Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 22, 2010

Obama’s betrayal of the working class

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 5:47 pm

Once again I am compelled to crosspost a remarkable piece:

Published on The New York Observer (http://www.observer.com)

Obama’s Betrayal of the Working Class

Obama’s Betrayal of the Working Class

As voters ponder the curious failure of the ruling Democratic Party even to pursue meaningful economic relief for millions of desperate and jobless Americans, it might be useful to recall certain passages from President Obama’s best-selling campaign manifesto, The Audacity of Hope. Of particular interest is a chapter titled “Opportunity,” wherein the ambitious senator discusses his thoughts about the challenges facing the American economy. The chapter is classic Obama and reveals a great deal about his transcendental mojo. It is still the most complete statement of our dear leader’s economic philosophy, such as it is.

The scene is early 2005. Shortly after an exciting visit to the headquarters of Google, where Mr. Obama benefited from the insights of Larry and Sergey, “two of the richest people on earth,” the freshman senator drove down to Galesburg, Illinois–as it happens the very same working-class town that he had featured in his celebrated 2004 convention speech–where a Maytag plant was due to be shut down, leaving 1,600 employees out of work, so that operations could be “shifted” to Mexico. The set piece thus introduced was a political cliché; the only question was what moral would be drawn from this parable of senatorial glad-handing.

“You’ll get little argument these days,” Mr. Obama writes, “from either the left or the right, with the notion that we’re going through a fundamental economic transformation.” Ah, yes, it’s true: Like pilgrims, we are passing through a dark valley, menaced by economic forces that we can only dimly comprehend. What are these forces? “Advances.” Advances, he tells us, are causing disruptions, “advances in digital technology, fiber optics, the Internet, satellites, and transportation.” These “advances” have “leveled the economic barriers between countries and continents.”

Notice how impersonal these advances are. Where did they come from? How did they get here? No one knows! And these advances are not alone; they are joined by “pools of capital.” Where did the pools come from? Did they cause the advances or did the advances cause the pools? These pools, he said, were scouring the earth, aided and abetted by “a few keystrokes,” searching for the best returns. How dreadful, how sad, that those Maytag workers down in Galesburg were suffering from the effects of those pools and advances. But take comfort, for these pools and advances, aided by keystrokes and a “flatter” world, scouring the planet for returns, are bringing “significant benefits to American consumers.” Ah, benefits. Everyone loves benefits. What kind of benefits have the pools and advances brought us?

“Peaches in winter,” Mr. Obama tells us, and big-screen televisions.

Yet Mr. Obama reminds us that all is not well. In addition to the tasteless winter peaches and those big flat-screen televisions, the advances and the pools have caused problems. Don’t forget those unhappy soon-to-be-downsized workers in Galesburg. They are proof that the advances and pools have “greatly increased economic instability for millions of ordinary Americans.” So, on the one hand, we have Larry and Sergey at Google, who know how to handle the advances and the pools, and on the other we have millions of ordinary Americans like those workers down in Galesburg, who face a “future of low-wage service work, with few benefits,” but lots of winter peaches, “and the risk of financial ruin in the event of an illness, and the inability to save for either retirement or a child’s college education.”

What is to be done? In what follows, Mr. Obama presents a dizzying series of hands–on the one and then the other, repeatedly, like some hyper-discursive, blue-skinned Hindu deity–and contrasts the dominant faction of the Democratic Party, which embraces the new economy of advancing pools, with “a sizable chunk” of the Democratic base that resists their agenda. So it’s the pools versus the chunk. The pools and their friends, the advances, point to “high-value, high-wage jobs.” Meanwhile, the sizable chunk (yes, she could afford to lose a few pounds) waits an hour for the bus after she clocks out of work at the big Wal-Mart superstore on the edge of town and finally gets home around 10 p.m. to find her son eating Doritos and watching porn videos on the bedroom computer–while her daughter in the living room taps out text messages on her cell phone as she watches American Idol on the flat-screen TV. Contemplating this scene, our sizable chunk of a low-wage worker just looks at the bowl of peaches on her kitchen table and wonders if maybe she’d rather have a better job.

Senator Obama did not consider this. Instead, after presenting a potted history of America’s rise as a great economic power, our fresh-faced political pilgrim ends up sitting at the feet of Robert Rubin, the sage of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, who tells his young grasshopper that if the American people will just continue to trust in the supreme wisdom of the advances and the pools, he was “cautiously optimistic” that all will be well. And so it came to pass that Mr. Obama shifted his own job to the White House and populated his administration with Mr. Rubin’s disciples, who ministered to the pools in their hour of need. As for the sizable chunk, she’ll just have to be patient. If all goes well, perhaps her children can look forward to a better life.

Mr. Hodge, the former editor of Harper’s Magazine, is the author of The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, out next month, from which this essay is adapted.

Source URL: http://www.observer.com/2010/opinion/obamas-betrayal-working-class

September 21, 2010

Marty Peretz’s emptiness and the corruption of Harvard

Filed under: Academia,zionism — louisproyect @ 2:55 pm

Ordinarily I don’t crosspost from other peoples’ blogs, but this one by Alan Gilbert is sublime:

Harvard has named a professorship for Marty Peretz in Yiddish studies and proposes to honor him at a 50th anniversary of the Social Studies program this coming Saturday. 4 undergraduates have sent a pointed letter below, featuring three racist citations form Marty about Muslims, blacks and Chicanoes. If the tradition of the jews is to stand for internationalism and against bigotry, Marty is not a jew. That there is such a letter is a true and sad comment on Marty’s career, despite the largely purchased honors, and a deep one about Harvard.

I was an undergraduate in Social Studies in 1962, the second year of the program. It could be quite lively. As a senior I wrote a thesis with Barrington Moore on why there was a peasant-based Communist revolution in China but not a working-class based socialist evolution in Germany. Though I often receive information about class reunions (I also have a Ph.D. from Harvard, and the Government Department does not fail to request contributions), I received no notice of the 50th year anniversary. I would have been happy to have heard Robert Paul Wolff, whose work I have known for years. Social studies was then a multidisciplinary, social theoretical program which encouraged students to go their own way. Its leading spirit was Stanley Hoffmann, a lecturer of wonderful eloquence and irony and an exemplar in collegiality (he has also led the West European Studies program). In 2000, Hoffmann wrote a short letter to the New York Times on the Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush as President, saying presciently that darkness had fallen over America. There is little memorable in the Times of that time. But what decent person these 10 years later, here and abroad, would not agree?

I saw Marty around in Social Studies. I was in the first anti-Vietnam War movement, the May 2nd Committee, that had rallies on campus when President Lyndon B. Johnson bombed North Vietnam. I spoke at one, and was later nominated by the group to debate National Security Advisor and former dean, McGeorge Bundy, one of 6 questioners, on a panel at the end of the year. I asked Bundy how he expected to win a war against a successful peasant revolution by fighting to restore the landlords. See poem: Sanders Theater here. Most of the 800 people in the audience cheered. Saying something that is true to the powerful, even if it is attacked ferociously just then, tends to stand up over time. I had run into Marty the evening before. He encouraged me in speaking out – he opposed the war – and wished me well. I have always remembered Marty for that.

I was in Widener library around the same time and ran into John Rubinstein, a European history graduate student and social studies tutor who had a table piled high with books on early 20th century German social thought, mostly in German, some in translation – Sombart, Weber et al. I asked: “John what are you working on?”

“Oh”, he said, a little embarrassed, “death in German social thought. I’m helping Marty with his thesis.”*

“Gosh,” I said, “I thought you were supposed to write your own thesis.” On his blog, Wolff refers to Marty as a “wannabe leftist” below. Among students and junior professors, everyone knew that Marty was not quite real.

Later, Marty married a wealthy woman and purchased the New Republic. He changed it, siding with the Contras in Nicaragua – a CIA-sponsored, murderous attempt to overthrow a decent radicalism. Michael Parenti once compared the 1984 elections in Nicaragua and the United States, with equal funding and air time for 8 political parties, as opposed to the inegalitarian, two party duopoly, the Republican surge of money and in the commercial media, favorable publicity for Reagan. The Sandinistas were the “dictatorship” Reagan needed to fund the Contras to overturn. The Contras were mainly led by adherents to Somoza, the tyrant imposed by the United States to succeed the clerk in an American company brought to power by Woodrow Wilson in an aggression in 1913. If the US is friendly to nonwhite democracies, what would it mean to be inimical?

read full article

September 20, 2010

Alexander Cockburn, Marc Cooper, and Castro’s Cuba

Filed under: cuba — louisproyect @ 4:53 pm

Recent changes taking place in Cuba and statements regarding these changes made by retired head of state Fidel Castro have gotten a couple of journalists associated with the liberal Nation Magazine all hot and bothered.

One of them is Alexander Cockburn, whose column now appears only once a month—an obvious function of the magazine’s displeasure with Cockburn’s enmity toward their beloved occupant of the White House. Cockburn, now pushing 70, was at one time on the payroll of prestigious and well-paying print publications like the Wall Street Journal and House and Garden. Except for the once-a-month Nation job, his main outlet is through a syndicated distributor creators.com. They send his articles to the usual leftwing culprits (Truthout.org, etc.) but also to Chronicles, a magazine published by the Rockford Institute. This Rockford is not the Jim Rockford played by James Garner in the popular TV detective show of yore, but rather a paleoconservative think-tank that garnered Max Blumenthal’s attention recently:

Even though the Rockford Institute has been dubbed “xenophobic, racist, and nativist,” by its former New York branch director, Richard John Neuhaus;  even though Rockford’s current director, Thomas Fleming, is a leading anti-Semite and Holocaust revisionist; even though Rockford’s flagship publication, Chronicles, has served as a nest for white nationalists like Sam Francis; Cornyn — a moving force behind Republican immigration policy — accepted Rockford’s invitation to headline their conference.

One can only wonder if Cornyn had a chance to rub elbows with Alexander Cockburn at the event.

[Originally, this article stated that Cockburn’s main outlet besides The Nation and Counterpunch was Chronicles. I have modified the article after receiving a clarification from him. I will say this, however. I would never allow anything with my name appear in a racist, xenophobic publication like Chronicles. There really is no excuse for that.]

The other journalist is a fellow named Marc Cooper, who arguably might be described as a retired journalist since nobody, including the Nation Magazine, appears interested in publishing him nowadays. A quarter-century ago Cooper was an estimable figure, writing a first-rate piece on Pinochet’s Chile if memory serves me right. I never would have dreamed that he would have evolved into the dyspeptic, Albert Shanker-like figure he is today. Keeping Woody Allen’s wisecrack from Sleeper in mind, let’s hope that Cooper never gets his hands on a nuclear weapon.

Turning to Cockburn’s article first, Autumn of the Driveler, we learn that he takes great exception to a couple of recent offenses by the retired head of state. The first of these is Castro’s joining ranks with the 9/11 “truthers”:

Castro claimed that the Pentagon was hit by a rocket, not a plane, because no traces were found of its passengers. “Only a projectile could have created the geometrically round orifice created by the alleged airplane,” according to Fidel. “We were deceived as well as the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.” All nonsense of course.

Cockburn links this conspiracism with a more recent offense by Castro, namely giving credence to a book about the role of the Bilderbergs:

The 84-year-old former Cuban president published an article on August 18, spread across three of the eight pages of the Communist Party newspaper Granma, quoting in extenso from the Lithuanian-born writer Daniel Estulin’s ‘The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club,’ (2006) alleging the Bilderbergers control everything, which must mean that they pack a lot in to the three-day session the Club holds each year as its sole public activity. Of course they probably skype each other a lot too and rot out their brains plotting and planning on their cell phones.

It should be mentioned, by the way, that Castro’s age had been cited earlier in the article by Cockburn: “In both of these media Castro, now 84, has spouted a steady stream of drivel.” Now I would not want to advise such an acclaimed journalist to review an article he has written before publishing it, but it is probably not a good idea to make such a gaffe. It might give readers the impression that he is slipping—as they put it.

I should also add that Cockburn might want to tread a bit more lightly when it comes to conspiracy theory since his frequent contributions to the climate change debate amount to a conspiracy theory themself. He claims that scientists warning about climate change are basically part of a vast conspiracy by companies like General Electric who make things up in order to scare people into accepting nuclear power. Wow!

I was greatly amused by Cockburn’s discovery that “bits of Estulin’s book reverently quoted by Castro, who called Estulin honest and well informed, retread some of the doctrines of Lyndon LaRouche, one of the most lurid conspiracists in political history”. I guess that he must have forgotten that he has called upon Zbigniew Jaworowski, an expert in Larouche’s stable, to support his global warming denialism:

Alexander Cockburn in the 6/9/2007 Weekend edition of Counterpunch:

Take Warsaw-based Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, famous for his critiques of ice-core data. He’s devastating on the IPCC rallying cry that CO2 is higher now than it has ever been over the past 650,000 years. In his 1997 paper in the Spring 21st Century Science and Technology, he demolishes this proposition. In particular, he’s very good on pointing out the enormous inaccuracies in the ice-core data and the ease with which a CO2 reading from any given year is contaminated by the CO2 from entirely different eras. He also points out that from 1985 on there’s been some highly suspect editing of the CO2 data, presumably to reinforce the case for the “unprecedented levels” of modern CO2. In fact, in numerous papers prior to 1985, there were plenty of instances of CO2 levels much higher than current CO2 measurements, some even six times higher. He also points out that it is highly unscientific to merge ice-core temperature measurements with modern temperature measurements.

Cockburn failed to identify Jaworowski’s professional qualifications. He is in fact not a climatologist but a professor at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw, Poland. He also fails to identify 21st Century Science and Technology as a publication of Lyndon Larouche’s bizarre ultrarightist cult that used to beat leftists up in the 1970s, provided snitches on the antinuclear movement to the Reagan administration, received paramilitary training from a KKK leader, blamed modern day capitalist ills on the Jews and Queen Elizabeth, etc.

Turning from the ridiculous to the ridiculouser, Marc Cooper’s blog has been churning out diatribes against the Cuban government with more regularity than the Cuban American National Foundation.

Most recently, Cooper has written a self-congratulatory article about what he (and Jeffrey Goldberg) regards as the arrival of capitalism to Cuba. While it contains the usual vitriol directed against the Evil Dictator, it does mark something of a departure for Cooper in that it is framed in Marxist theory, something that by the evidence looks like what the journalist picked up in a freshman poli sci class rather than from any reading of Karl Marx.

He writes:

Marx saw “socialism” as an economic stage superior to capitalism. He didn’t mean morally superior. Marx meant that socialism, a society of equality, could ONLY be built upon a fully developed and mature, indeed over-ripe, global capitalist system.

This, of course, is the sort of thing that social democrats of the Kautskyite stripe have been arguing forever. One doubts that Cooper ever read Kautsky in the original but absorbed this Menshevik platitude from a copy of Dissent Magazine years ago.

One hardly knows how to break this to Cooper, but this was not Marx’s view at all. In the late 1870s, he developed a keen interest in the struggles against Czarism that he regarded as a possible springboard for a renewed assault against capitalist privilege across the European continent. He carried out a correspondence with populist leaders in Russia who understood Plekhanov’s writings to be a true interpretation of what Marx had been writing. Plekhanov, whose influence on Kautsky was profound, believed that it was a mistake to struggle for socialism in such a backward country. The best that could be hoped for was a deepening of capitalist relations that could prepare the way for socialism. This meant that it was necessary to give critical support to the capitalist destruction of the rural communes, a precapitalist social formation in the countryside that the populists wanted to defend.

In an 1881 letter to Vera Zasulich, Marx wrote:

At the same time as the commune is bled dry and tortured, its land rendered barren and poor, the literary lackeys of the “new pillars of society” ironically depict the wounds inflicted on it as so many symptoms of its spontaneous decrepitude. They allege that it is dying a natural death and they would be doing a good job by shortening its agony. As far as this is concerned, it is no longer a matter of solving a problem; it is simply a matter of beating an enemy. To save the Russian commune, a Russian revolution is needed. For that matter, the government and the “new pillars of society” are doing their best to prepare the masses for just such a disaster. If revolution comes at the opportune moment, if it concentrates all its forces so as to allow the rural commune full scope, the latter will soon develop as an element of regeneration in Russian society and an element of superiority over the countries enslaved by the capitalist system.

In another letter to N.K. Mikhailovsky, the leading theorist of Russian Populism, Marx explicitly disavows himself from any kind of unilinear theory of history that would require societies to go through stages, like a larva turning into a butterfly. Referring to Capital, a work that supposedly gave its imprimatur to this kind of schematicism, Marx wrote:

In the chapter on primitive accumulation, my sole aim is to trace the path by which the capitalist economic order in western Europe emerged out of the womb of the feudal economic order. Hence it follows the movement which divorced the producer from his means of production, transforming the former into a wage-earner (a proletarian, in the modern sense of the word) and the latter into capital. In this history, “every revolution marks an era which serves as a lever in the advancement of the capitalist class in the process of its formation. But the basis of the evolution is the expropriation of the tiller of the soil”. At the end of the chapter, I deal with the historical tendency of accumulation and I assert that its last word is the transformation of capitalist property into social property. I supply no proof of this at that point for the good reason that this assertion itself is nothing but the succinct summary of prolonged developments previously presented in the chapters on capitalist production.

Now, what application to Russia could my critic draw from my historical outline? Only this: if Russia tries to become a capitalist nation, in imitation of the nations of western Europe, and in recent years she has taken a great deal of pains in this respect, she will not succeed without first having transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once brought into the lap of the capitalist regime, she will be subject to its inexorable laws, like other profane nations. That is all. But this is too much for my critic. He absolutely must needs metamorphose my outline of the genesis of capitalism in western Europe into a historico-philosophical theory of the general course, fatally imposed upon all peoples, regardless of the historical circumstances in which they find themselves placed, in order to arrive finally at that economic formation which insures with the greatest amount of productive power of social labor the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. He does me too much honor and too much shame at the same time. Let us take one example. In different passages of Capital, I have made allusion to the fate which overtook the plebeians of ancient Rome.

Originally, they were free peasants tilling, every man for himself, their own piece of land. In the course of Roman history, they were expropriated. The same movement which separated them from their means of production and of subsistence, implied not only the formation of large landed properties but also the formation of large monetary capitals. Thus, one fine day, there were on the one hand free men stripped of everything save their labor power, and on the other, for exploiting this labor, the holders of all acquired wealth. What happened? The Roman proletarian became not a wage-earning worker, but an indolent mob, more abject than the former “poor whites” in the southern lands of the United States; and by their side was unfolded not a capitalist but a slave mode of production. Hence, strikingly analogical events, occurring, however, in different historical environments, led to entirely dissimilar results.

By studying each of these evolutions separately, and then comparing them, one will easily find the key to these phenomena, but one will never succeed with the master-key of a historico-philosophical theory whose supreme virtue consists in being supra-historical.

Now, of course, the notion that it was a mistake to overthrow capitalism in Cuba or anywhere else for that matter until the capitalist system has “ripened” to the extent that it is safe to go on to the next stage of socialism is just a demonstration that some erstwhile radicals have gotten very cozy with their place in capitalist society. People like Christopher Hitchens and Marc Cooper enjoy the emoluments their capitalist employers hand out to them. From the heights of the posts they occupy as esteemed journalists and professors, they snarl at anybody who has the temerity to break with the system. The implication is that people in places like Haiti have to have the patience to endure capitalism for another century until things get rotten-ripe enough for them to rise up against the system.

Until now, and arguably for the foreseeable future, socialist Cuba will be a beacon to all those fighting for a better world, as the differences between capitalist Haiti and socialist Cuba make clear. Here is what Paul Farmer had to say on the subject in a July 10, 2000 New Yorker Magazine profile:

Leaving Haiti, Farmer didn’t stare down through the airplane window at that brown and barren third of an island. “It bothers me even to look at it,” he explained, glancing out. “It can’t support eight million people, and there they are. There they are, kidnapped from West Africa.”

But when we descended toward Havana he gazed out the window intently, making exclamations: “Only ninety miles from Haiti, and look! Trees! Crops! It’s all so verdant. At the height of the dry season! The same ecology as Haiti’s, and look!”

An American who finds anything good to say about Cuba under Castro runs the risk of being labelled a Communist stooge, and Farmer is fond of Cuba. But not for ideological reasons. He says he distrusts all ideologies, including his own. “It’s an ‘ology,’ after all,” he wrote to me once, about liberation theology. “And all ologies fail us at some point.” Cuba was a great relief to me. Paved roads and old American cars, instead of litters on the gwo wout ia. Cuba had food rationing and allotments of coffee adulterated with ground peas, but no starvation, no enforced malnutrition. I noticed groups of prostitutes on one main road, and housing projects in need of repair and paint, like most buildings in the city. But I still had in mind the howling slums of Port-au-Prince, and Cuba looked lovely to me. What looked loveliest to Farmer was its public-health statistics.

Many things affect a public’s health, of course-nutrition and transportation, crime and housing, pest control and sanitation, as well as medicine. In Cuba, life expectancies are among the highest in the world. Diseases endemic to Haiti, such as malaria, dengue fever, t.b., and AIDS, are rare. Cuba was training medical students gratis from all over Latin America, and exporting doctors gratis- nearly a thousand to Haiti, two en route just now to Zanmi Lasante. In the midst of the hard times that came when the Soviet Union dissolved, the government actually increased its spending on health care. By American standards, Cuban doctors lack equipment, and are very poorly paid, but they are generally well trained. At the moment, Cuba has more doctors per capita than any other country in the world-more than twice as many as the United States. “I can sleep here,” Farmer said when we got to our hotel. “Everyone here has a doctor.”

Farmer gave two talks at the conference, one on Haiti, the other on “the noxious synergy” between H.I.V. and t.b.-an active case of one often makes a latent case of the other active, too. He worked on a grant proposal to get anti-retroviral medicines for Cange, and at the conference met a woman who could help. She was in charge of the United Nations’ project on AIDS in the Caribbean. He lobbied her over several days. Finally, she said, “O.K., let’s make it happen.” (“Can I give you a kiss?” Farmer asked. “Can I give you two?”) And an old friend, Dr. Jorge Perez, arranged a private meeting between Farmer and the Secretary of Cuba’s Council of State, Dr. José Miyar Barruecos. Farmer asked him if he could send two youths from Cange to Cuban medical school. “Of course,” the Secretary replied.

Again and again during our stay, Farmer marvelled at the warmth with which the Cubans received him. What did I think accounted for this?

I said I imagined they liked his connection to Harvard, his published attacks on American foreign policy in Latin America, his admiration of Cuban medicine.

I looked up and found his pale-blue eyes fixed on me. “I think it’s because of Haiti,” he declared. “I think it’s because I serve the poor.”

September 19, 2010

Christian Amanpour interviews Ahmadinejad

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

September 17, 2010

Zizek on crisis

Filed under: financial crisis — louisproyect @ 6:45 pm

From “A Permanent Economic Emergency” in the latest New Left Review:

The best indicator of the left’s lack of trust in itself today is its fear of crisis. A true left takes a crisis seriously, without illusions. Its basic insight is that, although crises are painful and dangerous, they are inevitable, and that they are the terrain on which battles have to be waged and won. Which is why today, more than ever, Mao Zedong’s old motto is pertinent: ‘Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.’

A fascist loyalty oath for Israel?

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 1:51 pm

Check accompanying story here.

September 16, 2010

Great Martin Peretz caricature

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

From Steve Brodner’s blog

The War is Over?

Filed under: Iraq — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm
NY Times September 15, 2010

Iraqi-U.S. Raid Near Falluja Leaves 7 Dead


BAGHDAD — Seven Iraqis were killed in a village near the city of Falluja on Wednesday during an early morning raid by American and Iraqi security forces on the house of a suspected insurgent leader, officials said.

Four of the dead were brothers between the ages of 10 and 18, according to the Iraqi police and residents of the area.

The United States military said in an e-mail on Wednesday afternoon that the Iraqi military had “planned and led” the “joint counterterrorism” operation. Yet, the raid underscored the continuing presence of American service members in security operations, even after the United States declared an official end to combat on Aug. 31.

Of the approximately 50,000 United States troops remaining in Iraq, about 4,500 are Special Operations troops who take part in raids with Iraqi units, pursuing insurgent leaders and suspected members of other armed groups.

It is not clear whether the dead were the targets of the raid or how they were killed. Four other people were wounded during the operation, the police said.

There were stark differences between the American military’s description of the raid and the one supplied by villagers.

Maj. Rob Phillips, a spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, said a joint Iraqi-American unit had been seeking a senior leader of an Iraqi insurgent group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who was believed responsible for a number of attacks in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, in western Iraq. The major said the American forces were acting as advisers while the Iraqis tried to serve an arrest warrant.

The Iraqi police said the raid started about 1 a.m. Wednesday, with at least four American helicopters providing support. Major Phillips said the troops came under fire as they approached the suspect’s house and shot back, killing four suspected insurgents — he said he did not know their ages — and wounding three others. Two residents of the village who came out of their homes with weapons were also fatally shot by the troops, he added.

Major Phillips said he did not know whether the Americans fired their weapons or whether the suspected Qaeda leader was captured or killed, or had escaped. Officials in Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and in the prime minister’s office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

In addition to the four brothers who were killed, police officials said that a man who had been a colonel in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein had also died. The police officials said they believed that the man, whose identity was not released, might have been the original target of the raid.

Local residents described a far different scene, one of chaos and fear as American soldiers and Iraqi security officers moved through the area in the darkness. They accused the Iraqis of firing indiscriminately, often at people who represented no threat.

“I was sleeping when I was awakened by gunfire and explosions,” said a resident who would give only his first name, Muhammad, because he feared reprisal from Iraqi security. “I went out to see what was happening and they shot at me. They missed, but I went back inside and stayed there.”

Iraqi police officers, who said they had been barred from taking part in the raid but raced to the scene after it began, said the commandos took four of the seven bodies before they departed about 7 a.m.

Near the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday, nine Iraqi soldiers were killed and seven other people were wounded after the minibus carrying them struck a roadside bomb, the Iraqi police said.

Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Anbar and Nineveh Provinces.

September 15, 2010


Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Perhaps you may be aware that I grew up in one of the country’s most beautiful regions, the Catskill Mountains. My home county, Sullivan County, as well as some adjacent counties supply the drinking water for New York City and most of New Jersey, coming from local reservoirs that are fed by some very famous rivers and streams, including the Neversink River. When I was young, I used to ride my bike along the Neversink, captivated by its sparkling water.

The Neversink River

Now it turns out that the Neversink is a tributary of the Delaware River that borders New York State and Pennsylvania, and that we encounter at the beginning of Josh Fox’s Gasland, opening today at the IFC Center in New York. As the film begins, Fox has just gotten an offer of $25,000 per acre for drilling rights on his land from an oil and gas company—the total pay-off will be $100,000 for this Milanville resident, who ended up in rural Pennsylvania when his hippie parents chose this neck of the woods rather than Vermont or New Mexico.

The natural gas companies have swooped across eastern Pennsylvania, headed now into my ancestral home in upstate New York, trying to nail down the right to exploit the ample resources that some powerful players in the energy industry like T. Boone Pickens regard as the magic bullet that will deliver us from the curse of foreign oil.

Until I saw Gasland, I hadn’t given much thought to natural gas drilling but I was aware that it had become a hot potato up in Sullivan County. In nearly every issue of the Middletown Record and the Sullivan County Democrat, two hometown papers I read online, you can find an article about whether drilling would benefit the county despite the risks. This is from a recent issue of the Democrat:

On one side are the residents signing leases with natural gas companies and setting up signs in their yards proclaiming themselves “friends” of the natural gas industry.

On the other are the people who say they fear for the future of the very children singing along with Liberty High School grads Justin Sutherland and Erin Slaver as they played out the tune of Woody Guthrie’s famous ode to the earth.

Sutherland and his mother Justine had borrowed Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” for Saturday night’s free screening of the documentary “Gasland,” adding lyrics that spoke directly to the people of Callicoon.

“This land is our land; it’s not gas land,” their song went. “Think of our future, it’s all in our hands.

Meanwhile, the May 18th Middletown Record reported on the pro-drilling faction:

The pro-drillers say their voices have been drowned out by a gushing of anti-drilling publicity. Elitist, deep-pocketed environmentalists have put drilling on hold in New York, they say, made the federal government again study its safety and forced politicians to turn against it or sit on the fence. They say the anti-drilling publicity machine has turned the spotlight on the few drilling accidents, not the thousands of wells that have been safely drilled across the country, and in New York. All this despite the fact that nearly twice as many people favor drilling as oppose it, according to last week’s Record poll.

The pro-drillers say drilling the gas-rich Marcellus shale beneath Sullivan County – and leasing their land at thousands of dollars per acre, with royalties up to 20 percent – will pump millions into the state’s dying economy, and their pockets. It will allow farmers in places like Sullivan to save dying farms and the green landscape. It will allow overtaxed landowners to save their property. And it will revive struggling counties like Sullivan by creating thousands of jobs.

The arguments for drilling are basically the same being heard for mountaintop removal in West Virginia and Kentucky, issuing faux populist appeals on behalf of the poor.

As you see the hapless victims of rural people in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Colorado and the far outskirts of Fort Worth coping with water so contaminated that it catches fire, you realize that the “race to the bottom” in American society has not just involved runaway shops. People desperate for a pay-off from a petroleum corporation will sign away their lives. In exchange for a royalty payment, they sacrifice their health, from low-level aches and pains up to brain lesions.

In many ways, Gasland’s closest relative in the world of documentary is the 2008 Crude that showed how little Chevron cared about the environmental consequences that drilling had on the waterways of largely indigenous poor peasants in Ecuador. The remarkable thing about Gasland is how much the self-respecting middle-classes in the US are getting just as royally screwed. Over and over again, the ranchers and farmers tell Josh Fox that this is a democracy and that this should not be happening to them. They are particularly incensed at the inability or unwillingness of the agencies assigned to protect their well-being to do anything. One imagines that some of these good people of Wyoming and Colorado are exactly the sort of people who had voted for Bush and Cheney in the hope that their taxes would be reduced and that their right to bear arms would not be threatened.

What they got instead was the Energy Policy Act of 2005 drafted by Halliburton ex-CEO Dick Cheney that exempted natural gas drilling companies from the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Acts. As we see the embittered rural folk spilling out their guts to Josh Fox, ready it would seem to storm the barricades, we cannot help but think that Karl Marx was right when he said that “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

In addition to interviewing people who are the victims of “fracking”, a term for hydraulic fracturing—the chemical-laced process that releases natural gas from rocks deep beneath the earth’s surface, Fox meets with their public defenders like scientist Theo Colburn.

Colburn is a leading authority on the impact of chemicals on our endocrine system. In an interview on Amy Goodman’s radio show, she explained what consequences the byproducts of “fracking” might have on our health:

But what endocrine disruption does, basically, these are the chemicals that we now understand better—by the way, that are made from natural gas, believe it or not—the plastics that—and pesticides and other industrial chemicals. These are the chemicals that can get into the pregnant woman and enter the womb, while her baby is developing in her womb, and alter how those children are born. And this is our big concern today, because we’re facing major pandemics of endocrine-driven disorders—

simple things like ADHD, autism, diabetes, obesity, early testicular cancer, endometriosis. These are all endocrine-driven disorders that we’re very concerned about.

And these products are being injected underground, for centuries, maybe, to stay before they surface, and also coming back up. So the big problem is—with natural gas, is dealing with the water when it comes back up.

Toward the end of Fox’s film, he visits New York City to find out what local politicians have to say about the possible impact of “fracking” on upstate reservoirs. City council member Scott Stringer makes the essential point that people generally choose draft water rather than bottled water in restaurants because it is pure and delicious. As someone who has spent time in Los Angeles, I can attest to you that this is not the norm for major American cities.

The idea that what comes out of our tap might lead to early testicular cancer should make it clear that the stakes are much higher than we ever could have realized. My strong suggestion is that New Yorkers go see Gasland, which opens today at the IFC Center. You should also see the movie’s website that contains a trove of information about how you can get involved in a campaign to resist the squandering of one of our most precious assets: water.


This Counterpunch article makes a  very useful point, namely that the movie ignored the grass roots movement against drilling. I should have noticed that myself. I guess I was too swept up in the story of what the drilling was doing to pay attention to what was missing.

September 13, 2010

Allen Ginsberg’s photograph of William S. Burroughs

Filed under: beatniks — louisproyect @ 5:49 pm

From a slide show accompanying the article on Ginsberg’s photographs of his friends from the beat generation.

I don’t know much about Burroughs’s politics but this should persuade anybody that he was not a rightwinger.

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