Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 17, 2014

Ed Murrow must be spinning in his grave

Filed under: media,television — louisproyect @ 2:24 am

August 9, 2013

Bezos, Tina Brown and the Looting of the Washington Post

Filed under: capitalist pig,media — louisproyect @ 1:03 pm

Tina Brown

Jeff Bezos

Counterpunch Weekend Edition August 9-11, 2013

Follow the Money
Bezos, Tina Brown and the Looting of the Washington Post

Recently two major media sales transactions involved properties associated with the Washington Post. The first was the sale of the Post itself to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com; the other was the sale of Newsweek/Daily Beast to IBT Media. Until its sale in 2010 to high-fidelity magnate Sidney Harman, Newsweek was part of the Washington Post’s media empire. Tina Brown launched the Daily Beast, a center-right version of the Huffington Post, in October 2008, which merged with Newsweek two years later. In a bid to capitalize on the Internet revolution, the print edition of Newsweek was terminated in December 2012 and all efforts were directed toward making the website a success. No doubt its failure had more to do with the stale content that Tina Brown was proffering, something no amount of new media gold sequins could rescue.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/09/bezos-tina-brown-and-the-future-of-the-washington-post/

April 14, 2013

Statistical survey

Filed under: liberalism,media — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

Number of times that the term “predator drones” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 6

Number of times that the term “gun control” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 373

Number of times that the term “chained cpi” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 43

Number of times that the term “tea party” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 404

(Based on a search of Nexis.)


January 29, 2013

Letter to the New York Times ombudsman on Hugo Chavez

Filed under: media,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 3:31 pm

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

After reading the hatchet job on Hugo Chavez by Alberto Barrera Tyszka and Cristina Marcano in last Tuesday’s op-ed page, I decided to check the paper’s archives (I am a subscriber) to see if there is a general trend.

I was shocked to discover that a certain Francisco Toro blogs at http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/. He can best be described as having the same relationship to Venezuela that someone like the Miami expatriate community has to Cuba: frothing-at-the-mouth hostility. I suppose that the paper might excuse itself for offering him a blog to spout his propaganda if it didn’t have such a terrible record in its Venezuela reportage.

In doing a bit of digging on Mr. Toro, who received an MSc from the London School of Economics, I discovered that he resigned his from his reporting job in January 2003. Frankly, he should have never been hired in the first place. This is the letter he sent to his editor Patrick J. Lyons:

“After much careful consideration, I’ve decided I can’t continue reporting for the New York Times. As I examine the problem, I realize it would take much more than just pulling down my blog to address your conflict of interests concerns. Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I don’t think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands. For better or for worse, my country’s democracy is in peril now, and I can’t possibly be neutral about that.”

I don’t know. It seems to me that any newspaper trying to persuade the world that it is impartial would have questioned Mr. Toro’s credentials from the get-go. But then again, hiring him was not the first instance of assigning someone to cover Venezuela with a clear animus toward Hugo Chavez.

In 2003 Al Giordano of Narco News provided this background (http://www.narconews.com/Issue30/article584.html) on Juan Forero, Mr. Toro’s predecessor:

•  Also last April, New York Times reporter Juan Forero reported that President Chávez had “resigned” when, in fact, Chávez had been kidnapped at gunpoint. Forero did not source his knowingly false claim. Forero, on April 13, wrote a puff piece on dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona – installed by a military coup – as Carmona disbanded Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitution and sent his shocktroops house to house in a round-up of political leaders in which sixty supporters of Chávez were assassinated. Later that day, after the Venezuelan masses took back their country block by block, Carmona fled the national palace and Chávez, the elected president, was restored to office.

•  Forero – who, Narco News reported in 2001, allowed US Embassy officials to monitor his interviews with mercenary pilots in Colombia, without disclosing that fact in his article – was caught again last month in his unethical pro-coup activities in Venezuela. Narco News Associate Publisher Dan Feder revealed that Forero and LA Times reporter T. Christian Miller had written essentially the same story, interviewing the same two shopkeepers in a wealthy suburb of Caracas, and the same academic “expert” in a story meant to convince readers that a “general strike” was occurring in Venezuela. The LA Times Readers Representative later revealed that Forero and Miller interviewed the shopkeepers together. Neither disclosed that fact.

Now I understand that the NYT hires people like Toro and Forero for a reason. It has the same relationship to the U.S. State Department that Pravda had to the Kremlin. I suppose that the only solution to such incestuous ties is to work for the transformation of an economic system that allows—as A.J. Liebling once put it— freedom of the press to be guaranteed only to those who own one.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

December 15, 2012

The stoning of Oliver Stone

Filed under: anti-Communism,antiwar,media — louisproyect @ 6:25 pm
Counterpunch Weekend Edition December 14-16, 2012
The Gatekeepers of American History

The Stoning of Oliver Stone


On November 22nd the New York Times Sunday Magazine showcased a hatchet job by Andrew Goldman on Oliver Stone’s 10-part Showtime series “The Untold History of the United States” that is based on Stone and Peter Kuznick’s 750-page companion volume of the same name.  Goldman tried to hoodwink readers into thinking that both the right and the left disavowed the show and the book. While Ronald Radosh, the author of a recent study arguing that Francisco Franco did more good than harm to Spain, had all the credentials one expected from a rightist, Goldman’s choice of Sean Wilentz as speaking for the left was an exercise in deceit. Goldman cites Wilentz:

Is there a legitimate argument to be made about the origins of our nuclear diplomacy or the decision to build the H-bomb? Of course there is. But it’s so overloaded with ideological distortion that this question doesn’t get raised in an intelligent way. And once a question gets raised in an unintelligent way, then you are off in cloud-cuckoo land.

One imagines that the average NYT magazine reader assumes that Wilentz speaks for the left but a look back at his testimony on “revisionist” histories of the United States reveals that his chief role is that of ideological gatekeeper, warning his readers against “ideological distortion” seeping out of “cloud-cuckoo land”—in other words anything that is outside the bounds of mainstream liberalism.

read full article


July 16, 2012

Is the 60s counterculture to blame for today’s banksters?

Filed under: journalism,literature,media — louisproyect @ 7:04 pm

Kurt Andersen

David Brooks

Recent op-ed articles in the N.Y. Times by Kurt Andersen and David Brooks have both blamed the counterculture for the rise of the banksters.

On July 3rd, Andersen wrote that “do your own thing” explains Lloyd Blankfein and company:

But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed.

Going forward, the youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium.

“Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself.” If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.

There is a certain amount of what Freud called projection in Andersen’s analysis. Andersen, now 58, co-founded Spy Magazine in 1986 with E. Grayson Carter. Spy was an irreverent attack on the pretensions of the ruling class, especially those who were featured in gossip columns. But after Spy folded, they hooked up with magazines that flattered the figures they once satirized. Andersen became the editor of New York, a magazine devoted to the tastes of the upper middle-class with feature articles on where to buy the best chocolates or the inside scoop on Tom Cruise’s breakup with Katie Holmes. He was fired after publishing an article that was not sufficiently deferential to a big investor who was friends with Henry Kravis, a major investor in New York Magazine.

His next publishing venture was Inside.com, a short-lived attempt to make the media business interesting. Carter has been the editor of Vanity Fair since 1992. Despite the presence of the irrepressible and often irreverent James Woolcott, who has linked to yours truly from time to time, the magazine is an Establishment outlet that tries to make the lives of Hollywood celebrities, investment bankers and polo-playing Eurotrash interesting to the plebes.

In an article describing the metamorphosis of Andersen and Carter, Howard Kurtz, the usually boneheaded media critic at the Washington Post, hit the nail on the head:

One sign of the times: While Spy frequently ridiculed zillionaire Donald Trump as a “thick-fingered vulgarian,” Carter was among the glitterati at Trump’s wedding to Marla Maples — and put the newlyweds on the cover of Vanity Fair’s March issue.

I found this quote going back through my archives, trying to find something I might have written about Andersen in the past. As it turns out, back in 2006 I had something to say about a New York Magazine piece he had written about Iraq that included this howler: “In Iraq, we really are fighting on the side of the majority of the people (and their not-so-bad-guy leaders) against bad guys,” an assumption that the U.S. has the right to police the world, something that 60s radicals challenged. I summed up his perspective as follows:

For Mr. Andersen, the basic difference between the 1960s and now has a lot to do with the American people, and students in particular, becoming more apathetic, a theme that Time Magazine revisited all through the 1980s and 90s. Our former Spy opines, “And in a way that the sixties were precisely not, this is also an Age of Whatever. Thus the Iraq war, even if it ends badly, will cause no great disillusionment about America’s heroic white-hat nobility–you can’t lose your virginity twice.”

I imagine that Mr. Andersen is quite the expert on losing one’s virginity, given his peregrinations throughout the rather mercenary world of commercial media. As it turns out, he was fired from New York Magazine in 1994 for being, according to Mr. Andersen’s blog, “too annoying in its coverage of the then-owner’s business and social and political associates.” Knowing full well how expensive NY can be and what it means to be out of a job, I can certainly understand Mr. Andersen’s decision to no longer annoy anybody else in positions of power.

Apparently Kurt Andersen has not finished pontificating on 60s radicals, using “True Believers”, his latest novel, as a peg for more of the same. The main character is a 64 year old lawyer named Karen Hollander who removes herself from consideration for a Supreme Court appointment because of some dark secret from her radical past in 1968. I was curious enough about what Anderson had to say that I plunked down $23 of my hard earned (well, maybe hardly earned) money to see what the fellow had to say. Here’s the “message” Andersen seeks to impart:

Imagine if a random New Left kid could be fetched from 1968 to the twenty-first century. Wouldn’t she look around and think the revolution had succeeded? The draft ended, the Vietcong won. Communist China isn’t just in the UN but on its way to becoming the most powerful nation on earth. Socialists run Venezuela and Nicaragua as well as Cuba. Since Vietnam, the biggest U.S. wars have been tiny by comparison. Apartheid ended in South Africa, and a billion fewer Asians are poor. All sensible people take ecology seriously. Feminism triumphed—most new doctors and lawyers are women, and so is a majority of the American workforce. Abortion is mainly legal and marijuana practically so. On television, people curse and have sex, and there’s a twenty-four-hour leftist news channel. Respectable grown-ups wear blue jeans and sneakers and listen to rock music and get high. A black man who did drugs and admired Malcolm X was elected president. And Henry Kissinger and other old conservatives formed an organization promoting total nuclear disarmament.

Well, what else could you have expected from somebody who spent his youth carving out a career in journalism rather than trying to overthrow the capitalist system? I should add that the main character was an SDS weatherperson, which is typical for such novels that try to take on the 1960s. I suppose that setting off bombs is more dramatic than handing out leaflets to build a mass demonstration but more to the point Andersen would not begin to have a clue about the Marxist left that took its patient, movement-building strategies seriously.

I see that Random House is the publisher of this dubious interpretation of what the “movement” was about. I can’t say that I am surprised, nor am I surprised that Kurt Andersen is an “editor-at-large” there. This is exactly the sort of book that will sell millions even if the buyers don’t have any idea what the radical movement was about. There’s a blurb from a Vanity Fair review on the book’s back cover, describing it as “a joyful, wild gallup through a joyful, wild time to be an American”. Somehow those are not the words that come to mind when I think of all the fights we went through to have a slogan like immediate withdrawal rather than negotiate with the NLF.

Now Random House did get a story that was faithful to the history of the 60s left but will never publish it. I am of course talking about the comic book memoir I did in collaboration with the late Harvey Pekar. I can say at this point that I will be serializing the book but without the artwork. The artist told me that she would prefer to see her work in print rather than on my blog. I replied that so would I except that I didn’t expect to live until the 22nd century.

Moving ahead from Andersen’s feckless attempts to amalgamate the 1960s with his own sordid ambitions and those of the investment bankers he spends summers at the Hamptons with, we turn to the truly awful David Brooks who responded to Chris Hayes’s “Twilight of the Elites” in a July 12th column titled “Why Our Elites Stink“:

The corruption that has now crept into the world of finance and the other professions is not endemic to meritocracy but to the specific culture of our meritocracy. The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.

Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.

As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership.

The most glaring example of elite decline might have eluded Brooks, namely his own ridiculous attempt to make an amalgam between the 60s counterculture and people like Jamie Diamond or Lloyd Blankfein. People who make such outrageous claims on the op-ed pages of the NY Times, a preserve of the intellectually challenged from Thomas Friedman to the late and unlamented A.M. Rosenthal, are just not in the business of defending their ideas. They get paid millions of dollars to write stupid columns that serve to justify the status quo. The real analogy is not between the counterculture and the hedge fund sharks. It is rather between them and their paid propagandists like David Brooks. The banksters create fictitious capital, while people like Brooks create fictitious columns.

Now there is a sharp contrast between the old-line Wasp establishment and the new class of billionaires that Brooks, like Andersen, blames the 60s for. But it has little to do with LSD or Trout Fishing in America. People like FDR or even Nelson Rockefeller had much more of a sense of noblesse oblige because the people they ruled over belonged to a class that had much more muscle than it does today. Coal miners, steelworkers, autoworkers, truckdrivers, et al understood that militant trade union actions could put the bosses on the defensive if not lead to the transformation of the capitalist mode of production itself. Furthermore, the existence of the USSR always posed a threat to a system in which massive unemployment might break the social contract between rulers and ruled if it passed a certain threshold of pain.

Those days are long gone. The flight of manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere has eroded the social base of the only class that had the power to take Big Capital on. Furthermore, when your wealth is generated through financial speculation, there is no need to worry about alienating workers—at least directly. Hedge fund offices on Wall Street and in Connecticut might be ultimately responsible for millions of foreclosures but there is not the same kind of head-on confrontation that was seen, for example, in 1938 when auto workers occupied the factories in Flint, Michigan.

We are beginning to see the earliest stages of a fightback. The Occupy movement, while put on the defensive, continues to strike a chord with those under attack by the 1 percent. This video makes clear that the movement understands how to relate to the problems of those forced to live in substandard housing, one of the deepest ongoing crises in the United States affecting families on the most basic level. As the attacks continue under the second term of a President who Andersen elevates to demigod status because he did drugs and admired Malcolm X (as if that compensates for being a tool of Goldman-Sachs), it will be up to the left to build solidarity with the ruled and help focus their anger against the rulers, whether they took LSD or not. Some things matter more than whether you are “hip” or not, especially what side of the barricades you are on.

May 2, 2012


Filed under: anti-capitalism,Film,media,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

Tomorrow there will be special screenings of the documentary #ReGENERATION around the country, including New York. Go to the #ReGENERATION website for a schedule and screening information, including how to watch it on Itunes. Ironically, despite much of the opprobrium heaped on the Internet in this challenging film, the men and women behind it are exploiting social networks and email to get the word out. Despite the tendency for the Internet to isolate people, there can be no argument against its ability to publicize events, especially when you can’t afford $20,000 for an ad in the NY Times.

Despite the inclusion of interviewees like Andrew Bacevich, John Bellamy Foster, Howard Zinn (footage taken before his death but very relevant to the film’s theme), Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert, the documentary is not so much an attempt to educate people about the evils of the system. Instead, it is an unsparing examination of knowing about the evil so few are willing to take a stand.

Foster, who is one of the country’s leading experts on financial crisis, does not talk about how the crisis emerged. Rather he addresses the question of why young people feel like they cannot have an impact on the system (that’s Foster at the start of the trailer). The general consensus among all the polled experts is that a combination of financial insecurity, a surfeit of television and the Internet, hedonism, and a sense of despair conspire to keep people from taking action. The contrast is continually drawn with the sixties, including remarks from Michael Albert who for some peculiar reason wears dark glasses throughout. I hope he is not suffering from eye diseases like me. My guess is that he wanted to look “cool”. Uncool.

One of the more informed commentators is Sut Jhally, a professor of Communications at U. Mass. Even if you don’t get around to seeing #ReGENERATION (but surely you must!), a visit to Jhally’s website is very useful for understanding the film’s concerns. In an article titled “Advertising at the edge of Apocalypse,” Jhally writes:

A culture dominated by commercial messages that tells individuals that the way to happiness is through consuming objects bought in the marketplace gives a very particular answer to the question of “what is society?” what is it that binds us together in some kind of collective way, what concerns or interests do we share? In fact, Margaret Thatcher, the former conservative British Prime Minister, gave the most succinct answer to this question from the viewpoint of the market. In perhaps her most (in)famous quote she announced: “There is no such thing as ‘society’. There are just individuals and their families.” According to Mrs. Thatcher, there is nothing solid we can call society no group values, no collective interests society is just a bunch of individuals acting on their own.

The film also benefits greatly from the insights of Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters and arguably the founder of Occupy Wall Street as well since it was first proposed in his magazine. (He always stresses, however, that he deserves no credit.) Born in 1942, Lasn has obviously been shaped by the 60s radicalization. Like many others from this generation, he is a trenchant critic of “consumer capitalism”. Despite the sense of alienation and futility that permeates much of the commentary heard throughout the film, it concludes on an optimistic note as it shows young people occupying Wall Street.

The film frets over television addiction, stating the average American spends four hours a day in front of the boob tube. It adds that young people are particularly distracted, often using a laptop, watching TV and texting their friends on a cell phone all at the same time. As someone with a deep hatred for cell phones, or talking on the phone at all, I felt somewhat less enchained by the communications nexus. That being said, I am sure that I have the television on at least those many hours but it usually just background noise while I read or surf the Internet. Someone once described color television as having the same charm of a fish tank and that always rang true with me, especially if I have the National Geographic channel on.

On a deeper level, however, I think the basic problem is over the failure of the “heavy battalions” of American society to challenge the status quo. While the film makes much of the student rebellion of the 1960s, the example of 10 years of civil rights protests set the stage for the first big antiwar demonstrations. The idea of coming out into the streets was entirely natural by 1965, the date of the first protest.

The Black movement went into retreat in the 1970s because of an adroit combination of repression and cooptation by the ruling class. With Black Panthers being shot down left and right and hustlers like Al Sharpton getting a seat at the table, a crisis of leadership developed. It was even worse for the AFL-CIO with leaders that happily made one concession after another as the rank-and-file worker got the shaft. If the minor trade union bureaucrats who launched the Labor Party in the 1970s had the courage of their convictions to actually run candidates, fewer people would have become TV addicts, I’m sure. There is nothing like the power of a mass movement to shake people out of their doldrums.

Thank goodness that the May Day action in NYC yesterday showed signs that the old mole is on the move again.

March 22, 2012

The New York Times’s neoliberal crap on Greece and Italy

Filed under: Greece,Japan,media — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

Last Sunday I attended a workshop titled Understanding the Essential Economic Role of the N.Y. Times at the Left Forum that included Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson, the co-authors of The Gatekeeper: 60 Years of Economics According to the New York Times, a chapter of which appears on New York Times Examiner: An antidote to the “paper of record”. Chris Spannos, who founded NY Times Examiner, was the third speaker. Chernomas’s talk consisted of a reading of the same chapter that includes this observation:

The ability of the media to shape stories and issues has long been recognized. The press became known as the Fourth Estate precisely to acknowledge that while the first three estates (nobility; clergy; and commoners, which in those days meant the middle class with property) had a formal voice in democracy, the press was the institution most able to advocate for and frame political issues. Over time, those discontented with what they saw to be the cozy role of the mainstream press in supporting the status quo coined the term the Fifth Estate to describe forms of media that challenged the powers that be. In this context we will demonstrate how the Times can be seen as the preeminent example of the Fourth Estate, using its prestige and formidable skills to advocate for the U.S. capitalist class as a whole by helping to frame political issues.

Almost as if on cue, the N.Y. Times offered up two articles on the following morning that confirmed its role in “using its prestige and formidable skills to advocate for the U.S. capitalist class as a whole by helping to frame political issues.”

On the front page, you could have read an article by Suzanne Daley that was titled A Tale of Greek Enterprise and Olive Oil, Smothered in Red Tape. Judging solely by the title, you can figure out that this is the expected neoliberal diatribe against regulation. Daley’s lead paragraphs:

It was about a year ago that Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, decided he wanted to open an e-business selling olive products.

Luckily, he already had a day job.

It took him 10 months — crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions — before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays — and stool samples — since this was a food company.

“I laugh about it now,” he said. “But it wouldn’t be so funny if I didn’t have a very good job with very good pay. It would have been an absolute nightmare.”

With Greece’s economy entering its fourth year of recession, its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece; nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them vanished. Predictions for 2012 are also bleak.

But despite the government’s repeated promises to improve things, the climate for doing business here remains abysmal. In a recent report titled “Greece 10 Years Ahead,” McKinsey & Company described Greece’s economy as “chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business.” Start-ups faced immense amounts of red tape, complex administrative and tax systems and procedural disincentives, it said.

Even if it occurred to Daley that small and medium businesses were closing because unemployed workers lacked the money to buy their products, her editors would have surely deleted any reference to that in her article. My guess, however, is that she believes her own bullshit.

Filing numerous reports from Greece since the financial roof caved in, Daley finds fault with just about everybody and everything except private property and the profit drive. On October 10, 2010, the problem once again was red tape:

Antonios Avgerinos, 59, a retired army pharmacist, always wanted his own pharmacy here. And why not? Greek law ensures that pharmacists get a 35 percent profit on all drugs sold, even over-the-counter medications.

But Greek law also limits just about everything else about pharmacies. They must be at least 820 feet apart and have a likely market of no fewer than 1,500 residents. To break into the business, an aspiring pharmacist generally has to buy a license from a retiring one. That often costs upward of $400,000.

”It is an absurd system,” Mr. Avgerinos said recently. ”But it has been that way my whole life.”

Maybe not for much longer.

As the government of Prime Minster George Papandreou struggles to get the nation’s financial house in order — reducing the size of its bloated civil service, chasing after tax evaders and overhauling its pension system — it has also begun to tackle a much less talked about problem: the cozy system of ”closed professions” that has existed here for decades, costing the economy billions of dollars a year.

In reality the Greek economy has cratered not because of such regulations but because the Greek bourgeoisie and its friends at Goldman-Sachs decided to keep the interest rate of Greek bonds artificially high as Mark Weisbrot points out:

In fact, this whole crisis and recession could have been prevented very easily if the European authorities had simply intervened to maintain low interest rates on the Greek debt a year and a half ago. It is possible that some restructuring might still have been necessary, but the cost would still have been very small relative to the available resources of the European authorities. Because they refused to do this, and instead shrank the Greek economy, increased its debt burden, and allowed its borrowing costs to skyrocket – the crisis spread to the weaker countries of the eurozone, including Italy.

Speaking of Italy, the very same day that Daley’s article appeared you could have read another pile of crap blaming the labor unions on Italy’s woes. In an article titled Stuck in Recession, Italy Takes on Labor Laws That Divide the Generations, Rachel Donadio uses the same exact kinds of generation gap arguments that Peter Peterson has been making for decades, focusing mostly on Social Security. Peterson, who is the obvious inspiration for Obama’s entitlement “reform” task force, makes scapegoats of the elderly (my peeps). If only they would be less piggish, the young will prosper—just as Donadio argues:

Assunta Linza, a bright-eyed 33-year-old with a college degree in psychology, has been unemployed since June, after losing a temporary job as a call-center operator. Her father, who is 60 and has a fifth-grade education, took early retirement with full benefits at age 42 from a job as a workman at the Italian state railway company.

“Everyone said that kids should study to get ahead, but I graduated with highest honors, and the only thing my degree is good for is to hang on the wall,” Ms. Linza said dryly.

The Linza family is emblematic of a yawning generational divide that experts say is crippling the Italian labor market. While older workers came of age with guaranteed jobs and ironclad contracts granting generous pensions and full benefits, younger Italians — the best-educated in the country’s history — are now paying the price. They are lucky to find temporary work, which offers few benefits or stability.

It is precisely that two-tier labor market that Prime Minister Mario Monti is proposing to correct with changes to Italian law that are the subject of intense, politically delicate negotiations. The government is proposing measures to make it easier for companies to hire and fire, and to create shorter-term contracts with greater pension and unemployment benefits, a middle ground in a divided market.

As I continued digging into Rachel Donadio’s track record, I discovered another N.Y. Times article along these lines that I posted on June 23, 2011. Apparently she has also been proffering advice to the Greek bourgeoisie just as her colleague does. In forwarding the article, I made the Peter Peterson connection:

(The NY Times is shameless. They cite an expert in this article from the Peterson Institute for International Economics about the need for drastic cuts in Greece. So which Peterson do you think this institute is named after? You guessed it. Peter G. Peterson.)

NY Times June 22, 2011

Some Greeks Fear Government Is Selling Nation


ATHENS — They are the crown jewels of Greece’s socialist state, and they are now likely to go to the highest bidder: the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki; prime Mediterranean real estate; the national lottery; Greek Telecom; the postal bank and the national railway system.

And then comes the mandated deeper round of austerity measures, which will slash the wages of police officers, firefighters and other state workers who are protesting in Athens, and raise the taxes of citizens already inflamed by a recession-plagued economy and soaring joblessness.

Some independent economists accept that Greece has no choice but to try a fresh round of cuts. Edwin M. Truman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington said Greece had to go through more pain because it had run a budget deficit even before making payments on its debt, meaning it needed loans to pay off its loans.

Only after Greece reorganizes its budget, tax collection and labor market and is running a surplus — not including interest payments on the debt — can economists begin to calculate how much in debt payments Greece is actually able to afford, and then figure out how big a debt restructuring it needs.

“As long as they’re running a primary deficit, they need to keep tightening the belt,” Mr. Truman said. “Rescheduling now doesn’t relieve Greece of the burden of fixing the economy to create a surplus.”

One of the main points made in The Gatekeeper: 60 Years of Economics According to the New York Times is the Grey Lady is forced to play both sides of the fence, appearing liberal and conservative at the same time:

This book will argue that the usual liberal-conservative dichotomy that has been used as the previous spectrum of media bias, while accurate, overlooks a more profound bias. Casting the debate in such a narrow fashion is, in fact, very misleading because the liberal/conservative or Democrat/Republican spectrum is remarkably limited. An economic debate that limits itself to options pursued by these two camps would be similarly limited. It is also misleading because it omits the real bias of the Times, which is that it supports the long-term interests of U.S. business involving both liberal and conservative policies.

So this boils down to writing fairly accurate articles about European suffering while at the same time cheering on the economic policies that are fueling that suffering. In order to maintain some kind of credibility, the paper has to assign reporters to cover financial collapse and the culpability of the powerful men and women responsible. That is why Goldman-Sachs director Greg Smith published his open letter of resignation on the N.Y. Times op-ed rather than the N.Y. Post.

The underlying cause of economic suffering will go unreported, however. You will find book after book reviewed in the Sunday edition that go into the most minute details about subprime mortgages, but nothing that deals with the declining rate of profit or any other structural defect—the kind of study that is published by Verso or Monthly Review. In fact a search of Lexis-Nexis turned up not a single book from these august publishers being reviewed  in the N.Y. Times.

That is what I would call a conspiracy of silence.

November 13, 2011

Barbershop Punk; A People Uncounted

Filed under: Film,media,Roma,technology — louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

As a grandfather, self-described libertarian, registered Republican and ex-cop, Robb Topolski would appear to be the least likely opponent of corporate malfeasance one can imagine. But when this barbershop singer and aficionado suspected that Comcast was preventing him from sharing files of historic recordings with other aficionados, he decided to get to the bottom of things. As a professional network engineer, he had the know-how to examine TCP-IP logs and discover a pattern, in this particular case one that revealed Comcast’s disregard for what would become known as “net neutrality”.

The documentary “Barbershop Punk”, now playing at the ReRun Gastropub Theater (!) in Brooklyn, a theater seemingly created for such offbeat fare, is must seeing for anybody who needs to be informed about the threat posed to the Internet by corporations with a political agenda. (Plus, the $7 admission includes free popcorn and a cocktail.) Unless an informed citizenry acts, they can turn the Internet into a commercial and politically sanitized medium just as they have done already to radio and television. This is especially true in light of how both the Egyptian and American governments have pressured ISP’s and companies like Facebook to squelch leftist ideas. Perhaps pressured is not the operative term when we are dealing with knocking down an open door.

The punk part of the film’s title derives from the participation of two seminal figures from this world, Henry Rollins and the less well-known Ian McKaye of Washington’s legendary punk band Fugazi (I owned one of their records back in the day.) Rollins and McKaye are both men of the left and could be expected to denounce Comcast’s attempts to regulate free speech but Topolski’s crusade against the corporate giant would appear at first blush to defy conventional expectations.

However, this does not account for the deeply engrained beliefs in free speech in the United States, a nation where such liberties were not won by appeals to Platonic ideals but by blood in the street. Topolski’s immediate reaction to discovering that his mp3’s were being blocked was outrage, just as my regular readers would react to learning that an email containing references to the words socialism or Marxism had been blocked.

First-time co-directors Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristin Armfield draw upon a wide range of interviewees, both pro and con net neutrality. On the pro side, we hear from John Perry Barlow, the founder of the Electronic Frontier and a Grateful Dead lyricist (admittedly not a punk band). On the con side there’s Scott Cleland, a particularly oily character. At first blush, Cleland comes across as a giant-killer inasmuch as he has campaigned against Google’s monopolistic tendencies. But a review of the members of his netcompetition.board should leave no doubt about his intentions: AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, Time Warner, Qwest, et al.

Last Thursday the Senate voted to block Republican attempts to overturn net neutrality. President Obama is on record as stating that if any such bill came his way, he would have vetoed it—a rare example of him standing up for the rights of the 99 percent versus the one percent.

But it would be a huge mistake to rely on the Democrats considering the role of Mike McCurry, one of the “cons” interviewed in the documentary. In a valuable article by Counterpunch regular Joshua Frank, we learn:

There is quite an underhanded campaign going on by Net Neutrality opponents called “Hands off the Internet” who claim to want to protect the internet from regulators and Big Government. In the past year they have even run deceptive ads on blogs and other websites in hopes of pulling internet readers in to their camp. Some of the big names behind these cunning ploys include AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon.

Co-chair of this group is the ex-spokesman for President Bill Clinton and other Democrats, Mike McCurry who writes an occasional column at the Huffington Post. McCurry claims Net Neutrality will kill the internet.

Fact is Net Neutrality is what has gotten us this far. Yet McCurry writes, “The Internet is not a free public good. It is a bunch of wires and switches and connections and pipes and it is creaky. You all worship at Vince Cerf who has a clear financial interest in the outcome of this debate but you immediately castigate all of us who disagree and impugn our motives. I get paid a reasonable but small sum to argue what I believe.”

So how much does this guy get paid? Well, not sure how much the big telecom giants are dolling out, but McCurry charges $10,000 and up per speaking gig, so it’s likely he’s bankrolled by the telecommunications industry. Hands off the Internet wants to destroy the web just like the radio goliaths have killed the airwaves.

Stay vigilant!

Not long after I accepted an invitation from the publicist for “Barbershop Punk” to review a screener, she asked me if I would also be willing to review “A People Uncounted.” While the film has not yet been scheduled for theatrical release and is currently only showing in film festivals geared to independent works, I strongly urge everybody to keep track of the film on its official website to see if it is being shown in your area. As the definitive documentary on the oppression of the Roma people, this is a film that must be seen by progressives and revolutionaries everywhere.

Until now, every film on the Roma has pretty much been the exclusive creation of the very gifted Roma director Tony Gatlif. Even in the case of “Korkoro” (the Roma word for freedom), a fictional tale about a Roma band exterminated by the Nazis, Gatlif’s emphasis has been on personal stories rather than the social and political context in which Roma have become scapegoats.

All of the principals behind “A People Uncounted” are Jewish, including the children of concentration camp survivors—the producers Tom Rasky and Marc Swenker. In acting as tribunes for the Roma people, they represent Yiddishkeit at its best.

The film is divided into two parts. The first is an examination of stereotypes about the Roma people and the threats they currently face in an economically stressed Europe. The second, drawing from the information gathered in the first part, is very much in the vein of Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah” and consists of extremely moving interviews with Roma survivors of the Nazi death camps.

Perhaps no other people in European history have been the victims of vicious stereotyping than the Jews and the Roma. In one of the more powerful moments of the film, we see a sorry procession of pop singers like Cher singing songs with lyrics like this:

Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down

Like the Jews, the Roma were very much circumscribed by the economic conditions laid down by the majority nationality of each country they found themselves in. In countries where they were prevented from owning land or businesses, they would travel from town to town in search of day laborer or where they could ply their trades as musicians or metal workers. This explains the “love of the road” attributed to them. When laws were passed to give them the same rights as other nationalities, they bought houses and settled into a stationary existence.

The film benefits from the expert testimony of some of the world’s leading Roma scholars, including Ian Hancock (née Yanko le Redžosko), the dean of Roma studies. About forty years ago, I read his history of the Roma people and can’t recommend it highly enough.

The European left has a big responsibility to help defend the Roma against increasingly deadly attacks by ultranationalists who want to make scapegoats of this community in the same fashion as the Nazis. The film has footage of the Jobbik Party in Hungary, modeled on fascist movements of the past. Harping on “gypsy crime”, the party openly calls for ethnic cleansing along the lines of “Hungary for the Hungarians”. It has organized a paramilitary called the Hungarian Guard that parades in uniforms that resemble the Hungarian fascist movement of the 1930s.

Things are not that much better in “civilized” and prosperous France where Sarkozy, of Hungarian descent, has declared open warfare on the Roma, expelling “illegals” by the hundreds.

“A People Uncounted” is a major contribution to civil rights movement that is unfolding throughout Europe. In our day, the famous words of Martin Niemöller would require some changes to reflect new realities:

First they came for the Roma, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Roma.

Then they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

October 2, 2011

All the news that’s fit to doubt

Filed under: media — louisproyect @ 1:06 pm

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