Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 27, 2015


Filed under: Film,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 6:07 pm

Opening at the Cinema Village in New York today, “Stink” is a documentary that examines the health hazards of chemical additives to a wide range of consumer goods and particularly those that are intended to make something smell good. Unlike food products that are now required to disclose their ingredients such as the percentage of saturated fats or cigarettes that carry a warning about the possible risks of cancer, you can sell kids’ pajamas laced with chemicals to such an extent that they positively reek when taken out of their package.

That was the discovery made by Jon Whelan after buying pairs for his two young daughters from Justice, a clothing store geared to the kid’s market. When they complained to him that they had a chemical odor, he decided to track down the cause. He was particularly worried about chemicals since his wife died from breast cancer at a very young age. His first step was to contact people at Justice to find out exactly what was causing the odor and was shocked to learn that they were not obligated to disclose the source.

Eventually he sent the pajamas to a laboratory and the results confirmed his worst suspicions. Made in China (no big surprise there), they were laced with a flame-retardant that was supposedly intended to protect children but without any understanding of the collateral damage a carcinogen can do. The story of how clothing, furniture, rugs, drapes, bedclothes, etc. became drenched with flame-retardants is an interesting one. Some years ago researchers discovered that people falling asleep with a lit cigarette caused most house or apartment fires. When a new cigarette was developed with chemicals that could prevent such an accident, it was rejected because of their somewhat unpleasant taste. So instead the tobacco and chemical companies came up with a new game plan. They persuaded manufacturers to add flame-retardants to a wide range of products, including the pajamas that Jon Whelan’s children would not wear.

As he began his investigation into unregulated chemical additives, the first thing he learned is that a pleasant fragrance trumps health under capitalism. If you opened the cabinet beneath your sink, you’ll learn that just about everything there is laced with crap that is bad for your health. For example, I use Dawn dishwashing detergent made by Proctor and Gamble. On the label it says “original scent” but I’ll be damned if P&G will tell me where that scent comes from. In one confrontation with a chemical industry lobbyist, Whelan asks if arsenic were responsible for a product’s scent, would he favor disclosing the ingredient. The lobbyist evades his question by saying that is up to the FDA or EPA to check on such matters. Since P&G is not obligated to tell these agencies—weak as they are—what they put in Dawn, you are shit out of luck.

Dawn, by the way, hypes their “environmental” credentials on their website as is customary nowadays. They have tips on recycling but not a word on the health risks involved with using it every day.

“Stink” is done in the Michael Moore style with Jon Whelan and his camera crew stalking one industry scumbag or another. While he lacks Moore’s patented shambling, neo-Will Rogers style, he more than makes up for that with his single-minded passion. When you lose a mate at such an early age (Heather Whelan appeared to be in her late 30s when she died), you obviously come to a project like this with a sense of somber dedication.

As might be expected, the film benefits from a wide range of experts like Arlene Blum who could be the subject of a documentary in her own right. Born in 1945, she led an all-woman’s ascent of Annapurna that was the first successful American attempt. In 1960, she requested to join her first mountain climbing expedition but was told that she was welcome to not come past the base camp where she would “help with the cooking.” (Wikipedia)

After earning a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry at UC Berkeley in 1971, she began the research that would result in the regulation of two cancer-causing chemicals used as flame-retardants on children’s sleepwear. In 2007 she co-founded the Green Science Policy Institute in order to deploy scientific research on behalf of human health and the environment.

As you might expect, all the people who are on the other side of the divide from the CEO of the Justice clothing stores to a Democrat in California named Cal Dooley who served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2005. Three years later he became the CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) that is primarily responsible for lobbying against legislation that would curb toxic chemical additives even though they claimed that they never did. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune did a series of investigative reports on how big chemical got its way:

Citizens for Fire Safety is the latest in a string of industry groups that have sprung up on different continents in the last 15 years — casting doubt on health concerns, shooting down restrictions and working to expand the market for flame retardants in furniture and electronics.

For example, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, based in Brussels, may sound like a neutral scientific body. But it was founded and funded by four chemical manufacturers, including Albemarle, to influence the debate about flame retardants made with bromine.

Albemarle’s global director of product advocacy, Raymond Dawson, said in blunt testimony before Washington state lawmakers in 2007 that the forum is “a group dedicated to generating science in support of brominated flame retardants.”

An official from Burson-Marsteller, the global public relations firm that helps run the organization, said the bromine group is not misleading anyone because regulators, scientists and other stakeholders are well-aware it represents industry.

Does the name Burson-Marsteller ring a bell? It should. They have been behind some of the biggest cover-ups for the past 50 years. I am no fan of Rachel Maddow but she nailed them pretty good in August of 2012 (Wikipedia):

  • Who’s Burson-Marsteller? Well, let me put it this way — when Blackwater killed those 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, they called Burson-Marsteller. When there was a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, Bobcock & Wilcox, who built that plant, called Burson-Marsteller.
  • [After the] Bhopal chemical disaster that killed thousands of people in India, Union Carbide called Burson-Marsteller. Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu — Burson-Marsteller. The government of Saudi Arabia, three days after 9/11 — Burson-Marsteller.
  • The military junta that overthrew the government of Argentina in 1976, the generals dialed Burson-Marsteller. The government of Indonesia, accused of genocide in East Timor, Burson-Marsteller.

November 25, 2015

Syria: Peace in our time?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:38 am

Source: Syria: Peace in our time?

November 24, 2015

Punks, Poets and Provocateurs

Filed under: art — louisproyect @ 5:56 pm

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Last month the NY Times reported that it “was welcome news to learn this week that Peter D. Barbey, a Pennsylvanian with an inherited fortune derived from clothing and textile businesses, had bought The Village Voice with the goal of returning the newspaper to its central position, long since vanished, in the city’s cultural firmament.” Now I don’t know if the paper has already gone through the changes that Barbey sought but the most recent issue has an article that is journalism at its best, a profile of a photographer named Marcia Resnick who I became acquainted with in the 1980s through one of my closest friends, a woman named Laura Kronenberg who was one of Marcia’s closest friends as well.

The article is an amazing tale of how Marcia became one of the city’s best known and respected chroniclers of a now lost Bohemia, driven out by the high cost of real estate—the same economic pressures that forced Laura to move to Williamsburg where she lived a sad life until her death in 2010. In some ways Laura’s death from alcoholism was related to the loss of Manhattan as a hothouse for artists and poets. Perhaps if it were still a place for a poet, a photographer, a musician or a sculptor to get a foothold, Laura would still be alive. It is a credit to Marcia’s innate talents that she remains a powerful and respected presence in the city.

Marcia made many famous photographs over a long career that continues to this day but none as famous as this one of John Belushi:

The story of this photo can be seen on the website “This Long Century”:

In early September 1981 I spotted John Belushi in the New York after hours club AM PM. I asked him when he was going to do a photo session with me for my series Bad Boys: A Compendium of Punks, Poets and Politicians. He said, “Now”. I didn’t believe him, until upon returning home at six am I saw a limousine waiting in front of my building. I turned on the music as John and his entourage filed into my loft. I then directed John to an area lit by strobe lights and I began shooting.

John paced around like a caged animal, fidgeting incessantly. He seemed unable to sit still for my camera, uncanny for someone known for being deliberate and fluid when performing. “Where are the props?”, he queried. I first gave him sunglasses, then a scarf. He requested a beer, then a glass. After donning a black wool ski mask that he took off a nearby mannequin, he settled into a chair. Only his eyes and mouth peeked through the openings in the mask. The large, ominous and anonymous ‘executioner’ had finally reached his comfort zone.

A year after she took this photo, I accompanied Laura up to Marcia’s loft to hang out. In 1982 I was working as a consultant at Mobil Oil and working through the final stages of what amounted to PTSD from my days in the Socialist Workers Party, a cult-sect I had left in late 1978. It had manifested itself as a low-grade fever and kept me from enjoying life.

At the time Marcia was married to Wayne Kramer, the guitarist for MC5, the legendary Detroit based rock group that had been managed by John Sinclair, the leader of the White Panthers. Maybe because I was so shell-shocked by my time in the SWP, it didn’t occur to me to chat with Kramer about 60s stuff. I was also too ready to lump any “downtown” people into the general category of Bohemia, a lingering prejudice from my Trotskyist days.

As it turns out, Marcia was much more politically committed than I ever realized, not that Laura had much interest in filling me in. Her main topic of conversation when it came to Marcia was her photography and the wild times they used to have scoring drugs and hanging out with Andy Warhol’s entourage. As was the case with Laura, the “sixties” meant cultural as well as political rebellion. The Voice article states:

Soon after graduation, Resnick moved to Manhattan to attend NYU on a full academic scholarship. Almost immediately she started gravitating toward the Sixties counterculture then emerging on college campuses across the country. She joined the Students for a Democratic Society and began participating in anti-war marches. In 1968, when she was seventeen, she read Burroughs’s Junkie and promptly asked a friend to inject her with heroin every day for a week. It would be her first experience with hard drugs. (“I wanted to experience it and sought it out,” she says.)

On the advice of an NYU professor, Resnick transferred to Cooper Union and thrived for three years while she developed as a photographer and artist. She documented the Columbia University protests of 1968, and a photo of her at the demonstration, her body blocked by a police officer’s baton, appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

Marcia also had developed a feminist consciousness:

More specifically, she wanted to confront men — especially after returning from a trip to Egypt in July 1977, where she recalls being leered at and objectified by the men she encountered.

“You have to look at the time it was — it was right after women’s lib got big,” she says. “Men always photograph women. I was interested in what it would be like to photograph men. What kind of exchange would occur. The female gaze is very different.”

Of course, Egypt has gotten much worse since 1977. Women are not just leered at, they are raped and usually with impunity in a nation where all rights have been attacked under the rubric of a “war on Islamic terrorism”.

Besides the interesting information the article provides about Marcia’s evolution as an artist, it is a powerful commentary on the transformation of New York into a hedge fund manager’s amusement park. Everywhere you look, old and affordable neighborhoods are being transformed into condominiums, CVS’s, HSBC’s, and restaurants where a pasta dish cost $35.

“Everything is different,” Resnick says, shifting her gaze from one side of Canal Street to the other. She and Bockris have just hopped out of a cab at the corner of Canal and Washington in Tribeca. They’re making their way to Resnick’s old loft, where she lived from 1975 until 1990, and where the majority of the photos in her book were taken. Resnick now lives in the West Village, having sold the space to Lou Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson. Even as a lifelong resident of a city that never stops changing, she’s amazed at how different her old neighborhood looks. “That building wasn’t here. Neither was that one,” she says, gesturing toward a pair of shiny new condos that flank the red-and-white-brick ex-warehouse that served as her home and studio for those fifteen years. She shakes her head. “Let’s cross the street.”

Today’s journey to Tribeca began in the East Village, where Resnick and Bockris sipped coffee at Veselka, the popular Ukrainian restaurant, and reminisced about the old days. Though he’d initially resisted the idea of seeking out the old loft, Bockris, 66, eventually hailed a cab, telling the driver to head west.

“This part of Christopher Street used to have more small businesses, mom-and-pop shops,” Resnick pointed out during the drive.

“I’m glad the Village looks mostly the same,” Bockris had offered. “This is Hudson, right? I used to walk up this street from my place to Marcia’s place.” As the cab neared Canal, Bockris had his hand poised on the door handle.

Now Resnick is in disbelief. “That’s my building: 530 Canal Street,” she says. “I used to have river views, but now my river views are blocked!” She pauses to watch some construction workers next door as they put the finishing touches on the interior of another steel-and-glass luxury residential complex to the west of her old building. “It was just this summer last time I was here. How’d that happen so fast? It’s amazing.”

Back in the sixties, when I was at my dogmatic worst, I used to sneer at the counter-culture. When I visited Laura in the late 60s at the Bowery loft she shared with her husband Tony Long, a good friend of mine who died in 2001, we used to argue about whether I had made the right decision to join the SWP. She was opposed to the war in Vietnam but did not think that socialist revolution made any sense. After I lost touch with Laura for the next 10 years as I lived around the country building party branches in Boston, Houston and Kansas City, we finally reunited at a high school reunion and remained good friends until her untimely death.

Now that I am a bit older and wiser, my view of social change is a lot more nuanced than it used to be when I saw an American revolution as a repeat of the 1930s with the added dimension of gays, Blacks, feminists et al. I suspect that in many ways the loss of creative expression in places like New York as it turns into a haven for Russian oligarchs living in $20 million apartments will deepen the alienation of ordinary people against what Allen Ginsberg called “moloch” in 1961. Long before I became a political rebel, I was a cultural rebel. When things begin to change for the better in this lost society, the two strands will likely come together and pose a challenge to the status quo unlike any we have seen since the 1960s or maybe its entire history for that matter.

For information on Marcia’s new book “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs” that the Voice article was celebrating, go to http://www.marciaresnick.com/.



November 23, 2015

The left’s on again, off again bromance with jihadists

Filed under: Jihadists,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:48 pm

Fallen out of favor

In June 2004 the World Socialist Website published by David North waxed ecstatic over the resistance to the US Marines in the battle of Fallujah:

One resident who spoke to the Los Angles Times described the uprising as a popular revolt against the occupying power. “Every Fallujan who was able to carry weapons participated,” he said. “All of us are mujahedin. No masks will be used anymore by the mujahedin. We are struggling openly. Our relationship with the new Iraqi commander and his people is very good. They did not come on the back of the American tanks. They are our sons.” The Times reporter cited a sign hanging on the gate of a mosque that captured the mood. It read, “We are the soldiers of Muhammad and not the soldiers of Saddam. We love death as you love life.”

Words such as “All of us are mujahedin” and “We are the soldiers of Muhammad” prompt a different reaction today of course. They would cause David North to break out in hives.

The WSWS.org, a pillar of the Baathist amen corner, was not alone. Pepe Escobar, who has the same relationship to Vladimir Putin today as Bill O’Reilly had to George W. Bush, practically has a cow when the subject of jihadists comes up, as Bart Simpson would put it. He hopes that Putin is up to the task of smashing “those mongrel imperial offspring once and for all.” Lovely. I haven’t heard anybody on the left using terms like “mongrel” in quite some time, maybe ever. Those sorts of epithets are usually what comes out of the mouth of an IDF officer or the aforementioned Bill O’Reilly.


Pepe Escobar: bad politics, worse haircut

Back around the time WSWS.org was having a wet dream over Fallujah, Pepe Escobar was ready to join it in an orgy of leftist celebration even if Sharia law prevented booze. In a November 11th 2004 Asia Times article titled “Satan hides in a hospital”, he pulls out all the stops, sounding practically like the kind of pour soul who would be arrested today for aiding and abetting jihadists for comments made on social media.

Apart from a maximum of 1,500 “Arab brothers” – as the Iraqis call them – from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Tunisia, most of the remaining mujahideen in Fallujah are nationalist Iraqis whose tribal code mandates that they defend at any cost their homes, their families and their city under foreign attack.

They have been preparing for this onslaught for months. And they do have a battle plan – as it was relayed to Asia Times Online by sources in Baghdad. Former or retired Iraqi army officials have always been serious students of Viet Minh tactics and Che Guevara’s theory of the guerrilla foco (center of guerrilla operations).

Do I have to point out that the “Arab brothers” are what they call “foreign fighters” nowadays?

Keep in mind that this breathless paean to the jihadists was written a full four months after Escobar informed his Asia Times readers that they were pretty much the same kinds of people he has it in for today. The title of the article “The Islamic emirate of Fallujah” should make it clear that he understood their Islamist character:

Writers and professors in Baghdad with close family and tribal ties to Fallujah have explained to Asia Times Online the new order. In today’s Fallujah, every military commander is an emir. They may be strident, conservative Salafis, philosophical Sufis, al-Qaeda admirers, former Ba’ath Party army officials, former secret-service agents, or even the average neighbor, a father of six.

If you qualify as an emir, you are a leading member of what is popularly described as “the Iraqi resistance” in control of “liberated Fallujah”, a region off-limits to US troops ever since the United States handed over control of the city in May after a month-long siege.

Along with local imams and tribal chiefs, all emirs are also part of a Shura, a mujahideen council, created last winter and directed by two imams, Abdallah Janabi and Dhafer al-Ubeidi.

These imams may be considered the spiritual leaders of the resistance in Fallujah. Janabi, from the Saad bin Abi Wakkas Mosque, is a true radical: he is the leader of the takfiris – the fiercest warriors, some Iraqi, some from other Arab countries, some voluntary, some linked to Arab groups. Janabi was the first imam in 2003 to call for armed resistance against the occupation of Iraq, and for the summary execution of spies. Dhafer, from the al-Hadra al-Muhammadiya mosque, is a senior to Janabi in the Shura. His fatwas (religious edicts) carry enormous influence.

The aforementioned Abdallah Janabi was the liaison in Fallujah for the militia run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the bloodthirsty jihadist from Jordan who founded the group that would become ISIS. Later on Abdallah Janabi would become the head of ISIS in Fallujah, and even established a “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”


Bailed on the jihadists

Let me conclude with exhibit C in the investigation of how the left fell out of love with jihadists. While certainly a more obscure figure than David North or Pepe Escobar, Sukant Chandan deserves to be mentioned for the boldness of execution in carrying out a 180 degree turn. Chandan was on Marxmail briefly in 2008 but he unsubbed after I reprimanded him for posting links to Osama bin Laden’s statements.

He had a blog at the time called O.U.R.A.I.M: ORGANISATION TO UNDERSTAND RADICAL ARAB & ISLAMIST MOVEMENTS (forgive the caps, they are his) whose title speaks for itself. It is a virtual treasure trove of information on jihadist movements with observations such as this sprinkled throughout: “This Islamist leftist rhetoric has inspired annoyance in some left-wing and radical circles in the West. While they might share Bin Laden’s radical comments they perhaps don’t appreciate Bin Laden picking holes in their political strategies and movements so publicly.” You can obviously understand why he would be on a collision course with unrepentant Marxists.

Interestingly enough, the last article posted to O.U.R.A.I.M. is dated October 19, 2010. He must have run out of steam defending Islamism five years ago. Always showing a fondness for Stalinism as well as Salafism, our lad finally allowed his Stalinist side to take over completely like a Marvel Comics character, using his other blog Sons of Malcolm to voice opinions identical to Pepe Escobar et al today. He also is a guest on RT.com and Press TV from time to time. No surprise there. Like so many who have drunk Putin’s Kool-Aid, Chandan shows no signs of restraint. This is typical:

What Russia does: within a few days Russia has been very effective in targeting western-backed armed gangs and have the west and their pathetic hangers on in an utter state of panic and disbelief.

The Global South peoples and countries raise a big hurrah and eagerly await more unity and more alliance building of the people of the region, Russia and others to have an almighty push back on this imperialist death squad project.

If you’re looking for an explanation of why the fellow has fallen out of love with the jihadists, you’ll probably have to wait a long time. Whatever their ideology, these people have something in common with old school Stalinism, an impressive ability to turn on a dime without bothering to make sense out of the turn. You might as well be dealing with a hyena on methamphetamine.



November 22, 2015

One more time on comments made from a proxy server

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

For the person that keeps trying to do this because of some kind of sick obsession with this blog bordering on stalking, don’t waste your time and mine because your stuff gets caught in my spam filter. Here is the comment that you made today that got snagged:

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The first thing I do is check the IP address indicated on the comment, in this instance “”. That address is in Thailand, a country that along with Cambodia is favored for proxy servers:

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When I see Thailand or Cambodia, I delete the comment automatically. If you are so obsessed with this blog and want to debate me or any of the people who participate here, you need to post from a non-proxy server. Of course, if you insist on being an asshole, all bets are off.

The Novorossiya Follies

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

Separatists in the vanguard of the struggle against neoliberalism?

Only six months ago I got into a brouhaha with David North, the cult leader of the Socialist Equality Party whose online newspaper WSWS.org was running around like Chicken Little squawking that nuclear war between the USA and Russia was about to break out.

This was the downside of east Ukraine’s separatist movement—it might lead to H-Bombs leveling every major city on earth. But perhaps it was a risk worth taking since the upside would be a kind of liberated territory like Rojava if you took Boris Kagarlitsky at his word: “By contrast [to Maidan], the Donetsk … is the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order.” His co-thinker Roger Annis created a website called www.newcoldwar.org that provided a platform for separatist ideologues such as Halyna Mokrushyna who described her comrades as creating a “new state, free from corruption and nationalism.” The enthusiasm for militias that put a Vice reporter in a makeshift jail might have been lost on some but beauty is in the eyes of the beholder one supposes.

Things have not quite turned out either on the downside or the upside as the pro-separatist left predicted. The only mushrooms to be seen now are those on sale at Whole Foods while the resemblance between the People’s Republics and Kropotkin is purely coincidental.

On November 10th, the NY Times reported on the grim situation facing people living in the breakaway republics:

Children and older people suffer disproportionately. There is little money for schools and to pay teachers’ salaries. Many teachers have simply left. Food is also running short, and hunger is a daily fear for many youngsters.

Many older people have nowhere else to go, and their pensions have been cut off by a hostile government in Kiev. Russia, burdened by its annexation of Crimea and the collapse of oil prices, has no interest in filling the void.

Maybe if Russia weren’t spending all that money on bombing ISIS into the stone age, it would have more money to spend on teachers’ salaries. Then again, the strategy in Syria is not that different than the one for Ukraine, namely to defend Russia’s spheres of influences. In the first instance a warm-water port on the Mediterranean and in the second a block against NATO expansion as the NY Times article points out:

The guns went quiet in eastern Ukraine in September, wrapping up with a cease-fire but with no final settlement. This is a common arc of post-Soviet conflict, visible in the Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and in Transnistria, a strip of land on Moldova’s border with Ukraine.

In each case, the Kremlin intervened or provided arms on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians or local allies, then it installed pro-Russian governments that it has used to manipulate events in the host countries. The contested borders of frozen zones also effectively guard against any further expansion of NATO, since no country with an unresolved border conflict can join the alliance.

Get that? No country with an unresolved border conflict can join NATO. Pretty damned smart of Putin. Start a war over “fascist threats” to make people in eastern Ukraine speak Ukrainian or else they would be put into gas chambers, if you believed Russian television. In my view, the Kremlin’s hostility to Ukraine has more to do with Putin’s ambition to restore Russia’s Great Nation status going back to Catherine the Great than fear of countries like Ukraine or Georgia becoming a launch pad for a war on Russia. Keep in mind that the Czech Republic, which joined NATO in 1999, is one of Russia’s most reliable allies today.

For all of the vain hopes in a Novorossiya, Putin never had any intention of expanding his borders outwards. It was to his advantage to keep Ukraine in a state of limbo and hence to keep it as an irritant to the West.

For an in-depth study of the costs of separatism for the Donbass region, I recommend Pavel Kanygin’s article in Meduza, a journal based in Latvia. Titled “The Donbass War. Assessing the Aftermath How the ‘Russian Spring’ came to an end in eastern Ukraine”, it describes the same precipitous decline as the NY Times.

The war has come and gone, leaving behind poverty and pain. The buses and trams have been stripped of their wifi routers. High-voltage cables smashed in the shelling have been sold for scrap. Half-empty shelves in the stores have become customary. The city’s Petrovsky district still has many living in the bomb shelter of the local mine, fearing renewed artillery strikes. The nearby municipal psychiatric hospital has become home to fighters for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Already last winter, I joined volunteers taking food and medicine to the neighborhood, where typhoid plagued people crowded in basements. What goes on now in Petrovsky and other areas around Donetsk is virtually unknown. This fall, DPR authorities banned volunteers from bringing in medicine and equated NGO activity with espionage.

After examining reliable statistics on Donbass, Kanygin concludes that the region’s economy has fallen by two-thirds since the start of the war while the price of essential commodities has increased by 50 to 60 percent. Meanwhile showing the same disrespect for independent media that it displayed early on in the jailing of a Vice reporter, the authorities in the “liberated” republics have jailed 8 local reporters. There is also hostility toward NGO’s—probably cheering the heart of Putin’s “anti-imperialist” supporters in the West. Doctors without Borders, whose hospital was bombed by American jets in Kunduz, has been banned for supposedly engaging in espionage and distributing mind-altering drugs.

Meanwhile the armed “liberators” of Donbass would seem to have more in common with the Hell’s Angels than the Kurds in Rojova:

Once, while photographer Pyotr Shelomovsky and I watched, in the center of Donetsk, an intoxicated fighter from the armed group “Oplot” killed a passerby as he left a store with his purchases. The man was talking with somebody on the phone, and the soldier thought he had a background with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag on his screen. “You ukrop [a slang pejorative for Ukrainians]!” the fighter yelled. “Go work for them, bitch!” With one strike he knocked the man off his feet, and the impact of his fall broke his neck. Somebody called an ambulance out of habit. But first a minibus with tinted windows and no license plates arrived and whisked the “Oplot” fighter in an unknown direction. Then the ambulance removed the body. After an hour the DPR police showed up, and one of them said with frustration: “Fuck, why did we [even] come?”

As might be expected, some of the separatists have buyer’s remorse over the way things have turned out. The WSJ reported on November 13th:

“It’s more circuses than bread,” said Sergei Baryshnikov, a history professor and doyen of the tiny separatist movement that existed in Donetsk before the conflict.

Mr. Baryshnikov is one of several local ideologues and independent-minded military commanders who have been gradually purged from leadership positions. He was fired as dean of the university just as he had been appointed last year: by a rebel government minister flanked by two men with automatic rifles.

“They tossed out the ideas people,” empowering more malleable satraps, he complained.

The sad state of Donbass could have easily been predicted as I pointed out in a review of “Tangerine” the made-in-Georgia film of 2014 that I reviewed for CounterPunch.

As is the case today with the Crimeans and the Donbas separatists, hope was placed on unity with Russia and still lingers on despite all evidence to the contrary. On May 31, 2014 Russian journalist Yuliya Latynina, reported on Abkhazia’s problems for Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper critical of Vladimir Putin:

There is collapse and devastation. Agriculture is finished; tobacco [manufacturing] is ruined; tourists living in rundown Soviet sanatoriums and ordering one portion of ice-cream for two people in beach cafes make a poverty-stricken segment; even maize has become an imported [product] in Abkhazia, where mamalyga [which is made from maize] is a national food. In addition to this, there is destructive logging of fine wood – as if it was happening somewhere in Papua New Guinea – which is exported to Turkey. However, even this business is coming to an end: Forests have been completely cut down.

As for Ukraine, the Euromaidan protests have had little effect on power relations in the western part of the country according to a Vice news report titled “Two Years After Ukraine’s Euromaidan, Protesters Say ‘Nothing Has Changed’”. One protestor told Vice: “The country is still ruled by corruption. It is still the same people in power, nothing has changed.”

In fact it is exactly the continuation of the status quo that made the prospects of nuclear war so ludicrous. What David North, Boris Kagarlitsky and Roger Annis could not seem to grasp was the class affinities of Barack Obama, Petro Poroshenko, and Vladimir Putin. In the 1950s, during the depths of the Cold War, nuclear annihilation was a much more palpable threat because two irreconcilably opposed social systems existed in the West and the East. The Cold War ended because the bureaucracy in the East learned that it could do even better as managers or owners of capitalist enterprises.

But unlike the situation in 1914 or 1940, there is not the same kind of dead-end inter-imperialist rivalry today. Exxon-Mobil gets the red carpet treatment in Moscow because it has a shared investment in energy exploration with its Russian partners while Putin’s cronies continue to buy 20 million dollar apartments in New York condominiums. This is not exactly what confronted Lenin in 1914. The world has changed a great deal. It is too bad that the left continues to act as if time stood still.


A Belated Response to Glenn Greenwald

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:30 am

Source: A Belated Response to Glenn Greenwald

November 21, 2015

Sorry! An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

Source: Sorry! An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity

Three documentaries

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 1:15 am

“Frame by Frame”, which opened at the IFC Center in New York today, is a portrait of Afghanistan’s photojournalists who take their life into their hands every time they go out into the streets to take pictures, especially when they show the human toll of suicide bombings since showing the consequences of Taliban terror might be a death sentence.

It was not just that the Taliban was opposed to showing their brutality. When they took power in 1996, all photography was banned including family portraits, wedding portraits, and art photography as well. When they were ousted in 2001, a media revolution broke out that created a real demand for those with photojournalistic skills, including the four subjects in the film:

Farzana Wahidi: a woman who despite being allowed to go to school when the Taliban ruled, managed to get one in Canada. A lot of her advocacy is involved with women’s rights. In one of the key scenes in “Frame by Frame”, we see her in the burn unit of a hospital in Heart, a city that has the highest incidence of self-immolation in the country much of it having to do with the despair of living in a country with such a grim outlook. After cajoling with a doctor to get permission to film, he remains resistant since the publication of photos from the ward would likely lead to the Taliban or its allies showing up to kill him.

Massoud Hossaini: Hossaini won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for the image of a girl crying in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing of an Ashura ritual in which Shi’ite men flagellate themselves to mourn the killing of Mohammad’s grandson in 680AD. It is a reminder of how insane the divisions are in the Muslim world when such a ritual can generate a massacre. Hossaini is seen photographing another self-flagellation a year later, a sign of progress in Afghanistan where few can be seen.

Najibullah Musafar: Trained as a painter, he took up photography to document Taliban atrocities. Becoming a partisan of the anti-Taliban resistance, he embedded with the Northern Alliance in 2000 to document what he saw as war of liberation. Perhaps the only flaw in this very revealing documentary is its failure to identify the factors that led to the Taliban reconstituting a new threat today.

Wakil Kohsar: Kohsar’s focus is on Afghanistan’s lower depths. He goes out each day to photograph drug addicts, beggars, and anybody else whose life has been destroyed by a war that has been going on for the better part of 35 years.

Co-directed by two young women Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, it is a testimony to the vitality of documentary filmmaking as an instrument of social change in the modern epoch. After looking at some raw footage of street life in Afghanistan in 2012, Bombach became “insatiably curious” about the country and resolved to make a film there. She sold her car and emptied her bank account to get the initial funding.

Their “crew” in Afghanistan consisted of the two women and a driver they hired to take them about. Considering the obstacles that the four subjects of the film have to face on a daily basis, it is a miracle that the film ever got made.

Highly recommended.

Also opening today is “Kingdom of Shadows”, another film made in a war zone, in this instance the drug war in Mexico with a focus on Monterrey, the capital city of Nuevo León that has become the site of more “disappearances” than either Pinochet’s Chile or Videla’s Argentina.

Ironically, the Zetas, one of the drug gangs running amok in Nuevo León, has a number of members who were former cops or soldiers  trained in the Schools of the Americas alongside Pinochet and Videla’s goons.

Like “Frame by Frame”, “Kingdom of Shadows” benefits from the “casting” of three subjects who illustrate different aspects of the drug wars and the disappearances epidemic. All three make for compelling story telling.

We meet a Texas rancher named Don Henry Ford Jr. who appears to be about my age and blogs as the Unrepentant Cowboy of all things. Facing unbearable economic pressures in the 1970s, including an $800,000 debt that he had no possibility of repaying, he began smuggling marijuana into Texas from Nuevo León. In those days, he says, nobody carried a weapon and everybody trusted each other, including a man who became a close friend. The friend, like many who became drug barons, had no way of making a living except by wholesaling drugs just as Ford had no way out of economic catastrophe except as a retailer. With an amiable manner reminiscent of Willie Nelson and a shrewd assessment of the insanity of imprisoning people for selling drugs (half the prisoners in the USA are guilty of nonviolent drug offenses), Ford draws you deeper and deeper into the film’s overall message every time he appears.

When you first see Oscar Hagelsieb, he is tooling down a highway on a Harley “hawg” with ape-hangers. Despite his heavily tattooed, outlaw appearance, he is an officer in the drug interdiction unit of the Homeland Security office in El Paso, Texas where he grew up as the son of undocumented immigrants. As is the case in Mexico, selling drugs was the best way of moving up the economic ladder. For Hagelsieb, becoming an undercover cop was an alternative to crime. It would seem that making drugs illegal has generated a boom industry in both crime and crime prevention. If there is anything that symbolizes the irrationality of capitalism, it would be hard to find anything that tops this exercise in futility.

Finally, there is Consuelo Morales, a Catholic nun based in Monterrey who organizes mothers to press for the return of their disappeared children, even if it is only their bones.

The film, which is playing at Cinema Village and also available on VOD, was directed by Bernardo Ruiz who is committed to making films about the dysfunctional relationship between Mexico, the birthplace of his father, and the USA, where his mother was born. He describes his goal in the press notes:

My perspective is that the people of Mexico can’t fix this problem entirely on their own. Like Oscar says in the film, we in the United States need to think about our responsibility in this conflict as consumers of narcotics. Don would say that the violence stems from the fact that narcotics are illegal. Either way, what we find in Mexico is a perfect storm where corruption, intimidation and this huge appetite for drugs in the United States come together. It’s really all those things, and it’s not as if all of this is happening thousands of miles away from the United States. It’s happening just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Also highly recommended.

Finally, and also highly recommended, is “Drone” that opened as well today at the AMC Empire 25 in New York.

As the title implies, this is about the new technology that is being used for a very old purpose, to kill the natives in distant lands with impunity. Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei, a young Norwegian woman, it combines interviews with a wide range of authorities including the Pakistani and British lawyers fighting to ban their use and to compensate the victims in North Waziristan who have been “collateral damage” of the war on terror. In one striking statistic cited in the film, there have been only 49 Al Qaeda “operatives” killed out of the more than 2,300 victims. Part of the problem is the unaccountability of the CIA program that does not require the spooks to name the men they have targeted–basically extrajudicial killings. As one expert points out, Obama was anxious to stop arresting terrorist suspects; instead he would use drones to kill them without the need for inconvenient trials. Basically we are dealing with what Clarence Thomas called hi-tech lynchings but in fact rather than his rightwing fiction.

The star of the film is Brandon Bryant, who operated behind the console of a drone targeting computer monitor at an air force base in Nevada and who was thoroughly traumatized by the experienced, even to the point of suffering PTSD. Bryant’s problem is that he had a shred of humanity something his commanding officer utterly lacked. Just as he was watching a missile blasting the “enemy” for the first time, the officer yelled “Kaboom” at the top of his lungs just for fun. What a depraved world we live in when advanced technology goes hand in hand with frat boy pranks and mass murder

Another compelling testimony comes from Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who during a 31-year career in the US army served as chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell. In an Al Jazeera article dated May 6, 2013 Wilkerson began by referring to a book that I regard as essential for understanding the “war on terror” especially in a period when the air forces of four different nations are bombing in Iraq and Syria against “terrorists” with collateral damage to hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and god knows what else:

Akbar Ahmed’s The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, should be required reading for American soldiers, citizens and, above all, every member of the Obama administration.

Written from the perspective of both an academic (Professor Ahmed is a leading anthropologist) and a government official (he was political agent to South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Area, and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland), as well as with the inestimable passion of a poet (in both written and visual verse), this book provides critical insights into how US Cold War tactics opposing communism have transmogrified into tactics opposing terrorists.

I quite agree with Wilkerson as should be obvious for my review of the book that appeared in Critical Muslim:

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.


November 19, 2015

I understand despair driving ALF

Filed under: animal rights — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

A guest post by Jon Hochschartner

In June 2015, according to the Mississauga News, the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the firebombing of two trucks in Canada owned by Harlan Laboratories, a company which provides research animals to vivisectionists. Police said the blaze caused no injuries.

For a while now, I’ve counseled animalists against this sort of illegality, advocated by groups like the ALF. Not because I have a moral opposition to torching the vehicles of vivisectionists. But because I’m convinced such actions are ineffective. Individual acts of sabotage cannot address systemic problems. They do, however, invite government repression against the animalist movement as a whole and send dedicated activists to prison for decades at a time. And yet, frequently, I wonder whether the alternative — building a mass movement against animal exploitation — is possible in this moment in history.

Take Jacobin Magazine, the current voice of the far left in the United States, which should be a proponent of animalism. So far as I’m aware, the publication has addressed our movement twice. Both times, it has done so with hostility and condescension. In an article from August 2015, called “Peter Singer’s Race Problem,” Sarah Grey and Joe Cleffie pushed back against the idea animal suffering and human suffering were in any way comparable, and argued making analogies between them was inherently reactionary. In an article from October 2015, called “Welfare for All,” Adam Fisher argued workers were the real victims of factory farming, as opposed to animals being literally dismembered. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

This is at a time in which animalists are bending over backwards in their attempts to court leftist allies. In our movement, blogs are proliferating everywhere, trying to examine non-human exploitation from a socialist lens, from a feminist lens, or from an anti-racist lense. And yet it seems no matter how much we concede, ideologically or tactically, we have gotten nothing in return from the broader left. Further, this is at a time, in which — animalists should not need to be reminded — over 65 billion land animals are slaughtered every year, according to Farm Animal Rights Movement. To put that in a bit of perspective, the Population Reference Bureau estimates only 107 billion humans have ever lived. So in this respect, we can agree with Grey and Cleffie. There can be no real comparison between animal and human suffering. The former is infinitely worse.

So I understand the despair that drives groups like the ALF. While, ultimately, I know only a mass movement can liberate animals, I understand the despair which led animalists to place incendiary devices in vehicles owned by a company profiting from non-human exploitation. I understand the despair that makes animalists give up on humanity’s capacity to change, and take matters into their own hands. After all, if we can’t sway the left, those who should be most sympathetic to our arguments, perhaps systemic change — even mild reform — is not possible in the here and now.

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