If they were “phosphates for fertilizing”, there was about as much possibility of transforming them into nerve gas as there was an alchemist turning lead into gold.

Then there is Scott Ritter, an WMD inspector who rose to glory for his opposition to Colin Powell’s bogus warnings. Unfortunately, he is turning in his own Powell-like performance to defend wrongly a Baathist dictator. Maybe he learned how to sling the bullshit from studying Powell’s UN speech that greased the slids for the invasion of Iraq.

In an April 9, 2017 Huffington Post article, Ritter wrote that the jihadists were building their own WMD’s with a combination of white phosphorus and chlorine that had been used already when they controlled East Aleppo. So when a bomb was dropped on their lair, it accidentally produced a toxic cloud from chemicals they had planned to use against the pluralist and democratic government in Damascus that has received an average of 98 percent of the vote ever since Hafez al-Assad seized power in a coup.

It is not exactly clear why white phosphorus would kill anybody in sarin gas like fashion since when it is not used to burn people through aerial bombardment, it is used mainly to produce smoke that can help to conceal troop movements. GlobalSecurity.org states that “Casualties from WP [white phosphorus] smoke have not occurred in combat operations” and that “irritation of the eyes and irritation of the mucous membranes are the most commonly seen injuries.”

As far as Ritter’s claim that rebels used white phosphorus/chlorine gas weaponry in East Aleppo, that is one only made by Syria, Iran and Russia. So it is not very surprising that he takes their word over what Trump calls “the fake news”.

On April 13, 2017 Gareth Porter, who was as ardent in his support for Pol Pot in the 1970s as he is today for Bashar al-Assad, told Truthout readers that it was not necessarily sarin gas that was used in Khan Sheikhoun. He came close to Ritter’s account but identified phosphine rather than white phosphorus as the smoking gun. He stated, “Both the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front fighters in the Aleppo area, moreover, had abundant stocks of phosphine-producing smoke munitions in 2013” and that “phosphine-producing munitions can be lethal if humans are exposed in confined space”. Well, I don’t know how Porter defines confined space but by all accounts the toxic cloud swept across several miles. Maybe the jihadists were funded by the Rothschild bank to put a huge glass dome over the village to make sure that the “false flag” worked. Who knows?

Chemically, phosphine is produced by combining white phosphorus with sodium or potassium hydroxide in laboratory conditions. As is the case with Ritter’s accusation, there are no news accounts of phosphine weaponry being used in Aleppo by either Assad or rebels—not even by Sputnik news. Maybe it was a dream he had.

Let’s assume that in his confusion that Hersh meant to say “in many pesticides” rather than “in many fertilizers” in his Die Welt article.

The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.

That still doesn’t pass the smell test as a chemistry PhD student specializing in biochemical weapons argued on BellingCat: “The most potent organophosphate pesticide, TEPP, is 10x less toxic than sarin. Parathion/E605 is 100-1000x less toxic. Neither is stored in bulk because neither is needed in huge quantities to cover an entire field.”

While I am no chemist by any stretch of the imagination, I would encourage others to spend several hours as I did trying to sort out the differences between all these terms that include “phos”.

  1. Phosphorus: This is an element that is key to human health. In fact, it is the second most prevalent element in your body next to calcium. In nature it exists in two forms: white and red. White phosphorus emits a slight glow when it is exposed to oxygen and hence has the prefix “phos”, which means light in Greek. As it is the second most common element in the human body, a German alchemist Hennig Brand extracted it from urine in an experiment in 1669. Even if he was an alchemist by profession, he was ten times as rigorous as the charlatans alluded to above.
  2. Phosphates: These are chemical compounds that contain phosphorus and are one of the key ingredients of fertilizers (the others are nitrogen and potassium compounds). It is also being used in Flint, Michigan to reduce the amount of lead that can get into pipes by building up what is called “mineral scale” that inhibits lead build-up.
  3. Organophosphates: This group of chemicals includes sarin gas as well as one called chlorpyrifos that was marketed by Dow Chemical under the brand names Lorsban (for agriculture) and Dursban (for residences) until the EPA banned it in 1996 because it was found to cause nerve damage to children. It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the new head of the EPA has overruled the ban and that is now legal again. The NY Times wrote that the ruling is more consequential than his “rolling back Obama administration rules related to coal-burning power plants and climate change”. With Dursban now for sale again in the USA and Trump giving Russia free rein in Syria, it won’t be long before chemically-induced fatalities will spike in both countries.
  4. Phosphines: The most practical use of phosphine is as a fumigant to get rid of rats and in minute quantities as a doping agent in electronic circuitry. Don’t interpret my reference to rats and doping to reflect on Gareth Porter.

Finally, in terms of whether bombing a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun could have killed 80 people and wounded 600 as a result of a bomb dropped on pesticides containing organophosphates, it is worth mentioning that an accident such as this did occur not so long ago:

On November 1, 1986 there was an explosion and fire in the Sandoz chemical company in Basel, Switzerland that contained a virtual  cornucopia of organophosphates, tons of the stuff including propetamphos, parathion, disulfoton, thiometon, etrimphos and fenitrothion–all in pure form rather than the diluted commercial pesticides that were presumably stored in the Khan Sheikhoun warehouse. A huge cloud ascended over the city. Casualties? None. Fourteen firefighters were treated for exposure to the chemicals in a local hospital. Not a single one died.

July 7, 2017

Battlefield Poland

Filed under: Counterpunch,Poland — louisproyect @ 12:59 pm

Stalin and Ribbentrop

In a speech given by Andrzej Wajda to a conference on his work at the University of Lodz in 2001, he spoke about the importance of a national cinema. Given the near-hegemony of Hollywood, one might say that national cinema has seen its day. In the post-WWII period, a number of directors emerged who, paraphrasing Shelly, became the unacknowledged legislators of their nation. Satyajit Ray in India, the Italian neo-realists, Akira Kurosawa in Japan, Ingmar Bergman in Sweden and the French auteurs, all were shaped by their experiences of WWII and their hopes that cinema could help to form a new identity out of the ashes of bombed cities and the mountains of skeletons left behind by the fighting.

For Wajda, the challenge was not just speaking for the hopes of the Polish people but in helping to form a national identity that had been suppressed since the early 1800s. In a subsequent CounterPunch article, I will provide a guide to Wajda’s most important films that are relatively easy to access as Video on Demand (VOD) but in order to make sense of his work, it is essential to preface it with a brief overview of Polish history in order for a left audience to properly grasp the mission Wajda set for himself as a director.

Continue reading

July 6, 2017

“Trotskyists” put down red carpet for obscure Stalinist blogger

Filed under: Stalinism,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:53 pm

Jeff Mackler

On Friday, July 14th at the Solidarity Center in NYC, Stephen Gowans will be speaking on “Washington’s Long War in Syria“, his new pro-Assad book. Solidarity Center is the HQ of the International Action Center, the antiwar front of the Workers World Party, a group that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement after the founder decided to back the Soviet tanks rather than the Hungarian workers in 1956. They are essentially Stalinists–much more so than the Communist Party.

Among the sponsors of the meeting is something called UNAC, the United Antiwar Coalition, that has a steering committee that is a mixture of WWP’er Sarah Flounders and independent Stalinists like Phil Wilayto.

But the largest party representation is from Socialist Action, a tiny sect led by Jeff Mackler. After splitting from the SWP, Mackler and other party veterans formed SA in the early 80s to rebuild a purified Trotskyist group. It has failed abjectly but like the group it split from, it soldiers on in the foolish notion that it is to the USA that Lenin’s party was to Russia. Mackler is on the steering committee as is Marilyn Levin and Christine Gavreau, who like Mackler are in their seventies. I can’t say for sure if they are still in SA but I strongly suspect that they are. This is definitely not a formation that is going to compete with the DSA for fresh young blood.

Gowans is a piece of work. With a straight face, he writes things like this:

The US Library of Congress country study on Syria refers to “the  socialist structure of the government and economy,” points out that  “the government continues to control strategic industries,” mentions that “many citizens have access to subsidized public housing and many basic commodities are heavily subsidized,” and that “senior regime members” have “hampered” the liberalization of the economy.


Meanwhile, Bassam Haddad, no friend of the Syrian rebels, wrote this:

By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.

After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.


None of this ever entered the ideological cocoon of the Marcyite wing of the American left that now includes Socialist Action. Indeed, nothing that took place within Syria held even the slightest interest for them. These are people who get their ideas from ZeroHedge, Moon of Alabama, Global Research, Information Clearing House and other bottom-feeding click-bait outlets of the lunatic left.

Sad, really.

July 5, 2017

Four documentaries

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:40 pm

Alone among all nations in the Western Hemisphere, Costa Rica has no armed forces. In 1948, the country dissolved the military as part of an ambitious social democratic program that included free medical care and education and that led many to describe it as the Sweden of Central America. And like Sweden, this social democratic showcase was midwifed by a bloody struggle. In Sweden, a general strike in Adalen the rightist government drowned in blood in 1931 so repulsed working people that they voted for the first in a string of socialist governments that defined the “Scandinavian Model”.

In Costa Rica, the decision to dissolve the military was made by a most extraordinary politician whose militias had defeated its rivals in a civil war that was so violent and protracted that you can still see bullet holes here and there in San Jose, the capital city.

All of this is detailed in a film titled “A Bold Peace” that is available from Bullfrog, a distributor of leading edge documentaries. Bullfrog’s primary market is institutional sales but it sells the DVD at a reduced price to activist and grass roots organization. For peace groups and the left, this is a film that would be of enormous value since it demonstrates the benefits that social democracy can deliver, even if they only became possible through armed struggle.

Rafael Calderon was a Roosevelt-styled reformer who won the election in 1942 and proceeded to institute a number of progressive social measures including Social Security, a first for Central America. He had two powerful allies in this enterprise: the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of Costa Rica.

Despite his left-populist goals, Calderon was paternalistic and corrupt, so much so that he antagonized the country’s emerging urban petty-bourgeoisie. They preferred a more modern capitalism that was diversified and less oriented to export agriculture. Calderon’s corruption was not as blatant as Somoza’s but it was just enough to anger many Costa Ricans who found a spokesman in Jose Figueres, the founder of a think-tank called the “Center for the Study of National Problems” in 1948. It was sharply anti-imperialist and thought that Calderon’s export-oriented model ceded too much to the United Fruit Company and other foreign companies. They produced studies that fed into the popular discontent against Calderon.

Contrary to dogmatic Marxist formulas, Figueres had the support of the country’s oligarchs that felt threatened by Calderon’s reforms. In 1948, after Calderon lost the election to a candidate backed by Figueres, the legislature dominated by Calderon’s party overturned the results—thus leading to a civil war that cost the lives of 2,000 Costa Ricans. Fighting on Calderon’s side was the Communist Party, while Figueres’s forces were composed mostly of students and professionals funded by sectors of the bourgeoisie. Figueres sought not only to topple Calderon but to foment revolutions against the big three oligarchs in the region: Batista, Somoza and Trujillo. As should be obvious, attempts to pigeonhole Costa Rican history are doomed.

After taking power, Figueres vowed to continue with Calderon’s social programs and to deepen them under the new Social Democratic party he founded. From that point on, Costa Rica became the bête noire of American imperialism and its allies in the region. Despite the threat they posed, Figueres believed a regular army was not only unnecessary but an institution that could easily transform Costa Rica into just another oligarchy. Instead, he urged the creation of a citizens militia but only during a national emergency—an approach not that different from that of the founding fathers of the USA.

The film presents a detailed account of a period I am deeply familiar with, when President Óscar Arias sought to fend off Reagan’s counter-revolutionary attack on Nicaragua. He relied on diplomacy buttressed by close ties to Western European governments that at the time were much further to the left and that were actually providing most of the desperately needed material aid Nicaragua required.

The last twenty minutes or so of the film deal with the enormous pressures being put on Costa Rica to “get with the program”, which meant agreeing to free trade deals and even backing Bush’s invasion of Iraq as part of the “coalition of the willing”. Costa Rica went along with the first demand but rejected the second. As a willing partner in the Washington Consensus, Costa Rica is being transformed into a poster child for neoliberalism with Walmart stores replacing locally-owned small stores and five star hotels springing up everywhere to lure tourists.

One might quibble with the documentary’s embrace of the current president Luis Guillermo Solis whose election in 2014 had been hailed as if the country had become part of the “pink tide”. He announced, “We need to shift away from … a violence expressed in poverty, in inequality and in the utterly perverse form of corruption.” This is easier said than done unfortunately. Last August, The Tico Times, a Costa Rican daily, reported that his approval rating was lower than any president in the last 38 years.

This is a result of the same malaise affecting every agro-export country in the Global South as well as country’s failed experiment to become a high-tech manufacturing center. In 2014, Intel moved from Costa Rica to Asia in order to take advantage of lower wages. When Solis first began to emerge as an important politician a decade ago, he staked his reputation on opposing CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement just as Alex Tsipras campaigned against Eurozone austerity.

But on May 1, 2017 the Economist reported: “The administration of the president, Luis Guillermo Solís, is committed to capitalising on Costa Rica’s accession to the Dominican Republic-Central America Free-Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and attracting new foreign investment.” One can accuse Solis of betraying his voters but no more so than any other pink tide politician. When enormous pressure is placed on a government by a worldwide capitalist system that is headed willy-nilly toward a confrontation with working people, it is impossible to expect much different from a left-centrist President. In covering the presidency of Oscar Arias, the film noted that the Costa Rican people were deeply opposed to the FSLN in Nicaragua even though it opposed Reagan’s military intervention even more. It is not out of the question that the Scandinavian model in Costa Rica will be sorely tested in the next big regional upsurge. Let’s hope that an army will not have been created in the meantime since it will surely be used against the people if they decide to take control of their own fate.

Opening at the Quad Cinema in New York on Wednesday, July 19th, and at Laemmle’s Music Hall Movie Theater in Los Angeles on Friday, July 28th, “Santoalla” is a crime melodrama that would have been beyond the ability of even the most imaginative screenwriter of fiction to dream. As is so often the case, documentaries are far more capable of revealing social dysfunction than any narrative film. Santolla, a tiny farming village in the mountains of the Galicia region of Spain, was at the most extreme edges of Spanish society and capable of forcing what appeared to be fairly normal people into a crucible with deadly results.

In 1997 Martin Verfondern and Margo Pool, a Dutch husband and wife, came to Santoalla in order to live off the land—not unlike the people who moved to Vermont in the 1970s. They were not interested in starting a commune, only getting away from city life and working with their hands.

By that point, Santoalla had become a virtual ghost town. Like many Spanish farming villages, it had become a victim of competition from larger corporate-based agriculture. When the couple arrived, there was only one family still living there—the Rodríguezes, consisting of an 80-year old retired farmer, his wife and their two fortyish sons still living at home. The older son was the main producer, raising cattle and crops on the picturesque mountainside, while the other could only be relied upon for unskilled labor since he was developmentally disabled.

The village was a shambles. All of the houses were falling apart and the streets were littered with debris. That did not matter to the Rodríguez clan that embodied traditional values with a vengeance. When Martin Verfondern began tidying up the streets and repairing fences, they felt infringed upon and began to see the Dutch couple as invaders.

To some extent, there was a big culture clash with the Dutchman harboring dreams of transforming the tiny village into a showplace for the arts and progressive farming techniques. With his Protestant work ethic, he must have struck his neighbors as overbearing. Squabbles over relatively minor things escalated to the point where the two households stopped talking to each other. Tensions reached the boiling point when the Dutch couple challenged the Rodriguezes for the right to share in the common property of the village, an economic institution that might have dated back to medievalism. In court, the older son testified that Verfondern was only there a couple of months a year, a lie that was easily refuted. The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the Dutch.

On January 19th, 2010, Martin drove to a neighboring town to do some shopping. Afterwards, several people spotted his SUV headed back up the mountain toward Santoalla. It was the last time he was ever seen. The film consists mostly of Margo Pool reminiscing about the good times they had in the village as well as the dark period when tensions might have led to his disappearance—and possible murder.

As this true crime story unfolds, you will be galvanized by the search for what took place in 2010 and the versions put forward by Margo Pool and her adversaries. In the press notes, co-directors Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer state:

While the Rodríguez family revered the pueblo as a place that preserved centuries-old customs and traditions, Martin and Margo envisioned their adopted home as a location to build their own utopia and foster their progressive ideals. Despite their mutual love for the village, neither side accepted the other’s concept of what Santoalla should be. That’s when we knew that the film was about more than just a disappearance.

In fact that sounds like the sort of clash that is taking place all over the industrialized world today between urban elites and rural “deplorables”. The film is both a gripping crime story as well as a parable of social conflict in late capitalism.

Opening at the Film Forum on July 26th, “Rumble” gets it title from a Link Wray tune recorded in 1958 that was banned in New York and Boston since it might incite teenage gang violence. Like much else in the 50s, including the witch-hunt against EC comics, it was just another example of Cold War hysteria and fear of young people straining against its repression.

The song outlived the censors as both the film and Wikipedia relate. Iggy Pop says that when he heard the opening chords of “Rumble” in a college student union, he decided then and there to become a rock-and-roll musician. According to Rolling Stone, Pete Townshend of The Who once said, “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I never would have picked up a guitar.” Meanwhile, my favorite rock musician—Mark E. Smith of The Fall—has stated: “The only people I ever really looked up to were Link Wray and Iggy Pop. Guys like…Link Wray…are very special to me.”

What is much less known about Link Wray was that he was an American Indian from the Shawnee tribe in North Carolina. While never reaching the level of recognition as “Rumble”, Wray recorded three songs that celebrated his origins: “Shawnee”, “Apache”, and “Comanche”.

Combining groundbreaking musicology, including interviews with both native and non-native experts, and stirring excerpts from the recordings and performances of a panoply of American Indian musicians, “Rumble” is one of the best music documentaries I have ever seen.

Executive Producer Stevie Salas, an Apache who played guitar with Mick Jagger and Justin Timberlake at different points in a long and distinguished career, explained his motivation for making the film possible:

I am a Native American guitarist who has worked with some of the most amazing and diverse acts in history such as Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Jeff Healey, Public Enemy, George Clinton, Bill Laswell and Adam Lambert to name a few.

This whole thing happened because at a young age I was playing sold out arenas and stadiums with Rod Stewart and while on the road across America I started to wonder, why are there were no other Native Americans in the biz? So after a bit of digging I discovered there were indeed others who, for reasons unknown to me, people didn’t know about. In fact to my surprise I was playing guitar parts on Rod Stewart songs that were recorded by a Kiowa Indian named Jesse Ed Davis…and I had no idea!

Jeff Beck who is considered one of the greatest guitar players on the planet loves Link Wray and loves Native American culture. He even told me how he and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin would play air guitar to Link’s records as teens BUT he didn’t know Link Wray was a Shawnee Indian and yes he flipped when I told him.

“Rumble” is both great entertainment and a contribution to understanding American popular music that will have you smiling every single minute of the film. It is also a major contribution to American Indian studies that demonstrates how native peoples were able to preserve their musical traditions even though the white master race tried to destroy it. Not to be missed.

Until August first, PBS POV has made available a documentary on its website titled “The War Show” that is a 90 minute history of the Syrian revolution made from the footage of media activists who were in the middle of the action. Starting out with giddy expectations, they are now profoundly distressed by the outcome—except for those who were murdered by Assad during the period the footage was being assembled.

Early on we meet a group of college students who look exactly like NYU students and behave like them. The women do not wear hijabs and wear tight jeans. The men are bearded but it is in the hipster style rather than in compliance with Islamic norms. And they are constantly smoking, either tobacco or reefer.

As soon as the protests began in 2011, they went out into the streets and began recording the protests and putting them up on Youtube. The film depicts them traveling around Syria meeting up with other young people, including those who were army defectors joining the FSA in order to defend peaceful protests.

As the military conflict escalated, the rebels were forced more and more to rely on Arab states and Turkey for weapons and funding, which meant that those militias with an Islamist orientation had the inside track.

And all the while, the destruction of Syrian society grows apace. With the sectarianization of the struggle, people like those who made this film were either killed or driven into exile. In one of the key scenes in the film, we see a standoff between activists of the Kafranbel Media Center famous for their English-language banners protesting the regime and Islamists marching under slogans like “We need an Islamic state”.

Like other documentaries about Syria, I have seen in the past two years or so, this one leaves you feeling rather dispirited. It is doubtful that anything good can come out of Syria today but if it does, it will be because there are people like those who made the film finally reentering the public space to defend the values of the Arab Spring.

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