Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 31, 2019

Parasite: a non-review

Filed under: Film,Korea — louisproyect @ 11:08 pm

A month ago, I asked my NYFCO colleague Avi Offer if he could recommend any films that might pass muster for our year-end awards given my stringent standards. Avi is generally pretty sharp. For example, he wrote about Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”: “If Tarantino had something insightful to say about Hollywood or actors or humanity instead of wasting the audience’s time with shots of people’s feet and other shallow, dull and boring scenes then the film would be much more powerful, provocative, haunting and even poignant.” I couldn’t put it better.

After a minute or so, he told me that “Parasite” was very good. I told him that I liked Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host” but didn’t care for later films like “Snowpiercer” or “Okja” very much. In fact, I walked out of press screenings for both after about 20 minutes. Since he assured me that “Parasite” was a return to the high standards of “The Host”, I thought I’d give it a chance. Well, it was better than “Snowpiercer” or “Okja” but only in the sense that I walked out of a press screening after 40 minutes this time.

This is not meant as a review but only a reaction to what I saw. You can take it with a grain of salt, but for those who tend to agree with my film reviews, this is probably sufficient to warn you off.

This is a story about the Kims, a down-and-out family living in a bug-infested apartment that takes advantage of the Parks, a super-rich but naïve Korean family. The Kim’s father  is played by Kang-ho Song, who has been in many Korean films playing a likable but oafish anti-hero. His wife is sort of his female counterpart. They have one male and one female college-aged children, slackers just like the parents.

The son’s best friend urges him to interview for a tutoring job working with the attractive teen daughter of the Parks since he trusts him not to put the make on her. To help him qualify, his sister uses Photoshop to produce a false credentials establishing him as a college student and tutor. In short order, we learn that the entire family is made up of grifters.

On his first day on the job, he manages to sweep the Park’s teen daughter off her feet. While he is at their opulent townhouse, he notices that her younger brother is an out of control brat with a passion for making ugly self-portraits.

This inspires him to recommend his sister for a job as the kid’s art therapist, pretending that she is a friend of a friend who has been studying in the USA. She uses Photoshop to create phony credentials for herself as well and manages to con the mother into hiring her but at top dollar.

Understanding that the mother is an easy con, they conspire to replace the family chauffeur with their father and the long-time housekeeper with their mom. To get the current chauffeur fired, the sister pulls off her panties as he is driving her home and leaves it on the floor of the back seat, the intention being to make it look like he has been having sex on the job.

This is now about 30 minutes into the film and I am starting to feel restless. The rich people are patsies and the poor people are there to suck them dry. Like parasites, I suppose. Of all the characters I have seen to that point, none are likable. In fact, they are uniformly repellent.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was how they got rid of the housekeeper. After they learned that she was allergic to peaches, they began shaving off the fuzz from peaches and dropping them on the back of her neck when she wasn’t looking. The fuzz made her have huge coughing attacks, kind of like the bronchitis that has been hobbling me until 3 or 4 days ago. When she goes to a clinic to get treated, papa Kim takes her photo when she isn’t looking and informs the rich family’s father that she has TB just to get her fired.

I sat in my plush screening room seat and scratched my head. Peach fuzz causing coughing attacks? WTF? And she is going to be fired without the rich family looking at the results of a test from the clinic that would certainly not indicate TB? I tried to picture myself as a producer working on the film and reading the script. I’d ask Bong Joon Ho how he came up with such a cockamamie plot twist. Needless to say, with his clout he’d find a producer to replace me on the spot. That’s the problem with all these celebrated writer/directors like Tarantino and Bong Joon Ho. Nobody has the guts to say the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Although I have not seen “Joker” yet, I have a feeling that the two films have this much in common. They are supposed to be about class warfare but hardly having anything to do with the sort of film a John Sayles or a Gillo Pontecorvo would make.

Seeing that “Parasite” had a fresh rating of 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (I won’t be posting a review since I walked out), I was curious to see who the dissidents were. Ironically, there were only two and both were fellow members of NYFCO.

One was a hard-core Stalinist named Prairie Miller who had (or maybe still has) a show on WBAI where I used to make guest appearances. All that came to an end after I started writing articles supporting the overthrow of Assad. Now she won’t even speak to me, even at our yearly awards meeting. In any case, I think she got the film right:

Though billed as a kind of South Korean anti-capitalism satire – this eat the rich outing when not eating its own at the bottom of the economic food chain, comes off more as an empty plate…

A somewhat combo tale of two families and exceedingly twisted prince and the pauper dubious Seoul mates turned sour spree, Parasite plays out as the poverty stricken bottom feeder (literally basement dwellers) Kim clan conspires together to pull off an elaborate scheme posing as hired help at the home of the patrician Park family.

All goes well until part of the ploy involving maneuvers to get rid of the existing household workers backfires into over the top mayhem. And as a kind of chaotic both external and internal bloody class warfare ensues. Essentially creating for the amusement of the giddy bourgeois popcorn audience – both consumers and critics – a cinematic 21st century gladiator spree.

The other “rotten” review came from Armond White, the gay African-American conservative who used to be the president of the prestigious NY Film Critics Circle. Later on, he was expelled for heckling Steve McQueen, the director of “12 Years a Slave”, at their annual awards meeting. In his review, White denounced the film as “torture porn.” In my review, I shared White’s take:

As is the case with “Django Unchained”, McQueen’s film is a vehicle for his preoccupations. With Tarantino, these primarily revolve around revenge, a theme common to so many of the Hong Kong gangster or samurai movies that he has absorbed. For McQueen, the chief interest is in depicting pain with some of the most dramatic scenes involving whippings and other forms of punishment.

Although I can’t stand White’s politics, I think he is one of the sharper film critics around. Indeed, despite his rightwing fanaticism, his critique of “Parasite” overlaps with Miller’s: “Bong wants his politics both ways: targeting and humiliating the wealthy, high-living entrepreneurs while sentimentalizing and sympathizing with the dishonest, corrupt agitators who angle to swindle them.”

If I wrote a full review, this is what I would focus on. The totally misanthropic view that both the rich and poor are shit. “Snowpiercer” was widely acclaimed as a “radical” film set on a train in which rich and poor, once again, are at each other’s throats. In the 20 minutes I sat watching it, I could not detect a shred of leftist politics.

Slant Magazine, a source of some of the most insightful film reviews (music, TV as well), was not impressed. The review  ended on this note: “Snowpiercer concludes on a irritatingly reassuring high note that suggests, per usual, that killing one bad man will allow all of falsely indoctrinated society to magically correct itself. The film could be a conservative parody of naïve liberal piety, if conservatives were known to exhibit a sense of humor.”

October 30, 2019

Taking stock of Elijah Cummings and John Conyers

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 10:08 pm

Elijah Cummings

John Conyers

This month two long-time African-American members of the House of Representatives died, Elijah Cummings on the 10th and John Conyers a week later. In a typical liberal encomium, John Nichols of The Nation described Cummings as a supporter of trade union struggles and a celebrated civil rights activist. Conyers, 22 years older than Cummings, had lost most of his prestige after being forced to resign two years ago from his office after a number of women had charged him with sexual harassment. That did not stop his successor Rashida Tlaib from Tweeting “Our Congressman forever, John Conyers, Jr. He never once wavered in fighting for jobs, justice and peace. We always knew where he stood on issues of equality and civil rights in the fight for the people. Thank you Congressman Conyers for fighting for us for over 50 years.” One imagines that if Conyers had not been caught with his pants down in 2017, he would have been put on the same pedestal as Cummings.

To my knowledge, neither of these long-time members of the Congressional Black Caucus has received the scrutiny they deserve. Given the subservience of the Black Caucus to the Obama administration, which was largely responsible for the backlash that allowed Trump to become President, it is worth taking a close look at their record.

Just after his death, one of the highest praises offered up to Elijah Cummings came from the solidly pro-Netanyahu Jerusalem Post that hailed The Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel (ECYP). It celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, proud of its record of sending more than 200 African-American, non-Jewish high school students to Israel. In 2010, Cummings signed the Hoyer-Cantor letter to Secretary of State Clinton that was your typical endorsement of any depravity Israel could come up with. The letter cited VP Biden: “Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the U.S. and Israel when it comes to security, none. No space.”

Lauded for his wise leadership in keeping Baltimore calm after the cops murdered Freddie Gray in 2016, Cummings refused to call for a federal investigation of the department in 2016 and practically told Democracy Now that all lives mattered:

And so, now, what we have to do is be about the business of what this night is about—that is, not going into separate corners, the community and the police. We have to work together. We have to acknowledge the fact that we love our police officers.

According to the November 2018 Harpers, a unit of this police department has been found guilty of the following acts of robbery and racketeering:

  • Dragging a man from his car and robbing him while he was shopping for blinds with his wife.
  • Pretending drugs found in one man’s trash can belonged to another man and then raiding his home.
  • Seizing drugs off the street and reselling them through a bail bondsman who was photographed in the police station wearing police gear and holding an officer’s gun.
  • Reporting that a gunshot wound was related to police work when it was in fact related to drug trafficking.
  • Looting pharmacies during the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, a black teenager who was killed by officers while in police custody.

As for Conyers, there is ample evidence that he had declining cognitive powers in office but nonetheless it is disconcerting to take note of the following.

In 2001, succumbing to the “war on terror” hysteria of the time, Conyers co-sponsoring the Patriot Act of 2001 Jim Sensenbrenner. Sensenbrenner, a Republican, was a real piece of work, calling attention publicly to Michelle Obama’s “big butt”. He was also a nativist and advocated amending the Espionage Act of 1917 to allow journalists to be prosecuted for publishing leaks.

In 2003, Conyers dragged his feet on a Freddie Gray type killing in his home state Michigan. Called the “Benton Harbor, Michigan Intifada of 2003”, the Black community rose up for two nights after the cops murdered an unarmed black motorcyclist. There were other grievances. An African-American pastor named Edward Pinkney was a leader of a struggle against the local recreation site Harbor Shores by outside investors. (The city is 96% Black.) was in jail at the time for trumped-up charges including writing an article calling a local judge racist. When his wife appealed to Conyers to come to the aid of the people, he refused.

In 2008, Dennis Kucinich, who was a Congressman at the time, launched an impeachment inquiry against George W. Bush for his illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like up until recently, Nancy Pelosi sputtered that “impeachment was off the table” back then. When Kucinich proceeded nonetheless, Ralph Nader sent a letter to Conyers asking why he wasn’t being called as a witness, reminding him that they had “several conversations and two meetings” focusing on impeachment. Clearly, Nader was being punished for challenging the two-party system.

Just some words in conclusion. All of the information above was gleaned from the CounterPunch archives. By this point, everybody knows that I regard it as a great asset of the left just for the articles. But I would add that the searchable archives amount to a Lexis-Nexis for the radical movement and reason enough to contribute to the fund-drive.

In looking for something on the Congressional Black Caucus’s decline there, I came across just the perfect article to wrap things up, written no less by managing editor and good cyber-friend Joshua Frank. Written in 2007, “The Demise of the Congressional Black Caucus” will give you an idea not only of the failings of the two recently deceased Congressman but the malaise that affects all the rest of its members:

On September 26 the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the fundraising arm of the legislative conclave, will be hosting a four day Annual Legislative Conference (ALC), which, in the their own words, “provides a platform or the 42 African American Members of Congress to share the progress of their work on legislative items and also allows for the exchange of ideas correlated to policy issues that are of critical concern to their constituents.”

Indeed, the conference provides a platform for Congress’s black politicians, but that stage is not propped up by citizen action, it is instead supported by some of the country’s most influential corporations including; Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Anheuser Busch and many more.

It hasn’t been the best year for the CBC Foundation. Last summer the Black Caucus was compelled to cancel a Democratic Presidential Forum it had planned to do with the Fox News network. Fortunately activists exposed the foundation for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from various branches of the Fox Broadcasting Company. While CBC did not seem to mind the criticism it received from constituents for the group’s association with Fox, Democratic presidential candidates were sensitive to the disapproval and withdrew from the forum, forcing its cancellation.

It isn’t likely that the black community will call for the termination of this month’s Annual Legislative Conference because Shell Oil has a card in the CBC Foundation’s donor Rolodex, despite the company’s blood-spattered history with the Ogoni people of Nigeria. Nor will the members of the CBC abandon support for the event because the Foundation accepts cash from the nation’s largest defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which was recently awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to defend the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

Evidently the CBC isn’t shy about who its precepts. In fact a look at the ALC’s itinerary of the week’s events is telling enough. Despite that the majority of black Americans opposed the invasion of Iraq, while even more oppose a military foray with Iran, there is not one single session scheduled to discuss these important issues. Lockheed Martin seems to pull more weight than CBC constituents.

Continue reading Josh’s article



October 28, 2019

Auteur missteps: The Wild Pear Tree; Everybody Knows

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:02 pm

Ordinarily, Hollywood films are the only ones I would consider rating as “rotten” on Rottentomatoes.com for the simple reason that independent films, foreign-language films and documentaries—my usual fare—have difficulties enough getting an audience. Reluctantly, I have decided to post a “rotten” review of two recent films by directors who I consider to be among the best in the world today: Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Iran’s Asghar Farhadi. Five years ago, I wrote a review of Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep” that began:

For regular readers of my film reviews, you are probably aware that I have referred to Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan as one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. After seeing “Winter Sleep” (Kış Uykusu) yesterday, I am ready to upgrade him to the greatest filmmaker today, the only one that can be compared to the masters I encountered in the early 60s: Godard, Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, et al. Unlike any film I have seen in recent years, “Winter Sleep” is as complex and as literary as the classics of a bygone era. In many ways, it is the Turkish equivalent of a Chekhov play with the added visual dimension of the mind-bending landscapes of Cappadocia, the ancient region in Anatolia where houses and temples were carved into the mountains.

Although I was disappointed with Farhadi’s 2016 film “The Salesman”, I stuck to my usual non-aggression pact with art film and neglected to write a “rotten” review. Likely, the good feelings generated by his previous films, the 2011 “A Separation” and the 2013 “The Past”, had a lot to do with this. Unlike his fellow Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who has made outspoken films challenging Islamic Republic repression, Farhadi’s films tend to accept the political status quo even if they describe a society that is coming apart at the seams due to the stifling patriarchal norms.

In a fascinating profile of Farhadi in the January 31, 2019 NY Times Sunday Magazine, they describe the tightrope he walks:

Farhadi has learned, as he says, to speak quietly in his films, and part of this involves trusting his audience to listen for his meanings. In the stark opening shot of “A Separation” (2011), which also won the Oscar for best foreign-language film, a man and a woman, the woman wearing a head scarf (as all female citizens of Iran are required to do in public), look straight into the camera and explain their plight. After years of marriage, they are separating; each is seeking custody of their only child, a 12-year-old girl. As they make their competing arguments (the woman wants to leave the country because she believes their daughter will have a better life abroad; the man says he has to stay to look after his father, who has Alzheimer’s), we realize they are in an Islamic divorce court. The person being addressed is a judge — although it is also, in a way, the viewer, whom Farhadi always enlists as a kind of juror in his moral procedurals. “As a mother, I’d prefer my daughter not grow up in these circumstances,” the woman says. “What circumstances?” the baffled judge, still only a disembodied voice, asks. He doesn’t receive an answer — Farhadi, a master of pacing and suggestive omission, has already ushered us into the next scene — but Iranians, and those familiar with the social conditions under which Iranian women live, will know all too well the circumstances she’s referring to.

I regard “A Separation” as a masterpiece and urge you to rent it on Amazon Prime for only $2.99, where you can also see “Winter Sleep” for just a dollar more.

Considering the overall quality of their films and the respect they command from the critical establishment in the West, I thought it was time to review Ceylan’s latest film “The Wild Pear Tree” that made it into American theaters this year in the hope that it might help me round out my “best of” ballot for NYFCO, the film critics group I belong to. Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows”, which came out in 2018, had its critics but I calculated that even if it was flawed like “The Salesman” it would be a lot better than the Hollywood junk I will be covering next month in advance of the NYFCO awards meeting in December.

Both of these films were self-indulgent and unfocused. Unfortunately, the 95 percent “fresh” reviews for “The Wild Pear Tree” and the 83 percent “fresh” for “Everybody Knows” reflect the free ride “quality” directors get based on past performance. Neither film comes close to the standards of their earlier work and it is likely that in the absence of serious criticism, they will not learn from their mistakes. Even though I doubt that anything I write will get the attention of either Ceylan or Farhadi, perhaps aspiring film students will become cognizant of their defects and be wary of making them themselves as their career unfolds.

As “The Wild Pear Tree” begins, recent college graduate Senin (Dogu Demirkol) has just returned home to Çan, a small city in the Marmara region of Turkey. His most likely career option is teaching in a public school in the country’s eastern hinterlands, a low-paying and emotionally draining job that his father once had until seniority brought him back to Çan where he still teaches.

Senin dreads taking such a job even if he passed the compulsory test that is set at a fairly high bar. He only has dreams of becoming a writer. With a bildungsroman manuscript in hand, which includes a chapter titled “The Wild Pear Tree”, he drops in on the mayor in hopes of getting funding for a first print edition. Evidently, digital self-publishing has not arrived yet in Turkey, or perhaps it never entered Ceylan’s mind to even include such an option for his main character. Since Sinan has an inflated ego, it is something he conceivably ruled out.

Despite his book’s focus on the cultural life of Çan (the rolling hills are filled with wild pear trees), he despises everybody who lives there, including his father who had a gambling addiction that ruined the family. When he runs into a woman he had a crush on in high school, they stroll around an orchard where she is a day laborer. Now wearing a head scarf, she feels some distance from the college graduate who can’t help making patronizing remarks about the city and its people. Even worse, he blurts out that when he lived there, he fantasized about being a dictator who had the power to drop an atom bomb on the city.

The only redeeming feature of “The Wild Pear Tree” is the cinematography. Ceylan started out professionally as a photographer and his portrait of Çan is stunning. This is a place where most people make a living off the land and Ceylan depicts rural Turkey as a charming near-paradise in sharp distinction to Sinan’s alienation from nature. He disdains his father who never stopped loving Çan’s flora and fauna, including the jackals who occasionally raid the shed where he keeps a small herd of lambs.

Sinan’s arrogance reflects the tensions between Turkey’s educated and secular-minded middle class and the pious and mostly rural folk who have voted for Erdogan. Time after time, he challenges both family and friends over their failure to see things the way he does, to the point where his litany becomes grating.

In this three-hour film, Ceylan includes several scenes that last for at least twenty minutes, each one dramatizing this rift. In visiting the local bookstore to see if they would be interested in his book, he spots Çan’s most famous author, a man about his father’s age and a symbol of privilege that he envies. Striking up a conversation with the man, Sinan subtly begins to needle him about failing to see the city with the kind of honesty he supposedly shows in his unpublished manuscript. Uninvited, he follows him outside the bookstore and practically stalks him on his way home, escalating his invective until the elderly author tells him—politely—to get lost.

This is a cringe-worthy twenty minutes of dialogue but nothing nearly so stupefying as the next lengthy scene that has Sinan strolling along the alleys and byways of Çan with a couple of imams who debate each other and him for what seems like an eternity. The conversation seeks to resolve whether God exists, a matter of little interest to Ceylan’s audience and only something that a director supremely convinced of his talents would have ever considered foisting on them.

I doubt that anybody reading this would care much about spoilers but this paragraph will reveal the ending of the film since it is crucial for understanding its failure. Sinan has failed to land a teaching job, sell a single copy of his finally self-published book, and returned home to find his father up to his usual foibles. Perhaps understanding his own limitations for the first time, he recognizes that, despite Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. But to what end? With nothing but low-paying factory or farming jobs, what are his prospects? The only short-term solution is to help his father who has been digging a well for years on a small plot of land he owns on a hillside. There are two alternative endings that the audience will have to figure out which serves as the best denouement. In the first, we see Sinan hanging from a noose at the top of the well. In the second, we see him at the bottom of the well using a shovel to dig out some boulders that might be the final obstacle to drawing water.

For three hours, we have seen Sinan in one fruitless and one-sided conversation with a wide range of people. With not the slightest indication of emotional growth, what is the basis for accepting his reconciliation with father and countrymen as plausible? A more satisfying film would have avoided the 11th hour menu choices of suicide or salvation and shown Sinan growing as a man and a Turk. One wonders if it is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s inability to conceive of a way forward in Turkey that makes this film such a dispiriting experience. Ultimately a pessimist and an aesthete, Ceylan must find a way to reach a higher level of engagement with Turkish realities to move forward as an artist.

Enjoying relative freedom as an artist because of his non-confrontational stance, Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows” is a Spanish film for all practical purposes. Starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, it is a story about a kidnapping but totally unlike the usual crime melodrama. Instead, it is a family drama revolving around a crisis that brings out the best and the worst of its characters. It is reminiscent of Farhadi’s 2009 “About Elly” that also involves a disappearance, in that instance a woman who drowned in the Caspian Sea during an outing with a group of her friends. The tension in the film derives from assigning blame, just as the case in “Everybody Knows”.

The characters in “Everybody Knows” are an extended family ruled over by a patriarch as feckless in his way as Sinan’s father is in Ceylan’s film. He and dozens of others have come to a small town near Madrid to celebrate the wedding of one of his daughters.

At two hours and thirteen minutes, “Everybody Knows” is a slog but not as bad as “The Wild Pear Tree”. Like Ceylan, Farhadi is self-indulgent. The first thirty-eight minutes of the film consists of people dancing, singing, drinking and feasting. Since Farhadi is prevented from filming such a bacchanalian scene in his homeland, one might gather that he included this material to get something out of his system. One wonders if his non-Iranian audience that enjoys such freedoms finds it very useful in advancing the narrative. After seeing fifteen minutes of them getting drunk and acting stupid, I told my wife that I wish they would all come under a zombie attack that left them dead on the ballroom floor.

Once again a spoiler alert. Go no further if you think you might want to punish yourself by watching “Everybody Knows”.

It turns out that the kidnapping was an inside job. The kidnapping of a teen girl was carried out by men hired by her mother played by Penelopé Cruz, the daughter of the patriarch who owns the land that keeps the extended family afloat, even if meagerly.

They intend to get Javier Bardem to pay the ransom even if it means selling the land that he purchased from the patriarch years ago during his years as a thrifty servant to the clan and made productive through growing grapes for a winery he co-owns. Pressure can be applied on him since he was once Penelopé Cruz’s lover and—as it turns out—the actual father of the supposedly kidnapped girl (a repulsive character, actually.)

There are class distinctions that are hinted at in the film but remain underdeveloped. When the clan is seated around a dining table to discuss what steps to take to rescue the kidnapped girl, there are frequent references to Bardem not only having cheated them but being an upstart who doesn’t belong in their semi-feudal milieu, even if tattered around the edges.

If Farhadi wanted to make a far more compelling film, he should have made the class distinctions far more obvious especially in a country like Spain in which the ancien régime persists in so many ways. The patriarch might have spouted things about how great Franco was, after one of his many drunken binges during the ordeal. For a good idea of how such a drama can unfold, I recommend “The Little Stranger” that I reviewed last year for CounterPunch. It involved the tangled relationship between an aristocratic but now hard-up family in an estate called The Hundreds and a doctor who has a worshipful attitude toward them and the house. I wrote:

The Ayres summon the village doctor to look at Betty, one Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), who like the family matron is never mentioned by his first name. Like Betty, he was a villager who grew up in a working-class family. But unlike Betty, he managed to join the middle class mostly because of the sacrifices made by his parents who died young because of overwork. His mother was a maid at The Hundreds who brought him there in 1919 to celebrate Empire Day with the Ayres who were in their heyday. As the name implies, this holiday was created to inculcate children with the belief that they belonged to a glorious Empire, including those in Kenya, India and elsewhere.

Released at the same time as “Everybody Knows”, “The Little Stranger” garnered a 66 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 17 points lower than Farhadi’s film. It deserved better. Way overpriced at $14.99 on all the VOD sites, keep an eye out for it later this year. It should come down based on the ineluctable dynamics of video rentals.

October 27, 2019

The Turkish invasion: Latest step in the Russian-led destruction of the Syrian revolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:06 pm

via The Turkish invasion: Latest step in the Russian-led destruction of the Syrian revolution

October 26, 2019

Bronchitis blues

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

In late September I suffered one of the many colds that have plagued me over the years. Unlike most people who soldier on with Nyquil, I am usually barely able to get out of bed. They tend to form a predictable and woeful pattern. The first day or two begins with a sore throat that makes it difficult to swallow or speak. Then, the next phase migrates to the nasal passages with constant sneezing, sniffling, and feeling miserable that can last up to five days. The final phase, occurring in at least three of four colds, is a “wet” cough that yields yellow sputum and makes sleeping difficult. Add these phases together and you are talking about a week and a half of suffering.

In early October, the cold ran its course and life returned to normal, lasting for about five days, if memory serves me right. However, unaccountably, the final phase of the cold returned  on the sixth day. Then, for another five days, I had a recurrence of the cold’s “wet” cough that showed no signs of abating. At this point, my wife pressured me to go to one of those walk-in CityMD clinics to see what was going on. I generally don’t like going for exams and tend to stick my head in the sand like an ostrich. She, on the other hand, probably relies on them too much.

After using a stethoscope for about two minutes, the CityMD physician tells me that my lungs reveal an “abnormal” condition and that he needs to x-ray me to check for pneumonia. About twenty minutes after the x-ray, he said that I tested negative for pneumonia so the diagnosis was bronchitis instead, a viral-based illness for which antibiotics, the normal medication for bacteria-based pneumonia, were useless, if not ill-advised. As most of you know, there is a tendency to overprescribe antibiotics, which leads to bacteria developing a resistance and hence becoming more deadly.

He prescribed benzonatate, a cough suppressant that can actually be purchased OTC. But unfortunately, there is no medication that can halt the inflammation of the bronchial tubes that was producing the wet coughs. After taking benzonatate for a week, it did not even suppress the coughing. Perhaps that is just as well since some physicians believe that the best thing is to cough up the sputum that lines the bronchial tubes and make breathing easier. After the benzonatate ran out, I started taking Mucinex but gave up after it too did nothing to relieve the coughing. I also had decided that it was probably best to just keep coughing and spit out the sputum. Ironically, doctors call this wet cough “productive”. Productive not in these sense of vitamins keeping you healthy but in the sense of producing sputum.

Another odd bit of terminology. I have what they call acute bronchitis, which is distinguished from chronic bronchitis that afflicts many smokers and those living in highly air-polluted cities. So, what’s the alternative to acute bronchitis? Moderate bronchitis? It turns out that all bronchitis, except for the chronic kind, is acute. Don’t ask me why. What I can tell you is that it can last up to three weeks and I am now exactly at that point. This morning I had a couple of wet coughs but am pretty sure that by tomorrow or Monday at the latest I should be 100 percent.

When I learned that I had bronchitis, I had no idea of what this meant anatomically. The word bronchial tube summons up the image of something like the trachea, also called the windpipe. I assumed that the trachea led to the bronchial tubes, which then entered the lungs. But I had no idea that once they entered the lungs they became like the roots of a tree, growing narrower and narrower the deeper they penetrated the lungs. I could understand after seeing a graphic like this how they could produce such a large amount of sputum. If only medical science could figure out a way to reduce or better yet end the inflammation, I’d have a lot less to worry about. As with any illnesses produced by a virus, that’s easier said than done

If you factor in my head cold, I have been ailing for a full month this fall. It means that I could not go out for exercise or to see a film. I have been meaning to see “Joker” and weigh in on the controversy but just couldn’t chance getting worse. Although I feel a little weird even bothering to write about this illness in light of the real horrors many FB friends are enduring, including Neil Davidson’s battle with a stage 4 brain tumor, it does cast a pall over my generally carefree life.

When my mother was my age and in relatively good shape except for a growing crankiness that a young friend of hers attributed to old age, she came down with pneumonia twice. I never gave much thought to how she got it but assumed it was because she wasn’t “taking care of herself”. Looking back in retrospect, her life-style was not that much different than mine other than eating the wrong foods and too much of them, as well as being totally sedentary. Despite that, she lived to eighty-seven and I will be fine with matching that. It doesn’t seem out of the question since I have her genes rather than my father’s. Like me, she suffered brutal colds over the years and likely ended up with pneumonia like I ended up with bronchitis.

I told the doctor at CityMD that I didn’t understand how I could have gotten bronchitis just five days after my cold had ended. He told me that it was a weather change that could have done it. I didn’t want to tell him that this sounded like nonsense but I still can’t explain how a virus could have invaded my bronchial tubes out of the blue. I am sure it was related to the cold but I have no idea how. In discussing this with my wife, who is obviously concerned about my health, I told her that I had to take strict measures to prevent getting a cold ever again. This means being very conscious of not touching my mouth or nose with my fingers when I am out shopping or at a film screening. And when I get home, using Purell immediately.

During the first week of my illness, when I was feeling most desperate, I decided to buy CBD oil which is a derivative of the hemp plant that supposedly has medical uses. On October 16th, the NY Times ran an article on the benefits of CBD that reported on its value in reducing depression, insomnia and other neural disorders. Out of curiosity, I googled “CBD bronchitis” and found a number of articles recommending it as a home remedy. I spent $24 for a tiny bottle and urge you not to waste your money, at least if you get bronchitis. In fact, bronchitis is one of the most common ailments, especially for geezers like me, and just something you have to get used to unless you are like me and ready to take preventive measures to avoid three weeks of suffering.

As part of my search for some relief, I went to the NY Times archives and tried to find some remedies that might work. I figured that the Gray Lady might be reliable since it tends to have useful health articles, especially from Jane Brody who is a couple of years older than me and addresses geriatric issues in her weekly Tuesday column.

What I found shocked me. There were 5,107 articles about famous people who had come down with bronchitis, mostly the elderly like me. Among those listed in the first couple of dozen are: Konrad Adenauer, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Paul Robeson. None of them died from bronchitis but around half were hospitalized, a routine treatment for powerful heads of state (except for Robeson.)

About six months ago, I was crossing 88th Street on Third Avenue in the afternoon when I stepped into a shallow pothole and fell on my face, like a tree that had just been chopped down. Fortunately, I caught myself before hitting the pavement so the blow was not bad enough to break a bone. My glasses were broken but I was able to salvage the lenses. I’ll never forget the crowd of people standing over me asking if I was all right. I felt more embarrassed about the whole thing than anything else.

From that point on, I am always very watchful crossing the street but continue to wonder how I could have tripped. It finally dawned on me that I am not 35 years old any more. As with the bronchitis, I have to watch my step. Life is better for me than it has ever been with a marriage now in its seventeenth year to a Turkish woman who has a tenured position in the CUNY system. My fondest hope is to live as long as my mother since the next dozen years can really be great as long as I can avoid the potholes and the viruses.

October 25, 2019

Martin Scorsese’s lament

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:36 pm


From their infancy, Hollywood films have always been both art and commodities. Unlike symphonies, novels or paintings, the film (and subsequently TV) required vast capital outlays. The men who made Hollywood were often Jews who probably would have been just as happy making money as real estate developers or investment bankers. Jack Warner was a typical figure, who after being bailed out by New Deal funding, made “socially aware” films like “Casablanca”. After WWII, he became a major backer of the McCarthyite attack on the film industry and even named names before Congress.

For most Americans, until television became a popular and affordable commodity in the late 50s, the movies were the primary form of entertainment alongside radio. In 1950, movies were the third-largest retail business after grocery stores and cars. Every week, 90 million Americans—60 percent of the country—went to the cinema, a popular culture phenomenon bigger than the Super Bowl.

When I was 14 years old in 1959, these were among the directors who made films that year: Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz, John Sturges, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kramer, Otto Preminger, Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, John Cassavetes, Billy Wilder, Joseph Mankiewicz, King Vidor, John Ford, Sidney Lumet, and Edward Dmytryk. What should be obvious about all of them, especially Hitchcock, was their ability to resolve the contradiction between art and commodification. They made entertaining films that also honored the fundamentals of the art: character development, plot, dialogue, and visual/musical magic-making. Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” was made that year and regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

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October 21, 2019


Filed under: Jewish question,television — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

Over the past month, I watched seasons one and two of “Shtisel”, an Israeli soap opera (for the last of a better term) about haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews living in Jerusalem. It has little to do with Israeli politics or society since the characters disdain the Zionist project entirely. In season one, Rabbi Shulem Shtisel, the bullheaded patriarch of the Shtisel clan, decides to prevent the young students at the yeshiva where he teaches from watching the air show of the Israeli air force to their dismay. His son Akiva, who teaches there as well, overrules his father and allows the kids to watch the planes through the yeshiva windows. This should not be interpreted as his openness to Zionism, only his “softness” to the kids. He has zero interest in politics. All his energy is focused on drawing and painting, “hobbies” frowned upon in the Haredi world. The conflict between father and son provide most of the tension in this stellar drama. On a personal level, you are drawn into their test of wills but on a larger canvas, this is the central drama of the ultra-orthodox everywhere in the world, one between the closed, ritualistic and suffocating social norms and the yearning of young orthodox Jews to taste the forbidden pleasures of the outside world.

None of the characters in Shtisel are played by the Haredi themselves, an outcome dictated by their disdain for television entertainment, especially one that was critical of their values. Dov Glickman, who plays the father, is a veteran Israeli actor who began his career performing in the IDF’s naval revues. His son is played by Michael Aloni, who also played one of the cops in “Our Boys”. Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky conceived the idea for the show and have co-written the scripts. They bring a level of realism that you might expect from men who grew up in an ultra-orthodox family.

If you are a Jew, “Shtisel” might resonate with you more than the average viewer but rest assured that once you get past the oddities of Haredi life (they pray before drinking a glass of water), you will find each episode immediately recognizable and touching. For example, in season one Akiva has fallen head over heels in love with a woman who is probably 7 years older than him and widowed twice. Since the Haredi use matchmakers often given instructions to bring together a man and woman together based on traditional values, the idea of Rabbi Shtisel’s son marrying an older woman and one who had two husbands dying on her was not one he would tolerate. He must have taken Tina Turner at her word when she sang, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Once you get past the ultra-orthodox parameters of the conflict, you soon realize that Akiva’s determination to marry the woman he loves rather than one his father deems “appropriate” is basic to family dramas of any religion or race. What makes “Shtisel” so amazing is its ability to make the narrowly particular so universal.

For those who have seen the 2017 American film “Menashe”, you will immediately recognize its kinship with the Israeli TV series. What made “Menashe” so exceptional was the willingness of an American Haredi man (Menachem Lustig) to take the leading role of a widower who will have to accept his son becoming part of another observant family unless he remarries. Like “Shtisel”, matchmaking is a key part of the drama. I consider “Menashe” a masterpiece and urge you to see it on the usual streaming services including YouTube.

In my review, I stated:

Like John Travolta’s Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever”, Menashe has a low-paying job as a clerk in a retail store—in his case a small supermarket owned by a fellow Hasid. He owes his landlord back payments on rent and is constantly hitting up his boss for loans. In the first hint that the film is not romanticizing Hasidic life, Menashe argues with his boss about selling unwashed lettuce to a Hasidic housewife, a violation of strict Jewish dietary laws. He is told that the store’s profits are more important than following scripture.

Among the key characters in “Shtisel” is Shulem’s brother Nuchem who has returned to Jerusalem from  Belgium where he runs various businesses, much of which seem to be bending ethical rules of one sort or another. When one of them is on the verge of failure, he implores Shulem to sign for a loan to keep it afloat. Shulem agrees but only on one condition. His brother has to sign a statement acknowledging his refusal to live up to his responsibilities as a son. He left it up entirely to Shulem to look after their ailing mother, a situation obviously not restricted to the ultra-orthodox.

Judaism is an odd religion. It is based on the need to carry out “mitzvahs”, which means commandments. So, when I was growing up, you frequently heard something as a “real mitzvah” in the sense of being charitable or benign in the Christian sense, like Jesus attending to lepers. However, for the ultra-orthodox, the mitzvah would be something like saying a prayer before drinking a glass of water or wearing side curls—acts having little to do with ethics.

In 2001, I read a book titled “Postville” by Stephen Bloom that told the story of the Rubashkins, a Lubavitcher family that had taken ownership of a meatpacking plant in Iowa in order to turn it into a major purveyor of kosher meat. Bloom, who is a secular Jew and writing professor at the U. of Iowa, ingratiated himself into their world and spent many evenings with them drinking vodka and sharing feasts at Friday night shabbat dinners.

Even if they followed every single mitzvah to the letter, these were people of the deepest moral failings. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants offered accounts of Rubashkin fostering a hostile workplace that included 12-hour shifts without overtime pay, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and sexual harassment.

Sentenced to 27 years for his crimes, Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence was commuted by Trump in 2017. No doubt Jared Kushner helped persuade his father-in-law to free the monster because his understanding of the “mitzvah” was the same as the packing house owner. Just say your prayers and you will be “righteous”, whatever that means. Kushner has donated $250,000 to the Lubavitcher movement that unlike the Haredi depicted in “Shtisel” sees Israel as evidence of God’s will.

In 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu was running for his first term as prime minister, the Lubavitchers ran a costly campaign with the slogan. “Netanyahu. It’s good for the Jews.” The campaign was financed by Josef Gutnick, a wealthy Australian businessman with close ties to the late Lubavitcher rabbi and a major supporter of the settlement movement.

On September 7th, the Sunday Times Book Review covered Times reporter Bari Weiss’s new book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism”. The reviewer was Hillel Halkin, a rightwing Zionist who found her attempts to synthesize liberalism and Zionism laughable. Halkin is a regular contributor to The New York Sun, a neoconservative newspaper that was launched by Conrad Black in 2001 as an alternative to The New York Times. Black was found guilty of financial fraud in 2007 and sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison.

Halkin’s review was in keeping with tendencies both in the USA and in Israel to align Judaism with reactionary politics. In the case of Israel, of course, the term reactionary is relative. Even under the most “liberal” Zionist government, Israel was already moving rapidly toward consolidating an apartheid state. Halkin understands this tendency and fails to understand why Weiss does not. It would occur to me that before very long, the split in Judaism will become so deep that the two camps will begin to consider each other as mortal enemies. Halkin sounds like he wants to “bring it on”:

Weiss fails to realize that she herself is an example of the wishful thinking about Judaism that is ubiquitous among American Jewish liberals. One might call this the Judaism of the Sunday school, a religion of love, tolerance, respect for the other, democratic values and all the other virtues to which American Jews pay homage. This is a wondrous Judaism indeed — and one that has little to do with anything that Jewish thought or observance has historically stood for. “We’ve always been there,” Weiss approvingly quotes a friend of hers, hurt to the quick by the proposed banning of “Jewish pride flags” at the 2019 Washington Dyke March. Always? As if the right to define oneself sexually as one pleases were a cause Jews have fought for over the ages!

As a matter of historical record, it was Greek and Roman high society, not the Jews, that practiced and preached polymorphous sexual freedom. Judaism fiercely opposed such an acceptance of sexual diversity, against which it championed the procreative family, the taming of anarchic passions, and the cosmically ordained nature of normative gender distinctions that goes back to the first chapter of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image. … Male and female created he them.” And while we’re at it, it was the Greeks, not the Jews, who invented democracy. What mattered to Jews throughout nearly all of their history (and still does to a considerable number of them today) was the will of God as interpreted by religious authority, not free elections.

Judaism as liberalism with a prayer shawl is a distinctly modern development. It started with the 19th-century Reform movement in Germany, from which it spread to America with the reinforcement of the left-wing ideals of the Russian Jewish labor movement. As much as such a conception of their ancestors’ faith has captured the imagination of most American Jews, it is hard to square with 3,000 years of Jewish tradition. Weiss has delivered a praiseworthy and concise brief against modern-day anti-Semitism, but if she thinks this long tradition is ultimately compatible with contemporary American liberal beliefs, she might want to take a closer look. Honestly regarded, Judaism tells another story.

October 18, 2019

Our Boys

Filed under: Counterpunch,Palestine,television — louisproyect @ 9:34 pm


Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a boycott against Israel’s channel 12 for producing the HBO mini-series “Our Boys.” He described it as anti-Semitic and slandering Israel internationally. This month I watched “Our Boys” and can recommend it not only as a docudrama but as a brutally honest retelling of how the Israeli cops apprehended 3 West Bank settlers that murdered a 16-year old Palestinian boy. They were seeking to avenge Hamas’s killing of 3 teen-aged boys who were settlers like them. What makes the show so authentic was the division of labor between Israeli and Palestinian film-makers who were determined to get the story right. The Israelis wrote the script for the Jewish characters. They were either cops or part of the West Bank settlement that bred the racism that allowed 3 men to beat a defenseless teen with a wrench until barely conscious. They finished him off by pouring gasoline down his throat and then setting fire to him.

It was left to director/screenwriter Tawfik Abu-Wael to bring the Palestinians to life. To his great credit, he has made the parents of the martyred son Mohammed Abu Khdeir two of the more fully realized Palestinian characters in any film I have seen. As the father Hussein Abu Khdeir, Johnny Arbid portrays a man being torn by two opposing forces, even to the point of splitting him in half psychologically. On one side is the Palestinian community that is mainly interested in his son being exploited as a martyr to benefit the movement. On the other is the Israeli police that needs his cooperation to help them make the arrest and prosecution of 3 settlers acceptable to most Israelis. His presence at the trial is key, even if it means defying the Palestinian political leadership. They denounce the trial in advance as being a farce that would allow the 3 to go free. His wife Suha Abu Khdeir (Ruba Blal) can accept his decision to cooperate with the police but is still distrustful enough to consider not showing up for the trial. Their drama, including the horrors of discovering what happened to their son, helps to draw you into the story.

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October 16, 2019

The Cave

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

This Friday, “The Cave” opens at the Metrograph in NYC at 9pm. Directed by Feras Fayyad, who will be on hand for the Q&A, it tells the story of the main hospital in East Ghouta that was forced to operate below ground in order to escape relentless Russian aerial bombardment. It is focused on three women who chose to work in dangerous conditions and with none of the blandishments a medical profession affords. Their heroism is a reminder that the Syrian revolution brought out the best of the people even if people like Tulsi Gabbard would have you believe that their ambition was to impose sharia law and carry out a new 9/11 attack.

Dr. Amani Ballour is the hospital’s manager. Not only does she have to contend with Russian warplanes, she also to put up with patriarchal attitudes among the men she is serving. Early on, we see her trying to explain that since East Ghouta is under siege, he won’t be able to get the medication his wife needs from the hospital pharmacy. He replies that if it were a man who was managing the hospital, the medication would be available.

“The Cave” was directed by Feras Fayyad, who also directed “Last Men in Aleppo” in 2017, a documentary about the White Helmets that can now be seen on Amazon for $3.99. In my CounterPunch review of that film, I pointed to its value as a corrective to the propaganda offensive mounted by the likes of Max Blumenthal and company:

Despite the bleak situation faced by Syrian rebels and the dead certainty that Assad will remain in power, there are leftists who will greet the release of “Last Men in Aleppo” in the same way they greeted “The White Helmets”–as a propaganda film designed to burnish the reputation of a group serving al-Qaeda’s interests in Syria. In articles by Vanessa Beeley, Rania Khalek, Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal, you get the same talking points that you get in RT.com. The White Helmets are creatures of the USA and Britain designed to make Assad look bad, just like those “false flag” sarin gas attacks.

Seeing “The Cave” can be a wrenching experience since so much of it is devoted to the suffering of people, most of them children, who are brought into the hospital for emergency treatment. We see the three female doctors working under impossible conditions as the roar of Russian jets penetrates to the underground hospital they serve.

Unlike other documentary filmmakers, Fayyad’s lived experience made him uniquely positioned to capture the human drama of first responders in Aleppo and female physicians in East Ghouta. Like them, he was part of the most powerful revolutionary upsurge of the 21st century. If any proof was needed of the threat it posed to the rich and the powerful, it is the scorched earth policy of Assad and his Russian allies that shows the need for throttling the infant in the cradle.

In March 2011, Bashar al-Assad began cracking down on the country’s nascent pro-democracy movement. Because he had made a film about an exiled Syrian poet, Fayyad was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for 15 months. The dictatorship not only jailed protestors but anyone seen as even slightly sympathetic to their cause.

Fayyad was an eye-witness to the savagery of Syrian prisons. “One of the things that you heard all the time was the torture of women and children. And women would be tortured mostly because they were women. The regime was using women as tools of war, to intimidate and attack its opponents. I came out of prison destroyed, angry. As a male growing up in a family of strong women, this was very personal for me. I felt that someday I had to use my voice as a filmmaker to speak out.”

Since East Ghouta was under siege, Fayyad was forced to recruit a film team that would work under his direction from afar. Filmed in East Ghouta between 2016 and 2018, when a regime chemical attack precipitated an exodus to Idlib by the doctors and their patients, “The Cave” makes the audience feel close to claustrophobic and frightening underground environment. The primary subjects of the film rarely venture to the surface, where the risk of being killed by a Russian warplane is very high.

Most of their lives is spent in artificially lit rooms with cellphones the primary connection to the outside world, including Dr. Amani’s poignant phone calls to her father. By showing both their harrowing experiences as emergency room attending physicians and their quotidian existence preparing meals, celebrating birthdays (there is no cake, only popcorn) and trading friendly jibes, we can connect with them as complex characters. Fayyad says, “Of course, the bombings and terrible events that happen are powerful and important to capture. But I also wanted to shine a light on the small, quiet details of each day – things that at first glance may seem unimportant but that, when looked at with more care, are actually the things that make us human.  That enable us to survive.”

October 14, 2019

Why you should donate to the CounterPunch fund-drive

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 6:46 pm

I began writing for CounterPunch (CP)  in August, 2012. My first article was a defense of Pussy Riot against some of their “anti-imperialist” detractors on CP who felt the need to defend the “silent majority” in Russia from such anarchist ne’er-do-wells. It is important to understand that I was invited to write such an article by Jeffrey St. Clair who has always defended ideological diversity in CP despite attempts to depict it as having an agenda. If you really want to understand why there was always a ratio of 10 articles in favor of Assad for every one of mine, it is simply a function of so few people opposed to Assad having the discipline and presence of mind to write something. For all the years I have been writing for CP, the integrity of the editorial team of Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank is beyond reproach. Their only agenda is to put out a lively and popular leftist print and online magazine that will live up to the reputation of the late Alexander Cockburn who was its guiding light for many years. If anything, Jeffrey and Joshua have not only kept up to those high standards but have been responsible for making the CP better than ever.

Since CP articles are not divided into categories and since there are so many of them, it might be difficult to identify the themes or concerns that make it special. Hopefully, after I identify the ones I deem most important, you will understand the need for opening up your wallet or pocketbook for the current fund-drive.


Since Alexander Cockburn and the current editors have all written about ecology for various magazines before launching CP, it is not a big surprise that this is one of its major focuses. Last month, as I was reading Christopher Ketcham’s “This Land” for a CP review, I began to cross-reference the activists he was profiling with the CP archives. To my amazement, most were regular contributors to CP just like Ketcham. One of them was George Wuerthner, who has written 213 articles for CP over the years and over 36 books on various aspects of ecology and species preservation. A recent article on “How Agriculture and Ranching Subvert the Rewilding of America” is must-reading since it challenges the growth-oriented perspective of most Green New Deal advocates. Having people like Wuerthner contributing to CP should not be underestimated. With Extinction Rebellion activists putting their bodies on the line to protest incursions into rainforests and publicly-owned lands in America’s western states, getting the word out on key battles between Trump’s lackeys and those on the front lines is essential.


CounterPunch has become a firewall against the viral spread of “socialist” support for the Democratic Party. While respecting ideological diversity (CP probably has as many pro-Bernie articles as anti), the magazine has become a pole of attraction for people who view the Democratic Party as the graveyard of protest movements. Jacobin, the main purveyor of socialists orienting to the DP, has a rating of 25,661 on Alexa globally. By contrast, CP is rated at 50,354. Given all the glowing praise Jacobin has received in the bourgeois press, its numbers are not that surprising. Just imagine if Jeffrey St. Clair was getting fawning interviews in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and The New Yorker. CP would probably have a rating twice as high. Of course, they don’t write puff pieces about CP because they rightly understand that its editors and readers mean business.


I am not the only independent Marxist writer who has made CP his or her home. Without much fanfare, CP has become a much more important and reliable source of Marxist analysis than any other publication on the left. While Jacobin does have good material, it is often written from an academic perspective and not entirely relevant to an activist readership. Just off the top of my head, I think of regular contributors like Pete Dolack, Michael Yates, Victor Grossman, Patrick Bond and Michael Balter as exemplars of the non-dogmatic and highly informed Marxism that needs to be given a platform. With the dissolution of the ISO, an important voice of classical Marxism has disappeared. As long as CP keeps going, you can be sure that it will continue to publish articles that are not only faithful to the Marxist method but written with the type of panache we are accustomed to seeing in CP.


I am sure that anybody reading this can afford to donate $50 to the fund-drive. That comes to a dollar a week, less than you spend on chewing gum or coffee. Go here (https://store.counterpunch.org/) and chip in right now. It will make you feel great afterwards.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a review of Richard Seymour’s “The Twittering Machine”, a book that takes a dystopian look at social media. While I believe that Richard was on-target, I still believe that its possibilities for radical change are enormous. The willingness of people to work collectively and for free on Wikipedia should indicate that not everybody is in it for a fast buck.

Without any advertising, CP relies heavily on reader contributions. Most of us have gotten use to the idea that nothing is really free on the Net even though you are not paying for a subscription. Just spend 2 minutes on Salon or Alternet and you will see an ad that covers every inch of your screen. You can understand why such magazines rely on ads since their analysis is not much different than what you get on MSNBC. CP, on the other hand, can avoid such commercialism because it relies on a reader base that hates capitalism. I will leave it like this. To show how much you hate capitalism, there’s no better way of expressing it than donating to the CounterPunch fund drive. DO IT NOW.

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