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Ron Radosh

We live in strange times. The Cold War is over, yet when it comes to Russia seeking to maintain its control of Ukraine, a new group of apologists for Vladimir Putin has emerged. Once again, the group in the West supporting the hegemonic attempts of control of Ukraine by the authoritarian Putin regime is made up of stalwarts on both the Right and the Left.

Support for Putin on the Right comes from the paleoconservatives led by Pat Buchanan, the editors of The American Conservative, and the writers for the website Anti-war.com. The entire group comes from the precincts of what historians call the Old Right, a phenomenon that harks back to the old isolationism of pre World War II conservatives and the large group they organized, the America First Committee.  Their motivations have been succinctly summarized by James Kirchick.

A new concern has been added to the traditional non-interventionist trope. They are favorable to much of Putin’s growing domestic positions on issues such as the growing repression of gays in Russia, actions which they also look kindly upon and wish were social policy in the United States. Opposition to gay rights is combined with support for Putin’s attempt to build what he calls a Christian Russia, and concern for what Buchanan sees as something greatly lacking in the secular United States.  In his book Suicide of a Superpower, Buchanan titled two chapters “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America.” He seems to be saying, “If only we had a leader in the United States with the vision of Vladimir Putin.” Indeed, he asked in one column, “Is Putin One of Us?” His answer, as you have undoubtedly guessed, is yes:

Nor is [Putin] without an argument when we reflect on America’s embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values.

Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live.

Moreover, Putin asserts, the new immorality has been imposed undemocratically.

The “destruction of traditional values” in these countries, he said, comes “from the top” and is “inherently undemocratic because it is based on abstract ideas and runs counter to the will of the majority of people.”

Does he not have a point?

 

As he bluntly says, America is not the nation “we grew up in,” and Putin sees Americans as “pagan and wildly progressive,” a statement with which Buchanan obviously agrees.

On the Left, leading the charge that the neo-cons are again trying to push us into war — a charge they assert whenever anyone makes an analysis with which they do not agree — is The Nation magazine and its writers and editors. And the number-one supporter and apologist for Putin is the historian of modern Russia, Stephen Cohen of Princeton and New York University. In the past two weeks, he has been on Fareed Zakaria’s TV program, on CNN, and on whatever other media outlets call upon him.

In Cohen’s cover story in a recent issue of The Nation, of which his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel is both publisher and editor-in-chief,  he claimed that American media coverage of Putin and Russia is “less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War.” According to Cohen, Putin has worked to support American interests in stabilizing his nuclear-armed country, assisted U.S. security interests in Afghanistan, Syria and Iran, and has magnanimously freed over 1000 political prisoners.

Evidently, Professor Cohen does not acknowledge that in Syria, for example, Putin has managed to box the U.S. into working with and bolstering the Assad regime, to which Russia constantly gives new battle-ready helicopters, and which to this day has brutally seen to the horrendous deaths of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, all brought down with Russian assistance. We are somehow supposed to believe that this is in our security interests.

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The latest shame of the academy is a vote by the Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council calling on the administration to rescind its invitation to Condoleezza Rice as the speaker at the university’s graduation ceremonies. Rice is scheduled to give the commencement address this coming May. The professors explained their position in these words:

Condoleezza Rice … played a prominent role in (the Bush) administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. [She] at the very least condoned the Bush administration’s policy of “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding. A Commencement speaker … should embody moral authority and exemplary citizenship. An honorary Doctor of Laws degree should not honor someone who participated in a political effort to circumvent the law.

No one called out the lack of tolerance for any view different than their own other than columnist Juan Williams. The African-American liberal journalist, himself a veteran of the civil rights movement and author of the classic Eyes on the Prize, was simply enraged at the faculty council’s statement and vote. Williams wrote:

Rice holds a Ph.D. in political science. She has taught college for decades. She was Provost of Stanford University. She worked her way up from a working-class family in the segregated South to the highest echelon of world power and politics.

But according to the Rutgers faculty council, all of that is negated by her service in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Williams disagreed with many of the positions Rice took as national security advisor and secretary of State under George W. Bush. Nevertheless, Williams says that she deserves the honor, and that her life and career should be an inspiration to all students, as her life “personifies the American dream.” The decision, he added, is simply one that stems from a “disgraceful double standard” by liberals, who have nothing but “hatred for black conservatives.”

Indeed, he writes: “Black Americans must be obedient liberals on all things or risk being called a race traitor or an Uncle Tom.”

Williams asks a rhetorical question: Is the faculty afraid to hear her views because they might not be equipped to refute them? The answer is “of course.” They believe that only leftist views — i.e., the truth as they see it — should be heard by those they teach. Why confuse inquiring minds with ways to see the world that are different than those of the Left?

Those opposing her, he writes, are nothing but “pompous jackass professors.”

For more evidence that many professors — in this case, historians — are exactly what Williams calls them, note the second farce to appear in recent days: an amicus curiae brief in a case before the Supreme Court, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. John Rosenberg has written a first-rate contribution dissecting the fallacies of those who support affirmative action — you can read his long version here, and a shorter one at Minding the CampusHere is the gist of his answer about what affirmative action results in on a campus, and why it is a completely wrong-headed policy:

Under affirmative action preferred minorities are, of course, given preferential treatment because of their race or ethnicity, but the rationale for the preference is not to benefit the minorities but the whites and Asians who are exposed to them. “White students interacting with African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans sometimes come with stereotypes about these minorities,” Lee Bollinger, former president of the University of Michigan, told the Michigan Daily (quoted here). ”That kind of breaking down of expectations is the essence of what a liberal education is all about.” Bollinger did not address the evidence that admitting less qualified minorities who proceed to cluster at the bottom of their classes actually reinforces stereotypes of underperforming minorities.

Rushing to defend affirmative action, the brief by 75 historians was written to help the policy’s advocates in an effort to convince the justices of the Supreme Court why affirmative action should be upheld. Among the 75 are leading lights of the left-wing academy, including the red-diaper baby at Columbia Eric Foner Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard, Glenda Gilmore of Yale, Ira Berlin of the Univ. of Maryland, and many other scholars of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

The list is made up, one might say, of the big guns in the history profession. Basing their case on the 14th Amendment, they argue:

The history surrounding the Fourteenth Amendment demonstrates that the Amendment’s Framers intended to eliminate special burdens on racial minorities’ ability to seek legislative change such as the enactment of race-conscious affirmative action. 
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, newly freed slaves found themselves unable to influence the legislatures of the former Confederate states. On one side, freedmen were bounded by Northerners, some of whom were not yet interested in granting blacks the franchise. 
On the other side, freedmen who sought to persuade their neighbors and countrymen to support their reform initiatives and policy goals faced systematic exclusion, as well as outright violence, from Southern Democrats and former Confederates hostile to the notion of black freedom — let alone self- determination. Northern blacks, most Northern white Republicans, and the small number of white Republicans and Unionists who lived in the South supported the freedmen’s efforts.

They are claiming, in other words, that the 14th Amendment is violated by a state when the legislature passes a law prohibiting preferential treatment based on race. But the historians in their brief are addressing history to try to prove affirmative action is necessary. In particular, they refer to what took place after the end of the Civil War. Schools in the Reconstruction states were created for the “freedmen,” which they argue proves that “race-conscious” actions were not intended to be prohibited by the 14th Amendment.

Actually, the policies enacted then were meant to prohibit discrimination based on “previous condition of servitude,” i.e., slavery — and race was not used as a criterion for the schools of the time. Yes, the slaves were black — but those who opposed it opposed slavery per se, not just slavery when imposed on blacks. The language used in particular avoided racial categorization.

The historians argue: “[T]he Amendment precludes a state from imposing special burdens on a minority group’s ability to access the political process.” So, the real question rests on whether or not a university can demand standards for admission that all students must meet before being admitted, or whether such standards can be lowered for those who happen to be in a racial group other than white — and who would not be admitted if the standards for most high school graduates were imposed on them.

Is being subject to the same standards as whites or Asians really a “special burden,” since it would demand equal treatment by all, not special treatment for those of one racial group?

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by Ron and Allis Radosh

At the AIPAC final session this morning, the 14,000 delegates heard two powerful speeches. The first was delivered by Robert Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the second was given by the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. He came to AIPAC a day after his meeting with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and others in the administration.

Netanyahu’s speech took place not only after his meeting with the president, but two days after President Obama, in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, publicly chastised him. At that meeting, the president took what Goldberg termed a “sharper view.” Goldberg:

“[Obama argued] that if Netanyahu ‘does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.’ He added,  ‘It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.’”

Netanyahu’s speech was made within that context. Without specifically addressing the president’s remarks, Netanyahu made it clear that it was both in the United States and Israel’s interest to maintain our alliance, and to stand together as one in addressing the threats facing both democracies. But when it came to specifics, both he and Menendez made clear their disagreement with Obama on one critical issue — Obama’s claim that he was right to “to fight a congressional effort to impose more time-delayed sanctions on Iran just as nuclear negotiations were commencing.”

He came to draw a red line, Netanyahu told AIPAC, “between life and death, right and wrong,” between the “blessings of a brilliant future and the curses of a dark past.” Israel, he stressed, was a humane, compassionate nation and a force for good in the world, one that comprehended the dividing line between “decency and depravity.” He recounted how Israeli field hospitals treated Palestinians from Gaza and refugees from Syria, while Iran sends rockets, terrorism and missiles abroad, executes political prisoners, and represses millions in the brutal theocracy run by the mullahs.

Quoting the head of Hezbollah, who said “Iran loves death and Israel loves life” and that was why Iran would win, Netanyahu responded that the first part of his statement was correct, but the second was wrong — Israel would win that fight.

Turning to Iran’s nuclear program, he asked how Iran can claim it wants only nuclear power while they are building ICBMs that could reach the United States and carry a nuclear payload.

Netanyahu presented Iran’s program as a danger both to the U.S. and to Israel, and why the goal is to get rid of its stockpiles, its centrifuges, and its heavy water reactors. All of those are not needed for electricity, and only for a military nuclear capability.

The world powers — and clearly he included the United States — seemed content, he said, with leaving Iran with the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran would then be able to rapidly develop that goal if an agreement fell apart, and could do so as the world looked elsewhere.

As the leader of Israel, he said he would see to it that the Jewish people would “never be brought to the brink of extinction again,” and that he would do what was necessary to defend “the Jewish state of Israel.”

Of course, he said — addressing both Kerry’s argument and Obama’s — Israel wants diplomacy to succeed. But Iran’s threat, he cautioned, “could not be eliminated by any agreement at all,” only one “that forces Iran to dismantle its nuclear capability.”

That goal could be achieved not by relieving pressure on Iran, but by adding pressure. He said Iran came to the table only when pressure was applied, and only more pressure — not less — would get them to abandon their goal of military nuclear capability. Lessening sanctions and pressure would make war more likely. “The greater the pressure on Iran,” he said, “the smaller the chance that force will have to be used.”

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by Ron Radosh and Allis Radosh

At the AIPAC final session this morning, the 14,000 delegates heard two powerful speeches — the first from Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and the second from the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to AIPAC a day after his meeting with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the administration.

Netanyahu’s speech took place not only after his meeting with the president, but two days after President Obama, in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, publicly chastised the Israeli prime minister. At that meeting, the president took what Goldberg termed a “sharper view,” arguing “that if Netanyahu ‘does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.’ He added,  ‘It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.’”

Netanyahu’s speech was made within that context. Without specifically addressing the president’s remarks, Netanyahu made it clear that he realized it was in the interest of both the United States and Israel to maintain our alliance, and to stand together as one in addressing the threats facing both democracies. But when it came to specifics, both he and Menendez made clear their disagreement on one critical issue — Obama’s claim that he was right to “to fight a congressional effort to impose more time-delayed sanctions on Iran just as nuclear negotiations were commencing.”

He came to draw a red line, Netanyahu told AIPAC, a line “between life and death, right and wrong,” between the “blessings of a brilliant future and the curses of a dark past.” Israel, he stressed, was a humane, compassionate nation and a force for good in the world, one that comprehended the dividing line between “decency and depravity.”  The prime minister recounted how Israeli field hospitals treated Palestinians from Gaza and refugees from Syria, while Iran sent rockets, terrorism and missiles abroad, while executing political prisoners and repressing millions in the brutal theocracy run by the mullahs.

Quoting the head of Hezbollah, who said “Iran loves death and Israel loves life” and that was why they would win, Netanyahu responded that the first part of his statement was correct, but the second was wrong — and that it was Israel who would win that fight. Turning to Iran’s nuclear program, he stressed that despite Iran’s claim it wanted only peaceful nuclear power, why were they building ICBMs that could reach the United States and were meant to carry a nuclear payload? That desire is a danger both to the U.S. and Israel, and that is why it had to have as its goal getting rid of its stockpiles and its centrifuges and heavy water reactors — all of which were not needed for simply peaceful purposes. Iran’s goal, as he understood it, was to develop a military nuclear capability.

The world powers — and clearly that includes the United States — seemed content, he said, with leaving Iran with the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. They would then be able to rapidly develop that goal if an agreement fell apart, and could do so as the world looked elsewhere.

As the leader of Israel, he said, he would see to it that the Jewish people would “never be brought to the brink of extinction again.” He would do what is necessary to defend “the Jewish state of Israel.” Of course, he said — addressing both Kerry’s argument  before AIPAC the day before as well as that of Obama — Israel wants diplomacy to succeed. But Iran’s threat, he cautioned, “could not be eliminated by any agreement at all,” only one “that forces Iran to dismantle its nuclear capability.” That goal could be achieved not by relieving pressure on Iran, but by adding pressure. Iran came to the table, he said, only when pressure was applied, and only more pressure — not less — would get them to abandon their goal of military nuclear capability. The other position — lessening sanctions and pressure — would make war more likely. “The greater the pressure on Iran,” he said, “the smaller the chance that force will have to be used.”

On the issue of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu agreed that peace would be good for both sides. It could lead to developing ties with the other Arab nations, many of whose rulers realize now that Israel is not their enemy, and that they, in conjunction with the Gulf states, would catapult the economic and social development of the entire region moving forward, resolving major problems of both water supply and energy. On that point, he was agreeing with the outlook and argument made earlier by Secretary Kerry. The lives of millions in the Middle East, he said, would be made better.

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Writing in The New Republic, John B. Judis offered an answer to his critics — me, Rick Richman in Commentary, and Jordan C. Hirsch in the Wall Street Journal. Richman has already responded in detail at Commentary, and I will not repeat what I consider to be his devastating critique of Judis.

Judis accuses all of us of writing “condemnatory reviews.” Actually, Judis avoided answering my review in the Jewish Review of Books; instead he linked to an op-ed I was asked to write by the editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, who said he wanted to acquaint Israeli readers with Judis’ book and to explain why it was important. Judis knows the difference between an op-ed and a review, and yet he chose to call my column a review, although my actual review was already online when he wrote his answer.

What Judis does in his answer and throughout his book is to take the approach of Israel’s anti-Israel historians, Israel’s equivalent to those historians who follow Howard Zinn in the United States. These so-called “new historians,” historian Efraim Karsh explains, are “politicized historians” who have “turned the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims and vice-versa.” Omitted, always, is the desire of the Arabs to push all the Jews out of Palestine, preferably into the sea, and to do all in their power to prevent the creation of a Jewish state.

1. What Happened in Hebron in 1929

Judis says that I falsely accuse him of writing an apologia for the Hebron massacre in 1929, when in reality he did not play down or justify the massacre. In his eyes, the Arabs were indigenous to the region, while the Jews were “settler-colonialists.” If this were the case, one would not be surprised that he would think the Jews brought Arab hostility on themselves: as he so crudely puts it in various places in his book, the Jews “screwed the Arabs” out of land that was rightfully theirs.

For example, Judis writes that from the 1890s on, “when Zionists first settled in Palestine with the express purpose of creating a Jewish state where Arabs had lived for centuries … the responsibility for the conflict lay primarily with the Zionists. They initiated it by migrating to Palestine with the purpose of establishing a Jewish state that would rule the native Arab population.” (My emphasis.)

Judis neglects to acknowledge that Palestine had been the homeland of the Jews for centuries prior to the 1890s, as Lee  S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin write in The Algemeiner. The intention of the Zionists, as Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote, was definitely not to settle in Palestine in order to subjugate the Arab population.

It is not surprising that Judis downplays the significance of fierce Arab attacks against Jews. What he does write — and what he leaves out of his response — is his claim that the 1929 events were caused by Revisionist Zionists marching to the Arab section of Jerusalem yelling “the wall is ours!”, and carrying the Zionist flag. It was their march to the home of the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, according to Judis, that “set off demonstrations that degenerated into large scale riots.”

If he had read the works of other scholars instead of the Arabists he cites in his footnotes, he would find the true reasons.

Efraim Karsh points out in Palestine Betrayed, a book which Judis obviously has not read, that it was the mufti who “utilized the immense inflammatory potential of Islam … and its deep anti-Jewish sentiment” to inflame the population against the Jews. The mufti had distributed copies of  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the Arab population in the early 1920s, something Judis somehow fails to mention. He simply writes that Hebron was proof of Jabotinsky’s admonition that “the ends of Zionism justified the means.”

Judis might also have looked at the book by historian Stephen Norwood, Anti-Semitism and the American Far Left. Norwood writes that the 1929 events were “aroused by the virulently anti-Semitic harangues of the grand mufti of Jerusalem.”

Norwood’s accurate description, had Judis cited it, would make clear on whom the responsibility lay for the attacks on the Jews. Moreover, it would have revealed to readers just what the Arabs did. Norwood writes:

Arab mobs armed with swords and axes, knives, sledgehammers, iron bars, and stones, screaming “Allah is Great … Kill the Jews!” attacked Jews in Hebron, Jerusalem, Safed, Haifa, Jaffa and even Tel Aviv, as well as many Jewish agricultural settlements. They broke into Jewish homes and massacred men and women — including the elderly and children, some of them less than five years old. The Arabs’s savagery was unrestrained. The pogromists beheaded some of their victims with axes and chopped off hands. They gouged out the eyes of a Jewish pharmacist in Hebron while he was still alive and then murdered him.

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We did not have to wait long to see how The Nation, the flagship publication of the American Left, would respond to the events in Venezuela. And no one has put it as well as one of its contributing editors, Marc Cooper. He posted the following on his Facebook page:

Here we go again. After winding up on the wrong side of Ukrainian history this week, The Nation magazine … now calls for the Venezuelan government to take a MORE radical line and rather stupidly argues that the current student protests are simply a mechanism to return the “elites” to power. As if Chavismo has not created a new elite! This piece also brims with the usual claptrap about the revolutionary and democratic process. Yada yada yada, What a lack of courage and honesty! And people wonder why the U.S. Left is impotent and irrelevant?

Cooper is referring to the article on The Nation’s website by George Ciccariello-Maher, an assistant professor of political science at Drexel University. (God help the students subjected to his teaching.) Ciccariello-Maher wants his readers not to “be excited by people on the streets,” as Nation writers always are when the event is something like Occupy Wall Street. The thousands protesting against the Castroite tyranny emerging in Venezuela are not, he writes, “simply the latest act in an upsurge of world-historic proportions.” Rather, “these protests have far more to do with returning economic and political elites to power.”

The collapse of the economy as oil prices fall, the inability to obtain common goods like toilet paper, the rampaging inflation that is destroying the ability of middle-class and working-class folk to buy goods — all this is evidently not anything to be concerned about. What Chavismo has created is, to the Nation writer, a movement of “radical social movements against a repressive, neoliberal state.”

To the Left, as this article makes clear, repression exists in an actual democratic polity, when people are free to speak their minds, opposition political leaders are allowed to challenge the power of the existing leaders in free elections, and when freedom of the press exists. The closing down of opposition newspapers, the arrest of journalists, and the suppression of TV networks that reported the actual news and not Chavista propaganda? Not repression. That is simply seeing to it that the truth as defined by the Left is the only thing the rulers allow the citizens to hear.

This outlook stems from the philosophical double-talk of the influential Frankfurt School scholar, the late Herbert Marcuse, from whom the New Left learned that there was supposedly something called “repressive tolerance.” According to Marcuse, the people’s forces fighting for socialist revolution had the right and duty to suppress propaganda made by the capitalist ruling class. Once the voice of the right-wing was forbidden — right-wing defined as anyone opposed to leftists — then the people could learn the truth.  Or as The Nation journalist-professor puts it:

For decades, armed guerrillas, peasants and workers, women, Afro- and indigenous Venezuelans, students and the urban poor struggled against a system that — while formally democratic — was far from it in practice.

You know that Lopez is a monster of the ruling class. The proof? He received funding for the building of a democratic civil society in Venezuela from the bipartisan U.S. institution funded by Congress, the National Endowment for Democracy! The NED, as long-time readers of The Nation know, is a decades-long bugaboo of the American Left. After all, it also funded opposition to the dissidents in Eastern Europe during the waning days of the Cold War. What better proof could you want?

In this manner, Ciccariello-Maher becomes another one of those journalists described in the Daily Beast by Michael P. Moynihan, one of “Venezuela’s Useful Idiots.” As Moynihan writes, “All over the internet, one finds a seemingly inexhaustible supply of useful idiots and Sandinista nostalgists willing to contextualize the disastrous Bolivarian Revolution.” Moynihan presents wonderful examples of how other writers are rationalizing the growing repression of the would-be totalitarians anxious to copy the regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba.

He cites a Huffington Post writer who tells his leftist audience that the Venezuelan economy is doing well. The reality is that capital is fleeing the country, the shelves in the supermarkets are bare, and inflation is skyrocketing. But to say the opposite is anti-revolutionary. Who cares what the reality is? My favorite anecdote in his article is the report about the headline in the British Guardian that informs its readers: “Venezuela’s hardliner reappears as Nicolas Maduro expels US officials.” The “hardliner” here is not Maduro, but none other than the now-jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

The British paper’s editorial actually attacks Barack Obama as a neo-con, who in their eyes is supporting “regime change” in Venezuela. If only that were the case.

Returning to The Nation article, one must note the description of Chavista armed thugs, called “the radical sectors of Chavismo,” who ride through the streets on motorcycles, wear red shirts, and are “poor-looking or dark-skinned.” Rather than goons spreading terror to dissuade protestors from gathering, they are described by Professor Ciccariello-Maher as “popular grassroots organizers” who are “the most direct, organic expressions of the wretched of the Venezuelan earth.” He calls them representative of “the most independent sectors of the revolution … those most familiar with the repressive force of the state.”

Don’t be confused. He is referring to those who held power before the coup led by the late Hugo Chavez, who represents real democracy. Nothing the state now led by Maduro does is, of course, repressive.

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Will Venezuela Follow Ukraine?

February 22nd, 2014 - 10:05 am

Cuban troops

As the world focuses on the demonstrations and “Day of Liberation” in Kiev, as the oppressive regime in Ukraine has fled to areas in which they have support, events closer to the United States are also flaring up.

While the demonstrations against the leftist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro continue in Venezuela, news has arrived that a new group of Cuban troops has arrived in Caracas to help the regime defeat the protestors.  As PJ Media contributor Alberto de la Cruz reports at Babalu, the anti-Castro website, these troops are in fact “simply joining the thousands of other Cuban soldiers already stationed in the Cuban pseudo-colony.”  Recently, Raul Castro threatened to unleash these troops to help the Maduro regime stay in power.

The situation in Venezuela is producing a serious opposition, which now includes both students and regular middle-class Venezuelans, as this report from Al Jazeera reveals. In the city of San Cristobal, where the protests began, Caracas Chronicles reports that many sections have fallen out of control of the regime.

The response of Maduro and his cronies, Reuters reports, is of the usual leftist variety: “Small fascist groups” are working in league with the United States to overthrow the government. Maduro is the same leader who recently told Venezuelans, Michael P. Moynihan writes, that he has seen Hugo Chavez appear to him in the form of a bird, as well as having spotted his ghost lingering in the Caracas subway. We know, of course, that this could not be true, since Maduro would no longer be caught dead in the subway — preferring to ride through his occupied capital in a bullet-proof car protected by his troops.

Last week, Maduro had the popular opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez arrested and thrown in jail, where he is awaiting trial on the charge that he has incited the crowds to riot, is guilty of homicide, and, finally, that he is a terrorist. We all know what the outcome of that trial will be. “The fascist right-wing,” Maduro told a crowd of organized supporters, is finally “in the hands of justice.” Maduro continued to tell his small rally that “we have been informed that the ultra-right wing of Venezuela, in tandem with the ultra-right wing of Miami, apropos the bench warrant, activated foreign groups to find and kill [Lopez] so as to fuel a political crisis and lead us to civil war.”

To translate: Maduro, whose regime has done everything to stifle a democratic opposition from being heard, including the recent murders of demonstrators by the regime’s police, is now claiming that they are in fact, by arresting Lopez, protecting him from the wrath of other of his fascist followers! Just like when Stalin had one of his agents assassinate Leon Trotsky, in exile in Mexico, by wielding an ice-ax to his skull, he was protecting the people from Trotsky’s supposed coming alliance with Hitler to overthrow Stalin’s workers’ paradise.

So far, the ranks of the American leftwing have been relatively silent, except for one voice, as you’ll see on the next page.

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“The United Auto Workers union suffered a crushing defeat Friday, falling short in an election in which it seemed to have a clear path to organizing workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.,” the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. “The setback is a bitter defeat because the union had the cooperation of Volkswagen management and the aid of Germany’s powerful IG Metall union, yet it failed to win a majority among the plants 1,550 hourly workers.”

One cannot emphasize the magnitude of this loss. What it clearly spells out is the irrelevance of the old industrial unions in today’s world. They have become nothing less than reactionary institutions. It is no longer the heyday of the union movement, which once was necessary and helped create a middle class in our country in the 1930s and ’40s.

How different a situation existed in that bygone era. When Ford and GM workers tried to gain representation for collective bargaining, they were met with an onslaught of fierce opposition from the auto manufacturers. First there were the sit-down strikes in 1936 and 1937 at GM and Chrysler, and the brutal attack on workers by Ford management. They responded to organizing with the famous attack on the workers by company thugs, goons, and the local police, who cooperated with management. The culmination was the most famous event in modern labor’s fight to organize, the Battle of the Overpass at the River Rouge Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

In our own era, the workers at the Tennessee Volkswagen factory had the support and encouragement of Volkswagen for unionization. Both the UAW and the European IG Metall union convinced Volkswagen management to engage in talks with the UAW in the United States, and not even to propagandize against unionization among the workforce. As the WSJ article notes, “the election was also extraordinary because Volkswagen chose to cooperate closely with the UAW.” As a labor lawyer who previously worked for the leftist SEIU put it, “usually, companies fight” union drives.

So when a major corporation urges unionization and sides with the UAW, and the workers vote in a free NLRB-supervised election to not unionize, it is a very big deal indeed. Nationally, the decline in the strength of unions has had its effect on the UAW. During the heyday of the union, it represented 1.5 million workers; now, it represents only 400,000. If Walter Reuther were still alive, he would be stunned at the reversal of the fortunes of the union he worked so hard to build. Indeed, in Michigan — once the very stronghold of the union –the state has put into place a right-to-work law that allows workers to drop their membership in unions, including the UAW, if they choose to do so.

The other issue in the campaign was the effort of the UAW and Volkswagen to create what is called a “works council,” a committee composed of both union and nonunion employees who negotiate with management on day-to-day work issues that arise in the factory. Such councils are standard arrangements in German factories, as well as in other countries in Europe. They allow for settlement of issues in a manner that creates labor peace and promotes better conditions in the workplace, without the threat of a strike. But according to American labor law, they cannot be established unless an outside union like the UAW legally represents the workers.  Because Volkswagen wanted one, they chose to support the UAW organizing effort.

When it comes to wages, it turns out that at the Southern plant, a starting worker earns $19.50 an hour without a union, while his counterpart working in Michigan earns only $15.50 an hour. So wages do not compel a worker to support unionization. The foreign- owned plants, it seems, pay better than the American auto manufacturers.

Then there are the unspoken social issues, which I’ll discuss on the following page.

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Anti-Putin protesters march through Moscow February 2, 2014, Russia. Several thousand protesters have marched through central Moscow to call for the release of 20 people who were arrested. Photo by Nickolay Vinokurov, Shutterstock.com.

 

The opening Olympic ceremonies, broadcast last night on NBC, were most revealing in what they told us about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It was the fantasy Russia, sometimes beautifully portrayed, not the reality. In that sense, Putin put together propaganda offensive in the style of the late Joseph Stalin, a tyrant who the current leader of Russia admires for successfully having created an empire with world influence and power.

True, as Ed Driscoll writes, the narrative at the start of the program praised the Soviet era as one of history’s greatest “pivotal experiments.” Fortunately, NBC made the very wise move of hiring New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick as its official on-air live commentator. Remnick is author of one of the most insightful books about the fall of the Soviet Union, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire,  and Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia, about the early post-Soviet era.

Rarely have viewers of an opening ceremony had such an erudite and candid picture of what the ceremony meant, for which NBC deserves kudos. Remnick did not let the Putin narrative go unchallenged, and he regularly informed the audience of what Putin hoped to accomplish, and in what ways the narrative was completely false.  He also provided context for most of the people who watched and who would have no idea of the program’s symbolism.

The program opened with a paean to the modernizing czar Peter the Great.  Of this, the editors of the Wall Street Journal made the following point:

The choice of Peter the Great to headline the opening speaks to Mr. Putin’s self-perception, but in Sochi he has been more of a latter-day Potemkin. Russia estimated the cost of converting a beach resort into a world-class ski and winter sport center at $12 billion. The final tab came to $50 billion, more than every previous winter Olympics combined and even the 2008 Beijing summer games.

One road from the beach resort to the ski center alone cost 9 and a half billion dollars—the most expensive road ever built in the entire world. And even with an overrun in the billions, with seven years to prepare, the Kremlin could not even build the necessary hotels so they could open in time for receiving guests. Perhaps had they spent a million more in bribes, the work might have been completed.

Moreover, the past months have revealed gaps in Putin’s popularity, with mass protests throughout Russia, to which Putin’s regime has responded with the jailing of its opponents and the new ban on “gay propaganda,” with Putin assuring visitors that gays would be welcome at the Olympics, as long as they “stay away from children.”

Yet, the first part of the program about Peter’s legacy was beautiful. The sets and the choreography were magnificent, as Russia’s top dancers performed and viewers were able to see the lush façade created by the czars in gorgeous colors. Then, after a section showing turmoil and war, the narrative got to the birth of the Soviet Union. This section was shown in an ominous red color, which symbolized Communism.

The section began with a train forging ahead. As Remnick explained, every Russian who lived through Soviet times knew what this symbolized. It was the so-called “propaganda train,” which brought Soviet diktats to the nether regions of the USSR, at a time when there was no mass media, and all peoples of the tyranny had to be reached with Bolshevik policies meant to be obeyed and which were enforced by the Cheka, the name of the first secret police.

It was followed by a panorama of Soviet productivity and the birth of modern industry as dancers symbolized building of railroad tracks, cranes were everywhere setting up major building projects, and workers were drilling and hammering. We saw Soviet Lada cars riding through the stadium, and people rejoicing in the entry of Russia to the modern era.

Remnick did not let Putin get away with this. As he put it, this was an era of mass terror, the Gulag, severe repression and the worst years of the constant terror. There was no mention of Lenin, Stalin or any other future Soviet leaders — only a picture of the supposed great results of the five-year plans, which of course were never mentioned. Somehow, viewers learned only that Russia had modernized. It was in a strange way a choreographed picture of the thesis of the late Isaac Deutscher, the Marxist historian who argued that while Stalin was horrible, he obtained the results to build the Soviet Union into an industrial behemoth, which would then somehow be transformed into a humane, democratic Communist society.

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R.I.P.: Remembrances of My Friend Barry Rubin

February 3rd, 2014 - 1:54 pm

The loss of a friend comes hard to all of us, and Barry Rubin was a friend, whom I always knew was there to discuss the issues that were of mutual concern to us. PJM readers know him well as our Middle East editor, a man who traveled the world and wrote candidly and frankly about the hard truths others always seemed to avoid.

His importance to those who followed the Middle East was made clear today in a statement issued by Dr. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Barry, Satloff stated, “was a brilliant scholar who was passionately committed to the pursuit of truth. He brought this determination to his fight against cancer. His death is a loss to the broader community of Middle East scholars.”

The Institute website provides a list with links to many of the articles Barry wrote for them and other outlets.

I suspect I knew Barry the longest of anyone at PJ Media. A decade older than him, I first met him when he and I were both men of the Left. He had just graduated college. Few know that back then Barry was hard left — as left as they come. At the time, he was foreign editor of a now defunct weekly newspaper, The Guardian, which had transformed from a vehicle of the pro-Communist Left to a newspaper of the most radical elements of the New Left, and of the pro-Maoist and most Stalinist elements that came from the ranks of the old Communist Party, U.S.A. Barry had become its foreign correspondent.

I suspect that experience is what gave him the personal insight for his new book – Silent Revolution, about the American Left’s rise to power — that will be posthumously published in May. Readers will find out that Barry’s expertise went far beyond that of understanding the Middle East. I know from the many discussions I had with him over the years about the Left in America that he had a lot to say especially on this topic.

When he was working for The Guardian, Barry — like the rest of the New Left — was enthusiastic about Cuba. So as I was sitting in the waiting room of Cubana Airlines at their Mexico City terminal in the summer of 1975, waiting to board the flight to Cuba, coming out of the plane was none other than Barry! “You’ll love Cuba!”, he shouted as he ran over to me. “You’ll see how Castro is building a new socialist country right in our own backyard.” He sat me down with tips galore about what to see and whom to talk to.

Years later, both of us would laugh about how as young men we had been taken in, and how the full realization of what a prison Cuba was for its people under the rule of Fidel Castro and his henchmen had helped move us far, far away from that Left we once were part of.

That experience also led Barry to report on the wars in Central America during the Reagan years. With my friend Robert S. Leiken, Barry co-edited an important volume, The Central American Crisis Reader. The book collected and presented the most important articles helping to explain what, at the time, seemed like the possible triumph of communist revolutions throughout the region. It also offered policy alternatives for how the United States should deal with the region. The book still stands as an important document for those wishing to comprehend how important Central America was in that period.

I saw Barry most often during his long stays in Washington, D.C., where he kept his mother’s old home and stayed when he was here. I would meet him often at the P.F. Chang’s in Rockville, Maryland, where we would have a relaxed meal of Chinese food and talk. When he was writing his biography of Yasser Arafat, Barry brought with him copies of documents and material he had uncovered that he would use in the book. Spreading them out on the restaurant table, he had me read the most revealing ones. I recall it was a long time before we ordered any food.

We shared a love of bluegrass music. My wife and I joined Barry, his wife Judith, and their children at the outdoors Strathmore concert series to hear the well-known local D.C. bluegrass masters Seldom Scene. Barry had first introduced me to his wife Judith Colp Rubin after they got married, when we both still lived in New York City.

And of course, Barry was an avid Civil War buff. As readers know, he regularly donned his uniform and participated, as he did last summer with re-enacters of the battle at Gettysburg during the camp set-up for the 150th anniversary event. Although he had recently gotten through his first bout with cancer, he went and took part in the blazing heat, wearing the heavy garments. To Barry, always one part American and one part Israeli, recognizing the importance of the Civil War and paying homage to those who fought and died in it was a great part of understanding the country of his birth.

I cannot believe Barry is no longer with us. Just two weeks ago I received a few e-mails from him, commenting on some of my PJM columns and offering his thoughts on the topics I was writing about. When he told me of his new book on the Left, I promised him to review it, a promise I will keep.

Barry Rubin is gone, but his friends and readers all over the world will continue to read his books and articles, learning from them as they did weekly from his reports for the institute he built in Israel, and from his columns in PJ Media. His loss is a great one, and there are few who can fill his shoes. R.I.P.