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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Michelle Goldberg, a writer for The Forward, The Daily Beast, Tablet Magazine and other publications, has emerged as one of the most significant examples of the warped leftist culture that seems to engulf some American Jewish writers and journalists. She has a Jewish problem, one that she repeats in different ways in article after article — namely, that to survive and prosper, American Jews must be true to the Left, move away from support to Israel, and above all, show their fealty to political correctness.

Writing at The Daily Beast, Goldberg penned what is perhaps her single worst and most egregious column. Purporting to be her reflections on what made Anders Breivik of Norway engage in his act of terror, Goldberg attributes his actions to none other than his supposed belief in Zionism! She makes the mistake of taking his incoherent ramblings based on a mix and match of the words of those on the Left, Right and Center, and singles out some of what he says as proof for her allegations. She does not understand, as the historian Michael Ledeen writes, that in fact Breivik,

is the sort of fascist who believes in the myth of a Golden Age that must be restored, and vaingloriously sees himself a member of the elite chosen by history to defend the mythical West.

Instead, Goldberg insists that he is a Zionist, pro-Israel to the core. “In European politics,” she writes, “fascism and an aggressive sort of Zionism increasingly go together.” This is not surprising, since Goldberg also believes that in many ways, the current Netanyahu government is itself increasingly fascist, hence the appeal to people like Breivik.

The new alliance between Israel and Europe’s neo-Nazis, she says, takes place because both the Western fascists and the Israelis are both Islamophobic, believing for some strange reason that radical Islam poses a threat to Western values of democracy and freedom (which of course, the fascists do not share, something she ignores.) “Muslims,” Goldberg claims,

have come to occupy the place Jews once held in the reactionary European imagination; they’re seen as agents of an apocalyptic conspiracy that threatens Europe’s very survival.

Is the fear at all rational? As I noted yesterday, Goldberg ignores the kind of evidence writers like Bruce Bawer have immaculately produced, showing that indeed, the threat is nothing like the fictional threat Jews held in the imagination of Hitlerites in the 1920s and ’30s.

At this point, Goldberg offers the single most perverse paragraph of all. She writes:

The specter of the coming caliphate has crowded out the old myth of the scheming elders of Zion. Naturally, the self-described agents of the counter-jihad see the enemy of their enemy as an ally. It’s the inverse of the anti-Semitic alliance between Hitler and Haj Amin el-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem.

 There was, of course, no grand conspiracy as developed in the forged Protocols of The Elders of Zion, while, the wish for a restored caliphate has, as numerous scholars have shown, been a very real dream that motivates many Islamofascists. Moreover, she trivializes the meaning and import of the alliance that existed between the Nazis and the titular Palestinian movement chieftain, Haj Amin el-Husseini. As Jeffrey Herf has shown in his recent remarkable book about the Mufti and the Nazis, the ideology of the Palestinian movement was forged in alliance with Hitlerism, as the Mufti developed a blend of Koranic theology with fascism to motivate a Palestinian nationalist movement devoted to destroying the Jews.

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Leave it to the New York Times to run a front-page story about the murders perpetrated by crazed right-wing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik that is more accurately described as a not-so veiled editorial. Written by Scott Shane, the article begins by proclaiming that Breivik “was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber.”

The implication that he develops is that Breivik’s actions can be attributed to those who for years have been trying to educate the public in the West about the threat posted to our values and way of life by the forces of radical Islam. Shane singles out — by virtue of Breivik having cited his writing 64 times in his manifesto — the writings of Robert Spencer at the website Jihad Watch, part of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, as well the work of “other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.”

That sentence says it all: Unassimilated Muslim immigrants in Europe, people who do not accept the laws and standards of the nations to which they have immigrated and who consider themselves proponents of both jihad and sharia law, are not a danger. Instead, the danger comes from those who point out the uncomfortable truths that many dare not face.

So, Shane continues, authorities and others now “have focused new attention around the world on the subculture of anti-Muslim bloggers and right-wing activists and renewed a debate over the focus of counterterrorism efforts.” We should be looking not at radical Islam, as Rep. Peter King vows to continue to do with his congressional hearings, but at its opponents, all “right-wing activists” who, as we all know, are the only real enemies out there.

And of course Shane points out that  “critics have asserted that the intense spotlight on the threat from Islamic militants has unfairly vilified Muslim Americans while dangerously playing down the threat of attacks from other domestic radicals.” In fact, Muslim Americans have never been vilified. What those critics have actually said — the responsible ones and not those like the crazed publicity-seeking pastor in Florida — is that there are real dangers of jihad from some advocates of radical Islam.

Does Shane not remember that had not a street vendor noticed a truck parked in the Times Square area, an American jihadist would have caused a catastrophe as deadly as the one in Norway? Does he not know of the acclaimed Muslim businessman who owned a TV station in upstate New York who beheaded his wife for offending him according to Sharia law? This man was interviewed as an example of a moderate American Muslim and an example of how Muslims in America have acculturated and played a positive role in our society. And what about the radical Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty to support of terrorism, and whom many American academics defended as a victim of a witch-hunt when he was removed from his teaching job in Florida?

Shane’ s report also implies that the 2009 Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism was unfairly withdrawn, “after criticism from conservatives repeated on Sunday [by former CIA officer Marc Sageman’s] claim that the department had tilted too heavily toward the threat from Islamic militants.” Shane also quotes former Homeland Security official Daryl Johnson, who argued that an equal threat came from the right-wing extremists and criticized Homeland Security for its actions and for having more analysts work on Islamic extremism than on the domestic right wing. Johnson cited the Hutaree as proof of his contention, arguing that they had a larger domestic arsenal than any Muslim extremists. As the article notes, however, the FBI had successfully infiltrated this domestic group of self-proclaimed Christian extremists, and thereby prevented any terrorist action from taking place.

As PJMedia writer Bruce Bawer points out on this website and in the Wall Street Journal, Norway stands out as a nation singularly afraid of confronting any of the real dangers posed by Islamic radicalism. That lack of action is the kind of thing that obviously helps fuel the anger of someone like the crazed fanatic, who seems to believe that killing children whose parents are members of Norway’s governing political party is a fight against Islamic fascism. As Bawer writes, “Norwegian television journalists who in the first hours of the crisis were palpably uncomfortable about the prospect of having to talk about Islamic terrorism are now eagerly discussing the dangers of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘conservative ideology’ and are drawing connections between the madness and fanaticism of Breivik and the platform of the Progress Party. “

As Bawer puts in in his Journal piece, it was “the failure of mainstream political leaders to responsibly  address the attendant challenges” that resulted in “the emergence of” an extremist such as Breivik. The killer, who evidently believes that he can “wake up the masses” by using terror against regular citizens, is not only mad, but more in tune with anarchist ideas than those of critics of Islamofascism.

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Richard Pollock is half right. Progressives, as the reactionary Left call themselves, are glad that no agreement has been made, and that any deal which includes cuts on entitlements has been stymied. That is why they mobilized the unions and the Left organizations to wage a full-fledged campaign against what they saw as the president’s potential capitulation to sanity.

Now, as we have seen, the president has seemingly succeeded in blaming the Right for the crisis we are in, rather than his own profligate spending since becoming chief executive. By making it appear that it was the Republicans’ fault that an agreement to raise the debt ceiling could not be reached , and using the bully pulpit that every president has, he has possibly gained the upper hand.

But there is sufficient evidence to indicate that some on the Right are also pleased. Ed Feulner, director of the Heritage Foundation, issued an open letter arguing for no compromise.

As David Frum has commented , “Ed Feulner in an unusual signed personal statement today urges Republicans to force the country into default unless President Obama yields on the outermost conservative demands. In the process, he equates President Obama and the Democrats to the Japanese militarists who bombed Pearl Harbor. I suppose that’s a step up from calling them Nazis.”

In addition, others in the Tea Party have also remained adamant. Mark Meckler, the cofounder of Tea Party Patriots, called the alternative last-ditch McConnell plan “an embarrassment…an abdication of governing responsibilities.”

Yes, conservatives are correct to oppose any tax increases, which, as they argue, kill the creation of jobs in a bad economy. But a default would hurt the nation, something that Ronald Reagan well understood. At the time of the last looming crisis, Reagan said the following in a Sept. 26, 1987 radio address:

Congress consistently brings the Government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility — two things that set us apart from much of the world.

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What Republicans Must Do to Win in 2012!

July 20th, 2011 - 2:12 pm

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on the debt ceiling crisis reinforces points made in the new issue of National  Affairs in two important articles, the first by AEI Vice President Henry Olsen, and the second by Weekly Standard writer Jay Cost. What the poll reveals, as NBC’s Deputy Political Director Mark Murray writes, is that “Strong majorities of Democrats and independents prefer that Democratic congressional leaders make compromises in this budget debate, while almost 70 percent of independents want Republican leaders to do the same.”

For me the key phrase in Murray’s comment refers to the desire of independents. These are the very people that Republicans need to win in 2012 in order to defeat Barack Obama. The group includes the very important bloc of swing and working-class voters in states like Ohio that supported Hillary Clinton over Obama in 2008, and that have moved since then to vote for and support Republican candidates.

The poll also reveals, Murray writes, “Fifty-five percent of all respondents — including 63 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans — believe that not raising the ceiling would be problematic. That’s compared with just 18 percent who say it wouldn’t be a real and serious problem.”

But “even among Tea Party supporters,” the Wall Street Journal notes, “a 47% plurality said failing to raise the debt ceiling would be a serious issue. That number mirrors the percentage of all Republicans, who worry about the consequences of doing nothing. And those people who feel their economic situation has gotten worse over the past 12 months are among the most worried, with 60% of them saying failure to lift the ceiling would have real and serious consequences.” The current poll is a major change from a poll taken one month ago, which revealed that “39% said the debt limit shouldn’t be raised, while 28% said it should.”

Now let me turn to some of the questions raised first by Henry Olsen. First, Olsen makes the point that there are two different kind of self-proclaimed conservatives. “Very conservative” Republicans who favor “rhetorically aggressive champions of conservative ideology,” and “somewhat conservative Republicans” who prefer “people who, while generally in agreement with ideological conservatives on their positions on the issues, are not as strident when it comes to ideology, rhetoric, or temperament.”

What is key is that in all but four Southern states, the “somewhat” conservative far outnumber those who are very conservative, and make up 35% of the electorate. They outnumber very conservative Republicans in both Florida and Michigan by a 3-2 margin, and 2-1 in New Hampshire. Even in South Carolina, he points out, they tie with the very-conservatives with 34% of the GOP electorate, while moderates and liberals are 32%. This means, Olsen writes, that the moderate-centrist bloc “have enormous influence over what kind of presidential candidate the Republican Party tends to nominate.”

What this suggests is that if Republicans want to defeat  Obama in 2012, they need to nominate a candidate — perhaps someone yet not in the running — who can appeal to the somewhat conservative as well as to swing voters and white working-class voters who might otherwise vote Democratic. Olsen calls this potential candidate the “GOP dark horse.” He points out that in all previous recent GOP presidential primaries, the preferences of the very conservative voters “do not dictate the nominee,” and the force that does do this is “the somewhat-conservative bloc.” They were the ones who “provided solid margins to the more established, cautious candidate,” and as the primary victory of George W. Bush showed, the somewhat conservative voters flocked to “safe, solid candidates.”

In the current race, Olsen, who does not name names of actual candidates now in the field, writes that there is a great opportunity for “a relative newcomer who, without having established himself as the heir apparent within the Republican Party, could still convincingly pass himself off to somewhat-conservative voters as the measured establishment figure they seek.” Keeping this in mind, it is apparent why major Republican donors met with Chris Christie this week in an effort to urge him to get into the race.

For such a dark horse to emerge, Olsen argues that he or she must stand out from the pack, appeal to a large constituency, and court the moderate wing of voters as well as the ideologically oriented conservatives. And they must as well stand off against challenges from those further to their right, as Bush did against Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee. If such a candidate gets the nomination, he must then appeal to and gain the support in the presidential race of the different and conflicting Republican constituencies, not just a core constituency.

What will surprise a lot of readers is Olsen’s judgement that this candidate has to go beyond the Tea Party base, since, as he writes, “the breadth of Tea Party support among Republicans is smaller than commonly believed.” An April NBC/WSJ poll, he notes, showed that even Tea Partiers described themselves as Republicans first, and only 30% of the Republican electorate identified themselves first as Tea Partiers. Should a candidate cater only to the Tea Party, Olsen writes, they risk “alienating the 2012 GOP contest’s truly underserved constituency: Republican moderates.”

His point is that these moderates are not only a key part of a potential Republican victory, they “may be especially crucial in 2012,” since they comprise between 30% and 35% of the expected Republican electorate. For a Republican candidate to beat Obama, he or she must reflect and encompass the desires of social conservatives, but have enough of an appeal to win the votes of those moderates — Republican and independents — who are not social conservatives. He has to be “sufficiently conservative on social issues,” but “not defined by those issues.” Again, Chris Christie obviously played that role among New Jersey voters in the gubernatorial race.

As Olsen phrases it, the candidate must “combine conservative positions on key issues with a  problem-solving approach that is principled but not ideological, and to display a calm, confident manner.” And that means a candidate who “does not preclude the possibility of reaching agreement with Democrats.” (my emphasis)

I will leave my readers to go to Olsen’s article and consider his fascinating discussion of what might happen to our current contenders, and how and why he thinks current “establishment” candidates might bow out of the race, leaving a newcomer facing a Tea Party favorite.

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Readers: This is cross-posted from PJM’s Lifestyle, to which I shall occasionally be contributing.

This Sunday, AMC starts the fourth and perhaps final season of Breaking Bad, the Emmy award series starring Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a   high-school chemistry teacher turned top of the line drug kingpin; Aaron  Paul as Jesse Pinkman, a former student drop-out who cooks crystal meth  with him in a makeshift trailer lab, and later on, Giancarlo Esposito  as Gus, a Mexican drug lord who operates the drug cartel in the American  side of the border, while operating two legitimate businesses — a  Mexican fast food emporium and a commercial laundry, as fronts.

I  started watching the very first season; to my mind, the program was  good but not terrific, certainly not on the level of The Sopranos. It  was largely a dark comedy. White, the main protagonist, found that he  had incurable cancer, and might only have a short time left to live.  With a family to support, and desperately in need of funds to support  them, he decided to use his knowledge of chemistry to develop a method  of cooking pure crystal meth, that he thought he could sell to addicts  with the aid of a former student drop-out, who would handle cooking the  meth with him and the selling of it as well.  The student, named Jesse  Pinkman, was also an addict himself, which gave Walt the idea that he  would be the perfect person to make the necessary contacts needed in  order to sell their product.

As  the series progressed, it turned violent and almost unwatchable. Jesse  got involved with characters depraved and vile, to watch them in action  was rather hard to take. The irony of the series was that White, a  cultured and serious family man, had to involve himself in a world he  hated in order to make ends meet. To make things worse, his  brother-in-law, Hank Schrader — played by Dean Norris — is a D.E.A. agent,  on the trail of trying to find out who is supplying the new deadly  crystal meth suddenly arriving in his territory.

I  skipped the second season, only to find not only that the series and  its stars got major Emmys in the last year, but that critics began to  call it the single best show on television. After reading one such piece  a week ago, I watched the entire third season “On Demand” this past week.  For once, the critics are on target. This week, the new issue of Time features James Poniewozik’s report on the program, and he gets it completely right. As Poniewozik says:

When Breaking Bad debuted in 2008, it seemed like a dark comedy along the lines of Showtime’s suburban pot-dealing show Weeds.  Walt, a chemistry genius whose career fizzled out, is teaching kids he  resents and working part time at a car wash — then he gets diagnosed  with lung cancer. Desperate to build a nest egg for his family before he  dies, he partners with Jesse, his former student and a small-time  dealer, to cook meth. It turns out he’s amazing at it. And it feels  good. He stays in the business even after his cancer goes into  remission. ‘He wants to own this,’ says Cranston, who’s won three Emmys  for the role. ‘He’s feeling powerful for the first time in his life.’   As Walt gets in deeper, embracing his criminality and signing on to run  Gus’ pharmaceutical-grade-meth superlab, Breaking Bad becomes something incredibly compelling — and dead serious.

Rarely  has a TV program morphed in a few seasons from a breaking the mold dark  comedy into a compelling and tense thriller of a life in crime, in  which a middle-class regular family with a handicapped teenager and a  young baby, live in two different worlds. One is that of a regular  suburban family struggling to get by; the other a wealthy criminal  family whose head of the household even becomes willing to commit  violent murders in order to succeed in his new criminal endeavor. Like  “The Sopranos,” AMC’s Breaking Bad offers the viewer complex  characters one identifies with and hopes they succeed. After all, who  wants White’s family to fall into economic collapse because he was given  the bad deal of incurable lung cancer?

As  Poniewozk writes, the more White falls into the drug world, he finds  that he is a master cook of crystal meth, “and it feels good” to him.  Unlike teaching chemistry to bored and unappreciative students, he is on  top of the world—and making a bundle to boot. To quote the critic  once more, “As Walt gets in deeper, embracing his criminality and  signing on to run Gus’ pharmaceutical-grade-meth superlab, Breaking Bad becomes something incredibly compelling — and dead serious.”

The  questions raised are moral issues. What would we do if faced with the  stark alternatives Walter White faces? Would we put aside the quandary  of whether good people can and will do bad things to others, if  necessary to save one’s own loved ones? The key to the morality is the  character of Jesse. The former student is a crazed junkie when we first  meet him. By season three, he has gone to rehab and cleaned himself up, and  is dedicated to working with his old teacher in order to make a business  and build a life for himself.

But  Jesse develops a conscience and a heart, and unlike Walter White, has  trouble doing what is required to succeed in the criminal world — especially murdering others when asked to do so. In his AA group he  meets a girl he becomes involved with, and learning that she is a mother  of two young children, urges her to clean up her act and break her meth  habit. Despite his good intentions, he is dragged further into going  where he does not want by Walt, who in the last episode, orders him to  murder someone who had to be put out of the way for the two of them to  move ahead. We see him about to cross the point of no return, and are  left with the question of whether or not he did carry out the order to  murder given him by Walt.

If  you subscribe to a cable service that has “On Demand,” I urge you to  watch at least the last episode of season three. If you don’t, turn on AMC  Sunday night — I guarantee you that like those who take Walt and  Jesse’s crystal meth, you will be hooked.

The New Left is already pretty old, and for many, quite irrelevant. As many liberals argued during the 2008 campaign, trying to smear Obama by bringing up his friendship with Bill Ayers was as silly and irrelevant as Democrats “waving the bloody shirt” years after the Civil War in campaigns against Republicans, or Democrats running against Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression in the post-World War II era.

Now, however, two articles have appeared that offer a direct challenge to the view that the old theories of the ’60s Left are completely irrelevant in today’s 21st century world. First, writing in his blog at the website of World Affairs Journal, British professor Alan Johnson ties together the anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel of today’s leftists with that originated in the 60s by its earlier brethren. Johnson recalls how 35 years ago this week, two young German leftists were among those who hijacked an Air France jet and flew it to Entebbe, where they and Arab terrorists set about separating Jewish from non-Jewish passengers, and prepared to execute the Jews.

How, he asks, did idealistic New Leftists join with Arab terrorists in an act that mimicked the policies of Hitler’s regime, especially since these leftists all thought of themselves as anti-fascists? Johnson writes:

The answer lies in modern left-wing “anti-Zionism.” But to understand that phenomenon, we must go deeper still, to the worldview cultivated in the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s.

In the decidedly non-calloused hands of this largely student, spectacularly arrogant, but largely know-nothing New Left, an already-authoritarian Marxism became completely unmoored from the working class, the West, and democracy and moored instead to ideologies of the noble savage, fantasies of “Third World Revolution” and an irrational belief in the redemptive power of violence. The New Left saw the world in a very peculiar way. A third world “periphery” was pitted against the metropolitan “center” and “good” oppressed nations were at war with “bad” oppressor nations. “Camp” replaced “class” as the track along which a great deal of left-wing thought would now run.

He goes on to say that “Much of what is said and done by today’s left—including its ‘anti-Zionism’—is unintelligible without grasping that when ‘anti-imperialist struggle’ displaced ‘class struggle’ as the organizing category of thought and the basis of political identity.” After 1967, that outlook quickly became the necessity of branding the Israelis as “the new Nazis,” and the supposedly oppressed Palestinians as the “new Jews.” As Johnson writes:

Increasingly, after 1967, this upside-down left had taken as the ultimate expression of “anti-imperialist struggle” the armed Palestinian, while Israel became the ultimate expression of “imperialism.” Drawing on some older traditions of left-wing anti-Semitism, and influenced by more recent but well-funded Soviet and Arab antisemitic propaganda campaigns, it became left-wing common sense that supporting Israel’s enemies—whatever these enemies actually stood for, however they actually behaved—was an “anti-imperialist” duty.

So if you want to understand what motivates the American supporters of the flotilla, and the participation in the movement of leftists like Alice Walker, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Michael Ratner, the above explains how they think about the present. Thus an academic leader of the movement who spoke at a Berkeley Teach-In, Judith Butler, explained that “Understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are on the global left is important.” So, Johnson notes:

Because inside their heads the abstract symbol of evil “Israel” confronts the equally abstract symbol of good “Palestine”  they can’t quite bring themselves to condemn Hamas, who must be “anti-imperialists” even as rockets are fired at Jewish school children. And they hold aloft placards reading “We are all Hezbollah even as that organization acts as a proxy for an Iranian regime that seeks to wipe Israel off the map.

Johnson, I must state, writes as one who is still on the political Left, and who seeks to work, alongside his Dissent colleague Michael Walzer, for what he hopes will be a “decent left.” Like former German foreign minister Joschka Fisher, he favors what he calls a “decent, anti-totalitarian and social-democratic leftism.” The problem with that is that his group is rather small and without influence. The Left today, such as it exists, has managed to build a movement and to create for itself the mantle of leftism. When one uses the term “the Left,” most people refer to those whom Johnson attacks. They alone have the right to the title, since without them, no Left to speak of exists. The one favored by Johnson and by Paul Berman in our country is nothing but a hope in their minds, and at best, a small circulation magazine.

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The Strange Life of the Late Fred Newman

July 11th, 2011 - 11:14 am

Yesterday, an obituary appeared in the pages of The New York Times, announcing the passing of a man who, by any standard, was a lunatic crazed leftist — a would-be psychotherapist who started what most people would call a cult. Albeit, it was  a cult that blended the founder’s own therapy system with Marxism-Leninism. His name was Fred Newman, and he received a respectable obit.  Judging by the length of the story, the Times indicated to its readers that he was important.

But if you read between the lines, the obituary shows that something is truly rotten in New York City’s politics, and in particular, the political party structure that exists in that state. As the obit reports, Newman:

[F]ounded a Marxist-Leninist party, fostered a sexually charged brand of psychotherapy, wrote controversial plays about race and managed the presidential campaign of Lenora Fulani, who was both the first woman and the first black candidate to get on the ballot in all 50 states. He helped the Rev. Al Sharpton get on his feet as a public figure and gave Michael R. Bloomberg the support of his Independence Party in three mayoral elections, arguably providing Mr. Bloomberg’s margin of victory in 2001 and 2009.

Let’s put it another way. A crazed self-proclaimed communist revolutionary, who adhered to both Marxism-Leninism and the doctrine of smashing monogamy, was responsible for making billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg the mayor of New York! His personal ethic was so crazed that it might serve to replace the epithet “San Francisco Democrat” to that of “New York Democrat.” Newman, as the article noted, urged his collective to sleep with one another, a concept he termed “friendosexuality.” As a therapist, he also advocated that the therapist should sleep with his patients.

First aligning himself with the more successful cult figure of the time Lyndon H. LaRouche, the contest of wills between two egotistical leaders forced them to split, and Newman created “The International Workers Party,” a form of LaRouchism without LaRouche. At the time, I lived on the Upper Left (West) Side of New York, the area Tom Hayden proclaimed one of America’s “liberated zones,” and from which Newman plied his wares.  A few blocks from my apartment, I often passed a large building with a plaque in front, stating that it was the possession of “the working-class room.” It was, in fact, a building bought by Newman for his school and his headquarters.

Newman’s success, if we can call it that, says a great deal about the willingness of mainstream political figures to seek the support and backing of far left cult figures, who want to use their influence to gain support for their own revolutionary agenda. In this case, Newman also supported and at times worked with Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and the isolationist far-right Republican Pat Buchanan.

The Times’ obit only gives a glimpse of the craziness and yet the effectiveness of Fred Newman. A simple Google search turns up scores of articles that provide more data about how this megalomaniac built up his political machine and extended his influence. One of the most detailed is called “Lenin as Therapist,” and the authors start by exploring the incredible alliance of the Marxist black lesbian Lenora Fulani and Pat Buchanan, an alliance that existed despite Fulani’s leftism, her support of abortion, and her relationship with both Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. What they had in common, however, was opposition to Israel and a not so veiled anti-Semitism.

The two authors make the following observation about how Newman built his cadre organization:

We believe Fred Newman concluded from his brief experience attempting to build the IWP that he had no need for an open vanguard formation. He recruited new members through therapy and gained political influence by working within other groups or creating broad front organizations. However, he did have need for a clandestine vanguard formation, based on the Leninist model and made up of core therapy patients. As we will see, there is considerable evidence that the IWP continues to exist up to the present time.

The 1977 period of activism on the Upper West Side was a learning experience for Newman and his followers. They became skilled at operating within politically ill-defined front organizations and raising funds from guilt-ridden middle-class liberals. Most of all Newman got a taste for electoral activity. This would shape the rest of his political life.

Newman became what the authors call a “New Age Leninist,” who decided it was more effective to use his small group of one hundred cadre to move into other groups, work to take them over, and then support any candidate — right, left or center — that would do their bidding.  Christopher Hitchens once called Newman’s organization a “fascistic zombie cult outfit,” a description which might be the most accurate one of all.

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Jorge Semprun is a name that may not be well known, but it should be. Semprun, as Stephen Schwartz writes in this brilliant eulogy to the late Spanish Republican and anti-Communist intellectual, is a man whose work deserves to be read now. Schwartz writes:

In 1964, Semprún was expelled from the PCE along with the activist and political writer Fernando Claudín. For Semprún and Claudín, their “purging” by the party was a liberation. The PCE had never gained the confidence of the Spanish masses and was among the first Moscow-directed entities to be forced by historical circumstance to question its role and its future. The doubts of Semprún and Claudín went far beyond tactical differences, although they represented a curious combination of nostalgia and hope about the future of Soviet communism, even as they joined the ranks of its most articulate and necessary critics. Semprún became, in many ways, the great Hispanic equivalent of George Orwell. He began writing screenplays and books through which, although undetected by most readers, softly, almost imperceptibly, a troubled conscience that he shared with many of his comrades spoke of the fate of the Spanish Revolution.

Most people know him for his screenplay of the 1966 film, La Guerre est Finie, the Alan Renais movie about the disillusionment of a Communist courier in post-Civil War Spain. In 1997, Semprun published his memoir, The Autobiography of Federico Sanchez, using the secret Communist Party name he had used when he did underground work in Franco Spain. (If you have access to Ebsco, you can read my TNR review of it here.) Of his memoir, I wrote the following:

Now Semprun has given us his autobiography as a communist militant, written in the style of an antichronological novel, both a gripping story of the life of an underground militant and a devastating critique of Western European communism in a time of collapse. It is a work that can be compared favorably with the political novels and memoirs of Orwell, Koestler, and Silone, all of which covered similar ground in a different epoch.

Semprun himself understood the false nature of Communist memory, although when he wrote his memoir, he was still a man of the Left, although already greatly disillusioned. Semprun wrote:

And you are once again amazed to note how selective the memory of Communists is. They remember certain things and forget others. And others they banish entirely from their memory.  Communist memory is in reality a way of not remembering; it does not consist of recalling the past but of censoring it. The memory of Communist leaders functions pragmatically, in accordance with the political interests and objectives of the moment. It is not a historical memory, a memory that bears witness, but an ideological memory.

I thought of that two weeks ago, during our GWU conference on Soviet espionage and the Rosenberg case. His words apply perfectly to all those true believers in the innocence of the two Soviet spies. Despite all the accumulated evidence, they persist in viewing the Rosenbergs as innocent martyrs of the imperialist United States. Facts do not interfere with their judgement. Their memory and allegiance is still ideological, and all argument therefore can never be won. They must remain, as the late CP leader Gus Hall once said of the Rosenbergs, “the sacred couple.”

Unlike these people, it was Semprun’s heresy, as I wrote, to believe in “bearing truthful witness to the past,” and to “unfold that witness without hesitation, regardless of the consequences.” No wonder the Spanish Communists charged their old comrade with being part of a CIA campaign against the Spanish left. He was to write- and recall- he wrote  these words in 1997-that “the ideology of Socialism is the opium of the people.” Now, this view is commonplace and hardly controversial. In left-wing Europe at the time, it came as a bombshell to those who had been his comrade in the socialist movement. He went so far as to even point out that freedom in Franco Spain- whose regime he had fought against for years- was greater than that in any “socialist” country, including Cuba.

Illusions die hard. Most people are reluctant to surrender those of their youth. Jorge Semprun was not one of those moral cowards. He made the break with his former comrades at a moment when it meant he would lose a lot, and suffer great personal attack. So I endorse Stephen Schwartz’s words, when he writes that we should honor Jorge Semprun by understanding that “his books and his screenplays deserve a new and broader audience.” So let me close with Schwartz’s elegant words in his eulogy:

In the face of the global economic crisis and the massacres in Libya and Syria, where scenes reminiscent of Barcelona and Madrid in 1936—the sudden and bloody division of the population, including the armed forces—have abruptly replaced the “happy face” image of “social media” in an Arab Spring, we must say la guerre n’est pas finie, the war is not over. With the death of Jorge Semprún, we have lost one of its greatest heroes.




One wonders what has happened that caused Noam Chomsky — a man who is perhaps the most far left scholar and anti-American political activist in this country — to attack his old friend, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Last week the British Guardian reported that Chavez, who once called Chomsky his “favorite intellectual,” has “now turned his guns on Chavez.” The story by reporter Rory Carroll noted that:

Speaking to the Observer last week, Chomsky has accused the socialist leader of amassing too much power and of making an “assault” on Venezuela’s democracy.

“Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary and for specific circumstances, such as fighting world war two, is an assault on democracy. You can debate whether [Venezuela's] circumstances require it: internal circumstances and the external threat of attack, that’s a legitimate debate. But my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.”

Chomsky, a linguistics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke on the eve of publishing an open letter (see below) that accuses Venezuela’s authorities of “cruelty” in the case of a jailed judge.

Chomsky, seemingly making sense for the first time in many years — decades actually — has accused the Chavez regime of treating Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni with “cruelty,” which, if anything, is an understatement.  The crime committed by the judge, in Chavez’s eyes, was that she freed Eligio Cedeno, a banker facing corruption charges, which were fabricated by the regime in a move to imprison opponents. So the dictator ordered Afiuni’s arrest, and put her in confinement with hard criminals she had previously sentenced in court. As a result she was beaten regularly and tortured, during over a year’s imprisonment.

Chomsky called this behavior “acts of violence and humiliations to undermine her human dignity.” As the story noted, the attacks on Chavez by Amnesty International and the European parliament were easily ignored — the criticism coming from one of his heroes is something else. Chomsky also said: “I’m skeptical that [Afiuni] could receive a fair trial. It’s striking that, as far as I understand, other judges have not come out in support of her … that suggests an atmosphere of intimidation.”

The radical leftist scholar also continued to criticize Chavez for using enabling powers — much as Hitler did as he took power in Germany in the 30s –and said: “Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo [authoritarianism] and it has to be guarded against. Whether it’s over too far in that direction in Venezuela I’m not sure, but I think perhaps it is. A trend has developed towards the centralization of power in the executive which I don’t think is a healthy development.”

Of course, he somewhat backtracked by emphasizing he still supports the Bolivarian revolution, as Chavez calls it, and he gives the regime credit for supposedly reducing poverty in Venezuela and creating self-governing communities. In the letter to the regime, Chomsky wrote:

Judge Afiuni had my sympathy and solidarity from the very beginning. The way she was detained, the inadequate conditions of her imprisonment, the degrading treatment she suffered in the Instituto Nacional de Orientación Femenina, the dramatic erosion of her health and the cruelty displayed against her, all duly documented, left me greatly worried about her physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as about her personal safety….

In times of worldwide cries for freedom, the detention of María Lourdes Afiuni stands out as a glaring exception that should be remedied quickly, for the sake of justice and human rights generally and for affirming an honourable role for Venezuela in these struggles.

Two days ago, the news got to our country, when the New York Times ran its own story. One must understand that Chomsky’s plea for the judge’s freedom separates him from others on the American Left. A few years ago, former Nation magazine publisher and editor in chief Victor Navasky went to Venezuela on behalf of journalists who support freedom of the press and the right of reporters to cover stories without repression from the regimes they are writing about. Upon his return, Navasky said he could not condemn the Chavez regime for its repression because he did not want to hurt a government devoted to the poor.

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The latest revelations about the Strauss-Kahn affair have not only turned all of France on edge, but have raised many lessons for all of us.

First, let us look at the feminists. Katha Pollitt, the much noted columnist for The Nation, led the pack with the judgment of his complete guilt. Writing at the end of May, when his arrest took place, she wrote an open letter to the French people, announcing why she no longer appreciated the country she once loved. Pollitt wrote that “the DSK affair has given the small and internally conflicted French feminist movement new visibility and a great organizing issue.” She continued:

But, France, I don’t like you anymore. Because what is the point of having all those smart, cultivated, social-democratically inclined secular people if it turns out they are such self-satisfied creeps? You should listen to yourself sometime: smug, paunchy, powerful middle-aged men parading across the media going on about how Dominique Strauss-Kahn was just engaging in some typically Gallic flirtation in that Sofitel suite in Manhattan. “It was just a quickie with the maid,” said the famous journalist Jean-Francois Kahn, using an antiquated idiom (troussage de domestique) that suggests trussing up a chicken. Former culture minister Jack Lang was outraged that DSK was not immediately released on bail since after all, “no man died.” (He probably didn’t mean to, but he did say “no man” — Il n’y a pas mort d’homme — not “no one”). And let’s not forget Bernard-Henri Levy, whose pretentious drivel has to be the worst thing you’ve exported to us since pizza-flavored La Vache Qui Rit. Levy can’t get over the way the New York justice system is treating his friend: “I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.” Treating a master of the universe the same as anyone else — even the African immigrant who cleaned his hotel room, quoi — isn’t that what justice is? Didn’t they teach you that in high school philosophy, M. Levy?

Don’t get me wrong. I have no love for the often pretentious BHL — as Levy calls himself — who wants to be appreciated as much for his open shirt and hairy chest as for his claim to intellectual greatness. But, unfortunately for her, BHL had the last laugh.

Levy wrote a column on Saturday for The Daily Beast. He was trounced when he first defended his friend DSK; all those sexist men standing together in asserting their right to oppress poor single mothers from foreign lands, especially one said to be an illegal immigrant working in a fancy hotel frequented by the ruling class. Today, as the Manhattan DA is about to throw out the indictment altogether, Levy writes: “If it’s truly to be over, Dominique Strauss-Kahn must be granted not only his freedom, but — even more importantly — restoration of his honor.”

Of course, Levy turns out to merely be lucky. He too did not know all the facts when he first defended his friend’s honor; he ignored all the testimony of other women in France who testified to DSK’s record of tawdry womanizing. But now he rubs it in, writing that “[t]he ‘shame on you’s’ that greeted Dominique Strauss-Kahn as he arrived for the hearing on June 6th, shouted by battalions of hotel chambermaids who knew nothing of the actual case and whose protest had been orchestrated and scripted, were obscene. And so, too, though in another manner, was the famous ‘perp walk’ which, I’m aware, is the lot of all those charged with a crime, but which, given the identity of the accused in question, could only degenerate into globally observed torture — high punishment for a crime, which no one, at that point, knew whether or not he had committed.”

Yes, many people were happy to see DSK dragged down to the gutter, including many of those who write for this site, since we were happy to see the rich self-proclaimed French socialist who lived in $5000 a night hotel rooms and a $50,000 a month Tribeca apartment so ridiculed. Of course, BHL goes too far when he writes of how his friend’s “silent dignity couldn’t be touched.” Yet he has a point when he argues that to many in our country, he had become “the symbol of arrogant France.” And yes, to the American Left — ignoring that DSK was a leader of the Socialist Party — he was viewed as “the emblem of the world of the privileged, odiously sure of their own impunity. He was the mirror of this world of white global bankers that constitutes Wall Street.”

And Levy is correct when he writes that the supposed victim “was the allegory of all women who are not only battered and humiliated but poor and immigrant — their words, silenced too long, finally expressed through hers.”

As we now know from the prosecution’s findings, the woman in question is more than likely to turn out to be a criminal involved with a ring exploiting other immigrants, perhaps a drug smuggler as well and a prostitute to boot. It is clear that since forensic evidence shows a sexual encounter did take place between the maid and DSK, the maid obviously wanted to cry rape in order to extort money from her culprit, whom she knew was very, very wealthy.

Indeed, the New York Times reported that “among the discoveries, one of the [D.A.’s] officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.” Moreover, another Times story added that “ the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded. That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling about $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.”

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