Archive for the ‘Crimea’ Category

Black Mass

September 22, 2015

Black_Mass_(film)_poster

Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, based on a script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth , is a somewhat fictionalized depiction of the criminal career of James “Whitey” Bulger,a gangster who controlled much of the crime in Boston during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Bulger (Johnny Depp) is approached by an FBI agent, John Connally (Joel Edgerton), who tries to get Bulger to become an informant. Bulger refuses at first, but Connally persuades Bulger that he should view this as an “alliance” to destroy a criminal mob that Bulger has been feuding with, and which the FBI wants to break up. Bulger gets his lieutenant, Stephen Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) to reluctantly go along with this. As time goes by, Connally becomes increasingly involved with Bulger’s criminal activities.

This film benefits from strong performances, particularly from Depp and Edgerton. And it has a gritty feel that captures the flavor of Boston. However, it was a lot like other gangster films I have seen. There were moments in it that reminded me of Good Fellas. This may be due to a failure of imagination on the part of the film’s makers, or maybe there is really only so much that can be said about organized crime.

Black Mass also takes a many liberties with the facts. Flemmi, for example, is made out to be a nicer person than he was in real life. In the film, Flemmi is repulsed by the murder of his stepdaughter, but in real life he willingly took part in it. (It was also Flemmi who persuaded Bulger to become an informant, the opposite of what is depicted in the film.) I can only guess that the that film’s makers wanted to make Bulger the center of evil in the story. The truth is that he was surrounded by people who were as bad as he was.

The definitive film about Whitey Bulger remains to be made.

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The Origins of Putinophilia

May 19, 2014

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There is a growing divide in the U.S. Left, between those who simply oppose U.S. intervention in Ukraine, and those who defend, or even praise, Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin. Things haven’t always been like this. If I remember correctly, during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, only the Workers World Party and its front groups defended Saddam Hussein. The rest of the left had no illusions about the dictator. I think a change began in the Left after the anti-war movement failed to prevent the invasion. There began to be talk about a “red-brown” strategy, that is, forming alliances with right-wing, or even fascist, groups that claim to be opposed to U.S. imperialism. The thinking was that the Left by itself was not strong enough, or maybe not committed enough, to successfully struggle against imperialism. And if it is permissible to work with groups with terrible politics, then it is permissible to support governments with terrible politics. Thus, it became possible to see any dictator who ran afoul of the US as an ally against imperialism. Gadaffi and Assad were now on our side, according to this view.

Putin has acquired a special place in these people’s eyes. During Russia’s 2008 border war with Georgia, Bush was unable to do anything. Many on the Left saw this as a humiliation for the hated Bush. (Although I suspect that Bush really didn’t care.) So now Putin can do no wrong in their eyes. He can imprison his critics and persecute gays and ethnic minorities, and they will simply explain it away or ignore it. And as Putin has grown a halo, Obama has become the embodiment of pure evil in these people’s eyes. John Pilger, for example, has claimed, on the basis of no evidence, that Obama was plotting to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea and start a war. How can anyone take this seriously?

If the Left is to avoid becoming completely irrelevant, it needs to return to the principled anti-imperialism of the past.

Sense and Nonsense about Crimea

March 2, 2014

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The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has predictably created confusion in the West. The New York Times reports:

    Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he consulted on Saturday with Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the committee, about targeted sanctions against individuals in the Putin government and possibly Russian institutions. The proposal could be taken up as early as this week.

    Mr. Corker was one of the few Republicans in September to support a Senate resolution authorizing airstrikes in Syria, and he said the failure of Washington to follow through on those strikes had emboldened Mr. Putin.

    “Ever since the administration threw themselves in his arms in Syria to keep from carrying out what they said they would carry out, I think he’s seen weakness,” Mr. Corker said Saturday. “These are the consequences.”

This is a stupid argument. Putin knows perfectly well that the U.S. is not going to attack Russia, for the obvious reason that Russia has nuclear weapons. The idea that Putin would be shitting in his pants if the U.S. had dropped some bombs on Damascus is simply childish. Putin decided to seize an opportunity that the chaos in Ukraine created for him. It’s that simple.

The Guardian isn’t much more helpful. An editorial states:

    What is hard to see, having been so effectively outmanoeuvred over the last two days, is how the US and EU should respond beyond futile expressions of concern and outrage. Equally, it is clear that when western political institutions have attempted to penetrate Russia’s neighbours – the suggestion of Nato expansion in Georgia, and closer EU integration for Ukraine – Moscow has pushed back hard on both occasions.

So, what should we do? They tell us:

    One thing is certain: the current crisis presents the biggest threat to security in Europe since the Balkan wars, and western leaders, including Obama and David Cameron (who has spoken to Putin on the phone), have hardly been impressive in their response, demonstrating a weak grasp on the events unfolding. For now, Putin is ahead of the game. It is time for the international community to catch up.

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? The international community needs to catch up with Russia – whatever the hell that means.

A few things are clear. Crimea is of no strategic importance to the U.S. Although there are concerns about Crimea’s Tatars, there are no signs of a humanitarian crisis at this point. President Obama can only object to Russia’s seizure of Crimea on the narrow grounds that it violates international law. The problem is that the U.S. regularly violates international law with its drone attacks. And the invasion of Iraq was a violation on a far greater scale than what is currently happening in Crimea. International law is a useful tool that we have thoughtlessly thrown away.