Archive for the ‘Alexander Cockburn’ Category

Against the “Don’t Vote” Argument

November 8, 2014


Over the past few days, I have read a number of articles that have posited various reasons for why the last election turned out the way it did: low turnout, Republican gerrymandering, the weak economy, the stupidity of the Democrats, etc. I think there is some truth to all of these arguments. What I would like to address here, though, is an argument that some of my leftist friends made, which is that we shouldn’t vote. I can understand why people would feel this way, since our political system is such a scam. Yet I think the argument is seriously lacking in some ways.

In the last election, Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. all voted to legalize marijuana. Massachusetts passed a paid sick days law. Denton, Texas, outlawed fracking. Here in California, voters passed Proposition 47, which reduces many non-violent crimes, including drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors. This is a major blow against what the late Alexander Cockburn called “the prosecutorial state” – in other words the warehousing of human beings who committed petty crimes. This vote indicates there has been a huge shift in consciousness since the 1990’s, when Californians passed the god-awful “Three Strikes” law, which resulted in people being sentenced for life for such trivial offenses as stealing a slice of pizza. People are beginning to realize that mass incarceration is not only not the solution to our society’s problems, but it actually makes them worse.

Should you vote? I would argue it depends on the circumstances and what’s on the ballot. Yes, we have a terrible political system, but we should take advantage of what little room to maneuver that we have.

Gilad Atzmon and Veterans Today Declare War on the Weimar Republic

April 5, 2014


I was looking at CounterPunch the other day, and I noticed an article by Eugene Schulman entitled “What Heidegger Hysteria Tells Us About the Press”. This piqued my curiosity, so I read it. The article turned out to be only tangentially about Heidegger. It’s main argument is that the New York Times is pro-Israel. (The late Alexander Cockburn made this point about ten million times. I guess Schulman must be new to CounterPunch.) I did find one passage interesting:

    In a recent article published at the Veterans Today website controversial author of “The Wandering Who?”, Gilad Atzmon, takes to task The Guardian newspaper for an article criticizing the publication of Martin Heidegger’s ‘black notebooks’. Heidegger was one of the 20th Century’s most famous philosophers, almost best known for having joined the Nazi party during the war years [Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933] and, thus, gaining the reputation for being anti-Semitic.

I guess that’s what happens when you join the Nazi Party. Anyway, the article provides a link to Veterans Today (which I had never heard of before). I must guiltily confess that I gave in to my morbid sense of curiosity and clicked on it. VT calls itself a “Military & Foreign Affairs Journal”, and it tells us that it has been serving “Military & Veterans for 40+ Years”. Among other things, it provides job listings for veterans and information for how veterans can get loans. Atzmon’s article is titled “The Banality Of The Guardian Of Judea”. In it, he defends Heidegger from the accusation of anti-Semitism. I found this passage particularly interesting:

    Heidegger was a German patriot. As such he knew very well that it was Zionist leadership and German Jewish bankers in America that facilitated the entry of the USA into the first world war (in return in part for the 1917’s Belfour Declaration that promised a national home for Jews in Palestine). In that regard, Heidegger, like his contemporaries, had good reason to believe that Germany was betrayed by its Jewish elite.

There you have it: the “stabbed in the back” lie, dusted off and presented to American military veterans.

My morbid sense of curiosity was now in overdrive. I searched around the VT website. I found out that VT is big on 9/11 conspiracy theories. (One recent article is titled “Malaysian plane disappearance linked to 9/11”). They like Vladimir Putin a lot. I also found an article by someone named Jonas E. Alexis titled “Hitler and Germany’s Sexual Question (Part II)”. It’s a rambling, somewhat confusing article, but it makes clear that Alexis doesn’t care much for Weimar Germany:

    Theater in Germany began to produce films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), directed and written by Jewish producers Robert Wiene and Hans Janowitz. This particular film was teleological in nature: it was supposed to hypnotize audiences in an expressionist and psychoanalytic form.

    Other films of the same genre included Carl Mayer’s The Last Laugh (1924), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Madchen in Uniform (1931), and Kuhle Wampe (1932).[14] Madchen in Uniform was an explicitly pro-lesbian film, something that was completely contrary to the Prussian education system at the time, and many of the cast in the movie were Jewish.

Yes, we’ve got to point out those Jews, don’t we? Alexis adds:

    Madchen in Uniform became a symbol for feminist movements in the 1970s, one of the weapons used against the existing culture. Moreover, Jewish film directors and producers, like many current Jewish directors in Hollywood (Eli Roth and David Cronenberg come to mind), knew that they were indirectly changing the social and cultural mode of Germany.

Huh? Do Roth and Cronenberg have a time machine? Later on, Alexis writes:

    This anger [Hitler’s] began to escalate after World War I when he [Hitler] saw what was happening in the press and theatre in Germany, when art in general was being used to denigrate the German culture.

    What perhaps moved Hitler’s anger to a new height was that the Jews were less than three percent of the population, yet they largely controlled the theatre and were promoting what he would call “filth” and “pornography.”

    For Hitler, these acts “must have been definitely intentional.” Moreover, he got first-hand knowledge after World War I that pornography was almost exclusively a Jewish phenomenon.

It’s interesting to note that Alexis is black. I wonder if Alexis has ever done any research on Hitler’s views on blacks. (Another black contributor to VT is H. K. Edgerton. VT tells us that he does “Confederate street preaching for the South”.)

I looked at the page listing the editorial board for VT. They list as a board member, Lt. General Hamid Gul, who, they claim, is “Director General ISI (Former Chief of Intelligence Services, Pakistan)”. About another board member, we are told:

    Gordon Duff is an accredited diplomat and is generally accepted as one of the top global intelligence specialists. He manages the world’s largest private intelligence organization and regularly consults with governments challenged by security issues.

I bet. I noticed that one of VT’s Iran bureau chiefs just happens to be none other than our old friend, Ismail Salami. (Small world, isn’t it?) One frequent contributor to VT is Franklin Lamb, who is also a frequent contributor to CounterPunch.

According to, Veterans Today receives a little more than 377,000 views a month in the U.S. That is close to the number of views that CounterPunch receives each month (386,400). It is substantially more than the number of views that Dissident Voice, which also posts articles by Atzmon and Salami, receives (35,600).

I’m not sure what exactly to make of these numbers, but one thing clear to me is that Gilad Atzmon has found a warm, welcoming, safe space.

Jean Bricmont

September 5, 2012

The August 31 edition of CounterPunch contains an interview with the Belgian writer and physicist, Jean Bricmont, conducted by Kurosh Ziabari. I agree with most of what he says, but he makes a couple of highly problematic arguments. In response to a question about U.S. policy in the Middle East, Bricmont says:

    Well, I think one has to make a difference between support for Israel and the desire to “devour” oil. The two policies are not the same and are, in fact, contradictory. As, I think, Mearsheimer and Walt have shown, the pro-Israel policies of the U.S. are to a large extent driven by the pro-Israel lobby and do not correspond to or help their economic or geo-strategic interests. For example, as far as I know, there would be no problem for our oil companies to drill in Iran, if it weren’t for the sanctions imposed on that country; but the latter are linked to the hostility to Iran from Israel, not from any desire to control oil.

I can’t quite agree with this. Does Bricmont really think that the U.S. derives no advantage from having a heavily armed ally in the Middle East? The Arab Spring exposed the fragility of the U.S.’s client states in the Arab world. Israel, on the other hand, is rock solid. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to have a “policeman” in the Middle East. As for drilling for oil in Iran, even if there were no sanctions it would be impossible, because Iran has a nationalized oil industry.

From this, Bricmont immediately segues into another argument:

    The second remark is that the anti-war people are not necessarily on the left. True, there is a big part of the Right that has become neo-conservative, but there is also a big part of the Left that is influenced by the ideology of humanitarian intervention. However, there is also a libertarian Right, Ron Paul for example, that is staunchly anti-war, and there are some remnants of a pacifist or anti-imperialist Left. Note that this has always been the case: the pro and anti-imperialist position, even back in the days of colonialism, do not coincide with the Left-Right divide, if the latter is understood in socio-economic terms or in “moral” terms (about gay marriage for example).

    What we do not have is a consistent anti-war movement; to build the latter one would have to focus on war itself and unite both sides of the opposition (Right and Left). But if movements can be built around other “single issues,” like abortion or gay marriage, that put aside all socio-economic problems and class issues, why not?

This is the same as the “left-right” alliance argument that the late Alexander Cockburn used to make. This idea has always been a non-starter, for reasons that should be obvious. These “anti-war” conservatives all have terrible politics. Pat Buchanon is a racist. Ron Paul has ties to white supremacist groups. Israel Shamir is an anti-Semite. These things are not accidents. The supposed “anti-imperialism” of such people is really just the outward expression of an essentially nativist world-view. It is simply absurd to think that leftists can march side-by-side with racists and neo-fascists. Bricmont might as well talk about why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012)

July 21, 2012

Although I soured on Cockburn in recent years, I must say he strongly influenced my political thinking when I was young. I first discovered him in the pages of Harper’s and then in The Nation. He wrote in a bold, brash, uninhibited manner that stood out against the wishy-washy liberalism of most of The Nations‘s writers. Even then he sometimes sounded like a bit of a crank, but more often his observations were spot on. He could also be quite funny at times, an all too rare quality among left-wing journalists. The columns by him and by Christopher Hitchens were often the only things worth reading. The two of them shaped my ideas about the world, though ironically they both led me in directions that I think they would have disapproved of.

I was a devoted reader of CounterPunch in the early 2000’s, mainly because of its uncompromising opposition to the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but also because it took a strong stand against the 9/11 conspiracy nonsense that was then threatening to swamp the U.S. left. Imagine my dismay then, when Cockburn, using logic similar to that used by the 9/11 Truthers, announced that global warming was a conspiracy, a vast global plot that apparently went all the way back to Fourier. I never met Cockburn, but I know a woman who grew up in Petrolia who used to dog-sit for him. She told me she was convinced that his climate change denial had something to do with his collection of vintage automobiles.

I grew tired of CounterPunch after a few years. Too many of the articles were either crankery or simply badly written. I must say that Cockburn’s death doesn’t surprise me, because the quality of his writing declined sharply during the last year of his life. (He reached a low point when he wrote a teary-eyed eulogy for Moammar Khadafy.) It was clear to me that something wasn’t right. His best writings, though, will be remembered.

Some Thoughts on the Occupy Movement

July 8, 2012

At CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn has an article about the Occupy movement. Although Cockburn makes some valid criticisms, I think he is too dismissive of the movement as a whole. He writes, “People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.” In fact there are still Occupy groups all over the country, and many of them still hold regular meetings. It is true, however, that the movement doesn’t have as strong a presence as it did last winter. It’s possible, I think, that the movement might be in better shape if some things had been done differently.

In hindsight, I think it was a mistake not to put forward clear demands. The argument that I often heard for not doing so was that demands would lead to disagreements, which would lead to divisions. Yet disagreements and divisions happened anyway. Political clarity was sacrificed in order to attain an impossible ideal of group harmony. The greatest division, it seems to me, was, and is, between those who favor Black Bloc tactics and those who advocate Gandhian non-violent resistance. These two approaches are, in fact, mutually exclusive. This can not be covered up by platitudes about “diversity of tactics”. Some tactics are incompatible with others.

I suspect that this exaggerated fear of division is what drives the insistence upon a consensus approach to decision-making. The argument was that consensus, although time-consuming, will bring everyone into harmonious agreement. Yet some people became dissatisfied and left anyway, as would have happened under simple majority rule. So, what has been gained by having consensus? Nothing that I can see.

Then there is the pretense of “leaderlessness”. The truth is that some people become unofficial leaders, either because they are very good at making arguments, or because they possess specialized skills that are useful to the movement, or because they are simply both willing and able to devote an enormous amount of time and energy to the cause. Wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge this and make these people directly accountable to the entire group?

Cockburn makes one point that strikes me as particularly salient. He writes:

    Where was the knowledge of, let along [sic] the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors [sic] of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took [sic] McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
Yet when one [sic] raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

Typographical errors aside, what Cockburn says here is true of much of the U.S. left. How many American leftists have even heard of A.J. Muste? Or the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement? Or C.L.R. James? (Although you can always find an anarchist who is willing to talk your arm off about Kronstadt.) On left-wing British websites you can find informed discussions about such topics as the Battle of Cable Street, the 1926 General Strike, or Trotsky’s conception of the united front. We have nothing quite like this here in this country. There is little effort among the U.S. left to learn from the successes and failures of the past. It’s as though we must continually re-invent the wheel. What’s more, this historical amnesia makes us vulnerable to all kinds of dishonesty, as when, in Capitalism: A Love Story, Michale Moore reminds us of the 1936 Flint sit-down strike – only to make the false claim that F.D.R. sent in National Guard troops to defend the strikers from the police. In fact, they were sent there to intimidate the strikers.

These are just some thoughts I have had about the Occupy movement and about the U.S. left in general. I would be interested to hear what other people have to say about these topics.

Alexander Cockburn Gets Peak Oil Theory Wrong

October 2, 2011

Yesterday, I turned to Alexander Cockburn’s CounterPunch Diary to see if he had anything to say about the highly critical comments people have been making about CounterPunch contributors Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir. Instead, I found a (mostly) good article about the Keystone XL pipeline. Cockburn rightly argues that the whole thing is a boondoggle. It will not make domestic oil cheaper, for the obvious reason that the whole purpose of the pipeline is to pump oil to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, so the resulting products can be shipped overseas.

Unfortunately, Cockburn begins his article this way:

    I’ve never had much time for “peak oil” (the notion held with religious conviction by many on the left here, that world oil production either has or is about to top out – and will soon slide, plunging the world’s energy economies into disarray and traumatic change.) In fact there’s plenty of oil, as witness the vast new North Dakota oil shale fields, with the constraints as always being the costs of recovery. Oil “shortages” are contrivances by the oil companies and allied brokers and middlemen to run up the price.

    Contrary to the lurid predictions of declining US oil production, disastrous dependence on foreign oil and the need for new offshore drilling, not to mention the gloom-sodden predictions of the “peak oil” crowd, the big crisis for the US oil companies can be summed up in a single word that drives an oil executive to panic like a lightning bolt striking a herd of snoozing Longhorns: glut.

The fact that the global economic slump has resulted in an oil glut does not in any way disprove peak oil theory, which is concerned with a long-term trend. (One would think that a Marxist would be able to understand the concept of a trend.) Moreover, Cockburn gives the impression that the North Dakota oil shales are a new discovery. They aren’t. Geologists and engineers have known about them and the Canadian oil sands for decades. (The rate of new oil discoveries has been declining since the 1960’s, by the way.) For a long time, the high cost of recovering oil from these sources made it economically unfeasible to do so. In recent years, however, high oil prices have made such recovery profitable, which is why these sources are now being tapped. Also, it’s because of the high price of oil that companies like BP are willing to undertake risky off-shore drilling ventures – such as the one that led to the Gulf oil spill – especially since the price is expected to continue rising in the future.

Domestic oil production has increased during the Obama administration, yet gasoline prices have remained high in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930’s. This is because the technology required to recover the remaining oil in largely tapped out wells has become increasingly expensive. That’s why it’s delusional for Michele Bachmann to claim that she can bring back $2 a gallon gasoline by allowing more oil drilling. Barring a total collapse of the world economy, we will probably never see $2 a gallon gasoline again.

Cockburn should stay away from scientific issues. From global warming to anti-vaccine quackery, he has shown that he doesn’t understand science. He even seems to have an animus toward science. Every time, for example, that evolution comes up, he starts droning on about how William Jennings Bryan didn’t believe in evolution, which has nothing to do with anything.

And don’t get me started on Atzmon and Shamir.

Alexander Cockburn

November 7, 2010

Alexander Cockburn’s latest post provides further evidence that he is moving to the right. He starts off by making the surprising announcement that he voted against California’s Proposition 19 ballot initiative, which would have more or less legalized marijuana use. Cockburn says he did so because “I didn’t see legalization doing our local Humboldt economy any favors, and I never liked the way the Prop was written anyway.” I take it that what Cockburn is referring to here is that the measure would have allowed the state and local governments to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. Well, I would rather have that than people being thrown in jail for possessing the stuff. The measure was not perfect, but it was a step in the direction of eliminating this country’s draconian anti-drug laws. Cockburn is apparently less concerned about this than he is that pot growers in Humboldt County might be inconvenienced.

Cockburn then announced that he voted for Jerry Brown, and he “felt good about that too”. Brown is a rabid supporter of California’s obscene “Three Strikes” law, which has resulted in people being given life sentences for petty, non-violent crimes, and which has helped turn California’s prison system into a vast warehouse of human beings. He justifies this by saying that Brown was not as bad as his opponent, Meg Whitman. Cockburn used to be a critic of this sort of lesser evil argument. During the 2004 election, he inspired me and many other people with his steadfast resistance to the “Anybody But Bush” hysteria that was sweeping the left.

Cockburn’s website, Counterpunch, still carries some good articles, such as one by his brother, Patrick on Al Qaida, as well as one by Joseph Ramsey that rightly skewers Michael Moore. Yet Cockburn himself has become increasingly problematic. What’s more, he has become increasingly quarrelsome towards the rest of the left, as when he lashed out at Louis Proyect, who had rightly criticized him for his global warming quackery. One can only hope that Cockburn doesn’t go off the deep end the way Christopher Hitchens did.

More Thoughts on Rand Paul

May 22, 2010

In an article that not quite defends Rand Paul, Alexander Cockburn puts forth a sophisticated form of the “lesser evil” argument that he used to reject. He points out that Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, is a neo-con Democrat of the worst kind. He argues that because of his libertarianism, Paul is more likely to be a “wild card” in the Senate, one who might do such things as filibuster a bank bailout. I can’t really buy this. Since Paul has been willing to defend BP, I think it’s a bit optimistic to expect him to stand up to the banks. He will more likely devote his energies to trying to pass anti-immigrant and anti-abortion legislation and to shredding what little is left of the social safety net. Having a wild card doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a winning hand.

This latest argument by Cockburn is related to one that he has made from time to time over the years: that there can be a “left-right” alliance. If I remember correctly, he first brought up this idea during the 1996 election. Cockburn got all excited when Pat Buchanan made some vaguely populist noises during the primaries. He started to suggest that Buchanan could be some sort of ally. This idea was a non-starter, because of Buchanan’s rabid anti-immigrant stance, not to mention his hatred for the left. It’s absurd to think that immigrants and minorities can march side-by-side with racists and xenophobes.

Cockburn says that “liberalism is in awful crisis”, which is true. However, that is precisely why the left doesn’t need to make any cynical deals with the far right. Now more than ever is the time to put forward a genuinely left program.