Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 29, 2017

Divided We Fall

Filed under: Film,financial crisis,trade unions,ultraright,Wisconsin,workers — louisproyect @ 9:03 pm

If victorious strikes by teamsters in Minneapolis in 1934, by San Francisco dockworkers the same year and auto workers three years later in Flint define the rise of the American working class as a powerful force to be reckoned with, three confrontations between labor and capital in our lifetime mark its retreat.

In 1981 Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 airline controllers who had gone out on strike as a signal that the partnership between labor and capital was a thing of the past. Four years later, the meatpacking workers organized as P-9 struck Hormel in an effort to maintain the good-paying jobs with generous benefits that were seen as essential for a decent middle-class existence. With the defeat of P-9, jobs at Hormel and other meatpacking jobs became non-union, low-paying and dangerous with a predominantly immigrant workforce made up in large part of vulnerable undocumented workers.

While not a strike as such, the union-led struggle in Madison, Wisconsin of 2011 was launched to prevent teachers and other public service employees from being “Hormelized”. When Governor Scott Walker introduced a bill in January of that year that would cut wages, benefits and eliminate dues checkoff—a mechanism that is essential to keeping a union functioning in a closed shop environment—over 100,000 people took part in a “kill the bill” movement that adopted many of the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street movement that erupted a couple of months later.

For those not old enough to have bitter memories of the P-9 strike, I recommend tracking down Barbara Kopple’s 1990 film “American Dream” that unfortunately is nowhere to be seen on VOD but that can be borrowed as a DVD from better libraries, such as Columbia University’s. Kopple is also the director of “Harlan County, USA”, another documentary about labor struggles, in that case a 1973 strike by coal miners in the legendary pro-union county that voted 8-1 for Donald Trump in November.

Kopple has declined in recent years, stooping so low as to make a documentary about Woody Allen in 1997 and following up with a docudrama about the Hamptons in 2002 that was a Yankee version of British soap operas like Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey.

Fortunately for us, a new Barbara Kopple has emerged, namely Katherine M. Acosta, the sociologist and obviously politically advanced director of “Divided We Fall”, a film about the Wisconsin labor struggle that I had the good fortune to watch yesterday. For now, the film has not found a distributor and hopefully this review will inspire some enterprising party to invest in this film that is equal to Kopple at her best and moreover a story that demands the attention of everybody trying to understand how we have ended up with an orange-haired baboon in the White House determined to throw us back to the 1880s. Essentially, the defeat of the public workers struggle in Wisconsin involved all of the players and all of the contradictions that led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the nightmare we are now living with.

Even if you’ve read every article about the Wisconsin struggle as it was unfolding in 2011, nothing comes close to seeing exactly how young people and workers rallied to the capitol building to put their bodies on the line to oppose Scott Walker’s anti-labor assault that was as calculated a bid to destroy organized labor that year as Reagan’s firing of the airline controllers was in 1985.

Acosta draws from a wide variety of interviewees, from relatively lowly teaching assistants at the U. of Wisconsin, including FB friend Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, who is a brilliant Marxist analyst in her own right, to sociology professor Rahul Mahajan, who I first ran into in the mid-90s as a graduate student on the list that would evolve into Marxmail. Rahul is witty, wise and as informed in class analysis as Wrigley-Field. So, with people like that in the front ranks of the occupation of the capitol building and in strategy meetings, what could have gone wrong? The title of the film says it all. The movement was divided and as such bound to fail.

There were basically three blocs involved within the workers’ camp but each with its own priorities. Those closest to the student movement like Wrigley-Field and Mahajan were revolutionaries, to put it bluntly. They saw the fight against Scott Walker in exactly the same way that Farrell Dobbs saw the fight to organize truck drivers in 1934, as the first step in building a new (in this instance, renewed) labor movement that could fight effectively for the interests of workers in general and lead ultimately to a transformation of American society.

In the middle were union officials at the local level who had to stand up for the rights of their membership, those people who would be forced to pay more for health insurance and face wage stagnation. Like the average member, the officials had a class status just one step above precarity. Losing a job as a clerical worker in an AFSCME union could plunge some into penury and worse. The officials often came directly out of that social layer and knew what was at stake.

The head of AFSCME, who was led off in handcuffs toward the end of the film, was Marty Beil. Beil, who died two years ago, was a bear of a man with Michael Moore’s physique (or lack thereof) who understood the importance of AFSCME better than the top officials in Washington. Formed in Wisconsin in 1932, AFSCME was the first and foremost organizer of predominantly white collar clerical government jobs even though it grew to include firefighters. It is of some interest that Beil’s first job was as a probation and parole officer, not exactly the sort of position that you would associate with labor militancy. As the film makes clear, the police presence at the capitol building was initially drawn from campus and local cops who were much more sympathetic to the struggle, even to the point of marching in support. Such contradictions might vex those addicted to Marxist schemas but one that the film skillfully engages with especially as these cops were replaced by state troopers who had no use for workers at all.

Another powerful presence from the local labor movement was John Matthews, the president of the city’s public schoolteacher’s union who combines a soft-spoken Midwest speaking style with a willingness to openly confront the national leadership of his union. These big shots parachuted into Madison and stayed at a luxury hotel, where they mapped out a strategy to settle the strike on terms favorable to Scott Walker.

For reasons probably having something to do with being reluctant to defend their role in in Acosta’s film, they are not heard from. But you don’t need to hear from AFSCME president Gerald McEntee to know what agenda he would follow in Madison. In 2009, McEntee was being paid $480,000 per year. When you make that kind of money, plus fringe benefits such as staying at Madison’s best hotel on the membership’s dime, you tend to lose track of the sort of class antagonisms that drove the average worker to rise up.

Another problem was the reliance on Democratic Party “friends of labor” who were just as eager as McEntee to deescalate the struggle in Madison and get things back to normal, even as they were giving speeches in support of the unions and in working to undermine Republican attempts to steamroll through Walker’s legislation.

If the film consisted of nothing but talking heads, it would still be worth watching, particularly to hear from Wrigley-Field, Mahajan and other radical students and professors at the U. of Wisconsin. But beyond that, Acosta was present throughout the occupation directing her film crew to capture the Occupy Wall Street type drama of those sitting in. That footage combined with the commentary by people involved with the struggle make up for an unforgettable movie experience that screams out for nationwide distribution.

The film makes clear that occupy type tactics could only go so far. The Republicans had a majority in the state legislative bodies and would ultimately prevail. Of course, the real question is why a shit-hook like Scott Walker could ever become governor of a progressive state like Wisconsin.

Once the occupation ran out of steam (helped along by “kettling” tactics by the state troopers), the trade union officials and Democrats thought that the answer was to replace Walker. Instead of considering ways to block the legislation by either a general strike (probably an over-projection by some leftists) or guerrilla tactics in the workplace like “sick-outs” or working by the rule, all the energy went into the recall campaign.

But the recall was to no avail. Walker was reelected. Why?

He was reelected because he was to Donald Trump as his Democratic Party opponent Tom Barrett was to Hillary Clinton. Walker had defeated Barrett in 2010 and by even more votes in the 2012 recall election. This has to do with Barrett running exactly the same kind of campaign as Clinton, one geared to the “swing voter” and careful to avoid any association with trade unions, sit-ins and the like.

But looking past the Wisconsin context, which the film understandably did not try to address, I would suggest that there was an important element that militated against success. As the film’s title implies, there were problems of being divided—but not just within the labor movement but in the Wisconsin population as a whole. Seen as benefiting from Democratic Party largesse, the taxpayers felt that these unions were a privileged layer. If Wisconsin was facing a fiscal crisis, why shouldn’t teachers et al not have to “chip in” to bail out the state?

The fiscal crisis, of course, was rooted in a system that included “starving the beast”. State budgets were in the red because taxes kept being cut. If the Democratic Party had stood up to the rich, returned tax rates to what they were under Eisenhower, pushed through single-payer health insurance and stood up for the rights of homeowners who had been devastated by the subprime meltdown of 2008, maybe the voters would have been more motivated to back the Democrats. This would have required a total transformation of the labor movement that might yet be in the offing as we sail into the stormy seas facing us over the next four years. As Harriet Rowan, one of the politically astute graduate students interviewed in the film, put it toward the end of the film, we can’t wait for the leadership to catch up with the people.



March 11, 2016

Surprise, surprise: German ultraright party tilts toward Kremlin

Filed under: Russia,ultraright — louisproyect @ 1:38 pm

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September 24, 2014

Stieg Larsson on the Sweden Democrats

Filed under: Sweden,ultraright — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm


As I pointed out in my CounterPunch article on Stieg Larsson, I would have liked to see him live long enough to comment on the electoral breakthrough of the Swedish Democrats, a far-right party that got 13 percent of the vote and that prevented the Social Democrats from forming a majority-led government. I pointed out in the article that the NY Times covered the election in a most peculiar way, referring to how leftwing activists were harassing the Swedish equivalent of the French National Front.

A couple of days after I wrote the CounterPunch article I got a copy of “Stieg Larsson: the Expo Files”, a collection of the articles he wrote over the years for the anti-fascist magazine that the Millennium of his novels was based on. As it turned out, he wrote about the Swedish Democrats (more honestly named the anti-Democrats) in 2002. This is a good introduction to his journalism as well as a rebuttal to the NY Times article. Apparently these scumbags were complaining 12 years ago about being harassed, a ploy to get sympathy from confused liberals. Too bad the Times doesn’t have anybody on the payroll 1/100th as canny as Stieg Larsson. Co-author Mikael Ekman was one of his closest collaborators and a good friend.

Finally, used copies of “Stieg Larsson: the Expo Files” can be purchased for $1.51 on Amazon.com. Well, what are you waiting for?


Expo 1-2/2002 Co-authored with Mikael Ekman

The Sweden Democrats describe themselves as a democratic party that is ruthlessly harassed and persecuted by an anti-democratic system—politicians, the mass media and state authorities. That strategy—and accompanying rhetoric—is copied from the Front National in France and similar parties. And the response should be the same in Sweden as it is in France. Expo now offers some of those responses to the most common arguments put forward by the Sweden Democrats.

The Sweden Democrats are not allowed to participate in the election campaign on the same terms as other political parties!

This is a political lie. All parties operate under exactly the same conditions and compete for exactly the same voters. The Swedish constitutional right of free speech and freedom of organization applies to all Swedish citizens without exception. There are no constitutional obstacles preventing the Sweden Democrats from taking part in the election: they have access to the same opportunities to publish election manifestos, leaflets, magazines; the same opportunities to produce local radio broadcasts and publish material on the Internet as any other party. It is true that the Sweden Democrats do not feature in the mass media and on television to the same extents as, let us say, the Social Democrats, the Left Party or the Moderates [the Swedish Conservative Party]. The Sweden Democrats are a marginal party, and it is entirely appropriate that parties represented in parliament and with significantly greater support among voters should attract proportionately more attention.

The Sweden Democrats are gagged and suppressed by the political establishment!

This claim is nonsense. It is true, however, that none of the democratic parties is particularly interested in debating with a marginal, racist party that subscribes to conspiracy theories and conducts hate campaigns against democratic politicians.

The Sweden Democrats are not allowed to hire rooms in community centers such as the People’s House or the Workers’ Educational Association. This proves that Sweden is a sham democracy!

Democracy does not exist purely for the benefit of racist parties. The A.B.F. (Workers’ Educational Association) and other educational associations do have democratic rights. They are independent institutions with the right to decide which groups they will admit into their premises as guests.

Democracy gives rights to opponents of the Sweden Democrats—in this case the right to refuse to let rooms to racist organizations. If the Sweden Democrats want to hold public meetings there is nothing to stop them from doing so in their own premises.

They can’t afford it? Ah, well, that is sad—but hardly a problem for the A.B.F. and other educational organizations. Every newly formed party seeking the support of voters operates under precisely the same marginal conditions.

The Sweden Democrats are subjected to censorship in public debate, and their letters to the editor are not published by local newspapers!

This claim is a political lie. Articles and letters to the editor from the Sweden Democrats are published regularly in local newspapers. But in any case, the same argument applies as in the previous repudiation: democracy is not merely for the benefit of racist parties. Swedish newspapers are independent institutions whose editors are free to choose what material their publications will carry.

Most letters editors are not interested in publishing contributions from groups manifestly devoted to con-spiracy theories and who claim, among other things, that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was “partly financed by the Swedish government:’ This is not an issue about democracy but rather an example of common sense being displayed by editors.

The Sweden Democrats are a normal democratic party!

The Sweden Democrats are a racist, anti-democratic party dedicated to conspiracy theories. There is no such thing as “democratic racism”—the fact that the party conducts racist campaigns and stirs up contempt for and discriminatory attitudes towards sexual minorities also justifies the party being labelled as anti-democratic.

The Sweden Democrats are not against immigration, but only want to criticize Swedish immigration policies!

From the very start racism and xenophobia have been the cement that holds the party together. Over the years the party has conducted crude hate campaigns and tried to cultivate the myth that immigrants in general are “potential criminals:’ “spreaders of HIV” and “potential rapists:’ The constant intention has been to cultivate an attitude of contempt towards people whose skin is a different color.

The Sweden Democrats oppose immigration from non-European countries and their aim is the repatriation—in other words the expulsion—of immigrants.

The leader of the party, Mikael Jansson, has stated that they are not talking about voluntary repatriation: “We are in favor of the compulsory repatriation of all asylum seekers from foreign cultures who have entered Sweden since 1970.” The Sweden Democrats thereby advocate a doctrine that can only be called “ethnic cleansing in Sweden?’

The Sweden Democrats are not interested in the color of a person’s skin; we believe that “It doesn’t matter whether adopted children are white or black”!

The Sweden Democrats’ manifesto states specifically that the adoption of children from outside Europe should cease. Since children brought up in Sweden from an early age will be to all intents and purposes Swedish from a cultural point of view, this stipulation can refer only to skin color.

Discussion of the immigration problem in Sweden is suppressed, and criticism of immigration policies is not permitted!

This claim too is nonsense but is raised over and over again by the Sweden Democrats and other racist groups.

In fact the immigration question is one of the most widely debated issues in Swedish politics over the last thirty to forty years. Immigration has been discussed by all the democratic parties, by the government, the parliament and local government institutions, within trade unions and employers’ organizations, within state authorities, in schools, universities, workplaces and voluntary organizations. The upshot of these deliberations is that there is remarkable unity within Swedish public institutions to the effect that our country supports the U.N. Charter of Human Rights, directives from the U.N. Displaced Persons Commission and other international agreements: immigrants are welcome in Sweden.

On the other hand, the precise form that immigration takes—what numbers, at what rate, how immigrants should be received and treated and how the integration process should proceed—is under continual discussion, and there can be many differences of opinion. It is not racist to criticize the immigration process, nor to argue that immigration policies have serious shortcomings.

Racism is on the increase in our country. It is out of concern for the welfare of immigrants that the Sweden Democrats want them to “return home”! Immigrants usually politely decline assistance from the Sweden Democrats. Ever since the party was founded as a campaigning organization entitled “Keep Sweden Swedish” in 1979, it has cultivated racism and conducted xenophobic campaigns. After spending many years encouraging xeno-phobia, the Sweden Democrats now use “increasing rac-ism” as an excuse for repatriating immigrants.

The Sweden Democrats are the party for those who are in favor of law and order in our society!

The Sweden Democrats have far and away more criminals among their numbers than any other party. Expo’s investigation into 330 “leading Sweden Democrats” (people who had either been members of the national party council or submitted themselves as Sweden Democrat candidates in an election) between 1988 and 1998 showed that more than 23 percent of them had been found guilty of criminal activity.

That is almost twice the highest-known figure for immi-grant criminality, which shows that just over 12 percent of all immigrants have been convicted of crimes. This figure has been criticized as exaggerated. It is normally reckoned that about 6 percent of all Swedes will sooner or later be convicted of a crime, and that the corresponding figure for immigrants is only slightly higher at about 7 percent. Criminality within the Sweden Democrats covers all categories—insurance fraud, cruelty to animals, theft, assaults on women, grievous bodily harm, drink-driving, embezzlement, arson, and so on.

There are criminals in all political parties!

Very true. But the conduct of normal politicians is scrutinized by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Constitution, the National Audit Office, local auditors, opposing par-ties, public prosecutors, police authorities, and not least by the mass media. Politicians in normal parties who are convicted of crimes are disqualified more or less straight away.

The crime statistics for the Sweden Democrats are in no way comparable with the situation in normal democratic parties.

The Sweden Democrats have no contacts with anti-democratic or right-wing extremists abroad!

The Sweden Democrats are members of the cooperation organization Euro-Nat and hence one of the signatories of the “Young European Nationalists’ Manifesto:” Among other signatories are the racist party Vlaams Bloke in Belgium, the anti-Semitic Romania Mare’ from Romania and the neo-fascist Forza Nuova4 from Italy. The foreign organization closest to the party is the French Front National.5

The Sweden Democrats are Not Nazis!

No, but on the other hand nobody has suggested that the Sweden Democrats are a neo-Nazi party. There is, however, plenty of evidence that over the years the relationship with Nazism has been fluid, that Sweden Democrat members have moved to or from Nazi sects, or have been members of both.

The Sweden Democrats were founded originally as the racist campaigning organization Bevara Sverige Svenskt (Keep Sweden Swedish) in 1979. Several of the founders have a background of neo-Nazi group membership, and over the years a large proportion of the party executive have been linked with neo-Nazi movements.

The claim by Expo that the Sweden Democrats have had Nazis among their leaders is a lie!

There have been a few cases of short-lived youthful folly, and a few infiltrators when the party was first launched. At the beginning of the 1990s just over half the members of the S.D. party executive had links with openly Nazi groups. In 1995, 42 percent of the party executive still had Nazi links. Then a purge was begun. Yet some of the youth-ful folly has continued for rather a long time: as recently as 2001 several leading members were expelled in connection with the formation of the National Democrats. They were accused of being—Nazis.


  1. Euro-Nat was a network of nationalist parties in Europe which grew out of a collaboration between parties that had tried to form a right-wing group in the European Parliament during the ’90s.
  2. Vlaams Blok was founded in 1978 as an alliance between two nationalist right-wing parties. The party called for an independent Flanders and reduced immigration, and gained rapid success. It was banned in 2004, when the Belgian court decided that all three non-profit organizations connected to the Vlaams Blok had violated the 1981 anti-racism law.
  3. Romania Mare was founded in 1991 by Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who still leads the party. It has often been represented in both the national parliament and the European Parliament. The party has several times been accused of having distributed anti-Semitic propaganda.
  4. Forza Nuova is a radical right-wing party led by Roberti Fiore. It has not generally been successful in elections, but nevertheless plays an important role in building alliances between right-wing extremist groups across Europe.
  5. The Front National is one of the most famous right-wing parties in Europe. Founded in 1972, it got its big break in the 1984 elections to the European Parliament. Front National was for many years led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has now been replaced by his daughter, Marine Le Pen.


December 20, 2013

Jew-baiting okay at Moon of Alabama, but not me

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria,ultraright — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

It’s very rare nowadays to find Jew-baiting on nominally leftwing forums but that’s exactly what I ran into during a brief time commenting at Moon of Alabama, an “anti-imperialist” website that like Global Research and Voltairenet can be relied upon to defend the Syrian dictatorship to the hilt.

I very rarely check in on Moon of Alabama but after doing a Google search on Sy Hersh’s “Whose Sarin” to see where it had shown up, I was not surprised that they had crossposted it. In a bear-baiting exercise, I posted a couple of comments that challenged the accepted wisdom of the blog owner and his regulars fully expecting them to gang up on me. But the response of one Rowan Berkeley who blogs at http://niqnaq.wordpress.com/ came as a complete surprise. He was responding to my calling attention to  European far right support for Bashar al-Assad:

Now, Louis, you must understand that the fact that [x] expresses rhetorical support for [y] simply tells you nothing about [y]. Indulging in this kind of guilt by involuntary association is a very common Jewish weakness in argument.

A very common Jewish weakness in argument? What the fuck?

This was the first time I had run into Jew-baiting since abandoning alt.politics.socialism.trotsky about 10 years ago when a character who uses the tag “Dusty” began harping on “globalists”, all of whom happened coincidentally to be Jews. It didn’t take him long to become a full-blown neo-Nazi with frequent crosspostings from Brother Nathanael Kapner, including a recent one titled “Racial Traits Of The Jews”.

If you go to Rowan Berkeley’s blog, you won’t find quite the same level of knuckle-dragging stupidity of “Dusty” but there’s no mistaking what he is about based on a December 13th posting titled “doesn’t it ever strike you as odd that ALL US treasury, fed, world bank, etc officials are jews?

Meanwhile, when I posted a comment there on December 17th calling attention to a Tea Party delegation visiting Lebanon at the behest of Mother Agnes, it was removed unceremoniously. One wonders how secure these “anti-imperialists” are in their politics when a single message out of 80 that goes against the grain cannot be tolerated. Apparently, Jew-baiting is acceptable but questioning the Baathist faith of the Moon of Alabama blog owner, a German named Gerhard, is not.

Just to make sure that people understand where I am coming from, I don’t use the term anti-Semitism since that has become so inextricably linked with mass movements of the 1930s that presented a mortal threat to Jews. The only people today in that kind of danger are Muslims, especially those whose rights are being abrogated in the name of fighting “jihadists”. This, to be sure, is one of the primary goals of Moon of Alabama—to demonize Muslims after the fashion of Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman. Using the same inflamed rhetoric about “Wahhabists” and “Salafists”, the regulars at Moon of Alabama would have been invited to the Bush White House back in 2003 if the sole criterion were Islamophobia. For example, Gerhard is capable of saying things like “Why is the U.S. so much interested in creating a Sharia law state in Syria?” This moron is apparently more perturbed about Sharia law than he ever was about MIG’s firing rockets into tenement buildings in Homs or Aleppo.

The Islamophobia that runs rampant at Moon of Alabama is exactly the same as found in the ultraright today. If you want to check this for yourself, just Google “Seymour Hersh sarin” and see what turns up. In addition to Democracy Now et al, you will find links from Fox News’s hardcore rightist (I guess that is a tautology) Greta Van Sustern and Newsmax.com, the website launched by conservative journalist Christopher Ruddy in 1998 with financial support from the family of the late Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey and ultrarightist billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

This common cause between “anti-imperialists” and the hard right around the need to defend Bashar al-Assad prompted blogger Ibrahim Moiz, a young Pakistani graduate student, to make these profound observations:

The other danger is a rather subtler one. It also involves the blanket label of the entire Syrian opposition as a homogenous breed of radical Islamic jihadists–Salafists is the popular term nowadays, last decade it was Wahhabists–who want to establish the always-dreaded global caliphate. There is certainly a spillover of disturbingly fanatical jihadists, most notably from Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, into Syria; their conquest last winter of the eastern stronghold of Raqqa is an alarming development that signifies their growing influence. Yet to assume that all factions in the opposition are as irredentist, fanatical and extreme as ISIL is to fundamentally misunderstand the situation at best, and to turn it into a self-fulfillment at worst. To paint the entire opposition, on political rather than realistic grounds, as radical fundamentalists is to marginalize the more inclusive, open and reconcilable elements among them. The same scenario has taken place time and again over the past twenty years–in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, Chechnya and Somalia.

Among the more surprising hosts of this viewpoint was the usually-excellent Boiling Frogs blog run by repeatedly-gagged former intelligence agent Sibel Edmonds: in an alarmingly broad-stroked screed last year, contributing writer William Engdahl submitted a wildly swinging attack on, among others, the Syrian opposition, branding them all as hardline Sunnis called “Salafists” and “Wahhabites” whose raison d’etre is to wipe out “moderate Muslim” movements, such as mystical Sufism, in favour of a rigid revivalist hard line. Among his examples of “Salafi terror” was, along with the (Deobandi, not Salafi) Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, Egypt’s only legitimately elected president in history, Mohamed Morsi, who through that same twisted, broad-stroked logic was deposed in Egypt this summer during a bloody coup whose leaders termed any opposition as “terrorists” who deserved to be bloodily eradicated (a line repeated by, among others, the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia–so much for that theory) (3). Another usually excellent website, Global Research, which has long critiqued Western narratives in war zones, published an article by Michael Chossudosky that blamed the rise of death squads in Syria solely on opposition Sunni jihadists, never mind that both Sunni radicals and the same Iran-affiliated Shia extremists who had dominated post-Baathist Iraq have used such tactics. I privately contacted Chossudosky to pursue this rather unlikely claim further but have received no response. (4)

It is the same line toed by, among others, American neoconservatives such as David Frum and Richard Perle, their Muslim apologists like Stephen Schwartz and Zuhdi Nasser, and the brutal dictatorships of Central Asia, who have resorted to branding any dissent as Wahhabism to justify a savage crackdown for the past twenty years. While criticism of Wahhabis and Salafis is certainly not unwarranted–and there are certainly some voluble Wahhabis and Salafis, including Al-Qaeda, who uphold an extremely rigid and exclusive interpretation of Islam and authorize violent persecution of Shia and other minorities–the Muslim Matters website points out (5) that it is a usually politically motivated label, used by foreigners since colonial Britain to brand any native Muslim opposition to imperialism without much regard to accuracy. Hardly a black-and-white measure, in short, of judging radicalism. The killer of the Pakistani governor of Punjab, for instance, was a member of the generally more liberal Sufi persuasion, while the West’s closest Arab partner, Saudi Arabia, is the birthplace of what is broady termed Wahhabism. In Tunisia, meanwhile, Salafist party leader Saleh Bouazizi has condemned violence and refused to cooperate with violent Salafis; a self-described “true Salafist” Marwa, offered her interpretation of a Salafi as any emulator of Prophet Muhammad’s followers, which would put most observant Muslims in the category (6).

The practical dangers of such an approach–as if the detainment of random suspected Wahhabists and co in Guantanamo Bay and similar facilities is not enough–is the marginalization of the more inclusive Islamists and the empowerment of radicals like Al-Qaeda. While critics of intervention, such as the Irish parliamentarian Clare Daly (in an otherwise superb and rousing speech that railed at the Irish media and government’s slobbering reception of the Obamas last spring), have branded the Islamist rebels radicals and defended the Assad regime on the grounds of it being “secular” (7), the secularism of Baathist Syria (and indeed, of most Arab and Muslim regimes, from Central Asia to Egypt) is of a very different sort from the non-partisan, above-sectarianism brand seen in the West. In the Muslim world, where religion tends to be a far more public and encompassing affair than in the West, secular rulers–from the Young Turks to Islam Karimov to the Assads to Saddam Hussein–have sought to impose their usually nationalism-inclined rule not by rising above sectarian differences but by exploiting them.

April 11, 2012

A mole at Fox TV (must read)

Filed under: ultraright — louisproyect @ 11:10 pm


March 26, 2012

Reed Elsevier connections

Filed under: racism,ultraright — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

NY Times March 25, 2012

Lobbyists, Guns and Money


Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.


From ALEC website:


Private Enterprise Board Members

Ms. Sano Blocker Energy Future Holdings

Mr. Don Bohn Johnson & Johnson

Mr. Jeffrey Bond PhRMA

Ms. Teresa Jennings Reed Elsevier, Inc.



UPDATE 1/2/12 It is now possible to restrict the costofknowledge list by subject. So it has become easy to work out, for example, that (at the time of writing) 2632 people have left their names, of whom 613 are mathematicians.

Many thanks to Tyler Neylon for designing a website where one can declare one’s unwillingness to work for Elsevier journals. Already, without any announcement apart from brief mentions quite some way into the comments on the last post, it has 31 signatures, many of them from France, where for various reasons they are particularly annoyed with Elsevier.

This post is primarily to give the site some visibility, which I’ll also do on Google+ (if you support the venture, then please spread the word). It is not necessarily to persuade you to sign. I well understand that we are all in different situations and signing is easier for some people than others. But one thing I would definitely say is that if you already have a private non-cooperation policy (as I myself have done for years) then you will have much more effect if you go public about it. As I said in my previous post, the more people who sign, the more morally and socially acceptable it becomes to sign too: a private protest is just a nuisance to other mathematicians, but larger and more public one may have a chance of achieving something. So I hope that each signature will beget several others, at least for a while.

In the interests of balance, let me briefly mention two arguments against signing. (If you can think of others, then please let me know in the comments.) One is that Elsevier already allows authors to keep versions of their papers on the arXiv. This considerably weakens the argument that Elsevier papers, once published, disappear behind a very expensive paywall. (It also means that submitting to an Elsevier journal and not putting your article on the arXiv is a dereliction of duty.) Nevertheless, having to make do with arXiv versions is an inconvenience. For example, the page references in the arXiv version will be different from those in the journal. (Another principle: if you refer to an Elsevier paper, do so in a page-independent way such as, “See the discussion just after Lemma 3.1 in [XYZ].”) Also, it is not standard practice to refer to the arXiv versions of other papers if there are print versions.


January 24, 2012

The bipartisan attack on democracy and human rights

Filed under: Islamophobia,Obama,ultraright — louisproyect @ 7:14 pm

Three articles appearing on page one of today’s NY Times overlap with each other in terms of what they say about the deepening erosion of democratic and human rights in the United States since the “war on terror” began after 9/11. It is difficult to decide which one is more outrageous. You can judge for yourself.

From the article titled “In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims”, we learn that a viciously Islamophobic film titled “The Third Jihad” was shown to 1489 N.Y. cops as part of their official training. When Tom Robbins, described as a former Village Voice columnist, was tipped off by a cop that the film was being shown, the police brass lied about it, saying that it had been mistakenly shown only a “couple of times” for a few officers. It should be stated that Robbins left the Voice under conditions very much related to the political morass the country finds itself in. When the newsweekly fired Wayne Barrett, a ferocious critic of metropolitan political abuses just like the one taking place in the police department today, Robbins resigned in protest. Nowadays the only full-time columnist for the paper is one Michael Musto, whose “La Dolce Musto” covers the gossip beat. His most recent column was titled “Keira Knightley Reveals the Secret Behind Her Spanking Scene!” There’s a place for that sort of thing, of course, but not at the expense of hard-hitting investigative journalism.

A half-hour version of “The Third Jihad” can be seen on Youtube:

The film is narrated by Zuhdi Jasser, a “devout Muslim” as he describes himself, who is a fixture on rightwing television and radio shows. Media Matters reported:

Jasser is also conspicuous in his willingness to appear on Fox News to mitigate the effects of their pundits’ anti-Islamic rhetoric. After Fox host Bill O’Reilly went on The View and declared that “Muslims killed us on 9-11,” triggering a walk-off of the show’s hosts, he turned to Jasser, who declared that he was “absolutely not” offended by O’Reilly’s comments and actually thanked the Fox host for making them. Likewise, after NPR fired Juan Williams for his own controversial comments about Muslims, Fox hosted Jasser, who was again “absolutely not” offended.

The Times reports that the film was produced by the Clarion Fund, a group bankrolled by Sheldon Adelson, a gambling casino magnate and ultra-Likudnik who is described in one of the other three NY Times articles as a major funder of the super-PAC that helped Newt Gingrich defeat Romney in the South Carolina primary. Zuhdi Jasser appeared in another ultraright film titled “America at Risk: The War with No Name”, a joint product of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United and Gingrich Productions.

The police department is stonewalling efforts by Faiza Patel, the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School, to get to the bottom of its sordid ties to the Clarion Fund’s political agenda. The Times states: “None of the documents turned over to the Brennan Center make clear which police officials approved the showing of this film during training. Department lawyers blacked out large swaths of these internal memorandums.”

For its part, the Clarion Fund has resisted efforts to come clean:

Repeated calls over the past several days to the Clarion Fund, which is based in New York, were not answered. The nonprofit group shares officials with Aish HaTorah, an Israeli organization that opposes any territorial concessions on the West Bank. The producer of “The Third Jihad,” Raphael Shore, also works with Aish HaTorah.

Sheldon Adelson is the perfect symbol of American support for Israel today. Against a backdrop of declining support by secular Jews, particularly the younger and college-educated, it naturally rests on the shoulders of a man who became a billionaire in the gambling casino business. He is the 8th richest person in the U.S. and 16th in the world, sitting atop a fortune of $21 billion. As the owner of the non-union Venetian hotel and other properties in Las Vegas, Adelson has staked out a viciously anti-labor position vis-à-vis the city’s militant trade union movement. In a profile on Adelson, Connie Bruck told New Yorker Magazine’s  readers:

Like all major Las Vegas hotel casinos, the Sands was a union hotel when Adelson bought it, but the Venetian was non-union. This sparked a singularly bitter war with the Culinary Union, which had for many years maintained good relations with most hotels on the Strip. (Adelson has said that the benefits he gives his employees are superior to union benefits.) After a rally in which a thousand union supporters picketed in front of the Venetian, Adelson tried to have them removed by the police, and when that failed he went to court, arguing that the sidewalks outside the Venetian were private property, and not subject to the First Amendment. The Venetian lost in the district court and the appellate court, and in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Using his ill-gained fortune, Adelson has become a major player in Israeli politics as one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters. Bruck reports:

Adelson is also funding, with a $4.5-million grant, a think tank, the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, at the right-leaning Shalem Center, in Jerusalem. Netanyahu allies are on its staff. Natan Sharansky, the chairman of One Jerusalem, also chairs the Adelson Institute. Sharansky helped organize a “Democracy and Security” conference last June, in Prague, which was attended by President Bush. Iran was a major topic of discussion. A month after the Prague conference, Adelson attended a fund-raising event at the C.A.A. talent agency, in Los Angeles, for Steven Emerson, an investigative journalist specializing in Islamic extremism and terrorism, who was showing a ten-minute trailer for a film he wanted to make. Emerson introduced Sheldon and Miriam to the overflow crowd in C.A.A.’s two-hundred-seat theatre, saying that they were his generous supporters. After Emerson’s presentation, Pooya Dayanim, a Jewish-Iranian democracy activist based in Los Angeles, chatted with Adelson. Recalling their conversation, Dayanim observed that Adelson was dismissive of Reza Pahlevi, the son of the former Shah, who had participated in the Prague conference, because, Adelson said, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” According to Dayanim, Adelson referred to another Iranian dissident at the conference, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, whom he said he would like to support, saying, “I like Fakhravar because he says that, if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” Dayanim said that when he disputed that assumption Adelson responded, “I really don’t care what happens to Iran. I am for Israel.”

Given his predilections, it is no surprise that Adelson would rally around the candidacy of Newt Gingrich who announced recently that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. While some might be tempted to describe Mr. and Mrs. Adelson’s donation of 10 million dollars to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC as a kind of bribe, the reality is that Gingrich needed no bribing. His Islamophobic views would be dispensed for free, although he could always use an extra 10 million dollars or so given his expensive tastes, including shopping sprees at Tiffany’s.

In the article titled “‘Super PAC’ for Gingrich to Get $5 Million Infusion”, N.Y. Times reporter Nicholas Confessore informed his readers:

A wealthy backer of Newt Gingrich will inject $5 million into a “super PAC” supporting his presidential bid, two people with knowledge of the contribution said on Monday, providing a major boost to Mr. Gingrich as he seeks to fend off aggressive attacks from Mitt Romney, his main Republican rival.

The supporter, Dr. Miriam Adelson, is the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich friend and a patron who this month contributed $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future. Dr. Adelson’s check will bring the couple’s total contributions to Winning Our Future to $10 million, a figure that could substantially neutralize the millions of dollars already being spent in Florida by Mr. Romney and Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting him.

Confessore connected this sordid business to the Supreme Court decision on behalf of the Koch-funded Citizen’s United, a co-producer of the Gingrich Islamophobic documentary “”America at Risk: The War with No Name”:

The contribution also underscored how the advantages built by Mr. Romney’s campaign, including a potent get-out-the-vote operation in Florida and tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions raised in chunks of no more than $2,500, are being challenged by new forces, including the high-profile debates that have elevated Mr. Gingrich and the emergence of new campaign finance rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling.

That decision paved the way for super PACs, including the kind that have spent more than $30 million in the Republican primary so far: political committees run by each candidate’s former aides and financed by a few wealthy supporters. Because they are technically independent of the candidate, the groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, rendering less relevant the limits that Congress imposed in the 1970s on contributions to candidates.

As might be obvious at this point, even a lobotomized goose could connect the dotted lines between Adelson, the Likud, the NY Police Department, and Gingrich.

Now, lest anybody mistake me for the hysterical liberals at MSNBC who are rehearsing to get out the vote for Obama in 2012 as America’s last best hope for forestalling the Republican Party’s fascist bid, the last article on the front page of the N.Y. Times should dispel such illusions.

We learn from Charlie Savage’s article titled “Ex-C.I.A. Officer Charged in Information Leak” that one John Kuriakou has been arrested:

The Justice Department on Monday charged a former Central Intelligence Agency officer with disclosing classified information to journalists about the capture and brutal interrogation of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah — adding another chapter to the Obama administration’s crackdown on leaks.

In a criminal complaint filed on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused John Kiriakou, the former C.I.A. officer, of disclosing the identity of a C.I.A. analyst who worked on a 2002 operation that located and interrogated Abu Zubaydah. The journalists included a New York Times reporter, it alleged.

“Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of C.I.A. officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a statement.

While not exactly a Julian Assange, Kuriakou is being made an example in order to intimidate anybody in the intelligence corps who might be tempted to reveal one or another of America’s torture state infelicities. Ironically, despite being depicted by Holder as a threat to national security, Kuriakou was an advocate of water-boarding and not some latter-day Philip Agee.

However, the real eye-opener in the article is something buried within it and mentioned almost casually:

At the same time, the department on Monday cleared of wrongdoing a legal defense team for inmates at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for its efforts to identify officials involved in the coercive interrogations of “high value” suspects. The effort was a project by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to bolster the representation of detainees facing death sentences in military commissions.

I did a double-take after reading this. Why in the world would a legal defense team for inmates at Guantánamo Bay be under any kind of legal threat for trying to identify torturers? A legal defense team, I should add, that was made up of military men trained as lawyers. Given the legal reasoning underpinning the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, the real wrongdoing would be torture itself and Holder’s stubborn defense of the right of the torturers to remain free of the consequences of their actions. What kind of society are we living in when the President of the United States, a constitutional lawyer trained at Harvard University, ends up threatening lawyers in the same way that they are in countries like China, Zimbabwe or Iran for defending “enemies” of the state?

The ACLU was threatened back in 2009 as a result of showing some photographs to prisoners at Guantanamo as the Times reported:

The Justice Department is investigating whether three military defense lawyers for detainees at the Guantánamo prison illegally showed their clients photographs of C.I.A. interrogators, two leaders of civilian legal groups that are working with the defense lawyers said Thursday.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation approached the three lawyers with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps nearly two weeks ago, said Anthony D. Romero, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping the military lawyers defend the detainees in military commissions.

The agents informed the uniformed lawyers of their right to remain silent, and then questioned them about whether they showed their clients pictures of Central Intelligence Agency officials — possibly including covert agents — that came from an “independent investigation” by the A.C.L.U. and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Romero said.

The lawyers were trying to identify the torturers not so much as an effort to have them arrested, as just as this might be, but to prevent their clients from being executed. If the torturers could be forced to testify to their deeds in court, then the court might have decided that their confessions were extracted illegally. What an amazing statement on life today in the U.S.A. when an African-American president and his African-American attorney general behave like a couple of goons from Pinochet’s Chile or some other rotten torture state.

If you want to get some insight into how Obama manages to sink to such depths, I recommend an article by Ryan Lizza in the latest New Yorker magazine. Lizza is a conventional liberal and supporter of the President but he is also a very good reporter. He has made a very convincing case in all of his articles on Obama that the man is about as progressive as Joe Lieberman, a politician he stumped for in his last election in Connecticut before voters decided they had enough of the creep.

Titled “The Obama Memos“, Lizza’s article describes the President as a right-leaning politician motivated both by ideology and a desire to win elections based on cynical calculations. Lizza writes:

Obama’s homily about conciliation reflected an essential component of his temperament and his view of politics. In his mid-twenties, he won the presidency of the Harvard Law Review because he was the only candidate who was trusted by both the conservative and the liberal blocs on the editorial staff. As a state senator in Springfield, when Obama represented Hyde Park-Kenwood, one of the most liberal districts in Illinois, he kept his distance from the most left-wing senators from Chicago and socialized over games of poker and golf with moderate downstate Democrats and Republicans. In 1998, after helping to pass a campaign-finance bill in the Illinois Senate, he boasted in his community paper, the Hyde Park Herald, that “the process was truly bipartisan from the start.”

Given the stupendously reactionary character of the contemporary Republican Party, this really tells us all that we want to know about Obama. His fence-straddling approach explains the bipartisan assault taking place today on democracy and human rights. The Republicans steam ahead to the right and Obama chases after them like a dog after a car, trying to catch up.

If the existing left can’t figure out a way to break with this filthy system, then some other left must come along and do a job we are incapable of carrying out. The future of humanity rests on it.

September 15, 2009

Max Blumenthal covers the teabagger protest

Filed under: ultraright — louisproyect @ 12:58 pm

More morons on parade

November 12, 2008

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

Filed under: Film,ultraright — louisproyect @ 4:08 pm

The timing of the PBS documentary on Lee Atwater titled “Boogie Man” last night could not be better. As the inventor of the kind of dirty tricks that John McCain used unsuccessfully, Atwater symbolizes the bare-knuckle politics that have worked so well for Republicans since Reagan’s election. Unfortunately for them, the recent financial crisis delivered a knockout punch to such politics–at least until the Democrats succumb to a new round of ineffectual governance that will render them vulnerable once again.

When asked by a PBS interviewer about his views on the 2008 election, director Stefan Forbes responded:

There was an election? I’ve been stuck in the edit room for the last two years, so I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. People ask me if the Atwater playbook is over, if hope has beaten fear once and for all. I’m not so sure. Fear may have actually won. Peoples’ very real fear of losing homes and 401(k)s bested the trumped-up fears that Obama was a Muslim or an elitist socialist in league with Hamas. In future elections, where there’s no urgent issue, these sorts of attacks may regain their powerful emotional hold over the American voter.

Atwater died of brain cancer at the age of 40 in 1990. It is not hard to see his death as punishment for a misspent life. This morality tale even includes well-publicized reports of Atwater going through a death-bed conversion. The riveting documentary surmises that this could have been just another example of Atwater deception since the Bible he requested in his dying weeks remained covered in the cellophane it came in.

You can watch excerpts of the documentary at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/view/, but the entire DVD must be ordered from the PBS website. For those who don’t want to spend the money, I recommend looking for the printed transcript which should be online in a week or so. Just check: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/etc/tapes.html

Stefan Forbes skillfully draws out the dramatic class differences between Atwater and the George Bush family that relied on his scuzzy talents. No matter how much Atwater sought to become part of the Connecticut Patrician world that the Bush family inhabited, they never regarded him more than a kind of elevated household servant.

As an authentic redneck from South Carolina, Atwater helped the Bush ’41 campaign define itself as a “good old boy” defense of American values against the effete brie-eating Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, who is interviewed throughout the film. Dukakis offers ex post facto refutations of Atwater’s lies that are quite eye-opening. It was too bad, as one commentator notes, that they were not used during his feckless campaign. For example, Atwater cooked up the infamous Willie Horton ads that blamed Dukakis for allowing the convicted African-American felon to get a weekend furlough from prison that allowed him to go on a killing spree. Dukakis notes that this program was inspired by another governor, namely Ronald Reagan from California.

Atwater also produced ads that charged Dukakis with opposing various weapons systems that would have left America defenseless against the dirty Russians. Dukakis explains that as governor of Massachusetts, he was in no position to vote on any kind of weapons system. In a period of deep reaction, such as the kind that allowed a Reagan or a Bush to triumph, it mattered little if such ads were true or not. American voters allowed their prejudices to take over, a luxury ill-afforded in a period of rising unemployment. Of course, it remains to be seen whether a Democratic administration can do much about this, given its free market fundamentalism.

Despite his racism, Atwater made a big thing about his affinity for Black people that was mostly expressed through his love for the blues. Atwater played backup guitar for Percy Sledge during the 1960s and sat in with bluesmen such as B.B. King. At the night of his greatest triumph, the election of George Bush the elder in 1988, Atwater played guitar with a virtual all-star band made up of Black musicians. You can see him and President-elect Bush mugging on the stage surrounded by Blacks in an updated version of the minstrel show. (Click “At the Top of His Game” on this page: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/view/) Ishmael Reed, one of the movie’s more adept interviewees, commented on the irony of such a spectacle attending the most racist election campaigns in American history.

Believing his own bullshit, Atwater was invited to serve on the board of Howard University, one of the country’s most prestigious Black colleges, fully expecting the same kind of warm reception he got from blues musicians. He was bitterly disappointed as the Boston Globe reported. The article is worth quoting at some length since it shows the potential of the Black student movement once it gets aroused about an issue, as well as the class divisions in the Black community:

The Boston Globe
March 12, 1989, Sunday, City Edition
Atwater’s approach to black community hits dead end at Howard
By Jerry Thomas, Globe Staff

The appointment of Lee Atwater to Howard University’s board of trustees appeared, at first, to be an easy way for the Republican Party to make inroads into the African-American community.

Howard, a historic black institution that still considers itself a mecca for the black mainstream and that attracts the sons and daughters of some of the world’s most influential and visible blacks, already has strong links to the party. The university has flaunted its conservative views and its Republican student organization, although the majority of its 12,000 students and the faculty are Democrats.

James Cheek, the president of Howard for 20 years, is a Republican who received the “Freedom of Peace” award from former President Ronald Reagan.

Thaddeus Garrett, one of 32 trustees, is a top aide to President Bush. Last year, the school received a $ 179 million appropriation from Congress, which founded the school in 1867 and pays some of the tuition for more than 60 percent of Howard’s students. Atwater would have been one of more than 11 whites on the board of the university, whose first students were five white women.

The university thought Atwater, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, could add to the wealth and prestige of the school named after Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the school’s first president.

Plus, Atwater, busy schedule and all, seemed accessible. He met with students several times after his appointment.

The first meeting, students say, was on a Thursday in February, shortly after 7 p.m. The setting was a nightclub on a ritzy part of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just several feet from the guitar strings of blues legend B.B. King sat Atwater, waiting for several guests: six students from Howard.

It was politics at first sight, the students said. Both sides played it cool. They shook hands and talked over drinks.

Robert Turner, a senior from New Orleans and vice president of the Howard University Student Association, said that there appeared to be strategy behind Atwater’s approach. Turner recalled in his own words Atwater’s introduction, “Hey! How are you doing? I’m Lee Atwater, a down home country boy; I even like rhythm and blues.”

Atwater introduced the students to two of his black aides. He agreed to talk to the students again.

The aides took over the next night, meeting some of the same students at a local dance club for “upscale blacks,” the students said. The aides spoke highly of Atwater and the Republican Party. They noted that Atwater could do good things for Howard. They told the students that supporting Atwater’s appointment would not hurt job contacts and could strengthen their networking at graduation.

Atwater had a second meeting with the students. It was the following Sunday at his Capitol Hill office, where he told them how he keeps abreast of some issues, including black concerns.

The political magic was working, and the students were willing to consider what Atwater might offer. But within weeks, the Republican strategy would backfire.

What the party did not anticipate was a backlash from Howard students – many of whose parents and teachers participated in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s – who saw the appointment of Atwater as an insult to the student body and a bad signal to the black and African community worldwide.

On Friday, March 3, shortly before 10 a.m., things took an unusual twist on the campus.

Bill Cosby, the actor and author, was to give the Founder’s Day address in the school’s Cramton Auditorium, where the trustees, the administration, the faculty, students and alumni were to gather to commemorate the school’s 122d birthday. Instead of hearing Cosby, 1,500 students took over the ceremonies and announced “The Black Agenda.”

The protesters’ key demand was that Atwater, who they say was handpicked by Cheek and who was appointed unanimously by the board of trustees in January, step down. Atwater was accused of using racist tactics as Bush’s presidential campaign manager. He was the architect of the furlough issue, which focused on the release of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, from a Massachusetts prison. The students argued that Atwater’s campaign methods portrayed blacks in a negative manner and fueled the successful campaign of David Duke, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, in Louisiana.

“We are here to oppose Lee Atwaterism,” Ras Baraka, a junior from Newark, told a crowd of protesters. “It is not the man, Atwater, but the ideologies he represents. It’s the conservative view he represents. It’s the Borks that he represents and the David Dukes he represents.”

Baraka, one of the protest leaders, is the son of Amiri Baraka, a poet and 1960s activist.

The students, much to the Cheek administration’s dismay and embarrassment, remained in the auditorium for several hours. They demanded that Cheek address the crowd on several issues, including the appointment of Atwater, requests for a graduate department of African-American studies, improved security and student involvement in school governance, but Cheek never did. The annual Founder’s Day ceremony was canceled.

The following Monday, hundreds of protesters moved from the auditorium to the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration Building, where they barricaded themselves inside.

The protests forced Atwater to resign Tuesday. He said that he was “deeply saddened” by the resignation and that he had been miscast as a racist. He said that he had hoped, as a Howard trustee, to help the university administration and aid fund-raising efforts among GOP donors.

The film concludes with Atwater’s illness and death, including grotesque images of his face blown up twice its normal size due to steroids used to treat the effects of radiation therapy. It is not a pretty sight.

As might be expected, the documentary relies heavily on the analyses of liberal commentators such as Eric Alterman, Joe Conason, and Howard Fineman. For them, the Lee Atwaters and Karl Roves of the world serve as convenient demons whose expulsion will lead to a kind of re-establishment of Camelot with the Obamas as the new Kennedy’s. Such is the state of our degraded electoral politics that both factions in the ruling party of capitalism can keep people mesmerized by celebrity of the right or the left. Since the entire society is drenched in advertising, it is no surprise that this is the kind of politics we get with an Empire in its dotage.

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