Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 30, 2005

U.N. = U.S.

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:44 am

Within the broader antiwar movement in the United States, more moderate voices have raised the idea of substituting United Nations troops for the Anglo-American occupation forces in Iraq. This gesture supposedly would constitute a blow against the “unilateralism” that inspired the war and would express a more “multilateral” foreign policy that supposedly is a hallmark of the Democratic Party.

Even somebody as principled in his opposition to U.S. foreign policy as Ralph Nader endorsed this idea in calling for an international peace-keeping force drawn from neutral and Islamic nations under the auspices of the United Nations that would “replace all US troops and civilian military contractors doing many jobs the Army used to do more efficiently.”1

There was support for United Nations intervention from even more radical quarters in Australia. While it is undoubtedly one of the more principled and far-sighted groups on the far left, the Democratic Socialist Party had no problems calling for U.N. intervention in East Timor. On September 6, 1999, they declared that:

The Democratic Socialist Party calls on all supporters of democracy to mobilise to demand that the Australian government insist that the United Nations authorise the immediate dispatch of Australian troops to East Timor. The task of these troops must be to assist the East Timorese resistance forces to stop the current bloodbath being organised by the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) and police (Polri). This can only be achieved through the disarming of the pro-Jakarta terror gangs. In addition, these troops must supervise the rapid withdrawal of all Indonesian military and police personnel from East Timor so as to enable the East Timorese to take full control of their nation’s affairs.2

Looking back at the history of our movement, there is scant evidence for confidence in earlier international “peace-keeping” bodies. In an October 15, 1920 speech, Lenin spoke derisively of the League of Nations, which had demanded that the Red Army cease its offensive against counter-revolutionary Polish troops and enter into peace negotiations: “To this proposal we replied that we recognised no League of Nations, since we had seen its insignificance and the disregard that even its members had for its decisions.”3 He added that it had become plain “that the League of Nations was non-existent, that the alliance of the capitalist powers is sheer fraud, and that in actual fact it is an alliance of robbers, each trying to snatch something from the others.” This allusion to an alliance of robbers has been alternatively translated as a “den of thieves,” the more famous citation.

One major difference between the League of Nations and the United Nations was the presence of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the inclusion of postcolonial states in the General Assembly and their frequently courageous and principled stands give the U.N. a certain cachet that the League of Nations lacked. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, and the continuing inability of the General Assembly to actually make an impact on policies drawn up in the far more powerful Security Council, there should be no lingering illusions in the U.N.’s ability to act on behalf of peace and social justice—no should there have been when the organization was born, for that matter.

When the United Nations was created, the overwhelming preoccupation of the founders was to minimize challenges to the World War Two victors, who feared imperialist rivalries of the sort that had led to two costly world wars. The Soviet Union had its own interests at heart, which revolved around the need to create a barrier between European capitalist powers and its own project of “building socialism.” Initially, Stalin did not really see the need for a U.N. but hoped that a coalition of the U.S., Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. could negotiate conflicts and divide up spheres of influence between themselves as they had already at Yalta and Potsdam.

In conventional historical accounts, Franklin Roosevelt is seen as the thoroughgoing Wilsonian “multilateralist” who believed that the U.N. could succeed where the League of Nations had failed. Such idealist preening was of course bolstered by his allies in the Communist Party who had high hopes in 1945 that the wartime alliance would continue into the next century, if not forever. For Communist Party leader Earl Browder, the war was a fight between “a slave world and a free world.” He stated, “Just as the United States could not remain half slave and half free in 1862, so in 1942 the world must make its decision for a complete victory one way or the other.” Somehow, it must have escaped his attention that Black Americans served in segregated companies in the army and lacked the right to vote in the deep south.

Gabriel Kolko’s “The Politics of War,” a classic “revisionist” study of U.S. foreign policy, debunks the notion of American altruism motivating the creation of the United Nations. He paints a picture of top American diplomats conspiring to turn the proposed organization into a tool of its foreign policy objectives. By putting forward a “globalist” perspective, the United States would be able to project power across the world in the name of peace-keeping while at the same time retaining its own spheres of influence.

This consisted at the outset of islands seized from the Japanese and its traditional domination of Latin America through the Monroe Doctrine and the more recent “Good Neighbor” policy. Winston Churchill was amenable to all this, as long as British interests were not threatened: “If the Americans want to take Japanese islands which they have conquered, let them do so with our blessing and any form of words that may be agreeable to them. But ‘Hands Off the British Empire’ is our maxim.”

In a phone conversation between Henry Stimson, FDR’s Secretary of War and his undersecretary John McCloy that is contained in Stimson’s papers at Yale University, we get a flavor for the power politics hidden beneath the surface. (Dumbarton Oaks, referred to below frequently, was the site of the founding conference of the U.N.):

Stimson: Then there is this side. I think both those are important. Russia will, consider this, Russia will probably act that way anyhow no matter what the Dumbarton Oaks does…

McCloy: Yes. But I think you will have a great outcry of public opinion in the country against such a broadening of the regional arrangement. They will say that the Security Council and the World Organization has been defeated. And I’m not at all sure that it wouldn’t be…

McCloy: The proponents of Dumbarton Oaks say ‘Well, we will be free to act if there is any aggression against this continent.’ We certainly will be free to send, as Hay did, send the fleet down there in spite of this provision because that comes under self-defense and the aggressor would be acting inconsistent with the provisions of the Charter itself if he set in motion the aggression against this continent…

Secretary: Well I think that’s probably true and that may be a good reason for not insisting on the second thing; as for the first one, which may be very important in moderate interventions in this country, we have been a pretty active old Uncle Sam in stopping things, and I think we ought to continue to be. I think you ought to be able to prevent Russia from using that thing in her parallel, alleged parallel position. It isn’t parallel to it. She’s not such an overwhelmingly gigantic power from the ones which she’s probably going to make a row about as we are here and on the other hand our fussing around among those little fellow[s] there doesn’t upset any balance in Europe at all. That’s the main answer. It doesn’t upset any balance there where she may upset a balance that affects us. That’s the difference. I think I would stand on that. I think you ought to maintain that, although it seems to be a little thing, it’s been a pretty well developed thing and I think you can say that it isn’t parallel to what she threatens to do.

Additional confirmation of the U.S.’s Machiavellianism can be found in Peter Gowan’s 2003 New Left Review article titled appropriately enough “US: UN”. This is based on his reading of Stephen Schlesinger’s “Act of Creation” and Robert Hilderbrand’s “Dumbarton Oaks: the Origins of the United Nations,” two mainstream, scholarly accounts, as well as other material. Gowan sums up Roosevelt’s intentions:

Roosevelt, though not immune to self-deception himself—he too vaguely believed that good relations between Moscow and Washington could continue after the war, if not on an equal footing—had altogether wider horizons. American power was global, not regional, and required an institutional framework to fit it. The UN that Stalin allowed him to construct in due course fulfilled the original Soviet fears. Over the next half century, it is difficult to think of a single material benefit the USSR derived from the institution in which, to adapt Hilderbrand’s phrase, the Soviets soon “found themselves feeling increasingly isolated and vulnerable, truly the black sheep in the family of nations”.4

Words such as “isolated” and “vulnerable” certainly describe the status of North Korea, one of the Kremlin’s main allies as it would be confronted by the onslaught of a bloody United Nations backed intervention not five years after its formation.

On June 26, 1950, the U.S. presented a resolution condemning “North Korean aggression” in terms that would reappear again in the wars against Iraq. A civil war was magically transformed into an invasion by one country against the other, just as it was in Vietnam as well. Although many liberal “doves” had little trouble understanding the internal character of the Vietnam conflict, they failed to see Iraq-Kuwait from the same perspective. Modern day Kuwait was established in 1923 by waving the same colonial wand that produced Iraq. If self-determination had been allowed back then, Iraq’s borders would have included Kuwait. Although this might have seen logical to somebody like Saddam Hussein, it failed to pass muster in “peace-loving” circles.

North Korea, another pariah state, fell victim to the same sort of hypocrisy in 1950. When the war broke out, it was besides the point to ask ‘who attacked first,’ just as was the case with the American civil war when Fort Sumter was fired upon. It was the business of Americans to settle their conflict, just as it should have been Korean’s whose 38th parallel boundary was an artificial legacy of WWII.

By a vote of 46-6, the U.N. Security Council refused to hear the North Korean side of the story. Wasting no time, President Truman sent the navy and air force into action, thus presenting the U.N. with a fait accompli. It was no surprise that the U.N. would be favorably disposed to U.S. goals. Trygve Lie, the Norwegian Secretary-General, was a knee-jerk anti-Communist who received advice from the U.S. State Department about removing “subversives” from the U.N. staff.

The U.S.S.R., never as adept at diplomatic power politics as its former ally, was not on hand to veto the Security Council resolution blessing the war on North Korea. It was boycotting the organization over its refusal to seat Mao’s China.

Martin Hart-Landsberg sums up the close collaboration between the U.S. and the U.N. as follows:

Three days after the UN passed its second resolution, Truman upped the ante. He ordered the bombing of specific targets in North Korea, a naval blockade of the entire Korean coast, and use of U.S. ground troops. The UN followed on July 7, passing another resolution recommending that “all Members providing military forces and other assistance . . . make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States.” It also called upon the United States to “designate the commander of such forces.” Amazingly, the UN placed all member country forces under U.S. control without requiring accountability. In other words, the United States was given the freedom to fight the war unaccountable to any other member nation, clothed in the principles and ideals the United Nations claimed to represent.

Truman chose General Douglas MacArthur to head the unified command. Along with the United States, fifteen nations including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Columbia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom provided soldiers. The United States, however, provided most of the troops and paid most of the bills. It was a U.S. show wrapped in a UN flag.5

One might say that the Korean War was the first exercise in the kind of “multilateralism” that some liberals are anxious to reinstitute.

The Korean War consolidated an anti-communist beachhead in East Asia that would serve future interventions well, including in Vietnam. In a similar fashion, U.S. and U.N. collaborated to overturn Patrice Lumumba’s government in the Congo in 1960. Mobutu, his successor, was a willing tool of U.S. foreign policy, and worked with apartheid South Africa to destroy revolutionary movements throughout the continent.

As was the case in the Korean War, the Secretary-General of the U.N. in 1960 was a Scandinavian and an anti-communist. Dag Hammarskjold, a Swede, has an ill-deserved reputation as a friend of peace. His death in an airplane crash in the Congo (that some blame on the CIA and MI5) in 1961 prompted his fellow Swedes to posthumously award him the Nobel Peace prize that year.

For an alternative interpretation, one might turn to the aptly titled “The Congo Betrayal: The U.N.-U.S. and Lumumba” by D. Katete Orwa.6 Orwa lays out in agonizing detail how Hammarskjold stabbed the Congolese peoples’ hope for freedom and independence in the back.

Unfortunately, Lumumba made the mistake of inviting the U.N. to begin with. Although he was a principled nationalist, he had apparently never absorbed the analysis of the U.N. that had traditionally been presented in the Marxist movement outside of Stalinist circles. When the mineral-rich Katanga province, led by Moise Tshombe with backing by Belgian troops, seceded from the Congo, Lumumba asked for U.N. help in resisting the rebel troops. In other words, he expected the U.N. to come to the aid of a newly independent state, just as the charter promised.

Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, put it somewhat disingenuously in his 1961 speech honoring Hammarskjold:

This form of military aid did not meet the expectations of the Congo government, which had clearly envisaged the expulsion of Belgian troops by UN forces; whereas the UN’s action was taken on the assumption that Belgium would comply with the order of the Security Council and withdraw her troops from the Congo.

Of course, the U.N. had no trouble putting its imprimatur on a U.S. war against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait. The decision to expel Iraqi troops and leave Belgian troops in place can only be explained in terms of geopolitical realities. When Lumumba insisted that the Congolese people have the right to exploit their own mineral resources for the benefit of the nation, he became enemy number one on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C. The U.S. and its European allies had decided that Lumumba was a threat to the capitalist status quo in Africa and adjusted its Wilsonian principles accordingly.

African-American Ralph Bunche was Under Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time and the Condoleeza Rice of his time. At a UCLA conference on Bunche last year, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, professor emeritus of African studies at Howard University in Washington, DC, and a former president of the African Studies Association of the United States, told the gathering:

Bunche arrived with negative attitudes toward Lumumba, negative toward all radical nationalists including Nasser and Nkrumah. The Belgians briefed Bunche negatively about Lumumba. He had won a plurality in elections but was not the first choice of Belgians, who backed Kasavubu, whose party had only 12 seats compared to more than 30 for Lumumba’s party. Once Lumumba became prime minister he agreed to help Kasavubu as titular head of state. The first sign of division came on June 30, 1960, with Lumumba’s independence day speech against Belgian colonialism, now a classic speech.7

While the main challenge to Lumumba came from the CIA and Belgian troops, the U.N. played a crucial role as well. By providing de facto diplomatic cover for the efforts to overthrow Lumumba, the U.N. was a key element in a well-orchestrated plan. Since Lumumba was not interested in affiliating with the Soviet bloc, he was far more vulnerable than Fidel Castro, who was facing similar obstacles.

After growing increasingly frustrated with U.N. inaction, Lumumba urged that an Afro-Asian observation team take charge on the ground. He also took exception to Swedish troops operating in the Congo under the U.N. mandate since that country was “known to have special affinities with the Belgian royal family.” A letter made public to Hammarskjold pressing these demands prompted critics to conclude that he had become “paranoic,” which leads one to cite perhaps the only sensible words to come out of Henry Kissinger’s mouth: “Even a paranoid can have enemies.”

As the plotters began finalizing their coup against Lumumba, U.N. help was critical, as Orwa points out:

Cordier [a U.N. diplomat assigned to the Congo] then took steps which prevented Lumumba from wresting power from Kasavubu and Mobutu. First, he ordered United Nations troops in Leopoldville to occupy the radio stations; then on September 6, UN technicians rendered it inoperable. UN forces also closed all airports to prevent the return of General Lundula and Cleophas Kamitatu, the President of Leopoldville, to the capital bringing with them troops loyal to Lumumba. This action was extremely important, because General Lundula would have won the allegiance of most of the 4,000 soldiers garrisoned in Leopoldville while Kamitatu would have helped rally the support of the civilian population in the area. Finally, on September 10, two days after Cordier left for New York and five days after Dayal’s arrival, Major-General Ben Hammon Kettani, Deputy Supreme Commander of UN Force, and Mobutu disbursed money to the contingents in Leopoldville. Mobutu claimed credit for the payment “to build his prestige among troops.” Dayal, who was at the scene, wrote that Mobutu had little following among the 4,000 ANC soldiers and that the payment influenced their behaviour in critical days that followed.

Shortly after an antiwar movement began to take shape prior to the invasion of Iraq, some “moderates” initiated “Win Without War” as an alternative to ANSWER and other more radical formations. In a Nation Magazine article, David Corn put it this way:

Cortright, who was executive director of SANE from 1977 to 1987 (when it was the largest peace organization in the United States) and his colleagues in Washington were looking to assemble an opposition that would possess wider appeal, that would press a message that extends beyond a no-to-war demand and endorses an alternative to military action.

The coalition’s central demand is, let the UN and its weapons inspectors do their jobs. But what if Saddam thwarts the inspectors or they find he has ready-to-go weapons of mass destruction? Would Win Without War back a UN-sanctioned military response? Elements of the coalition are pacifists, according to Cortright; most are not: “There might be circumstances where some of our groups would support [military action against Iraq], such as if there were explicit authorization from the UN Security Council.” Greenwald notes that the artists’ statement “leaves open the possibility of a multilateral attack. We felt it was premature to get into that. The biggest point of agreement among the signers is that the United States should follow the law, follow the Security Council.”8

Cortright had little disagreement with U.S. aims in the region, only how to achieve them. As a believer in the necessity for sanctions, he simply thought that there were more effective ways to bend Iraq to the American will than an invasion.

In a November 2001 article in the Nation Magazine titled “A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions,” Cortright attacked Bush’s foreign policy from the vantage point of his own dovish brand of imperialism wrapped in the U.N.’s blue flag.

He starts off by gainsaying the findings of the Lancet to the effect that the sanctions had resulted in the death of 567,000 Iraqi children. When Madeleine Albright was confronted by this figure, she replied, “The price is worth it.” Drawing upon critics of the Lancet study, Cortright is persuaded that the number is only 350,000! After reviewing the suffering that the Iraqi people have to endure as a result of the sanctions, he concludes by lecturing the peace movement about the need to stay the course: “It is also important, peace and human rights groups surely would agree, to maintain military sanctions until Iraq complies fully with the UN disarmament mandate and permits a final round of weapons inspection.”9

While Cortright’s dismissal of the Lancet findings is less obnoxious than Christopher Hitchens’s, it does share the same sort of ‘revisionist’ animosity towards impeccable sources. In his debate with George Galloway, Hitchens called the most recent Lancet report blaming the invasion and occupation for 100,000 additional Iraqi deaths a “crazed fabrication.” If only Cortright would use such language, we would have an easier time figuring out who our enemies are.

The notion that such sanctions were compatible with lofty notions of international peace-keeping were fairly well demolished by Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Phyllis Bennis, who writes quite capably about the U.N. from a left perspective despite being seduced by the idea that it can somehow be “democratized.”

In “Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s U.N.”, she refers to the sanctions against Iraq as the “Not-Quite Warfare.” These sanctions were supposedly put into place to make sure that Iraq got rid of its weapons of mass destruction. She points out that “By October 7, 1994, according to the report issued that day by the UN’s own Special Commission investigating Iraqi weapons systems (UNSCOM), all those stipulations had been at least minimally met.” However, the report did not result in the lifting of the oil embargo, which had much more to do with destroying the Iraqi economy than protecting the world from a dictator bent on nuclear conflagration. Even Iraq’s acceptance of the U.N. determined border of Kuwait failed to convince the Security Council to lift the ban.

When Rolf Ekeus, the U.N. official in charge of overseeing the destruction of WMD’s in Iraq, filed a report in 1994 challenging CIA claims that there were such weapons and assuring the U.N. that “if Iraq extends…the same level of cooperation that it has in the past…there can be cause for optimism.” This did not assuage a U.S. dominated Security Council that included a by now neoliberal former Soviet Union. Under instructions from President Clinton, U.S. diplomats insisted that Iraq was still defying U.N. inspectors just as they would under Bush. No wonder Bush has repeatedly defended his atrocious policies by simply stating that he is continuing what previous administrations have done.

On August 19, 2003, just 5 months after the invasion of Iraq, a huge bomb destroyed U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Among the killed was U.N. Special Representative Sérgio Vieira de Mello. His death was viewed in liberal circles as a symptom of the particularly bloodthirsty character of the Iraqi resistance. Perhaps the men and women who set off the bomb might have been seeking revenge for the sanctions-induced death of hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and their children. Or, perhaps, they had a visceral hatred for outside “peacekeeping” agencies meddling into Iraqi affairs on behalf of U.S. imperialism. Whatever the motivation, it removed from the scene a potentially useful tool for a more “multilateral” American administration headed by somebody like John Kerry or Hillary Clinton.

By all evidence, de Mello was playing the same sort of role that Hammarskjold had played before him. Just a month before his death, the U.N. was all set to endorse Paul Bremer’s Governing Council, an outfit that Kofi Annan described as “a broadly representative partner with whom the United Nations and the international community at large can engage.” (Washington Post, July 20, 2003) The Washington Post also reported that de Mello had met with President Bush just 4 months earlier along with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The U.N. diplomat “had been the Bush administration’s first choice for the job.”

One can understand why. De Mello had just the kind of background that was needed to provide the proper progressive sheen on a sordid colonial operation such as the kind that groundwork was being laid for in Iraq. He had served as top U.N. representative in “liberated” East Timor. His friend Peter Galbraith, who was a fellow U.N. overseer of the affairs of the East Timorese people and who has recently written articles in the New York Review advocating the break-up of Iraq along the lines of Yugoslavia where he served as U.S. Ambassador to the secessionist Croatia, described de Mello’s role in East Timor as follows: He “had absolute power, it was the most comprehensive mandate” ever granted to such a special representative. “Full legislative, executive and judicial authority was invested in him.” (N.Y. Times, May 24, 2003)

Obviously de Mello and Galbraith knew what had to be done in East Timor:

Australia and East Timor are edging towards agreement on a critical new treaty to govern the Timor Gap, paving the way for development of the substantial gas deposits in the resource-rich waters that divide the two neighbours.

Speedy conclusion of the treaty is vital for East Timor – which in late 1999 voted to secede from Indonesia – because revenues from the developments will provide the impoverished new state with its main source of income.

Based on exploration to date, the Timor Gap fields contain 500m barrels of oil equivalent, worth some USDollars 17bn (Pounds 12bn) at today’s prices.

East Timor has a budget this year of USDollars 60m, is entirely reliant on foreign aid and is being run by a United Nations-led transition government (Untaet) ahead of elections for a national assembly due later this year.

Negotiations on a new treaty began eight months ago and there has been concern among oil companies working in the region over delays in reaching agreement. But Peter Galbraith, Untaet minister for political affairs and East Timor’s chief negotiator in the talks, said in an interview yesterday there had been “substantial progress” in the negotiations.10

This would appear to be the same sort of scenario that was planned for Iraq until an insurgency broke out. Under the guise of “humanitarianism,” a new colonial enterprise would be put in place to drain precious mineral wealth from the country just as was the case in East Timor.

On December 6, 2002, the World Socialist website reported on a burgeoning movement in East Timor that while lacking the firepower of the Iraqi insurgency seems bred by the same sort of resentments:

At least two people have been killed and more than 20 injured in clashes with police and soldiers during two days of protests and rioting by students and unemployed youth in the East Timorese capital of Dili. The situation remains tense after the government imposed an overnight curfew on Wednesday and called for UN troops to help police guard key buildings and patrol the city’s streets. Most shops and businesses, as well as the university and high schools, were closed yesterday.

Interior Affairs Minister Rogerio Lobato baldly asserted that the protests were “an orchestrated manoeuvre to topple the government”. He and other officials alleged that the CDP-RDTL (Popular Defence Committee—Democratic Republic of East Timor) was behind the rioting. The group, which opposes the UN presence and calls for full independence for East Timor, has organised a number of anti-government protests…

The government is clearly looking for a scapegoat to deflect attention from the failure of their own policies. There is a huge social divide between a tiny elite of government officials, businessmen, foreign officials, aid workers and troops and the vast majority of the population, most of whom are unemployed and living below the poverty line.

Young people, in particular, are angry that their prospects for an education and a job are extremely small. Among the businesses ransacked on Wednesday was the Australian-owned “Hello Mister” supermarket, which specialises in supplying imported goods to UN and other foreign workers. While UN troops and officials are paid hefty living allowances of $US100 a day, most East Timorese are struggling to survive from day to day. The few who have jobs earn an average of about $6 a week.

Estimates of the jobless rate vary between 70 and 80 percent. Moreover, it has worsened since East Timor formally declared independence on May 20, as the number of UN personnel has been reduced. The difficulties facing villagers in rural areas have been compounded by a severe drought. Even with the official poverty rate set at just US 50 cents a day, a UN survey last year found that 60 percent of people in rural areas were living in poverty. Education and health services are rudimentary.

Many East Timorese have begun to feel betrayed as the promises that accompanied the Australian-led UN military intervention into East Timor have failed to materialise. Clearly nervous about the situation, Australian Prime Minister John Howard phoned his counterpart in Dili to pledge financial assistance—to bolster the police and judiciary, not to alleviate the underlying social crisis.11

The pattern should be obvious by this point. The evidence points to the U.N. as serving as a handmaiden to U.S. imperialism and its junior partners. Hopes for this outfit “democratizing” itself are as vain as hopes that capitalism can reform itself. While one can understand the yearning of the ordinary citizen of the planet for some sort of international agency that can mediate between conflicting nations and act as a tribune on behalf of the weak and the vulnerable, the United Nations is not such an organization and—more importantly—was never intended as such.

1. http://www.votenader.org/why_ralph/index.php?cid=55
2. www.dsp.org.au/etimor/02_solidarity-aus01.htm
3. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/oct/15b.htm
4. http://www.newleftreview.net/nlr25801.shtml
5. “Korea: Division, Reunification, and U.S. Foreign Policy”, Monthly Review Press, 1998, pp. 115-116
6. Kenya Literature Bureau, 1985
7. http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=11977
8. http://www.thenation.com/blogs/capitalgames?bid=3&pid=204
9. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011203/cortright
10. Financial Times (London), May 17, 2001
11. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/dec2002/tim-d06.shtml

September 29, 2005

Dear Juan Cole

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:14 am

Dear Juan Cole,

In your 9/29 Salon.com article, you use the 9/24 protests as an opportunity to lecture the Democratic Party about its refusal to take a stand against the war in Iraq:

The frankly pusillanimous tactic of declining to speak out on the war will ill serve the Democratic Party, which has managed to lose both houses of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court. The American public is not generally antiwar, it is simply impatient with any long-term, highly expensive governmental endeavor that does not appear likely to succeed.

Full: http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2005/09/29/protests/index.html

I don’t think you are being fair to the Democratic Party leadership. Recent history would indicate a willingness to go to the mat when they are engaged with the proper issue. For example, Bill Clinton showed enormous backbone and a fighting spirit equal to Mohammad Ali’s when he pushed NAFTA through Congress. Defying his trade union supporters, he brazened it out with a sure conviction that low wages and free trade would improve the bottom line of American corporations. We haven’t seen such a profile in courage since Ronald Reagan fired the airline controllers.

You also manage to throw in a rather savvy bit of red-baiting that at first gives the appearance of rejecting it:

The permits for the protests and some sort of basic organization were provided by small far-left groups, but anyone who took the time to do an Internet search in student and local newspapers could find accounts of ordinary students, churchgoers and municipal peace groups chartering buses for the nation’s capital. Surely no one thinks that International ANSWER or the Workers World Party of Ramsey Clark has more than a handful of members. They were good for setting a date and getting a permit. Popular discontent with the war supplied the demonstrators.

To start with, the march was co-sponsored by the groups mentioned above and by United for Peace and Justice. I am sure that you are aware that it took months for them to hammer out an agreement. Whatever one wants to say about UfPJ, “far left” would be the last term to spring to mind. This is a group whose leaders have a fondness for the Democratic Party equal to your own. Even the Communists among them agree that “setting a date” for withdrawal à la Russ Feingold is a more sensible approach than a precipitous withdrawal. (Which leads me to consider agitating for a new slogan for the antiwar movement: “Precipitous Withdrawal!” Has a certain ring, doesn’t it?)

Perhaps out differences revolve around semantics in the final analysis. You write:

The potential of a strong antiwar stance striking a chord with the public has already been demonstrated by Paul Hackett. A Marine who recently served in Iraq, Hackett became a civilian and ran in August as a Democrat for Congress in Ohio’s 2nd District, traditionally heavily Republican. He lambasted George W. Bush as a chicken hawk and said he should never have begun the Iraq war. Yet Hackett is no peacenik. He says, “I love the Marine Corps. I happen to think it’s being misused in Iraq.” He only narrowly lost the election, and the Democratic leadership is seriously thinking of putting him up for an Ohio Senate seat, according to the Hill.

Now, I think that Paul Hackett has been evolving in an interesting fashion following his failed run in Ohio. I saw him on Bill Maher a couple of months ago giving support for precipitous withdrawal, bless his soul. But his campaign can only be described as “antiwar” in the sense that John Kerry ran an “antiwar” campaign in 2004. The American Prospect reported, “Hackett, who worked alongside and helped train Iraqi troops, believes U.S. forces should remain in Iraq until at least 140,000 Iraqi soldiers have been trained, and won’t put a timetable on American withdrawal.” Now I understand that this sort of Nixonian “Iraqization” approach might be interpreted as “antiwar” in some circles, it doesn’t stand up to a serious analysis.

Between the Democrats and the Republicans, there can be all sorts of disagreements about the war in Iraq, but they are united on the all-important question, namely the right of the U.S.A. to dictate what an appropriate outcome would be. Finally, I appreciate the fact that you are giving space to Gilbert Achcar on your blog to respond to you on these questions. This represents an open-minded attitude that the broader left movement should embrace. I just wish that you take his arguments to heart, since they seem far more consistent with the humanitarian and internationalist perspective you have adopted on your blog on most days.

September 25, 2005

Bob Dylan on New Orleans

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:26 am

(From the magisterial “Chronicles, volume one”, now in paperback.)

I showed up in New Orleans in early spring, moved into a large rented house near Audubon Park, a comfortable place, all the rooms fair sized, furnished quite simply, wardrobe cupboards in just about every room. We couldn’t have come to a better place for me. It was really perfect. You could work slow here. They were waiting at the studio, but I didn’t feel like jumping into anything. Sooner or later I’d have to get to the point but I could try it on another day. I brought a lot of the songs with me, I was pretty sure they would hold up veil.

Right now, I strolled into the dusk. The air was murky and intoxicating. At the corner of the block, a giant, gaunt cat crouched on a concrete ledge. I got up close to it and stopped and the cat didn’t move. I wished I had a jug of milk. My eyes and ears were open, my consciousness fully alive. The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying ¦ grounds-the cemeteries-and they’re a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here. Going by, you try to be as quiet as possible, better to let them sleep. Greek, Roman, sepulchres-palatial mausoleums made to order, phantomesque, signs and symbols of hidden decay-ghosts of women and men who have sinned and who’ve died and are now living in tombs. The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here. You could be dead for a long time. The ghosts race towards the light, you can almost hear the heavy breathing- spirits, all determined to get somewhere. New Orleans, unlike a lot of those places you go back to and that don’t have the magic anymore, still has got it. Night can swallow you up, yet none of it touches you. Around any corner, there’s a promise of something daring and ideal and things are just getting going. There’s something obscenely joyful behind every door, either that or somebody crying with their head in their hands. A lazy rhythm looms in the dreamy air and the atmosphere pulsates with bygone duels, past-life romance, comrades requesting comrades to aid them in some way. You can’t see it, but you know it’s here. Somebody is always sinking. Everyone seems to be from some very old Southern families. Either that or a foreigner. I like the way it is.

There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There’s a thousand different angles at any moment. At any time you could run into a ritual honoring some vaguely known queen. Bluebloods, titled persons like crazy drunks, lean weakly against the walls and drag themselves through the gutter. Even they seem to have insights you might want to listen to. No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem. Gardens full of pansies, pink petunias, opiates. Flower-bedecked shrines, white myrtles, bougainvillea and purple oleander stimulate your senses, make you feel cool and clear inside.

Everything in New Orleans is a good idea. Bijou Temple-type cottages and lyric cathedrals side by side. Houses and mansions, structures of wild grace. Italianate, Gothic, Romanesque, Greek Revival standing in a long line in the rain. Roman Catholic art. Sweeping front porches, turrets, cast-iron balconies, colonnades-thirty-foot columns, gloriously beautiful-double pitched roofs, all the architecture of the whole wide world and it doesn’t move. All that and a town square where public executions took place. In New Orleans you could almost see other dimensions. There’s only one day at a time here, then it’s tonight and then tomorrow will be today again. Chronic melancholia hanging from the trees. You never get tired of it. After a while you start to feel like a ghost from one of the tombs, like you’re in a wax museum below crimson clouds. Spirit empire.- Wealthy empire. One of Napoleon’s generals, Lallemand, was said to have come here to check it out, looking for a place for his commander to seek refuge after Waterloo. He scouted around and left, said that here the devil is damned, just like everybody else, only worse. The devil comes here and sighs. New Orleans. Exquisite, old-fashioned. A great place to live vicariously. Nothing makes any difference and you never feel hurt, a great place to really hit on things. Somebody puts something in front of you here and you might as well drink it. Great place to be intimate or do nothing. A place to come and hope you’ll get smart-to feed pigeons looking for handouts. A great place to record. It has to be-or so I thought.

September 23, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: a Marxist analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:49 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on September 23, 2005

If September 2001 signaled an opening bid by U.S. imperialism to impose its hegemonic will on the rest of the world, then September 2005 represents closure for a project that had already been faltering under the impact of Iraqi resistance. Richard Haass, director of policy planning in Bush’s State Department and an open defender of imperialism, put it this way recently:

Katrina will also have an impact on how citizens of the United States view foreign policy. The enormous problems and costs associated with the hurricane will raise additional questions about the ability of the United States to “stay the course” in Iraq. The aftermath of the catastrophe will inevitably increase political pressure on President Bush to begin to reduce the U.S. involvement in Iraq and refocus U.S. resources at home, be it on the expensive reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas or on improving the country’s capacity to deal with future disasters of this magnitude.1

Hurricane Katrina exposed a number of fault-lines that are rooted in the very foundations of American capitalist society. The frequent characterizations in the media about New Orleans looking “third world,” while somewhat overstated, do get to the heart of whether or not the strategic path of the American bourgeoisie over the past 30 years, which amounts to a dismantling of the New Deal legacy by Republican and Democratic presidents alike, is tenable. In the pages of the Nation Magazine, William Greider calls for a ‘new’ New Deal:

Senator Edward Kennedy calls for a “Gulf Coast Regional Redevelopment Authority,” modeled after FDR’s Tennessee Valley Authority, to lead the rebuilding. Former Senator John Edwards proposes a vast new jobs program, patterned after the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), in which the displaced and the poor are hired at living wages to clean up and rebuild their devastated communities. In the week after Katrina, Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Stephanie Tubbs Jones swiftly rounded up eighty-eight House co-sponsors, including some from Mississippi and Louisiana, for a similar initiative.2

The conclusion to this article will propose some alternatives to both Haass’s overweening, neoconservative ambitions and to Greider’s nostalgia for a welfare state that can never be recreated.

Although the mass media has depicted the New Orleans disaster as unprecedented, Mike Davis had already called attention to how devastating such a storm could be on the lives of poor Black people in the aftermath of the 2004 Hurricane Ivan:

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond’s version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less — mainly Black — were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city’s poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean’s daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the “large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods” who wanted to evacuate but couldn’t.3

One might expect Davis, an authority on environmental crisis, to turn his attention next to Katrina’s origins and impact. This storm is a case study in how capitalism is not a sustainable system.

To start with, Katrina—like the previous year’s Ivan—was a category 5 Hurricane. Scientists have grown increasingly alarmed about the possibility that such storms might be caused by global warming, since hurricanes are spawned by warm ocean currents. The warmer the water, the more intense is the storm. Although it is difficult to “prove” that global warming is directly related to the intensity of recent storms, respected scientists believe that the trends are unmistakable. One such scientist, M.I.T’s Kerry A. Emanuel, formerly skeptical about such ties, is now convinced otherwise:

While looking at historical records, the atmospheric physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the total power released by storms had drastically increased — more than doubling in the Atlantic Ocean in the past 30 years. The evidence was so overwhelming that he could not stand by his earlier statements.

“I wasn’t even looking for it,” says Mr. Emanuel. “The trend was just so big that it stood out like a sore thumb.”

He withdrew his name from the forthcoming paper that plays down global warming’s influence on hurricanes. Then he published a new study in Nature last month, proclaiming the opposite conclusion.

“I didn’t feel comfortable saying what we said a year ago,” he says. “I think I see a strong global-warming signal.”4

If the devastation wrought on New Orleans does not serve as a wake-up call to the American ruling class, then probably nothing ever will. The combination of a powerful hurricane and inadequately maintained levees in close proximity to oil refineries has turned a major city into a toxic dump that will take months, if not years to reclaim. In an exclusive interview with the Independent on September 11, Hugh Kaufman, an expert on toxic waste at the Environmental Protection Agency official, warned the city will be unsafe for human habitation for a decade or more. He added that the Bush administration was covering up the danger.

Whatever future the city has, the nation’s elite has few plans for the poor Blacks who were the main victims of government ineptitude. While some conspiracy theorists argue that the 17th street canal levee was deliberately dynamited in order to flood Black neighborhoods and drive the inhabitants out in order to facilitate gentrification, it is far more likely and easier to prove that evacuation and rescue efforts were given short shrift in order to accomplish more or less the same thing. Just as the Bush administration took advantage of 9/11 in order to penetrate and control the oil-rich Middle East and Central Asia, it and its local allies in New Orleans (including many Black Democrats) seek to recast New Orleans as more economically viable and whiter metropolis.

Such plans were already underfoot under African-American Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration. According to the September 6, Los Angeles Times, Nagin, who donated thousands of dollars to Bush’s campaign in 2000, was behind “a controversial plan to replace many public housing projects with single-family homes and businesses. The notorious St. Thomas housing projects, for example, were replaced a few years ago by a Wal-Mart.”

In a gesture that symbolized ruling class insensitivity to its most vulnerable subjects, President Bush’s mother stated: “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

Considering the fact that this is the largest internal migration in the U.S. since the Great Depression, one might hope and expect a militant reaction to this sort of Hooverville mentality.

Although hostility and contempt for poor Black people crosses party lines, there is a growing perception that the Bush administration with its commitment to “small government” (except when it comes to military adventures overseas) is simply inadequate to solving the mess in New Orleans or responding to future disasters, like an earthquake in California or another major terrorist attack. When you gut agencies like FEMA and the EPA and hire toadies like Michael Brown to run them, you eliminate the possibility of providing adequate protection against disaster and ensuring a rapid recovery. Ultimately, this involves corporate profits. Hurricane Katrina, with all due respect to conspiracy theorists, was a major blow to big business as well as the housing project denizen.

As a seaport, New Orleans was second to none. A vast array of exports made their way overseas, especially farm goods that were sent south on barges on the Mississippi River just as they have for over a century. In addition, oil drilling and refining infrastructure was heavily damaged. It is entirely conceivable that this damage can be repaired and that a New Orleans might be constructed on a new basis consisting of petrochemicals, farm exports and tourism, but it is a challenge to a weakened labor and Black movement, as well as the organized left to take the needs of a vast refugee population into account.

Unlike the period following September 2001, society is now far more favorably disposed to challenges to the Bush administration and its liberal accomplices. Despite former President Clinton’s efforts to soften criticism of Bush through his partnership with the elder Bush in charitable fund-raising around Katrina, there are signs that other mainstream politicians and the press are finally reacting to widespread alienation from the neoconservative agenda and are ready to speak out.

In contrast to March 2003, when embedded reporters in Iraq served as virtual public relations operatives for the Pentagon, the media has openly challenged the Bush administration and its hard-core supporters in Murdoch-controlled outlets.

The sight of bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans and babies crying for milk has had even the most flag-waving reporter crying out in anguish against government inaction and insensitivity. Anderson Cooper, a CNN host not particularly noted for challenging officialdom, conducted an interview with Louisiana Senator Mary L. Landrieu on September 1. When she began by complementing both Republican and Democratic politicians for their response to the crisis, Cooper interjected:

Excuse me, Senator, I’m sorry for interrupting, I haven’t heard that, because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians slap — you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours.

Cooper clearly reflects a shifting mood in the country. Continuing casualties in Iraq, mounting energy prices, insecurity over a jobless “recovery” have made the ordinary citizen less receptive to Karl Rove orchestrated media events featuring the president. The N.Y. Times’s Maureen Dowd, never a great fan of the president to begin with, had this to say on September 17, 2005:

In a ruined city – still largely without power, stinking with piles of garbage and still 40 percent submerged; where people are foraging in the miasma and muck for food, corpses and the sentimental detritus of their lives; and where unbearably sad stories continue to spill out about hordes of evacuees who lost their homes and patients who died in hospitals without either electricity or rescuers – isn’t it rather tasteless, not to mention a waste of energy, to haul in White House generators just to give the president a burnished skin tone and a prettified background?

The slick White House TV production team was trying to salvage W.’s “High Noon” snap with some snazzy Hollywood-style lighting – the same Reaganesque stagecraft they had provided when W. made a prime-time television address from Ellis Island on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On that occasion, Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, and Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and a lighting expert, rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used for “Monday Night Football” and Rolling Stones concerts, floated them across New York Harbor and illuminated the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop for Mr. Bush.

Dowd dismissed these efforts as a kind of “Disney on Parade” in the title of her op-ed piece. All in all, there is the ineluctable sense that the media is beginning to conclude that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Ultimately, the Maureen Dowds and William Greiders of the U.S. pin their hopes on an ouster of the Republican Party in 2008 and a restoration of honest government and a willingness to treat social ills with something more than private charity. They have fond memories of New Deal traditions extending through Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Realistically, there is about as much chance of restoring the welfare state as there is in time travel. The period they look back nostalgically upon owed more to the fortuitous circumstances enjoyed by the American capitalist economy than the beneficence of its rulers.

World War Two broke the back of the Great Depression through military spending and post-war prosperity. Programs like the G.I. Bill, subsidized housing and Medicare feasible rested on the U.S.’s hegemonic role in the global economy. With a recovered Europe and Japan following the 1960s and with newer challenges from China and India, it is no longer possible to sustain imperialism abroad and the welfare state at home. The meanness of the Bush administration is a necessary outcome of fierce global competition. If you are forced by the logic of capital accumulation to drive down wages and cut expenses, the inevitable outcome is politicians like Bush. When the Democrats are forced by the very same iron laws to support neoliberal trade bills and assaults on Social Security, voters will most often back the Republicans rather than a cheap imitation.

As these contradictions deepen, more and more people will be open once again to the socialist alternative. Even the N.Y. Times resorted almost inexplicably to featuring a story that had originally appeared in Socialist Worker, the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization, about the difficulties involved with evacuating New Orleans. On September 10, Gardiner Harris reported, “Police agencies to the south of New Orleans were so fearful of the crowds trying to leave the city after Hurricane Katrina that they sealed a crucial bridge over the Mississippi River and turned back hundreds of desperate evacuees, two paramedics who were in the crowd said.” Harris relied heavily on an account that was filed by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky in the Socialist Worker and that was widely distributed on the Internet. Among other things, Bradshaw and Slonsky wrote:

WE WALKED to the police command center at Harrah’s on Canal Street and were told the same thing–that we were on our own, and no, they didn’t have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and constitute a highly visible embarrassment to city officials. The police told us that we couldn’t stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp.5

Their report and many others out of New Orleans describe in sorry detail how necessary it was for ordinary citizens to act on their own behalf in the face of government indifference—or worse—armed hostility from the cops.

How much better it would be if the government was made up of ordinary working people who knew what it meant for a baby not to have milk to drink or for an old person in a nursing home to be abandoned to flood waters.

Such a government not only exists, it offered to send physicians to the U.S. in a generous offer to help victims of Katrina that Bush turned down. We speak of revolutionary Cuba, of course, a nation that despite rationing and hardships of one sort or another at least knows how to protect its citizens against the ravages of a category 5 hurricane.

When Mike Davis was calling attention to the indifference of the authorities in New Orleans following Hurricane Ivan’s onslaught in 2004, Cuban officials behaved much differently in the face of that same storm. In a report by Marjorie Cohn that was widely circulated on the Internet, we learn how Cuba rose to the occasion:

Last September, a Category 5 hurricane battered the small island of Cuba with 160-mile-per-hour winds. More than 1.5 million Cubans were evacuated to higher ground ahead of the storm. Although the hurricane destroyed 20,000 houses, no one died.

What is Cuban President Fidel Castro’s secret? According to Dr. Nelson Valdes, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and specialist in Latin America, “the whole civil defense is embedded in the community to begin with. People know ahead of time where they are to go.”

“Cuba’s leaders go on TV and take charge,” said Valdes. Contrast this with George W. Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina. The day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Bush was playing golf. He waited three days to make a TV appearance and five days before visiting the disaster site. In a scathing editorial on Thursday, the New York Times said, “nothing about the president’s demeanor yesterday – which seemed casual to the point of carelessness – suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.”

“Merely sticking people in a stadium is unthinkable” in Cuba, Valdes said. “Shelters all have medical personnel, from the neighborhood. They have family doctors in Cuba, who evacuate together with the neighborhood, and already know, for example, who needs insulin.”

They also evacuate animals and veterinarians, TV sets and refrigerators, “so that people aren’t reluctant to leave because people might steal their stuff,” Valdes observed.6

Perhaps the jibes about the U.S. looking like a third world country might have to be qualified in light of the Cuban example. Although this is conventionally understood as a developing country, Cuba demonstrates that a commitment to social need rather than private profit can go a long way, even if the country is not a major global economic power like the U.S. Furthermore, if penurious Cuba can do so well in such a crisis situation, what would a wealthy nation like the U.S. be able to accomplish? These will not simply be rhetorical questions as the economic and environmental contradictions of late capitalism deepen as senseless warfare is pursued in far-off lands.

1. http://slate.msn.com/id/2125994?nav=wp
2. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051003/greider
3. http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0924-02.htm
4. http://chronicle.com/free/2005/09/2005090803n.htm
5. http://socialistworker.org/2005-2/556/556_04_RealHeroes.shtml
6. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/090305Y.shtml

September 21, 2005

Base64 madness

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:12 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on September 21, 2005

Some months ago, I began receiving Penny Stock Newsletter spam on a daily basis, sometimes up to 3 or so. (See below for example.)

Like most ISP providers, Panix runs something called spamassassin that weeds out the huge majority of spam. Unlike most other providers, however, Panix allows you to connect directly to their Unix server and run commands from the $ command line that Les and I find useful for maintaining Marxmail.

One of these commands is procmail, a mail preprocessing program that will allow you, for example, to send out email informing the sender of email that you are on vacation. Another use for procmail is to filter out spam, something that most people relied on before the advent of spamassassin. Procmail weeds spam out at the source so you wont even have to deal with it upon arrival in Eudora, Outlook or other client based email programs.

Heres a typical procmail recipe:


This says if you get an email with v1agra, throw it away.

So when I started getting the penny stock spam, I tried this to no avail:


(You’ll note that spam usually disguises words like viagra or stocks. The reason I felt safe in looking for st0ck is that I assumed nobody on PEN-L or Marxmail would use this perverse spelling.)

However, the spam kept evading my filter. My first reaction was to assume that I had encoded the test wrong, so I called up Panix and asked them to look at my test. They advised some minor changes (which wouldn’t have had any effect), but they didn’t work either. This is the sort of thing that drives me nuts as a professional programmer. Even though it only takes a half-second to delete the spam from my incoming mail, I don’t like the idea that I don’t have the power to control my environment.

That led me to subscribe to the procmail mailing list, where I learned from Dallman Ross, one of the list gurus and a Panix user himself, that the penny stock spam was probably using base64 encoding and therefore eluded normal tests.

For a useful discussion of base64, you can go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base64, which begins:

Base 64 literally means a positional numbering system using a base of 64. It is the largest power of two base that can be represented using only printable ASCII characters. This has led to its use as a transfer encoding for email among other things. All well-known variants of base 64 use the characters AZ, az, and 09 in that order for the first 62 digits but the symbols chosen for the last two digits vary considerably between different systems that use base 64.

For an idea of what one of those base64 encoded penny stock newsletters looks like in the original, go to: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/base64.sample

Base64 encoding is the latest gimmick that spammers employ in order to frustrate normal filtering techniques. Rick’s Spam Digest has a useful discussion of how this is done: http://www.rickconner.net/spamweb/analysis01.html

Once I began to develop a sense of being under siege from this crap, I started to look at it more closely. I soon discovered something highly perverse about it, namely that many of the companies being hyped probably don’t exist, or at the very least dont have websites–which makes you wonder whether they exist or not. One of them, Vinoble, Inc, has a zillion links when you google it but none to a company website. I should add that when I did get spam for a company that does have a website, I would mailbomb the CEO with the spam I had received hyping his company. That shows you how nuts I had become. I didn’t even know if they were responsible, but I wanted them to share the feeling of being violated.

I guess I had a stronger reaction to this crap than I would to viagra or home mortgage spam. I got out of the stock market a month after the 1987 crash and the last thing I want to be bothered with is offers to buy penny stocks. Wrapping stock market sales pitches in base64 code will bring out the Travis Bickle in me.

I finally came up with a solution this morning that combines spamassassin and procmail. It turns out that spamassassin correctly identifies the spam as MIME_BASE64_TEXT, but it only factors this in with other tests in order to come up with an aggregate score. So, it might add .5 for the presence of base64 enoding, but come up with only 1.3 for other tests. Since anything that scores less than 2.0 is not considered spam, it will end up in my mailbox-including the penny stock stuff. So I went ahead and began looking for MIME_BASE64_TEXT in procmail and discarding it. So far, it is working like a charm.

My next door neighbor had to take his computer in for repairs. When his daughter came to visit him this summer, she began downloading games that were infected heavily with adware and viruses. The Internet is beginning to look more and more like a minefield, with anti-social elements doing everything they can to ruin it for the rest of us. It is a little bit like sitting in a library trying to study while the person at the next table is listening to heavy metal played at full volume on a boombox.


Hot_St0ck Newsletter – August Issue, 2005
In August’s issue we are going to profile a company involved in the Red Hot
homeland security sector. This company’s st0ck is very much undervalued
considering the potential of the industry and the position of the company.
(The perfect time to get in)

This small treasure is: VNBL (Vinoble, Inc.)

Today the price went up +29.41%
Please watch this one open tommorow and ALL WEEK!!
You may want to Act very early!!

This st0ck is trading at only O.11 cents and we expect it could hit
$0.30 – $0.35 by late September.

A Huge PR campaign will be this week so grab as much as you can up to $0.25
range. We all know it’s the big announcements that make these small gems

st0ck Symbol: VNBL . OB

Current Price: $O.11

The Price went up +29.41% today, and this is just the beginning of the campaign
Please watch this one open tommorow and ALL WEEK!!

We expect the price to go to $O.18 in next 2-3 days
We expect the price to go to $O.3O in next 3 weeks.

About the company:

Vinoble, Inc. is a holding company, which is identifying and acquiring
operational business opportunities in the areas of homeland security,
security information systems, and other security services to provide long
term growth for its shareholders. Vinoble believes that the opportunity to
build a successful business in the security sector is unprecedented.

The terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 20O1 have changed
the security landscape for the foreseeable future. Both physical and logical
security have become paramount for all industry segments, especially in the
banking, healthcare and government sectors. While the focus for Vinoble is
on North America, the opportunity for security services is worldwide.
According to Giga, a wholly owned subsidiary of Forrester Research,
worldwide demand for information security products and services is set to
eclipse $46B by 2O05.

Vinoble intends to capitalize on the dramatic growth in the security market
by delivering professional services, security products, security training,
and managed security services. In pursuit of this objective, Vinoble has
assembled a highly qualified team of security professionals offering a full
range of security services. Through Vinoble’s consulting services and
integrated delivery solutions, Vinoble will help organizations protect key
assets including persons, property, information, brand, and reputation.

***Why we believe VNBL will give big returns on investment***

* At this time much of VNBL’s focus is on RFID (Radio frequency
identification) technology. This is technology which uses tiny sensors to
transmit information about a person or object wirelessly.

* VNBL is developing a form of RFID technology which allows companies and
governments to wirelessly track their assets and resources. Such technology
has HUGE potential in the protection and transportation of materials
designated “High Risk” were they to fall into the wrong hands.

* VNBL works on integration of the two afore mentioned systems in order to
create “High Security Space” in locales where it is deemed necessary.
Locations which may take advantage of such systems are airports, sea ports,
mines, nuclear facilities, and more.

***N E W S***

Vinoble’s latest strategy involves applying their RFID technology to the
mining and petrochemical industries. To this end they have agreed to
purchase a mining property with which they plan to develop and test their
technologies and systems. Read this latest press release to learn more:

MALIBU, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Aug. 12, 2005–Vinoble, Inc. (OTCBB: VNBL –
News), a holding company seeking to identify long-term growth opportunities
in the areas of homeland security, security information systems, and other
security services, is pleased to announce that pursuant to its news release
dated July 8, 2005, where the Company agreed to purchase mining property in
the Red Lake District, has initiated a 43-101 report on the Hazard Lake

The Hazard property will serve as a valuable tool for Vinoble, in asset
value and, in addition, it will serve as a testing and demonstration
location for RFID and GPS applications. RFID and GPS technology will be a
valuable tool for the mining industry and will offer protection of our
country’s natural resources and commodities against threat.

Additionally, the Company is currently seeking other opportunities to add
value to its property holdings through acquisition. Vinoble views the
additional assets will provide the Company and its shareholders a
much-improved increase in shareholder value.

stoc.k Symbol: VNBL . OB

Current Price: $0.11

We expect the price to go to $0.18 in next 2-3 days
We expect the price to go to $0.30 in next 3 weeks.

Please watch this one trade on ALL WEEK!

Information within this email contains “f0rwardlo0king st4tements” within
the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21B of
the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Any statements that express or involve
discussions with respect to predictions, goals,expectations, beliefs, plans,
projections, objectives, assumptions or future events or performance are
not statements of historical fact and may be “f0rwardlo0king st4tements.”
f0rwardlo0king st4tements are based on expectations, estimates and
projections at the time the statements are made that involve a number of
risks and uncertainties which could cause actual results or events to differ
materially from those presently anticipated.
f0rward_lo0king st4tements in this action may be identified through the use
of words such as: “projects”, “foresee”, “expects”, “estimates,” “believes,”
“understands” “will,” “part of: “anticipates,” or that by statements
indicating certain actions “may,” “could,” or “might” occur. All information
provided within this email pertaining to investing, stoc.ks, securities must
be understood as information provided and not investment advice.
Emerging Equity Alert advises all readers and subscribers to seek advice
from a registered professional securities representative before deciding to
trade in stoc.ks featured within this email. None of the material within
this report shall be construed as any kind of investment advice. Please have
in mind that the interpretation of the writer of this newsletter about the
news published by the company does not represent the company official
statement and in fact may differ from the real meaning of what the news
release meant to say. Look at the news release by yourself and judge by
yourself about the details in it.

September 19, 2005

Marc Cooper lurches even further rightward

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:47 am
Today Marc Cooper proudly announced on his blog (http://www.marccooper.com/) that he is being named advisory editor of a prowar journal called “Democratiya”.
Announcing “Democratiya”
I’m happy to join in announcing the official birth of “Democratiya” — a free bi-monthly online review of books.
I’m even happier to be among the advisory editors who are united in a belief that an internationalist Left has a crucial role to play in a troubled world.
Please take a read of this inaugural issue.
A fellow named “resistor” provided some commentary on the editorial company that Cooper will be keeping:
Alan Johnson is a Trotskyist apologist for the occupation, recently split from the Trotskyist-Zionist (yes there’s one!) groupuscule the Alliance for Workers Liberty whose leader is the bizarre sectarian Sean Matgamna
90% of the Advisory Editors are supporters of the war on Iraq
A few examples
Dr David Hirsh, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Leads the campaign against boycotting Israeli universities – doesn’t seem too bothered about the Palestinians though
Paul Anderson, City University, London
I’ve met him – admits working for the British Foreign Office, very pro-war
Jane Ashworth, Project Director, Engage
Another ex-AWL trot
Harry Barnes, Joint President, Labour Friends of Iraq
Naive MP formerly anti-war, now under the influence of Johnson and Ashworth
Nick Cohen, Journalist and Author
Rabidly pro-war and now in favour of elitist education – drinks like Hitchens
Linda Grant, Novelist and Journalist
wrote article for the Guardian promoting the Jabotinsky ‘Iron Wall’ solution for the Palestinians
Johann Hari, The Independent
very pro-war, once boasted in the Guardian that he’d slept with a nazi and a muslim fundamentalist
Christopher Hitchens, The New School, New York
Need I say any more?
Quintin Hoare, Director, The Bosnian Institute
Pro war in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo
Dr Marko Attila Hoare, The University of Cambridge
Pro war in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo – used to be allied to the lunatic Trotskist group the Workers Revolutioary Party
George Howarth MP
A nobody in british politics
John Lloyd, Editor, The Financial Times Magazine
A really nasty customer. Formerly a leading member of the British and Irish Communist Organisation who were ultra-Stalinist but supported the Unionists in Northern Ireland (nicknamed British and Irish Communist Orangemen) Lloyd appeared on BBC once defending discrimination againmst Catholics as they were ‘disloyal’
Branka Magaš, The Bosnian Institute
Pro war in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo
Kenan Makiya, Brandeis University
Another Trot
Professor Martin Shaw, University of Sussex
Pro war in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo – best known for running a campaign against John Pilger
Francis Wheen, Journalist and Author
Mate of Hitchens – has no political credibility
Nice company you’re in Marc

Apparently, Cooper is for democracy in Iraq but not on his own blog. When confronted by this powerful analysis of the forces behind this online journal, he advised resistor: “Resistor: rr time here is about up. Either use the space given you to make some interesting arguments or leave. thank you very muh. Im not going to pay bandwith for you to continually DENOUNCE all those who are not as pure as you. In any case, I’m sure you have little extra time seeing as how you need to be out there resisting.”

The same exact processes that has led Hitchens to break with the left are now operating on Marc Cooper, who was Salvador Allende’s translator and a fairly cogent left-liberal journalist for a number of years. The wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq have created enormous pressures on some liberal journalists who have to walk a professional tightrope. On one hand, they have to maintain some kind of credibility with the sort of person who reads the Nation Magazine. On the other, they are part of social milieu that tends to see things in terms of preserving the national interest of the United States. If this means pulling out of Iraq–eventually–because it leads to further instability, then they will support this position as do erstwhile supporters of the war like George Packer, who writes for the quintessentially yuppie publication, the New Yorker Magazine. On the other hand, if this means supporting the war to rid the world of “Islamofascists”, they will take the route of Christopher Hitchens. Cooper appears poised to fall off the tightrope into Hitchens’s camp.

September 15, 2005

Hitchens-Galloway debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:14 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on September 15, 2005

Although I left 90 minutes into the Galloway-Hitchens debate, I feel pretty confident that I had taken in the high points, such as they were. The event succeeded more as theater than as education, with both characters playing to the gallery and practically imitating themselves.

The basic problem is that a debate over the war in Iraq is a little bit like debating whether the earth is round or flat, or as Galloway put it, “Is there any sentient being on this planet who still believes that this war was just and necessary?” Apart from the inner circles of the Bush administration, Hitchens and the odd band of his admirers drawn to the debate, that is.

In his opening 20 minute presentation, Hitchens made the case for how much the better the world is since March 2003, when the USA invaded Iraq. This was basically a rehash of an article he wrote for the hardcore neoconservative “Weekly Standard” that can be read here:


Hitchens was answered by both Alexander Cockburn at: http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn09032005.html and by Juan Cole at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/09/05/hitchens/.

Galloway responded with withering scorn, dwelling at length on Hitchens’s stance during the first Gulf War. All of the arguments he made for going into Iraq today could have been made in 1991, and even more strongly since most of Saddam Hussein’s depredations occurred during the 1980s, including the gassing of the Kurds. But this did not stop Hitchens from opposing the war. In a follow-up in the next round, Hitchens claimed that he was “mistaken” at the time and left it at that. But the most satisfying part of Galloway’s remarks, and what most people came to hear, was his characterization of Hitchens as an exception to the laws of evolutionary biology. He once was a butterfly, making beautiful speeches against the Gulf War in 1991, but has turned into a slug, leaving a trail of slime behind him.

When I was outside on the sidewalk before the event started, I noticed a shabby looking character passing out leaflets to people waiting on line to buy a ticket. After a few seconds, I realized it was none other than Hitchens himself and not some crazed Trotskyist sectarian calling for a New International. The leaflet was a screed against Galloway, accusing him of corrupt profiteering over the dead bodies of Iraqi children through the oil for food program. The charges found in the leaflet can be read at http://www.hitchensweb.com/ along with others just as baseless. The main impression I got from Hitchens is that he is rather crazed at this point. I tried to imagine Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman or some other fan of the war in Iraq resorting to mass leafleting in this fashion. I was unsuccessful.

Hitchens’s supporters in the audience were just as crazed. While Galloway’s supporters, including me, were content to absorb his rapier-like arguments, the opposite side seemed more like the sort of people who show up at athletic events, including one woman who kept screaming at the top of her lungs. Another Hitchens supporter, a young man in his mid-20’s I would guess, sat in the row in front of me and seemed determined to argue with everybody around him in what he must have considered a superior Socratic method: “So you would have not intervened against Hitler then?” (Although obviously innocent of the fact that the American flag has replaced the swastika as the number one threat to world peace.) But mostly he couldn’t sit still, jumping around in his seat like a monkey overdosed on Methamphetamines.

Amidst all the brawling, there were some educational points. When Hitchens mentioned the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon as a positive consequence of Bush’s war, Galloway replied that if there were elections in Lebanon tomorrow, the head of Hizbollah would likely be elected. However, since he is a Moslem that would be impossible since the constitution bars anybody but Christians from taking office. Where did that constitution come from, Galloway asked? It was imposed as the result of the invasion of the US marines in 1958. That was a valuable point and one worth following up on.

CSPAN2’s “BookTV” will be showing the debate this Saturday. Check it out for some lively entertainment and some useful arguments against the war in Iraq, as if any more were needed at this point.

September 12, 2005

The political economy of nursing homes

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 12, 2005

In May of 2004 my mother finally went into a nursing home after three years of mounting health problems. Many baby boomers beside me have found themselves coping with the difficulties of looking after aging parents. This generational drama involves intense personal and social pressures. Inevitably, questions of one’s own mortality are posed for the middle-aged son or daughter of a parent struggling to remain independent. When one reaches sixty, as I have, you begin to realize that you too are susceptible to failing health. As one nears retirement age, you find yourself charged with the responsibility of looking after parents who can barely care for themselves. It is analogous to the burden one assumes in raising a child, but without compensating joys. You are also confronted with major economic challenges, since the costs of care for the elderly are enormous in a capitalist society racing to eradicate the last vestiges of the welfare state.

In years past, elderly parents were taken into their children’s home. With the breakdown of rural life, this is no longer the case. Capitalist society is very good at turning people into individual economic actors, but is even better at destroying traditional bonds of solidarity and support.

My mother has adjusted to nursing home life with great aplomb. She has turned her room into something that looks like a college dormitory with houseplants, family photos, a bookshelf and a computer. Although three room-mates have died since she has been there, she has not allowed that to dampen her spirits. With daily visits from her ninety-one year old companion who lives in the next town and access to the Internet and telephone, she feels connected.

Although my mother’s politics are a mixture of the New Deal and Zionism, she reminds me very much of the two main characters in the memorable documentary “Sunset Story.” Sunset Hall, the subject of the film, describes itself as a “non-profit retirement home for free thinking elders who continue to share independence of spirit and involvement in the world.” Now on DVD (http://sunsetstory.com/), this is a story of two women–Irja (81) and Lucille (95)—who make a point of attending as many rallies and demonstrations as they can, on wheelchairs if necessary. When they are not out on the picket lines, they can be found in their rooms consoling each other or bickering about politics.

The film’s website describes them as follows:

Lucille and Irja explode familiar stereotypes of doddering “old ladies.” Sharp-witted, up-to-date, and often provocative, the two are not afraid to weigh in with opinions on men, sex, gender roles, and social attitudes toward the elderly. They operate as a classic comic team, an odd couple, with Irja playing the “straight man,” the eternal idealist and Lucille, the irreverent skeptic, cracking ironic dry jokes.

The movie shows how Lucille faces her final months with both dignity and resignation. It also shows how Irja resolves to carry on despite the loss of her companion. Since very few films have been made about life’s final drama, one can be both educated and entertained by this unique contribution.

It should not come as a surprise that Sunset Hall is facing financial difficulties. This month, the President of the Board of Directors announced that:

It is with some sadness but also a lot of excitement that I write this mid-summer letter to you. Sunset Hall will be leaving its home of some 45 years at 2830 Francis Avenue by October, if not sooner. So many people have lived there and so much richness has been brought to their lives that it is hard to imagine, yet it is simply not possible to continue at that location, with that size of a facility, in the way we have been operating.

The costs associated with care for the elderly are staggering. Since private care is beyond the means of many working class families, the only resort is public care provided through Medicaid. In order to qualify for Medicaid, one must practically be destitute. My mother had the presence of mind to sell me her house seven years ago for a dollar. If she hadn’t, it would have become the property of the state upon entering the nursing home.

Last month the NY Times reported on recently retired Columbia University assistant comptroller Adam Alberico, who was forced to retain the services of “elder-care lawyer” Vincent J. Russo in order to figure out a strategy for using Medicaid to pay for the care of his aging parents. He would have liked to see his mother, who was slipping into Alzheimer’s, go into an assisted living community, but it charged $5,800 a month. His father, plagued by heart attacks, also needed to go into a nursing home at a cost of $7,500 a month. At $13,000 per month, we are talking about expenses that only a multimillionaire could bear. Understandably, Alberico complained, “None of us is fully prepared for this. The cost is unbelievable. And who can figure out the rules and regulations? It’s tough being old and it’s tough being our generation.”

The Times reported on the stratagem many are forced to resort to in the face of such daunting financial obligations:

So Mr. Russo educated Mr. Alberico about Medicaid planning, a series of techniques for disposing of assets in order to meet the standard of poverty required since the program’s creation in 1965 — before anybody anticipated today’s exploding nursing home population. Nationwide spending on long-term care, most of it in nursing homes, has grown to $183 billion annually, nearly half paid by Medicaid, and many techniques for sheltering assets are likely to be restricted within a year.

Vastly more complicated than Social Security and Medicare, the two other insurance policies for America’s elderly, Medicaid is a joint federal and state program with wildly different regulations and reimbursement rates in each state. But each time Congress has tried to fix the system, the new rules seem more confusing, and susceptible to more manipulation, than the ones they replaced.

The Albericos’ Medicaid planning had as its groundwork an abstruse provision added in 1988, known as spousal refusal. The provision, allowing one spouse to refuse financial responsibility for the other, was part of an attempt by Congress to prevent a healthy spouse from winding up penniless paying for an ailing partner’s care. Until the changes in 1988, some elderly couples would divorce to avoid such impoverishment.

For all of its lip-service to “family values,” the Republican and Democratic Parties have no answer to this wrenching adjustment forced on the old and the vulnerable. Fortunately for the Albericos and for my mother, they had children to help them navigate these mine fields.

But the Medicaid safety net is under siege just like every other “entitlement” of the past seventy years. While attention is focused on Bush’s offensive against social security, another attack is underway against Medicaid—formulated as a campaign against “abuse” and “waste.”

On June 30, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Congress is considering a crackdown on financial planning strategies increasingly favored by middle-class families to shift the cost of nursing home care for elderly parents onto the federal government.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) denounced the practices Wednesday as “legal shenanigans” and vowed to help stop maneuvers he said were turning Medicaid into an asset protection program, instead of what it was supposed to be — an insurer of last resort for elderly people too poor to afford care.

Since Grassley backs the war in Iraq to the hilt, one must question his ability to judge whether money is being spent properly—to say the least. With expenses on the war rapidly reaching $200 billion, these funds could be better used to provide for the needs of the most vulnerable in American society. The federal government pays for 59% of Medicaid costs, now in excess of $330 billion per year. With an end to the war, money reallocated from killing could fund Medicaid with plenty left over. Of course, the same motivation for continuing the war exists for eviscerating Medicaid: profits take priority over people.

Leaving aside financial worries, there is also the question of how one’s aging parents will be treated in a nursing home. A Lexis-Nexis search on “nursing home” and “abuse,” even restricted to references in the lead paragraph, was fruitless since it is programmed to abort if more than a thousand articles are retrieved. When limited to the past year, it still returned 229 articles! Assuming that this is about average, this means that there over four thousand articles on the subject going back 20 years, the outer limit for Lexis-Nexis.

This excerpt from a July 31 Los Angeles Times article gives some sense of what is going on:

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration deemphasizes state penalties at California nursing homes, Democratic Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer is making a point of using state laws to prosecute nursing home owners and their employees who mistreat frail residents.

The state Department of Justice has won convictions against more than 300 nursing home workers dating to 1999, when Lockyer took office. Previous state prosecutors had not focused on elder abuse.

The convictions were for crimes including hitting patients, sexual abuse and using forged licenses to obtain nursing home jobs.

In 2001 and 2002, Lockyer’s office prosecuted two of the nation’s largest nursing home owners: the California subsidiary of Beverly Enterprises Inc., of Arkansas, and Sun Healthcare Group of Irvine. In each case, the state obtained permanent injunctions requiring that they improve care. A criminal case against another corporation, Pleasant Care Corp. of La Canada Flintridge, is pending.

“The people who are their patients and clients should take precedence over profit-taking,” Lockyer said.

At the time of the prosecutions, Sun was the state’s largest nursing home operator, with 80 facilities, and Beverly was second, with 60. Sun and Beverly since have sold many of the facilities.

The criminal case against a Sun subsidiary stemmed from a June 2000 heat wave in which two residents died at a home in the San Francisco suburb of Burlingame, and six others were struck by heat-related illnesses.

The home had a history of poor ventilation and lacked air conditioning. The Sun subsidiary pleaded no contest to a felony elder abuse charge.

Abuse at nursing homes seems as ubiquitous as abuse in prisons. Every so often there are attempts at reform prompted by exposés in the mass media. One of the more notable episodes involved the late John L. Hess, a veteran New York Times reporter and editor who died on January 21 this year. Hess was a friend of Monthly Review and penned a wonderful memoir titled “My Times: A Memoir of Dissent” that I reviewed at: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy22.html. There I wrote:

John L. Hess’s last hurrah at The New York Times was to break the nursing home scandal of the mid-1970s. In keeping with the ethnic peculiarities of the city, most of the crooked nursing home entrepreneurs and their elderly victims were Jewish, including the top gangster Bernard Bergman who had been involved with his parents in importing heroin concealed in prayer books! Bergman’s chief accomplice was Eugene Hollander, who locked patients in their rooms at night in order to avoid paying wages to a night shift. (He billed Medicaid for a Renoir on his wall and told a physician who complained about neglect, “What is a nursing home but a waiting room for a funeral parlor?”)

Hess’s revelations led a local politician, Andrew Stein, to investigate the industry and prosecute the malefactors. Bergman fled the country, but subsequently returned to sue John Hess for conspiring to deprive him of his rights. Eventually, Bergman and Hollander were sent to prison for their crimes, but were able to draw rent from their former nursing homes. Hess admitted that despite all the media attention and all the acclaim he earned as a crusading journalist, “nothing had fundamentally changed.

Are there alternatives to the scenario of escalating costs and institutional abuse or are we condemned to accept them as something unavoidable like the proverbial “death and taxes”? On August 7, the Washington Post reported that Finland’s welfare state has the wherewithal to look after its most vulnerable citizens, young and old, a function no doubt of the fact that “they spend relatively little on national defense.” The Post elaborated:

Finns have one of the world’s most generous systems of state-funded educational, medical and welfare services, from pregnancy to the end of life. They pay nothing for education at any level, including medical school or law school. Their medical care, which contributes to an infant mortality rate that is half of ours and a life expectancy greater than ours, costs relatively little. (Finns devote 7 percent of gross domestic product to health care; we spend 15 percent.) Finnish senior citizens are well cared for. Unemployment benefits are good and last, in one form or another, indefinitely.

No matter how progressive Finland’s welfare state provisions, it is always vulnerable to the kind of attacks that have been mounted in other Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden. In 1995, the Swedish government embarked on a series of cuts that were supposedly made necessary by the perception that social spending was a drag on the economy.

It is not surprising that Marxism has had little to say about the problems of aging since it is imbued with “productivist” conceptions that it absorbed from bourgeois economics in the nineteenth century. This aspect is most pronounced in Trotsky’s 1935 “If America Should Go Communist.” With its breathless paeans to technology and mass production, Trotsky comes across as a socialist version of Ronald Reagan huckstering for General Electric in the 1950s—“progress is our most important product.” His article ends on a most peculiar but revealing note: “While the romantic numskulls of Nazi Germany are dreaming of restoring the old race of Europe’s Dark Forest to its original purity, or rather its original filth, you Americans, after taking a firm grip on your economic machinery and your culture, will apply genuine scientific methods to the problem of eugenics. Within a century, out of your melting pot of races there will come a new breed of men—the first worthy of the name of Man.”

With all due respect to Trotsky and the dubious notion of eugenics, it would appear that much more thought has to be devoted in our movement to restoring the traditional bonds of solidarity and community that preceded capitalism. In traditional rural and farming communities and in indigenous society in particular, the elderly were revered as a source of wisdom and ethics. They helped to define the ethos of the people and explain what a life is good for. The fact that they could not contribute to the economic pot was no reason to cast them aside.

If one of the goals of communism is to recapture the values of earlier communal societies, then we should think about ways that elders can be reintegrated into society rather than dumped in institutions far from sight, no matter how benign.

September 10, 2005

Marxism, Hurricane Katrina and popular culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:41 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on September 10, 2005

For all of the reports about Marxism being so irrelevant, I was struck by all the references to class and race, and how they relate to each other, in popular culture recently.

On Tuesday morning, I heard talk radio icon Don Imus interviewing Douglas Brinkley, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. Brinkley was the author of “Tour of Duty,” an official biography of John Kerry, who Imus supported in the last election. Although Imus has a well-deserved reputation of promoting racism on his radio show, he was clearly angry at the Bush administration for failing to respond to poor Blacks in a time of need. I am not sure of what Brinkley’s politics are, but he is the author of a highly regarded biography of Rosa Parks. In any case, he was so brutal toward Bush and his lackeys that you almost felt like you were listening to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. And it was all phrased in terms of the Marxist lexicon broadly speaking. All the while, Imus was as deferential to him as he usually is toward mainstream politicians.

Last night I watched Bill Maher on HBO. As many of you might know, Maher was fired from ABC after making the observation on his September 17, 2001 show that “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”

Maher is not that radical. His politics can best be described as a mixture of liberalism and libertarianism, with an emphasis on the rights of the individual and a pronounced hatred for the yahoo streak in American society.

His guests were George Carlin, Kurt Vonnegut, James K. Glassman, and Cynthia Tucker. Glassman is a Bush diehard connected to the American Enterprise Institute. Tucker is an African-American reporter for an Atlanta newspaper, who focused on the racism involved with charges of “looting.” But the most interesting exchanges were between Carlin and Glassman.

Another Imus favorite (as is Maher), Carlin is a fascinating character. His career began in the late 1950s doing standup on the Ed Sullivan show and in Las Vegas. His act consisted of making wry observations about airline food, etc. that was highly influential on Jerry Seinfeld et al. But sometime during the 1960s, he started to lurch toward the left and toward a rawer vision of American society in his performances that evoked Lenny Bruce. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that there were certain words that couldn’t be heard on network TV and radio after WBAI in NYC played a Carlin monologue titled “Filthy Words.”

The monologue begins, “Aruba-du, ruba-tu, ruba-tu. I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can’t say, that you’re not supposed to say all the time, ’cause words or people into words want to hear your words. Some guys like to record your words and sell them back to you if they can, (laughter) listen in on the telephone, write down what words you say. A guy who used to be in Washington knew that his phone was tapped, used to answer, Fuck Hoover, yes, go ahead.”

(full: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=438&invol=726#751)

Carlin was in no mood for joking and scowled throughout the show. His dislike for Glassman was palpable. He made a couple of points that received support from Maher and wild applause from the audience.

He said that the terms “left” and “right” derive from the French revolution. Parties toward the right side of the Legislative Assembly favored property rights, while the left side favored human beings. He described the Bush administration as forcing American politics to the right like no other presidency in the 20th century. When Glassman challenged him on the basis that this represented the will of the people, Carlin responded by saying that the elections were not democratic and only served to create the illusion that people can vote to change things. He also described the current government as fascist, which Glassman objected to violently. Interestingly, Maher agreed with Carlin, stating that when the corporations overlap completely with the state, you have fascism. While I don’t quite agree with this definition, I was happy to hear it on television.

The exchanges were peppered with the terms “class” and “race” and they were used identically to the way that they are used on leftwing blogs or mailing lists. Glassman referred to Carlin as a Marxist at least three times during the heated debate. My guess is that Carlin certainly has absorbed radical ideas over the past forty years, including some Marxism in all likelihood.

In an interview with the Idaho Statesman on January 24, 2004 Carlin was asked whether he was a liberal. He answered:

“No. First of all, I’m not liberal. I’m just about (being) anti-United States. I don’t like the way this country operates. I think we’ve ruined this place. And I think it’s largely because of businessmen. And businessmen are not liberals. So if that makes me a liberal, then that’s just an association. It’s not a choice. … I do not care about changing anybody. Nobody. I go out there to show the rest of the Americans how badly they’re doing. This country has been, for about 180 years now, badly mishandled. And it’s been in the wrong hands. It’s been in the hands of the business interests.

“And a lot of the beauty of this country has been shattered by them. The physical beauty and the kind of institutional beauty that was originally built into this place – this experiment, this magnificent experiment in democracy is just being shredded to pieces by these right-wing Christians, the Ashcroft branch of Republicanism. (They’re) just shredding the rest of the Bill of Rights which hadn’t been shredded already. (But) they’d been doing a pretty good job on it up until then, anyway.

“Everybody’s got more jet skis and Dustbusters now and sneakers with lights in them. They’ve got more cheese on their thing that they buy. They get double helpings. See, Americans measure all their progress in the wrong way. They measure by quantity and by gizmos and toys. And not by quality and by things that are important.”

Carlin and Maher are not really political theorists or activists, but they do have their fingers on the pulse of American society. The fact that they are articulating a nascent rebellious mood in American society should tip us off that a radical alternative to politics as usual might be in the offing. If we can find a way to deliver our message in terms that such popular culture figures have crafted to perfection, then we have a much better chance of succeeding. At least we can be sure at this point that we are no longer swimming upstream.

September 7, 2005

Before the Fall

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 7:37 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on September 7, 2005

“Napola,” a searing tale about Nazi military schools, was renamed “Before the Fall” for U.S. distribution. Intentionally or not, this title resonates with “Downfall,” another recent German film that focused on Hitler’s last days. Both films are driven by a need to understand how Nazism arose and how it fell. As is the case in other films such “Das Boot” and “Stalingrad,” Nazism is accepted as a given. There is little of the lurid melodrama and central casting Nazi villains found in films such as “Schindler’s List” or “Seven Beauties.” Ordinary Germans operating within the parameters of the system find ways to challenge it, even if they accept many of its precepts. At least for this critic, this is a much more effective way of understanding history as well as creating drama based on complex characters.

Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt) is the teenaged son of a factory worker and a gifted boxer. After being spotted in the ring by a boxing instructor on the lookout for promising talent, he is invited to apply for membership at a mountaintop school and converted castle. This is one of a number of ‘Napolas,’ short for ‘Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalt’ (Institute for Political Education) that Hitler has mandated for the training of Nazi political and military cadre.

Friedrich is a simple youth whose main goal in life is to have hot showers on a regular basis, the chance to compete in the ring and escape from factory life. In his tenement apartment, bath water is shared on Saturday nights successively by each family member until it is his turn to dip into the by then mucky water. When he broaches the subject of going to a Napola with his father, the presumably class conscious worker forbids it. After Friedrich runs away from home to enroll at the school, his father smashes his bicycle in a blind rage.

He soon discovers that the school is not what he bargained for. Although it does offer an escape from blue-collar misery, it carries all sorts of penalties from humiliation by drill instructors to rigid discipline of the sort that is found in military schools universally. Since Friedrich is physically superior to the other students and endowed with ‘Aryan’ features, he manages to integrate himself into the daily grind and even flourish. He appears positively rapturous when soaring in a glider as part of his military training. In other ways he is a typical teenager, accompanying another youth to peep through the window at an undressed kitchen maid.

If Friedrich has any understanding of, let alone sympathy with, Nazi ideology, he certainly keeps it to himself. In the classroom, students are asked to identify the author of some anti-Semitic screed (it was Martin Luther) or use algebra to calculate how much fuel it would require to go on a bombing expedition over Bolshevik Russia. Except for such peculiarities unique to the Nazi system, the Napola seems pretty much like the typical military school—except with a higher level of blind obedience, cruelty and irrationality that became perfected under Nazi rule.

When one student, despite his best efforts, habitually wets his bed, he is forced to stand in the courtyard in full view of the other students with his soiled mattress on his head. After weeks of humiliation, he discovers the best relief from his personal hell. When a panicked student drops a live hand grenade in the midst of other students, he smothers it with his body. At his funeral, the head master extols Nazi virtues and points to his example. He lived a hero’s life.

Friedrich eventually bonds with Albrecht Stein, the slight and cerebral son of the local Nazi military governor who is the movie’s only real villain. When Friedrich and Albrecht go to the family estate for a weekend of fun and relaxation, the boy’s father drags them into the basement and orders them to put on boxing gloves and fight with each other for his own drunken amusement and those of his henchmen. When Friedrich pulls his punches, Albrecht screams at him to fight. The Nazi ethos will not permit mercy. After Friedrich beats his good friend into submission, he begins to question Nazi values for the first time.

The climax of the film involves an armed detachment of Napola students sent into the forest to track down and shoot runaway Russian prisoners who have commandeered weapons. When they ultimately discover that they have gunned down unarmed Jewish children no older then themselves, Albrecht makes a decisive break with his father and with the system. Although Friedrich was never a committed Nazi and never articulates any sort of thought-out political justification for his own turn against the system, he joins Albrecht but on his own terms as a star athlete.

Director Dennis Gansel began looking into the Napolas after learning that his grandfather was a teacher at one in 1940. He inquisitiveness deepened when he discovered that Alfred Herrhausen, the former director of Deutsche Bank, had been a student at the Reichsscule Feldafing. Guido Knopp’s “Hitler’s Children,” which provided the historical background for Gansel and co-writer Maggie Peren, reveals discloses the far-reaching influence of the Napola and the even more prestigious Hitler Youth schools:

“The list of names of those with a background of Nazi elite schooling, who subsequently achieved something in democratic Germany, is a long one: the banker Alfred Herrhausen (Feldafing), Count Maynhardt Nayhauss, the Bild newspaper columnist (Napola, Spandau) the film actor Hardy Kruger (Adolf Hitler student), the former East German politician Werner Lambertz (Adolf Hitler student), the former ambassador and spokesman for Willi Brandt, Rudiger von Wechmar (Napola, Spandau), the former Austrian Minister of Justice, Harald Ofner (Napola, Traiskirchen), the journalist Hellmuth Karasek (Napola, Annaberg), the artist and designer Horst Janssen (Napola, Haselunne) and the former editor of Die Zeit, Adolf Hitler student Theo Sommer. All of them had learned to be tough – tough on themselves and, if need be, on their fellow-pupils as well.”

One might legitimately ask whether it is likely that the son of a Nazi governor would break with his own father and with the Nazi system out of revulsion over the slaughter of Jewish children. We are so used to seeing wartime Germans as the embodiment of absolute evil that it might stretch credulity to see them as capable of acting humanely, especially if we accept the Goldhagen thesis as good coin. There are counter-indicators, of course:

“Twice, early in his political career, [Ernest] Mandel came close to his demise. Both times he escaped incarceration by the Nazis. The first time he was arrested for distributing anti-fascist leaflets to the occupying German soldiers. As a revolutionary and a Jew, Mandel was sent to a transit camp for prisoners en route to Auschwitz. Ernest was a strong believer in his own capacity to convince anyone of the merits of socialism. On this basis he started talking to his jailers. The other Belgian and French prisoners regarded their captors as hopelessly reactionary, even sub-human. But Ernest talked to them, soon discovering that some of them had been members of now-banned Social Democratic and Communist parties. He impressed them so much that they helped him to escape. This experience also deepened Mandel’s internationalism. He refused to write off a whole nationality because of the crimes of its leaders.”

In reality, the resistance of an Albrecht Stein was atypical. What is far more typical was a kind of passive resistance to mass murder as described by Christopher Browning in “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.” Ordered to round up and kill Jews, these cops found all sorts of excuses to avoid duty—not because of socialist beliefs but because they were would feel degraded by taking part in the murder of defenseless souls. Most often, the shirked their duties rather than standing up to authority. But there some like Adolf Bittner who stuck their neck out, as cited by Browning:

“I must emphasize that from the first days I left no doubt among my comrades that I disapproved of these measures and never volunteered for them. Thus, on one of the first searches for Jews, one of my comrades clubbed a Jewish woman in my presence, and I hit him in the face. A report was made, and in that way my attitude became known to my superiors. I was never officially punished. But anyone who knows how the system works knows that outside official punishment there is the possibility for chicanery that more than makes up for punishment. Thus I was assigned Sunday duties and special watches.”

Although “Before the Fall” is very much focused on a particular time and place, it does invite us to think more generally about the nature of fascism, especially as decisive sectors of the United States ruling class continue their headlong march into religious backwardness and authoritarian patterns of rule.

While watching Ganser’s film, I was struck about how connected Nazism was to militarism. One might even consider Hitler’s system as a universalizing of military values. Blending merciless competition, blind obedience to superiors, mystification of flags, banners and martial music, a willingness to die for the nation and other features found in armies everywhere in the world, Hitler’s insight was that the entire society could be restructured according barracks discipline and receive its marching orders to make war on inferior peoples everywhere. One finds this characteristic in contemporary Israel, apartheid South Africa and the United States under Republican Party rule. Unfortunately and seeming to obey certain historical laws that were manifested during Hitler’s rise to power, America’s liberals seem all too accommodating to our own rightward moving elements.

(“Before the Fall” opens in NYC and Chicago theaters on October 7th and in Los Angeles on November 18th. It is highly recommended.)

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