Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 31, 2005

Marc Cooper on Venezuela?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Marc Cooper on Venezuela??

[The editors of a new web magazine, TruthDig, can be contacted at editor@truthdig.com – Justin Delacour]

Dear Editors of TruthDig,

I was intrigued to find that Robert Scheer and Zuade Kaufman will be launching a new Los Angeles-based webmagazine, TruthDig, on Nov. 28. I’ve long been impressed with the independence of Mr. Scheer’s columns in the Los Angeles Times. Scheer refreshingly summed up the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy this year when he wrote:

“The fact is… that when totalitarian nations like China and Saudi Arabia play ball with U.S. business interests, we like them just fine. But when Venezuela’s freely elected president threatens powerful corporate interests, the Bush administration treats him as an enemy” (Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2005).

However, in light of Mr. Scheer’s solid journalistic credentials, I must admit that I was quite disappointed to learn that TruthDig is commissioning Marc Cooper to pen its first report on Venezuela and Hugo Chávez.

Mr. Cooper has long displayed a penchant for questionable reporting on Venezuela. In the wake of a failed coup against the Chávez government on April 11, 2002, Mr. Cooper went further out on a limb than many establishment reporters in claiming that Chávez provoked the violence of that fateful day. With literally no evidence to back up his claim, Cooper wrote in the Nation (May 6, 2002) that Chávez “turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters…, provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen.”

In the absence of evidence, Cooper’s claim was completely irresponsible. In light of the fact that we’ve since learned from CIA documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that the coup was planned, Cooper’s assertion appears even more misinformed (see http://tinyurl.com/62jj8). (One CIA document, dated April 6, 2002, states, “To provoke military action, the [coup] plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month or ongoing strikes at the state-owned oil company PDVSA”).

Even New York Times correspondent Juan Forero (April 29, 2002) found that pro-Chavez activists who were filmed shooting guns on the day of the coup were returning fire against opposition snipers and policemen, not against unarmed protesters.

Unfortunately, in his zeal to see the ouster of President Chávez, Mr. Cooper did not rectify his clearlyirresponsible ways in the wake of the coup’s failure. After Chavez’s referendum victory of August 15, 2004, Mr. Cooper once again went further out on a limb than much of the establishment press in suggesting that Chávez’s victory was fraudulent (see http://marccooper.com/chavez-again-did-uncle-jimmy-get-duped/). Mr. Cooper wrote, “No sooner had the (Jimmy) Carter Center signed off on El Big Mouth’s victory in lastmonth’s recall plebescite then comes along a serious academic study strongly suggesting that Carter gotduped… that the election results were… um… fraudulent.”

Mr. Cooper neglected to mention that this so-called “serious academic study” was commissioned by Venezuela’spolitical opposition. Nor did he mention that one of the study’s authors, economist Ricardo Hausmann, was awell-known opponent of the Chávez government and had served as a neoliberal Minister of Planning for formerVenezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. [Carlos Andres Perez advocates violence to oust Chavez, followed by two to three years of dictatorship. Perez was quoted last year in the Venezuelan daily El Universal as saying that Chávez “must die like a dog because he deserves it” (July 25, 2004)].

Not surprisingly, a non-partisan panel of statistical experts commissioned by the Carter Center found that the study co-authored by ex-Minister Hausmann was methodologically flawed and that its results did notindicate fraud in the referendum (see http://www.rethinkvenezuela.com/news/04-01-05cc.html).

So my question is this: Why would a web magazine that seeks to do solid investigative reporting “from aprogressive perspective” allow a journalist with such questionable reporting of Venezuela to shape readers’first impression of the publication?

Many thanks for your time. I look forward to your reply.

Justin Delacour
Doctoral Student
Department of Political Science
University of New Mexico



Mr. Scheer,

Mr. Delacour’s concerns about the sloppiness and maliciousness of Mr. Cooper’s “reporting” in Latin America are shared by many down here. Mr. Cooper’s use of knowing falsehoods regarding Venezuela – documented in Delacour’s letter – is just one example, but there are others. I bring your attention to the critique raised by veteran journalist Jules Siegel about Mr. Cooper’s similarly shoddy, cliche-driven, reporting from Cancun in 2003:


The problem with Mr. Cooper’s Latin America “reporting” in recent years is not one of opinion (I respect his right to have differing ones), but, rather, of bad reporting: of “just making shit up” in lieu of doing the heavy lifting that we journos must do.

That he does it with the imprimateur of “alternative” press, parrotting essentially the party line of the commercial media regarding Venezuela or other Latin American lands, has proved problematic again and again not just for him but also for the magazines that allow him to write on these subjects, I suspect, out ofpity and memory of a younger, brighter Marc Cooper that somehow died years ago leaving us with this pathetic fragment of humanity in his place. Besides, wouldn’t, at this point, he be more qualified as, say,a restaurant critic, than as an aging child playing with matches in the basement filled with gasoline that is geopolitics in this hemisphere?

Sincerely, from below, and to the left (where the heart beats),

Al Giordano
Narco News

Newsroom-l, news and issues for journalists



Dear Justin,

Thank you for your interest in Truthdig and your thoughtful letter regarding Marc Cooper’s contribution to our site.

We are committed to representing a variety of voices on Venezuela and all of the issues covered on our site. This is why we also have an interview with Sharmini Peries and welcome your comments (depending on our format we may be able to publish your responses).

Thank you.

Karen Spector, Assistant Editor
800 W. First Street, Suite 2804
Los Angeles, CA 90012





Dear Ms. Spector,

As you have doubtless noticed, several people who take journalism about Latin America seriously disagree with TruthDig’s decision to give Marc Cooper space to write about Venezuela. You may think that this only affects us, but printing anything by Cooper will discredit your web site before it even gets going.

On the surface your answer to Justin about publishing a “variety of viewpoints” sounds like the prevailing cannard in U.S. journalism: that you can have one guy saying a massacre occurred and another saying it didn’t, and you have done your job. Why not dig up the mass graves and count the bodies? The military spokesman said they didn’t use white phosphorous on civilians, Iraqis say they did; let’s let the viewers decide. But most things factual are verifiable, and the problem with Cooper is not so much his views–which stink, by the way–but that he says things which are verifiably wrong. And then he uses these mischaracterizations of the truth to support his repellent views.

Cooper repeats the same anti-Chavez propaganda one can read in any State Department report. Now that the fascist think tanks are spreading rumors of Venezuela seeking nuclear weapons, is Cooper going to join Pat Robertson in calling for Chavez’s assassination?

Yours Truly,
Diana Barahona

A Trip to Turkey

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:55 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on December 31, 2005

I have just returned from my second trip to Turkey in two years. As many comrades know, I have been married to a Turkish dissertation student and part-time political science professor for 3 and a half years. Two years ago my time was spent entirely in Istanbul with her parents, and with her sister, brother-in-law and their children. You can read my account of the trip at:


This time we also went to Izmir where her cousin Ceyda lives. This is a city that my wife much prefers to Istanbul, her home town. (The letter c is pronounced “j” in Turkish, so Ceyda comes out as “Jeyda,” just as fellow list member Sabri Oncu’s last name is pronounced “Onju”.)

I was looking forward to seeing Izmir with my own eyes since this city served as historical background for leftwing mystery writer Eric Ambler’s “A Coffin for Dimitrios,” a work that I reviewed at http://www.swans.com/library/art9/lproy07.html.

The character Dimitrios, a gangster and fascist operative, was expelled along with nearly all the city’s Greek population in 1922. (Izmir was then known as Smyrna–a Greek name–just as Istanbul was once known as Constantinople.) Greeks were expelled from Turkey and Turks were expelled from Greece in a massive population exchange that was a consequence of a civil war that had many of the same characteristics as the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the one taking shape in Iraq. As I told Mine in Izmir, it seems that many of the most explosive conflicts of the past 100 years have been a result of the disintegration of the Ottoman empire.

Jet travel brings out the Luddite in me. Not only do I find the prospect of jet lag daunting, I am far more anxious about plane crashes than ever. This no doubt is a function of 9/11 and my own research into airline deregulation at http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/economics/airline_deregulation.htm.

My aversion to jet travel was certainly not relieved by news on CNN and BBC of two crashes that took place during my stay. One was a seaplane tumbling in flames from the sky over Miami Beach, the result of metal fatigue in the wings. The other was a crash in nearby Azerbaijan that was caused by flight instrument failure that made the crew unable to pilot the aircraft. (More about Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking former Soviet republic to follow.)

Although I tried everything I could to relieve the symptoms of jet lag (including taking Halcion), I remained as discombobulated as I was on my first trip. There is no experience more disorienting (I use the word advisedly) as waking up 3am in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep. I would lie in bed reading Bukharin’s “Philosophical Arabesques,” an MR review copy that I had promised to review for Swans, while watching arabesque performances on Turkish TV. Arabesque, as the name implies, is Turkish music in the style of the Egyptian legend Om Khalsoum for example.

Although I enjoy the music, Mine’s parents, especially her mother Meral, do not. Meral told me at one point that the music was even remote to her own experience as a Turk. I should mention that she and her husband Hasan, a retired Turkish Airline employee, moved from Üsküdar, a picturesque neighborhood in the old city, because it was becoming overrun in their eyes with orthodox Moslems. They much prefer their current neighborhood in Kadıköy that abuts Baghdad Street, which despite its name is studded with European department stores, Starbucks, etc.

People like Hasan and Meral are not happy that the current government is pushing for legislation that bans the sale of alcohol, as the Guardian reported on December 23:

There have been ferocious battles over banning adultery or outlawing headscarves. Now drink has become the battleground in Turkey’s struggle to define the country’s values – religious or secular, Middle Eastern or European.

Turkish liberals and secularists are angry about the efforts of the conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to limit and “ghettoize” the supply and consumption of alcohol.

The Ankara Bar Association filed a lawsuit this week seeking to reverse government instructions to municipalities that would restrict the sale and consumption of alcohol to designated areas. The lawyers argue that the government move is anti-constitutional.

According to a survey by the Merkez news agency, there are now alcohol bans in public places in 61 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. By law, it would be difficult for the government to issue a blanket ban on alcohol. Raki [a favorite of both Hasan and me] is the national tipple in Turkey, which also boasts a growing quality wine industry and Efes, a major brewer. Critics complain, however, that the Erdogan government is moving by stealth to institute a ban, to stigmatise drinking, and to step up pressure on the industry.

Turkish TV was replete with accounts of the trial of novelist Orhan Pamuk, who had been charged with “insulting” the Turks. In June 2005, Turkey introduced a new penal code that states: “A person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years.” Pamuk was retroactively charged with violating this law in an interview given four months earlier to a Swiss magazine that included his observation: “I repeat… that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey.”

Each night Hasan watched news broadcasts on a Turkish government station that had a distinct tabloid angle. A typical report would be about a child being locked in a car or a celebrity couple splitting up. Usually I didn’t pay much attention but one evening I was fascinated to see a report that obviously was in the same spirit as the prosecution of Orhan Pamuk. It alleged that Armenians lured Turkish soldiers to their death during World War One. It also alleged that these Armenians would dress in rags in order to appear pathetic to Western observers, but beneath the rags, Hasan was anxious to point out, was expensive clothing.

I was intent to understand how such an open-minded and civilized society could have reached such a state. Since Jews enjoyed a high level of tolerance and even thrived in Ottoman society, what would explain the pogroms against the Armenians, Greeks and Kurds?

After 10 days in Istanbul, we flew down to Izmir where we picked up at the airport on Saturday by Bural (I am not exactly sure of the spelling), Ceyda’s husband. As we made our way into downtown Izmir, I said that I thought I saw a man wearing a ‘yarmulke,’ an orthodox Jewish skullcap. After Mine translated my comments to Bural, he laughed and said probably not since after all, this was “godless Izmir.” As had been pointed out to me in the past, Izmir was a city that remained indifferent or hostile to the new Islamic movement in Turkey.

That night we had a feast prepared by Ceyda. After dinner, Bural and his brother Oral–professional musicians–sang Greek and Turkish songs. Both are highly aware of and partial to the city’s Greek cultural roots. They also performed some songs that were written by Ahmed Kaya, a Kurdish protest singer who is regarded as the Victor Jara of Turkey.

Kaya, who died at the age of 43 in 2000 as an exile in France, was tried in absentia that year and given a 3 year and 9 month sentence for singing in front of a picture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in Berlin in 1993.

Although I know of no full-length versions of Kaya’s songs on the Internet, you can sample his songs on the Tulumba.com website: http://makeashorterlink.com/?O5591246C.

Another great Turkish singer, and a native of Izmir, has taken a stand similar to Kaya’s.

The release of a new album by one of Turkey’s biggest pop stars has prompted a debate on how far Turks dare go in acknowledging their diverse ethnic and religious origins – especially when rebel Kurds are fighting for their own state and the secular establishment feels threatened by Islamic fundamentalism.

The album by the female singer Sezen Aksu entitled “Light Rises in the East” has sold nearly 500,000 copies since it was launched two months ago.

Accompanied by folk musicians of Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, Arab and Gypsy origin, the singer has controversially attempted to fuse Turkey’s mixed ethnic heritage in music. Newspapers have called the album a political call for unity. Ms Aksu says she is hurt by the thought of “valuable parts of this country being broken into pieces”.

(The Guardian, September 13, 1995)

We were Ceyda and Bural’s guests for our stay in Izmir. We were also in the company of their daughter Meliz who had recently become engaged to Mert, an ex-professional basketball player who had been forced to terminate his career after an onset of illness brought on by the use of ephedrine, an herb with weight-reducing properties. He assured me that drug use of all sorts, including steroids, are rampant in Turkish professional sports.

Izmir surrounds a bay that is connected to the Mediterranean. Located in the south of Turkey and enjoying warm ocean currents, it has a climate similar to Miami’s and palm trees to match. To get from one side of the city to another, the people of Izmir use ferry boats just as the people of Istanbul take ferries to get across the Bosphorus.

On Tuesday, the six of us took a ferry from Ceyda’s neighborhood in Kadifekale to Konak across the bay. There we spent the afternoon shopping in Kemeralti, an old fashioned shopping district with narrow streets overflowing with jewellers, drapers, shoemaker, and shops specializing in all kind s of goods from leather to olives and cheese that look like this: http://www.insecula.com/us/salle/photo_ME0000082237.html.

I love walking around streets such as these. Years ago New York had a shopping district on the Lower East Side clustered around Orchard Street that had the same kind of charm. Although I have not spent time down there in years, I am afraid that many of the shops have closed due to the death or retirement of the Jewish owners. Shops such as these are the ultimate anti-Walmart. Although socialism has often embraced the idea of workers taking over capitalist technologies and adapting them to their own needs (Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” a case in point), I strongly believe that the real need will be to preserve the Orchard Streets and Kemeraltis of the world.

Konak was also the site of the culmination of the victorious campaign to “drive the Greeks into the sea” as my hosts put it without the slightest hint of shame. Unlike the campaign against the Armenians, at least it can be said that the events recounted in Ambler’s novel were the logical outcome of a war inflicted on the Turks.

Greece had been allied with Great Britain in WWI, as Turkey had been an ally of the Germans. With the Anglo-American victory, there was an attempt to wrest back the gains of the Ottoman Empire and re-establish Western/Christian control. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which ended the First World War in Asia Minor, carved up the Ottoman Empire and assigned the conquered territories to Greece. Greek troops had already occupied Smyrna in May 1919 under cover of French, British and American ships. It was up to Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, to drive out the Greeks in order to lay the basis for the new Turkish state. It was tragic that ordinary Greek citizens were to suffer the consequences, just as Turks in Greece would, but that seems to be the legacy of modern statehood–about which I will have more to say in the conclusion of this article.

The Turkish victory resulted in the removal of Winston Churchill from power in Great Britain. Churchill was a strong proponent of imposing the Western will on Moslems, just as Blair is today–all, of course, in the name of democracy.

The Greeks refer to the 1922 events as the “Great Catastrophe.” Although I suspect that official Greek history sees this more in geopolitical terms, it is the cultural aspects that are obviously much more important to people such as us.

The disaster of Smyrna meant the end of the three thousand year Hellenic presence in Asia Minor. A million refugees leave for Greece, a land that is familiar to them only barely in language. The populations of Athens and Thessaloniki double. Working and upper middle-class Greeks who had lived comfortably in Smyrna and other towns and cities in Turkey, become the bottom rung in a society that can barely take care of its own people. In the cafes and back streets of Athens and Thessaloniki Rembetika music, Greek Urban Blues, is being played and will have a powerful effect on the music and culture of Greece. The lyrics tell of the frustration of being poor in a strange land, and the sadness of exile as well as the misery of being reduced to a life of crime and drugs out of desperation and hopelessness. Smyrna which had been the cultural center of the Eastern Mediterranean is no longer multi-ethnic or beautiful. The entire city with the exception of the Turkish quarter has been destroyed. More than 150.000 Greeks of the Pontus region and more than 400.000 Greeks of Asia Minor die in the massacres. Of the half a million refugees who don’t go to Greece, about 200.000 Pontian Greeks go to Russia and the rest are dispersed all over the world.

Full: http://www.ahistoryofgreece.com/venizelos.htm

The next day Mine, Mert, Meliz and her good friend Haldun visited Dario Moreno street, named after the popular Turkish-Jewish singer and actor who owned a house there. Moreno died in 1968 at the age of 47. On the street there is an elevator that takes you up to the heights of Izmir. A Jewish businessman had felt sorry for the elderly who had to scale the steps to return home and built a steam-operated elevator that was eventually converted to electricity. It is a street such as this that truly expresses what was unique about Izmir. More about this street and other Izmir sites is at http://www.cankan.com/gizmir/13-interx_asans.htm.

Haldun, a male college student majoring in literature, told me that he had little use for Orhan Pamuk who he regarded as a mouthpiece for Western imperialism. Haldun was a very likable fellow, but I had gotten a bit annoyed with him after he installed a Turkish version of Windows XP on the Dell laptop that we had brought over as a gift for Meliz. There are complications when you use this operating system with an English keyboard. When you type a period, for example, it comes out as “ç” which is pronounced as “ch.” Meliz eventually solved the problem by discovering that you can toggle back and forth between the Turkish and English alphabet.

The longer I stay in Turkey, the more I feel the need to learn the language which would really help me to understand the country better. Since there is a good chance that Mine and I will someday buy a place in Izmir, this is all the more important. This was driven home when I and the rest of the gang spent an evening with an architect and his wife in their palatial apartment in the so-called “City of Blue.” This was a self-contained luxury complex with commanding views of the bay. As we ate dinner on their enclosed terrace, I felt myself fogging out after some hours of hearing nothing but Turkish. My feeling of desolation was amplified by a wind that was howling mercilessly. It was difficult for me to understand why a college-educated and wealthy Turkish couple would prefer to live in isolation from the colorful street life of Izmir. Perhaps being able to live in what amounts to a gated community is a sign that you have made it in the world. It is also obviously a symbol of how American imperialism, the world champion of gated communities, can impact urban life in a wonderful country like Turkey.

When we were hanging out at Ceyda’s, we would watch Azeri TV for laughs. This is the government-owned cable station from Azerbaijan that is available in Turkey. The Azeris are regarded as country cousins of the Turks, especially their dialect which evoked peals of laughter from Mine and my hosts. This was especially the case when it was used to dub American movies like “Star Wars.” I guess that Turks have the same reaction to Azeri pronunciation as a French literature professor would have to the utterances of a French Canadian hockey player.

Many of you might recall that Azerbaijan was involved in a war with another former Soviet republic, namely Armenia. Basically the conflict was driven by the same ethnic and social tensions that produced the WWI massacres. Nagorno-Karabakh was a 1,700 square mile largely Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

In 1992 Armenia seized control of the enclave and established a corridor through which military supplies and other goods could flow. All 50,000 Azeris, forming 25 percent of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh, were “cleansed.” This was merely the culmination of a population exchange between the two republics that began with the dissolution of the USSR in 1988. Some 300,000 Armenians and 200,000 Azeris fled across the border.

Of course the relationship of forces between the Turks and Armenians within Turkey was much less balanced during WWI. But in other respects the conflict was identical. Armenians were allied with Anglo-American imperialism and with the Russians, who were on the opposite side of the Germans and the Turks. Armenians had been fighting an on and off-again guerrilla war to achieve national independence since the 1890s. Ironically, the Ottoman court had dispatched Kurdish militias to put down the rebellion, which they did with relentless fury.

Historically, the Ottomans had permitted the Armenians, who were Christians belonging to a sect that went back 1700 years, and Jews a large degree of self-rule. As long as they provided tribute to this relatively benign feudal ruling class, they were free to worship as they pleased and to enrich themselves. In fact, there were never any pogroms directed at the Armenians living in Istanbul during this period. The Armenian elites in fact regarded the guerrilla fighters as a threat to their own privileged positions and urged restraint.

But with the economic decline of the Ottoman Empire, there was little chance that the old system of accommodation could continue. Just as the economic crisis of the 1920s led to the rise of fascism, so did the implosion of the Ottoman Empire lead to scapegoatism in a society that had previously been tolerant of national and religious minorities.

While this article is not the proper place to render a verdict on this extremely complex question, I tentatively have concluded that the proper way to view the events of WWI is in terms of a great massacre rather than a genocide, especially in light of the fact that it was localized to the Eastern regions of the country. Provisionally, it seems comparable to the slaughter of the Mayans in Guatemala during the 1980s rather than an attempt to systematically exterminate an entire race. This, of course, should not excuse what happened, nor should be interpreted as an endorsement of the sort of denial that operates within Turkish society unfortunately. It would appear to me that so long as Kemalism with its foundational beliefs is so deeply rooted in the Turkish psyche that it will be impossible to overcome the taboo over discussing the massacres honestly.

It is interesting to note that a shift has begun to take place with respect to the Kurds while the Kemalists have been reduced to an opposition status. Despite its Islamist roots, the ruling party in Turkey today seems far more interested in becoming part of the European Union than the Kemalists who despite their roots in a movement that tried to make Turkey more European are hold-outs against such a project.

The January 12, 2006 edition of the NY Review of Books has an article by Stephen Kinzer titled “Kurds in Turkey: The Big Change” that states:

The prospect of EU membership, which has given Kurds this new confidence, is reshaping Turkish political life. Old barriers to free expression have fallen, and everyone realizes that the remaining ones must also fall if Turkey is to join the EU. As more Turks step forward to challenge longstanding taboos, however, guardians of the old order are mounting a counter-offensive. Their most visible weapon is legal harassment. A prosecutor in one district of Istanbul has indicted the novelist Orhan Pamuk for telling a Swiss newspaper earlier this year that “thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands.” The publisher Ragip Zarakolu is facing criminal charges against three works in his catalog. One is said to insult the memory of Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state. Another describes brutality suffered by Armenians during the last years of Ottoman rule. A third is accused of using “derogatory language” to describe Turkey’s policies in the Kurdish region.

Prosecutions like these embarrass and undermine the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is strongly backing the EU project. They are part of a campaign by nationalist defenders of the old order to block Turkey’s progress toward the EU. This group of nationalists, which Turks call “deep state,” includes many local prosecutors, and also has powerful supporters in the army and bureaucracy. They fear the scrutiny of their operations and the strict limits on military power that EU membership would entail. To upset relations with the EU, they prosecute freethinkers in ways calculated to make Turkey look un-European. Government leaders believe that during the years ahead, they must not only try to bring their country into line with Europe, but also suppress forces within Turkey that seek to block their country’s transformation.

Full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18624

Yesterday I watched “Ararat,” a 2002 film by Atom Egoyan, a Canadian film director of Armenian origin. This is basically a postmodernist work that seems more about the problems of understanding history and making art than it is about its ostensible subject, the WWI massacres. As such, it has much in common with the works of Orhan Pamuk himself. I can imagine Egoyan and Pamuk showering praise over each other’s work.

Like many postmodernist works, it has a tendency toward self-reflection–in this case the making of a film titled “Ararat” in Egoyan’s similarly titled movie. In the movie within the movie, director Edward Sayoran (Charles Aznavour) is making a film that wears its sensibilities on its sleeves like Stephen Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.” It is obvious that Egoyan himself would never make such a straightforward film.

The main character in the film is Raffi (David Alpay), a young Armenian who is stopped in the customs office at the Toronto airport upon returning from Turkey. He is interrogated by a customs officer played by Christopher Plummer who suspects him of smuggling drugs into the country within film cans. Their dialogue allows Egoyan to meditate on the topics which really interest him, namely how to get at the truth in human or artistic terms.

One of the key characters in the film-within-the-film is Arshile Gorky, the painter of Armenian descent who committed suicide in 1948. He was born Vosdanik Adoian in the village of Khorkom, province of Van in 1921. When he was 15, his mother died of starvation in his arms during the Turkish massacre. Much of the film is focused on the way that his “The Artist and His Mother” reflects the suffering of the Armenian people. You can see it at: http://www.legacy-project.org/arts/pics/g/gorkyartistmother01_lg.jpg

At the conclusion of “Ararat,” there are graphic scenes of Turkish cruelty to Armenians that don’t really mesh with the rest of the film. Although I am obviously disappointed in the movie, I strongly recommend it. To my knowledge, it is the only feature film ever to delve into the Armenian tragedy.

For all of the earnestness and obvious high level of artistic ability that characterize Egoyan’s film, it fails to deliver on the most important question, namely why such horrific events take place, and more importantly, how to prevent them in the future. Joanne Laurier, a film critic at the always astute wsws.org (at least on the topic of films!) had this to say:

Ararat was made, according to Egoyan, to counter those who have deliberately obscured the history of the genocide and those who have denied or continue to deny that mass murder took place. In the film, Adolf Hitler is quoted discussing his plans for exterminating the Jews with his generals in 1939: “Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” Many governments have never formally recognized the Armenian tragedy. Two years ago, United States Congress dropped a resolution backing the Armenian case after the White House claimed it would harm US interests in the Middle East. Therefore to make a film about the events of 1915 is a very worthy and legitimate enterprise.

Unfortunately, Egoyan, in attempting to counter the deniers by chronicling this history, is largely defeated by his fashionable hostility to “grand narratives” and to the objective treatment of historical events. He articulated this hostility in an interview with PopMatters, remarking that he believes that “small gestures” are more telling than “broad clinical gestures.” He claims, “Ultimately it’s about moments between individuals, negotiations not between countries but between mothers and sons, strangers in a hallway, stepdaughters and mothers.”

Egoyan is caught between two positions that are mutually exclusive: on the one hand, as someone initiated into the sacred rites of postmodernism, he essentially denies that objective interpretation of events or phenomena is possible. “The film is very much about interpretation,” he told Filmmaker magazine. “People have the right to interpret an object. They have the license to interpret something as they wish…. Nothing is fixed.”

Full: http://wsws.org/articles/2002/dec2002/arar-d16.shtml

In my own view, ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass slaughter, etc. are simply symptoms of an economic system in its terminal stages. The rise of capitalism as a world system involved the creation of nation-states that more often than not cobbled together peoples who had little in common. As long as the system was expanding, it was possible for such peoples to co-exist to one degree or another. As the ability of the system to deliver the basic necessities of life to the citizens of nation-states declines, there will be a concomitant rise in ethnic tensions.

In order to stave off such blood-letting, it is necessary to abolish the system that creates underlying tensions between Azeri and Armenian, Tutsi and Hutu, or Arab and Kurd. In the early 20th century, such hopes were invested in the revolutionary movement led by Lenin and his co-thinkers internationally. Despite the collapse of the USSR, there is no other type of movement that can replace it as a guarantee of a more tolerant and more just future.

December 30, 2005

After The 2004 Elections

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 7:58 am

(Swans – December 19, 2005) Last year radical supporters of John Kerry kept insisting over and over that unless George W. Bush was removed from office, the consequences for Third World peoples would be disastrous. Tariq Ali warned that a Bush victory would be a mandate for stepped up economic penetration of the South and military intervention against any nation impudent enough to resist such penetration. Urging a vote for Ralph Nader was tantamount to scabbing against struggles for national liberation.

Domestically, refusing to vote for Kerry was interpreted as being indifferent to the nation’s elderly who would be forced to fend for themselves as Social Security was abolished in favor of a privatization scheme designed to favor Bush’s Wall Street backers.

As it turned out, these looming threats and others just as dire failed to materialize. Bush has been on the defensive on foreign policy, especially in Latin America. With things going so bad in Iraq, it would be impossible for him to invade Venezuela or Cuba. He simply lacks the political support for such an adventure. On Social Security, his privatization schema was dead in the water not long after it was proposed.

Pundits offering advice to this failed president have urged him to retreat from the neoconservative agenda, the New York Times’s David Brooks most notably. In a December 8 Op Ed column, Brooks wrote:

Conservatives are in power but out of sorts. Fifty years after the founding of the modern right, conservatives hold just about every important government job, yet the conservative agenda has stalled. Federal spending has surged. Social Security reform is dead. And when voters are asked which party they trust on key issues, they decisively reject conservative ideas.

On the economy, Democrats are trusted more, 56 to 34. On education, it’s Democrats 55 to 32. On taxes, Democrats 48 to 38. On health care, Democrats 54 to 29.

For members of a movement that is supposed to be winning the battle of ideas, conservatives are in a mess.

If any other arguments were required against leftist supporters of John Kerry, it has been the utterly abject refusal of the party to take a strong stand against Bush. Kerry, Biden and Hillary Clinton, three of the party’s most powerful leaders, continue to urge that the USA stay the course. They offer all sorts of criticisms about how the war has been conducted, but refuse to back the only sensible course: immediate withdrawal. Despite the limitations of Congressman John Murtha’s proposal, which stops short of immediate and unconditional withdrawal, Kerry made sure to disassociate himself from it. When the question of a timetable for withdrawal came up in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Kerry stated, “You set out a timetable, not for withdrawal, but for success, that allows you to withdraw.” If there is any difference between this formula and George W. Bush’s, it would require somebody trained in Talmudic logic to detect it.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy32.html

December 13, 2005

Max Sawicky, Marc Cooper and the late Tookie Williams

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:27 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on December 13, 2005

Two leftists associated with Pajamas Media have chimed in on Tookie Williams’s execution. They are Max Sawicky and Marc Cooper, who might be described as “dumber and dumber.”

On his blog, Cooper explains how Schwarzenegger’s hands were tied:

“William’s refusal – rightly or wrongly—to admit his guilt for the brutal 1981 murders of four people made his commutation politically impossible. With every court in the land upholding Williams’ conviction and guilt, Schwarzenegger would have been effectively nullifying their decision if he had decided to save Williams.”

Over on Max Speaks , we are treated to a truly awful outburst from a usually balanced liberal economist:

“I don’t buy the ‘healing’ thing purported to result from clemency. The best healing act would be for Tookie to admit his guilt for all of his crimes and go remorsefully to his death. Who is healed by granting clemency? Certainly not the bereaved. Healing is a hustle.”

But what if Williams was not guilty? In fact, despite his eight years as a leader of the Crips, he had no serious criminal record. While it is true that he was found guilty, so were dozens if not hundreds in Texas over the years. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on December 7:

“No fingerprints, blood or clothing at either crime scene connected Williams to the shootings. The main physical evidence against him was a shell casing at the motel, matched to Williams’ shotgun by a sheriff’s expert whose testing methods have been derided as ‘junk science’ by an expert hired by Williams’ current lawyers. Last week, the state Supreme Court rejected a defense request for new tests of the gun.”

The chief eyewitness for the prosecution was Alfred Coward, who took part in the 7-Eleven robbery and was given immunity from prosecution. Samuel Coleman, who was arrested along with Williams and also given immunity from prosecution, testified that Williams had admitted to the killings. At a 1994 hearing, Coleman said police had beaten him and threatened to charge him with murder unless he testified against Williams. However, federal courts found that his testimony had been voluntary and noted that he had a lawyer at the time of the trial. And everybody knows how fair and impartial the federal courts are, just ask Samuel Alito.

My favorite witness, however, is jailhouse informant George Oglesby, also testified that Williams had admitted to the killings and said Williams had plotted a pretrial jailbreak in which Coward, the prospective prosecution witness, would be killed. From www.savetookie.org, we learn:

“The ‘star’ witness at Stan’s trial – a white man and longtime felon who was placed in a nearby cell while Stan awaited trial and was years later discovered to have been a paid police informant – also testified that Stan ‘volunteered’ a confession to him. But nearly 20 years after Stan’s trial it was discovered that a Los Angeles police officer had left a copy of the police murder file involving Stan’s case in this informant’s cell for overnight study. The next day the murder file was picked up by that same officer, and the informant informed the police that Stan had volunteered a confession to him. In return for this testimony, the informant – who himself was facing the death penalty for rape, murder and mutilation – was given a lesser sentence that allowed him the possibility of parole and freedom.”

Although much of the attention has focused on the late Tookie Williams’s redemption, apparently not enough has been paid to the question of his guilt or innocence–something that kangaroo court jurors Marc Cooper and Max Sawicky seem oblivious to.


Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:35 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on December 13, 2005

Around this time of year, I get about 20 “screeners” from various film publicists. These are mostly DVD’s and some videos that include a legend that pops up every 10 minutes or so to the effect that they are “for award purposes only.” So anxious are the studios to prevent piracy that they introduced a new system this year. They sent us a special player designed to play encoded DVD’s. Considering the crap they sent me, I wonder why they need to go to such lengths.

Out of morbid curiosity, I put on “Shopgirl” last night. This is a film that did not generate much interest at the NYFCO gathering I attended last Saturday, but Claire Danes did receive votes from a number of my colleagues for her performance opposite Steve Martin in this perfectly horrible film.

It did spur me to venture a few thoughts on the film industry and the movie review business (I use the word advisedly) that has the same sort of relationship to the industry that a remora has to a shark. As a reality check, I consulted the Movie Review Query Engine, a database of reviews, to compare my take on the film with reviews from various print publications and websites.

Roger Ebert, who is probably the best known film critic in the USA and a frequent guest on late night television talk shows, gave it a 3.5 out of a maximum 4 rating. He says:

One of the things you cannot do in this life is impose conditions on love. Another impossibility is to expect another’s heart to accommodate your own desires and needs. You may think that cleverness, power or money will work on your behalf, but eventually you will end up feeling the way you really feel, and so will the other person, and there is no argument more useless than the one that begins with the words “But I thought we had an agreement.”

“Shopgirl” is a tender and perceptive film that argues these truths. It is about an older man named Ray Porter, a millionaire, who sees a young woman named Mirabelle Buttersfield standing behind the glove counter at Saks, and desires her. He goes through the motions of buying some gloves. Perhaps the gray? “I prefer the black,” she says, and so he buys the black, and that night on her doorstep she finds the gloves, neatly gift-wrapped and with a note inside: “Will you have dinner with me? Ray Porter.

As I read this, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. There is nothing “tender” or “perceptive” about this film. Basically, it is a film that dwells entirely on surfaces, especially when it comes to the characters themselves who are three of the more off-putting that I have encountered in recent years. Steve Martin’s Ray Porter is a narcissistic multimillionaire who seduces and then abandons Mirabelle Buttersfield played by Claire Danes. Neither character has any kind of internal life or psychological complexity that makes a love story interesting. Mostly their encounters involve dates for dinner or going to bed. Since Steve Martin is a full 34 years older than Danes (and looks more like 44 years older), one is left with a slightly creepy feeling not unlike seeing Woody Allen in some of his more recent films opposite a much younger female romantic interest. Mirabelle also has a fling with Jeremy, a twenty-something lout who has the same personality as an Adam Sandler character as well as Sandler’s grotesque hairdo from “Little Nicky”.

That gets me to the real question of who and what Steve Martin is. Like Woody Allen, Martin has a reputation for wit and taste, even though both of them played clowns earlier in their film careers. If Allen is the quintessential cosmopolitan New Yorker, Martin is his Los Angeles counterpart. Steve Martin is a big-time art collector and serves on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also like Allen, Martin has a sideline as a fiction writer. For both, the New Yorker magazine is the preferred venue for the trifles they serve up to middle-class audiences. That is where Martin’s short story “Shopgirl” originally appeared.

Whether Martin or the director of the film came up with the idea of using Ray Porter for voiceover narration, it was a horrible one. At the end of the film, when Danes takes up with Jeremy who she dated before meeting Martin, Porter says something along the lines of “Now Mirabelle’s voyage was complete. In choosing Jeremy, she finally recognized that life offers happiness but perhaps not the happiness of one’s dreams.” Just to make sure that the audience is stirred by these banalities, the sound of violins punctuates the words just as they do in every key moment of this film. Less voiceover and violins and more character and plot development would have been in order, but this is Hollywood after all.

Essentially, Steve Martin made a crappy movie (and probably wrote a crappy novella that it was based on) for the same reason Woody Allen makes crappy movies. These are people so wealthy and so powerful that they cannot really descend into the reality in which ordinary people like shopgirls dwell. Mirabelle has no personality, no depth and no reality. She is not a character but an idea for a possible character. Martin probably lives in an 8000 square foot mansion in Beverly Hills surrounded by million dollar paintings. His life revolves around cocktail parties in formal wear and meetings with film industry executives. You might say that he has the same sort of wealth and power as the character he plays in the film, but that is not sufficient to make a character interesting.

I suspect that what makes “Shopgirl” appealing to Roger Ebert and other powerful and successful film critics is exactly what makes it repellent to me. Hollywood has always been a dream factory. It offers ordinary people the chance to step into a world of Hollywood mansions or Fifth Avenue penthouses that they never would be invited to in a million years. This is what made Fred Astaire movies popular in the 1930s and what drew people to Woody Allen movies until they became unwatchable.

December 10, 2005

Penguins and grizzly bears

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:24 pm

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

Penguins and grizzly bears are the anthropomorphized stars of two recent documentaries. In “March of the Penguins,” they are cuddly stand-ins for nuclear families. When compared to the violent video games, rap music and drug culture that are laying siege to suburban households, the brutal cold and wind that penguins endure seems relatively benign. Werner Herzog’s “The Grizzly Man” tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, who lived in the midst of grizzlies in Alaska until he was eaten by one of them. Herzog’s film is based heavily on Treadwell’s amateurish but compelling videos. He talks to the hulking animals, who he has given pet names to, as if they were poodles or–worse–his children. Although both documentaries are skillfully produced, they both leave out key elements that would help us understand humanity’s relationship to such animals and to nature as a whole–something we will try to fill in.

The most amazing thing about “March of the Penguins” is that it was filmed at all. Shot in Antarctica by French director Luc Jacquet, it tracks the breeding cycle of the Emperor penguin that had hitherto never been seen on film. Every year, the birds trek inland away from the water toward solid ground where the mating ritual takes place. After the female lays an egg, she rolls it into the father’s feet as it were a soccer ball. He and the other males, also caring after their own eggs, huddle together against the cold and wind, which reaches a hellish fury, while the mothers return to the water to feed. For both mother and father, the margin between survival and starvation is paper-thin. After the chick is born, they all return to the water while trying to protect the offspring against predators until it too is ready to mate.

In the production notes available on the film’s website, Jacquet explains the miracle of Emperor penguin reproduction:

“Because the emperor penguin is a fabulous creature evolving in the open seas, capable of diving as deep as 1,400 feet for as long as 20 minutes. But in order to breed, for some unknown reason, this extraordinary creature pays an enormous price for all his majesty, and finds himself walking like a penitent for miles upon miles in the blizzards of Antarctica, far from the ocean, just to lay one egg. He does this in the most stable environment he can find, and then goes back and forth all winter between the colony where his life is hellish, and the sea where he finds his sustenance! There are only a few dozen places where he can lay his eggs, no more. So the emperor penguin lives his life on the edge. There is no life beyond him. We are almost in the realm of biotics. There are no living cells in Antarctica, and in this white desert, the emperor is the sentinel, the last living element on the planet – assuming we are still on the same planet. Although Antarctica is not yet space, it is almost no longer earth! We are on the border between reality and fantasy. Emperor penguins, desert nomads… nature creates mirages. All our references are gone, or simply reversed, even the seasons are reversed. If you haven’t experienced freezing 100-mile an hour (162 kph) winds, it is hard to imagine what it is like.”

Despite the obvious drama involved with such a monumental effort to propagate the species, the director felt the need to invest the creatures with human feelings, especially love. He even toyed with the idea of writing dialog for the penguins that would be spoken by actors, something wiser heads convinced him to discard.

His main achievement is to create a visual masterpiece using the austere backstage of glaciers and ice floes, against which the awkward but imposing Emperor penguins conduct their reproductive dance. This ballet in ice mostly speaks for itself, while narrator Morgan Freeman is used to impart the debatable anthropomorphic perspective.

“March of the Penguins” is sadly missing a perspective that is crucial today, especially in light of the Christian right’s well-publicized efforts to make the penguins stand-ins for mega-church congregants. That perspective is evolutionary science, which is the main explanation for penguin survival rather than family values. It must be said that the film makes a cursory effort to offer a Darwininan perspective, as Freeman explains that Antarctica was originally far to the North. When it floated south, the only animals that survived were those that could adapt to the new, subfreezing environment.

In his review of “March of the Penguins,” Roger Ebert tries to supply some of the background information on penguin evolution:

“This is a love story,” Freeman’s narration assures us, reminding me for some reason of Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” I think it is more accurately described as the story of an evolutionary success. The penguins instinctively know, because they have been hard-wired by evolutionary trial and error, that it is necessary to march so far inland because in spring, the ice shelf will start to melt toward them, and they need to stand where the ice will remain thick enough to support them.

As a species, they learned this because the penguins who paused too soon on their treks had eggs that fell into the sea. Those who walked farther produced another generation, and eventually every penguin was descended from a long line of ancestors who were willing to walk the extra mile.

Other than the shark, there is no other animal that comes across less cuddly than the grizzly bear. That did not stop Timothy Treadwell from spending thirteen years among them until October 2003, when he and his girlfriend became a meal.

Treadwell was 46 at the time of his death and had little to show for his years on earth. The closest he ever came to success was in an audition for the part of the bartender in “Friends” that Woody Harrelson landed. After Treadwell came in second, his hopes were dashed. He then plunged into a life of alcohol and drugs. Discovering grizzly bears turned things around. Every year he worked as a waiter in Malibu until he put together enough money for an expedition up to Katmai National Park in Alaska.

He founded an organization called Grizzly People, whose website is still functioning. Fortunately, they have more sense than poor Treadwell from the evidence of the words on their home page: “People should remain 100 yards from bears at all times.” Throughout Herzog’s documentary, we see that Treadwell is close enough to touch the nose of approaching bears. Watching these scenes, especially in light of knowing his eventual fate, is painful. Just as painful is to listen to his self-deceptions about how his beloved bears would never harm him. As somebody who still retained a kind of woozy 60s sensibility until the moment of his death, Treadwell is almost as much of a parody of the “peace and love” hippy as found in the most misanthropic pages of R. Crumb.

Herzog’s role as narrator and interviewer in the documentary is to provide a running antithesis to Timothy Treadwell. He tells us that he could never understand how Treadwell could form a bond with such animals since they always appeared as a cruel and indifferent predator to him–just like nature itself. This is ultimately what gives the film its dramatic tension, the contrast between the neo-Hobbesian Herzog and Treadwell the naïf

Despite their different psychologies and their attitudes toward nature, Herzog and Treadwell share something in common and that certainly must have inspired Herzog to take on this project. Despite his lack of professional training, Treadwell was a serious film-maker and had a compulsive attachment to filming the bears and making himself a sympathetic partisan for the bear cause. Developers and poachers were Treadwell’s sworn enemies. Herzog shows him in repeated takes before the camera, as he tries to deliver his lines in the most convincing fashion.

Anybody who has tracked Herzog’s career, as I have, will immediately recognize the same kind of obsessions in his work. The most infamous example was “Fitzcarraldo,” a film about the 19th century rubber grower Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, who decided to bring grand opera to the Amazon interior against all odds. Needless to say, Fitzcarraldo and Treadwell–like Herzog–were men who would not be denied. Herzog insisted that the film would include a scene shot on location that depicted moving a 340-ton steam ship over a mountain. When this ship eventually navigated some very rough rapids, three crew members were seriously injured. This must have been in the back of his mind when he pointedly referred to the needless sacrifice of Treadwell’s girlfriend, who was far more devoted to him than to the cause of the grizzly bear.

Although it is doubtful that “The Grizzly Man” will ever serve as ammunition against efforts to preserve grizzly bear habitats, it is still regrettable that Herzog failed to engage with the very real threat to their survival and the survival of Alaskan wildlife in general. Timothy Treadwell might not have been the most effective spokesman for wildlife conservation, but he certainly understood correctly that they needed to be defended from commercial development, including the kind that devastated Katmai National Park, where Treadwell operated.

The Alaskan spring is late but frenzied. Alder saplings break free of tenured snow holds. Kodiak bears, the largest carnivores on earth, rouse themselves at Katmai National Park, 300 miles from the spill, and begin searching for shellfish. Bald eagles check nesting sites in spruce snags.

At Prince William Sound, the warm weather heralds a second year of anxious monitoring. Will the salmon fry make their way out to sea without ingesting oil through the food chain? Will the otters keep their insulating fur coats free of North Slope crude? Will beaches that used to be thick with mussels and clams ever see a return of the natural bounty?

Such questions were foreign to the Sound until a few minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989, when Capt. Joseph J. Hazelwood announced over the Coast Guard radio at Valdez, ‘”Evidently we’re leaking some oil and we’re going to be here for quite a while.’”

His ship, the Exxon Valdez, was gushing oil at the rate of 640,000 gallons an hour. The spill fouled 1,000 miles of beach, staining the virgin shores of two national parks and countless islands and inlets.

The spill took the worst toll on wildlife of any industrial accident in history, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. So far, less than a third of the oil has been recovered. Nature took care of some of the rest, which evaporated or was broken down by waves. Still, tar balls and “mousse’” and asphaltlike spatterings on rocks remain for the second round of oil-scrubbing, which Exxon plans to begin later this spring.

(NY Times, April 15, 1990)

Enormous pressures are being generated today to open up Alaska to oil-drilling, mining and the lumber industries. Beyond these threats, Alaska’s unique climate, which animals have adapted to for generations, is being threatened by global warming. Just as Antarctica was detached from the land mass to its north and drifted south, so does Alaska face a de facto journey southward. However, the fate of native flora and fauna might not be as fortunate as the Emperor penguin which was able to adapt to a new environment. For every winner in the cruel struggle for evolutionary survival, there are many more that fall by the wayside. This must not be allowed to happen.

December 9, 2005

Bill Weinberg: redbaiter

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:51 am
Today Znet features a redbaiting attack on the antiwar movement focused on the ANSWER coalition by Bill Weinberg, a journalist who has written about the Zapatistas. He also hosts a late night talk show on WBAI in NYC and operates a website called World War Four Report, where the Znet article originally appeared. So he has a pretty big megaphone to spread his filth. Despite his self-professed anarchism, Weinberg has much in common with journalist Marc Cooper, who has perfected these sorts of redbaiting attacks.

Weinberg complains:

“International ANSWER formed after 9-11 around the core of the International Action Center (IAC), itself formed by Workers World. ANSWER’s most visible spokespersons have almost invariably been longtime IAC/WWP adherents.

“Many in the movement are both unaware of these organizational connections, as well as WWP’s history of orthodox and problematic political positions. In 1956, WWP supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary, claiming the Hungarian striking workers were ‘counterrevolutionary’; in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, WWP charged that protesters had launched ‘violent attacks on the soldiers,’ provoking the military’s actions; during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, WWP portrayed reports of atrocities and mass rape by the Serb forces as ‘imperialist lies,’ and now supports Slobodan Milosevic in his battle against war crimes charges at The Hague.

“Ramsey Clark, the visible leader of the International Action Center, is a founder of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, and has also provided legal representation for some accused of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He has more recently volunteered for Saddam Hussein’s legal team.”

These are the same talking points you have heard from David Corn, Doug Ireland, Marc Cooper and other contributors to mainstream liberal publications. It differs little from attacks that have appeared in the Washington Post and NY Times.

Weinberg really doesn’t care much for the Iraqi resistance. In the past, he has argued for continued American occupation of Iraq in the same terms as John Kerry (at least Kerry has the decency not to pretend that he is some kind of radical):

“Slogans like ‘Bring the troops home’ and ‘US out of Iraq’ are handy for fitting on a placard, but they inevitably dodge the really tough questions. Having now plunged Iraq into social entropy, destroyed the country’s infrastructure and brought to a boil myriad ethnic and religious conflicts which had been simmering under the Saddam dictatorship, it might be the height of irresponsibility for the US to just unilaterally withdraw. It would, in fact, be a violation of the responsibilities of an occupying power under international law.”

Weinberg just doesn’t care for “extremist” protests of the kind mounted by the antiwar movement. He has a different model entirely:

“Whatever happened to CARDRI, the Committee Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq , the progressive London-based exile group that opposed both the Saddam dictatorship and US imperialist designs in the 1980s? Does CARDRI still exist? Are any of its members still vocal and active? It is from such voices that we must seek leadership–not from the self-appointed cadre of Workers World, or even the comparatively innocuous Leslie Cagan.”

CARDRI was run by the atrocious Ann Clwyd, a Blairite MP. Speaking in the name of CARDRI, Clywd told the Guardian in 2004 that “Iraq is free at last,” “has a chance for a better future,” and that “a vibrant civil society is emerging from the decades of war and dictatorship.” Ann Clwyd is a pretty good fund-raiser. She got her hands on $3 million under the Iraq Liberation Act passed by the US Congress in 1998. I wonder if she passed some of that dough on to Weinberg to help keep his redbaiting website afloat.

December 8, 2005

Carl Bernstein

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:08 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about Condi lately, when I haven’t been thinking about Hillary. They both make me feel bad, but for different reasons. I feel bad about Condi because in spite of her deliciously humiliating European adventure, she still seems to be enjoying this rock-star-slash-dominatrix thing; just last night, in the Ukraine, she coyly dismissed the suggestion that she might be a presidential candidate and giggled over the numerous references to herself as a warrior princess. Meanwhile, I feel bad about Hillary for all the obvious reasons, including this week’s position on flag-burning and last week’s position on Iraq (you can find it on her website).

Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley College a few years after I did, and I’ve always thought that the key to Hillary lay in understanding what Wellesley wanted in those days from its alumnae: you were meant to graduate, marry a powerful man, and preside over dinner parties in the following manner — when the two men on either side of you disagreed violently, you were to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their diametrically-opposed positions. You were meant to make nice. You were meant to find the middle. (If you actually went into politics, you were meant to work for the League of Women Voters, an organization that had no actual politics but was simply in favor of getting everyone to vote.) Condi Rice is seven years younger than Hillary and went to Stanford, but no question she caught the same disease, and it was doubtless aggravated by her years as a university provost, a job that consists entirely of smoothing things over. Most of Rice’s career has been spent saying nothing whatsoever; some days I’m almost nostalgic for the moment when she waxed her way into that famous mushroom cloud quote, even if it too was hypothetical.

The above is an excerpt from a Nora Ephron article on Ariana Huffington’s blog.

This reminded me that I wanted to say a thing or two about Carl Bernstein, who is just as reprehensible as his former writing partner Bob Woodward but a lot less successful.
Ephron was married to Bernstein from 1976 to 1980 until she divorced him for cheating on her once too often. In her novel “Heartburn” that was based on their marriage, she said that he was the only man she knew that could figure out a way to have sex with Venetian blinds. A piss-poor movie was based on the novel, with Jack Nicholson playing Bernstein. He is the only American journalist to have had two of the most successful actors playing him in film, Dustin Hoffman and Nicholson.
Bernstein was the son of CP’ers who were redbaited in the pages of the Washington Post when he was a child. His father was a trade unionist. Perhaps in defiance of his parent’s values, he embraced anti-Communism and Judaism. He studied Hebrew in order to be bar mitzvahed against his parent’s wishes. Sigh. Why couldn’t we have traded parents?
Martin Duberman, who wrote a fine biography of Paul Robeson, was critical of Bernstein’s memoir “Loyalties” in the pages of the March 2, 1989 Washington Post:
“As valuable as Carl Bernstein’s story is in reminding us of the terrible human toll of the McCarthy years, and in personalizing it through the experiences of his own parents, his book falls uncomfortably between impersonal history and personal recollection. In the end, the history is too shallow and fragmentary, the recollections too tame and episodic. Moreover, the personal and the public sections do not cohere…
“Bernstein’s choices about what to include are often so inapt as to appear random — the product simply of what he happens to recall about a particular episode, all of which he then includes in what seems a desperate effort to fill out the skeleton frame left by his parents’ apparent reluctance to contribute many details of their own. The book stops dead, for example, while Bernstein recounts a youthful window-breaking rampage, and then again for a long description of his participation as a teen-ager in a spur-of-the-moment sit-in against segregation at the Greensboro, N.C., railroad station. But if he has any larger point to make about these anecdotes — that they reflected, say, either his rebellion against or his embracing of his parents’ politics — the point is not drawn.”
As it turned out, Bernstein’s recollections of the Greensboro incident is as embellished as “All the President’s Men.” In his joint bio of Bernstein and Woodward titled “Deep Truth,” Adrian Havill reveals that Bernstein essentially lied about participating in the sit-in.
After collaborating with Woodward on “Final Days,” about Nixon’s resignation, Bernstein failed to produce anything of substance except for the 1996 “His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time,” whose thesis is that a secret plot between Reagan, the CIA and the Vatican resulted in the fall of communism. The late Jonathan Kwitny, who also wrote a biography of the pope and who was one of the finest investigative journalists in the business, dismissed the idea of a conspiracy. For a side-by-side comparison of the Bernstein and Kwitny books, read this.
For most of the last 30 years, Bernstein has suffered from writer’s block. It took him 12 years to write “Loyalties,” a 260 page book, for example. In attempt to escape the tyranny of the keyboard, he took a job as a commentator for ABC News between 1979 and 1981.
But his real avocation seemed to be for screwing as many women as he could get his hands on and partying. Bernstein divided his time between the Hamptons and drinking holes like Elaine’s on the Upper East Side (three blocks from my building.) He has dated Bianca Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor–but not at the same time.

December 7, 2005

Desperate Housewives

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

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

Now nearing the end of its second season, ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” has achieved the sort of critical acclaim that HBO fare such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” have tended to monopolize in the past. Indeed, the show incorporates elements from both HBO hits. You get Soprano family type dysfunction of the sort described by Tolstoy in the epigraph to “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Also, the four female lead characters in “Desperate Housewives” spend a good portion of each show sitting around and discussing their sexual frustrations over coffee or wine, just as they did in “Sex and the City”. Of course, these elements in and of themselves are not sufficient to make for a hit show and critical acclaim. For that you need good writing and performances, something that “Desperate Housewives” has in spades.

“Desperate Housewives” is the brainchild of Marc Cherry, a self-described gay Republican. Last April Laura Bush nodded her approval of his show during a White House Correspondents’ dinner:

“I am married to the president of the United States, and here’s our typical evening: Nine o’clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I’m watching Desperate Housewives­ with Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they’re desperate, they oughta be with George.”

This endorsement (and from other rightwingers like Tucker Carlson who praised it as “good entertainment” and Washington Times columnist Suzanne Fields who described it as “sophisticated, edgy television for the era of the values voters who kept George W. on Pennsylvania Avenue”) has not prevented it from being the target of Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association. Although some advertisers dropped the show because of the AFA campaign against the show’s alleged indecency, others have taken their place.

Ultimately, trying to locate the show on a political spectrum might be an exercise in futility. If it is simply accepted as popular culture operating at a very high level, then nothing else should really matter.

“Desperate Housewives” operates in a pre-feminist world even though it is taking place in contemporary times. The four lead female characters seem plucked from the pages of Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique.” Lynette (Felicity Huffman) has four young sons who are driving her nuts. She would much rather be back working in advertising, but feels that would make her a failure as a wife and mom. Gabriela (Eva Longoria) is an ex-model whose husband treats her like an expensive doll. Out of boredom, she starts an affair with a gardener who is still in high-school. Bree (Marcia Cross) is an anal retentive Republican and churchgoer who goes to pieces after her husband decides to divorce her. He is tired of being married to a compulsive housekeeper. When the two go to a marriage counselor, she can’t get her eyes off a seam on the therapist’s jacket that needs mending. Susan (Terri Hatcher) is a single mom whose husband left her for a younger woman. She is essentially playing the scatterbrained ingénue role that Doris Day made famous in 1950s movies co-starring the closeted Rock Hudson. Mike Delfino, her Rock Hudson, is a hunk and former drug-dealer who served time for killing a cop. He and the other men on the show are usually one step ahead of the law. When not dealing with the women’s love-lives, the episodes are tracking subplots involving murder and blackmail.

Cherry’s ability to seamlessly incorporate references to both popular and high culture is phenomenal. In one episode from the first season, there is a pointed reference to the women organizing a reading group around “Madame Bovary,” the quintessential tale of middle-class housewife frustration. “Desperate Housewives” also contains many echoes of Douglas Sirk films. In film after film, Sirk depicted unhappy housewives trapped in suburbia. In his “All That Heaven Allows,” a New England widow (Jane Wyman) falls in love with her gardener (Rock Hudson), much to the disapproval of the local community and her grown-up children just as Gabriela defied convention by taking up with the young gardener.

Since “Desperate Housewives” is set in contemporary America rather than the 1950s, there is always the nagging feeling that the show does not reflect the sort of revolution in family life that took place in the 1960s. The only character who seems aware of these changes is Bree’s teen-aged son Andrew, who describes his bisexuality to his uptight mom in terms of enjoying both chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

One also imagines that Marc Cherry might have “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in the back of his mind when he began work on “Desperate Housewives.” This 1970s satire on soap operas was set in Fernwood, a white bread sort of town that was as all-American as Wisteria Lane, the setting for “Desperate Housewives.” In “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” the lead character is a pigtailed, gingham-frocked Ohio housewife who tried to remain calm while her daughter was held hostage by a mass murderer, endured her husband’s impotence (he never progressed emotionally past high school, where he enjoyed glory as a quarterback,) the disappearance of her father and the paralysis of her best friend. In the same way that “Desperate Housewives” takes family dysfunction as its theme, so did “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” In an epoch of declining material and spiritual expectations in American society, such themes are guaranteed to be marketable for television and the movies

Preserving disorder

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:40 am
John Kerry on Dec. 4 CBS News Face the Nation:
You’ve got to begin to transfer authority to the Iraqis. And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the historical customs, religious customs. Whether you like it or not Iraqis should be doing that.
Mayor Richard Daley, after 1968 crackdown on Chicago peace protests:
“Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all: the policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
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