Syria and the drumbeat of world war

In this photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, Russian SU-24M jet fighter armed with laser guided bombs takes off from a runaway at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. The skies over Syria are increasingly crowded, and increasingly dangerous. The air forces of multiple countries are on the attack, often at cross purposes in Syria’s civil war, sometimes without coordination and now, it seems, at risk of unintended conflict. The latest entry in the air war is Russia. It says it is bombing the Islamic State in line with U.S. priorities, but the U.S. says Russia is mainly striking anti-government rebels in support of its ally, President Bashar Assad. The Russians, who are not coordinating with the Americans, reportedly also have hit U.S.-supported rebel groups. (AP Photo/Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)

(AP Photo/Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)

8 October 2015

With Russia having completed its first week of airstrikes in Syria, firing some 26 cruise missiles from warships deployed over 900 miles away in the Caspian Sea, an escalating drumbeat of warnings and threats of a far more dangerous conflict and even world war has come to dominate discussions within ruling circles in both the US and Europe.

French President François Hollande, who has ordered French warplanes to bomb Syria, warned European lawmakers Wednesday that the events in that country could spiral into a “total war” from which Europe itself would not be “sheltered.”

Seizing on alleged incidents involving Russian warplanes straying into Turkish airspace, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared, “An attack on Turkey means an attack on NATO,” implicitly invoking Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits members of the US-led military alliance to an armed response against an attack on Turkey or any other member state.

The Turkish government, which has been one of the primary sources of support for Islamist militias such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front that have ravaged Syria, routinely violates the airspace of its own neighbors, carrying out bombing raids against Kurdish camps in Iraq and shooting down Syrian planes over Syrian territory.

Top NATO officials have also weighed in with bellicose denunciations of Moscow. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg charged that the alleged Russian incursion into Turkish airspace “does not look like an accident.” He continued, warning, “Incidents, accidents, may create dangerous situations. And therefore it is also important to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, who commands NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, accused Russia of building an “arc of steel” from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea. This deliberate paraphrasing of Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech turns the real relationship of forces inside out, obscuring the relentless encirclement of Russia by Washington and the NATO alliance in the wake of the Soviet Union’s liquidation 25 years ago.

Describing Russia as the “most dangerous threat” facing NATO, Admiral Ferguson called for an increasingly aggressive NATO posture toward Moscow, recommending the honing of the alliance’s “war fighting skills” and the deployment of military forces “on call for real world operations.”

Former high-level US officials, whose views undoubtedly reflect the thinking within powerful sections of the American ruling establishment and its vast military and intelligence complex, have also weighed in with calls for confrontation with Russia.

In a column published by the Financial Times, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter administration and a longtime US imperialist strategist, wrote that Russian attacks on CIA-backed Islamist militias “should prompt US retaliation.” Like others in Washington, he avoided mentioning that the most prominent of these militias is Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front.

Brzezinski advised that “Russian naval and air presences in Syria are vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland” and “could be ‘disarmed’ if they persist in provoking the US.” Presumably, he inserted the quotation marks around “disarmed” to signal that he was employing a euphemism for “militarily obliterated.”

Similarly, Ivo Daalder, who was Obama’s ambassador to NATO until mid-2013, told Politico: “If we want to take out their military forces there, we can probably do it at relatively little or no cost to ourselves. The question is what will be Putin’s response. I think if you sit in the Situation Room you have to play this one out.”

Meanwhile, Frederic Hof, Obama’s former special envoy on a Syrian transition, compared Putin’s actions to those of Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, which brought the world to the precipice of nuclear war. “Like his predecessor over 50 years ago, he [Putin] senses weakness on the part of a US president. Like his predecessor, he risks discovering that trifling with the United States is not a healthy pursuit. But such a risk entails dangers for all concerned.”

Drawing out the ominous implications of these discussions, Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, compared the Syrian conflict with the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. He wrote: “A similar proxy war is under way in Syria today—with both the Russian and US air forces bombing targets in the country, and foreign fighters pouring in.”

He continued: “The countries that were backing opposite sides in Spain in the 1930s were fighting each other directly by the 1940s. The risk of the Syrian conflict leading to a direct clash between the Iranians and the Saudis, or even the Russians and the Americans, cannot be discounted.”

This danger exists because Russia’s intervention—launched in defense of the interests of the Russian state and the ruling class of oligarchs who represent Russia’s energy conglomerates—has cut across US plans to effect regime-change in Syria and redraw the map of the Middle East that date back decades.

The proposal to bring about regime-change in Syria by backing proxy forces on the ground was advanced two decades ago in a document entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” drafted for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by a study group that included Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser. All three were later to gain high-level positions in the Bush administration, participating in the conspiracy to launch the US war of aggression against Iraq.

A recently released classified document obtained by WikiLeaks establishes that active US planning for regime-change predated the outbreak of the Syrian civil war by at least five years. The secret report from the head of the US Embassy in Damascus outlined “vulnerabilities” of the Syrian government that Washington could exploit. At the top of the list were fomenting “Sunni fears of Iranian influence” to cause sectarian conflict and taking advantage of “the presence of transiting Islamist extremists.”

Given that the document was written in 2006, at the height of Iraq’s sectarian carnage caused by the US invasion and Washington’s divide-and-rule tactics, these proposals were made with full awareness that they would provoke a bloodbath. Nearly a decade later, the bitter fruits of this policy include the deaths of some 300,000 Syrians, with another 4 million driven from the country and 7 million more internally displaced.

While cynically exploiting the suffering of the Syrian people to justify an escalation of US militarism, Washington is not about to let Russia derail its drive to impose its hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East and the entire planet.

The path to war with Russia is by no means accidental. From the outset, the US intervention to topple the regime in Damascus was aimed at weakening the principal allies of the Syrian government—Iran and Russia—in preparation for a direct assault on both countries.

More and more directly each day, the eruption of American militarism, rooted in the historic crisis of American and world capitalism, confronts humanity with the specter of a nuclear Third World War.

Bill Van Auken

Guantanamo’s Child, Thank You for Bombing, The Hard Stop: Filmmakers take on the global “war on terror” and police violence at home

By Joanne Laurier

8 October 2015

This is the fourth in a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-20). The first part was posted September 26, the second part October 1 and the third part October 3.

The case of Omar Khadr

The “war on terror” is a lying, noxious phrase, endlessly invoked to justify the American ruling elite’s drive for global dominance. This week marks the 14th anniversary of the US military’s invasion of Afghanistan, an exercise in sociocide, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands and the further laying waste of the already impoverished nation.

The tragic encounter of American imperialism with the Afghan people goes back to the late 1970s, when the Carter administration incited and fomented Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden, as part of the strategy of undermining the Soviet Union. The criminality of US policy in Central Asia knows almost no bounds.

Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed’s documentary, Guantanamos Child: Omar Khadr, concerns itself with the Canadian-born youth who was captured in Afghanistan by US forces in 2002 during an airstrike and assault that killed all the anti-American insurgents except the grievously wounded, 15-year-old Omar. He was sent to the Bagram Air Base, site of a notorious US prison in Afghanistan, and tortured, before he was transferred to the even more notorious Guantanamo Bay internment camp in Cuba.

Omar Khadr and Dennis Edney

Treated like a “terrorist”—for having fought as a soldier against an invading army—by the criminals in the American government and their junior partners in Canada, Omar, in 2005, became the only juvenile to be tried for war crimes.

In 2010, he pleaded not guilty to “murdering” US Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the 2002 firefight. Three months later, he changed his plea, his only means of obtaining release from the Guantanamo hellhole. Over the strenuous objections of the Harper government in Ottawa, Omar was repatriated to Canada in 2012. Since his release in May 2015, Khadr has resided with his lawyer Dennis Edney in Edmonton, Alberta.

As the Shephard-Reed film reveals, Omar Khadr is a remarkable young man, as is his feisty, Scottish-born attorney. Through extensive interviews,Guantanamos Child constructs a nightmarish picture of Omar’s ordeal at the hands of the American military.

Guantanamo’s Child

Although the bright and soft-spoken Omar is forthright in declaring that he was fighting “for a cause: fighting invaders,” the filmmakers are far more defensive about his role. In fact, the initial portions of the documentary tend to take the “war on terror” and the accompanying propaganda campaign at face value, as though “everything changed” as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The implication is that the “Americans” may have overreacted, but they had every right to “defend” themselves.

Any objective examination of the post-9/11 measures by the Bush administration would conclude that the actions corresponded to a long-standing agenda, involving massive US intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia in pursuit of energy supplies and, more generally, American imperialist geopolitical objectives, and that the terrorist attacks merely provided a pretext.

Missing in Guantanamos Child is any reference to the history of the region. There is no indication that the bin Laden forces were financed and encouraged by the CIA. It should be noted that Shepard, who wrote a book in 2008 entitled Guantanamos Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, is the national security reporter for the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers.

All in all, it seems fair to argue that documentary reflects the views of that section of the Canadian elite that is not happy with the country’s current relationship with Washington, with what it perceives as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s subservience, and is taking the opportunity to “stick it” to the US over the Khadr case.

In any case, whatever the serious weaknesses of Guantanamos Child, the majority of the film is devoted to allowing Omar to speak openly about his past and present condition—unusual in the pro-war media propaganda world. He has an insightful, mature and cautious voice.

Omar Khadr was born in Toronto in 1986, but spent much of his childhood in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The film briefly discusses his family and his early life.

As Guantanamos Child reveals, after his 2002 capture, the teenager suffered extensive psychological and physical abuse. In one striking scene, a repentant Damien Corsetti, a former US interrogator at Bagram, who was nicknamed “The Monster” for using techniques such as the “Human Mop” (forcing prisoners to wipe up their urine on the floor with their own bodies), movingly talks about how Omar’s youth and bravery humanized him. This contrasts to the self-justifying remarks made by a former CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) official, who features prominently in the film.

Also interviewed are the well-spoken Moazzam Begg and Ruhal Ahmed, both British citizens who bear witness to the horrors perpetrated in American prisons—Moazzam having been incarcerated with Omar at Bagram and Ruhal with him at Guantanamo. In addition, Omar’s mother and sister make critical, but unsurprisingly disoriented, remarks about the invaders.

The film also shows Omar’s amazing fortitude. Despite his age, and imprisonment for more than a decade, he never cowers before his tormentors and their false accusations. He also defied the incredible odds against being released from Guantanamo.

During the 2002 firefight, the Americans inflicted serious wounds on Omar, including two holes in his chest, that would eventually destroy one eye and greatly impair the other. Were it not for the intrepid efforts of Edney—his lawyer who was initially not allowed access to Omar for four years—he would still be locked away as an “enemy combatant” in the internment camp.

These two remarkable individuals and their bond drive the movie, but as well highlight the documentary’s major internal contradiction: Omar himself is prima faci e evidence of the inhuman, illegal nature of the war. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never follow the political logic of the story of their protagonist and the forces who calumniated and tried to destroy him.

Thank You for Bombing

From Austria comes Thank You For Bombing, directed by Barbara Eder (Inside America, 2010), which provides an unflattering portrait of contemporary journalists on assignment in war zones.

Thank You for Bombing

The fiction film comprises a triptych of stories related to the war in Afghanistan. The first concerns an Austrian reporter, Ewald (Erwin Steinhauser), forced by his boss to go to Afghanistan. Clearly suffering from a post-traumatic nervous disorder that has rendered him incontinent, Ewald sees a man at the airport who may or may not have been involved in the murder of his cameraman during the war in Bosnia. Neither his unsympathetic editor nor his sympathetic wife are inclined to believe a man plagued by horrible wartime memories.

The next two segments are indictments of the unrelenting careerism and opportunism of war correspondents. In the first, American reporter Lana (Manon Kahle) will stop at nothing to obtain an interview with two US soldiers in Afghanistan who allegedly have burned copies of the Koran. The episode is based on the incident that memorably set off massive protests in 2012. Lana bribes and cajoles anyone and everyone to obtain what will be a major “scoop.”

The two soldiers, more like caged wild animals, are being held in an isolated bunker by the American military. Lana buys her way into their presence. But after the interview, they turn the tables on her. She allows herself to submit to gross humiliations and a near-rape to get the story. Although a revealing sequence, the encounter between Lana and the two offending soldiers takes on a gratuitous character at a certain point. It does, however, depict a demoralized, dehumanized American army.

In the movie’s final chapter, Cal (Raphael von Bargen), once a respected journalist, is tired of waiting for the bombs to begin falling. He even tries to stage young Afghan boys throwing rocks at American soldiers. A heavy drinker, he gets fired. On a drive in the middle of nowhere, a tragic accident takes the life of his driver, which has little impact on the callous reporter.

Eder’s Thank You for Bombing is rightfully contemptuous of the media, but says little or nothing about the war itself. It is critical of ambitious journalists who use and abuse the native population, going so far as to be grateful for the dropping of American bombs that will devastate the country, thus giving them new headlines. Although an angry protest (one assumes against the war), the movie suffers from a lack of serious context.

During the question-and-answer period after the film’s public screening in Toronto, director Eder explained that the work was based on real incidents that she fictionalized to safeguard the identities of the journalists.

Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol

The talented Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol was shot on location in Gaza, the first film made in the Israeli-devastated enclave in many decades. Other locations included Jenin, Amman, Beirut and Cairo.

The Idol

Abu-Assad’s film is based on a true story. It recounts how, in 2013, 22-year-old wedding singer Mohamad Assaf, from a refugee camp in Gaza, won the second season of Arab Idol, the Middle East version of the American talent show. Assaf became an overnight sensation and was named a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

The movie is very energetic, but a more sanitized and official work than Abu-Assad’s previous films, which include Paradise Now (2005) and Omar (2013). Its best moments portray the monumental difficulties faced by the Palestinian population in Gaza. In one quasi-humorous scene, there is a power outage—obviously a frequent occurrence—when the singer is auditioning via Skype and the generator catches on fire, ending his immediate chances. In other sequences, Abu-Assad’s camera takes in Gaza’s mountains of rubble and destruction.

Getting into Egypt to audition in Cairo obliges Mohamad to scale barbed-wire capped walls, bribe certain border guards and sing verses from the Koran to others, only to find the auditions closed to those who do not already have a ticket. He overcomes that obstacle too. All the while, he recalls the words of his beloved, teenage sister who died because the family lacked the cash for a kidney transplant: “We are going to be big and change the world.”

The film is clearly an attempt to find something uplifting in what is a catastrophic situation. “It’s not just about the winning, but the route to the winning,” says Abu-Assad. “The story of Gaza is very interesting to me. It’s about people who have been collectively punished, and yet they have this will to survive, the will to succeed. It’s a universal theme.”

At the movie’s screening in Toronto, the crowd cheered wildly, identifying with the Palestinian singer’s struggles and triumph. Abu-Assad must be well aware, however, that this is a fascinating but unique incident, which will not in any way change the abominable conditions of the Gazans.

A police murder in North London

The Hard Stop

The Hard Stop is a documentary that explores the murder of Mark Duggan, an unarmed young black man, gunned down by London’s Metropolitan Police in 2011. Directed by British-Ghanaian George Amponsah, the film features two of Mark’s closest friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, as well as various family members.

The 29-year-old’s killing sparked riots that began in Tottenham, a working class area in North London, and spread across the country.

Amponsah places his film in the context of the coroner’s inquest into the killing, which in January 2014 found Duggan’s death a “lawful killing” although the jurors unanimously agreed that the father of six was unarmed when he was shot.

While showing the conditions and difficulties facing youth in poor neighborhoods like Tottenham, the film does not entirely disassociate itself from the false idea that race is the predominant factor in police violence, even though Duggan’s family is biracial. The uprisings ignited by Duggan’s murder were fueled by the abysmal social conditions and poverty of the entire population, black, white and immigrant.

Laudably, during the film’s question-and-answer session after the screening, Kurtis Henville said that “every life, not just black lives, matter.”

The latest from Michael Moore

Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next is not a much-needed comment on the American government’s never-ending invasions and wars. Far from it. Moore simply tells the generals to “stand down.” The filmmaker then becomes a one-man army that “invades” various countries to appropriate not geopolitical advantage—but beneficial social or political ideas or practices.

From Italy, for example, he takes their lengthy vacations; from Finland, their education system; from Slovenia, free college; from Iceland, the dominance of women in politics and banking (we are told that women’s DNA makes them less aggressive); from Norway, a more humane penal system; from France, gourmet school lunches; from Germany, the ability to confront the legacy of the Holocaust (as opposed to the situation in the US, where supposedly through the prison system the “white man” is once again resurrecting slavery); and from Portugal, the legalization of drugs (Moore happily poses with three cops who look like remnants of the Salazar/Caetano fascist dictatorship).

With the film’s potted racialist history of the US and its view that women should rule the world, Moore has, of course, added identity politics into the mix in his “happy film,” as he calls it.

It is hardly accidental that Moore has been so inactive since Barack Obama took office in early 2009. (Capitalism: A Love Story came out that year.) His new movie is a ludicrous attempt to cover for the Democratic Party, hoping against hope that he can convince it to adopt policies that, he takes pains to point out, all originated in the US. His is the most pathetic and hopeless of perspectives.

Moore has become a sometime critic of the Obama administration, after endorsing the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 and supporting the auto bailout in 2009, which halved autoworkers’ pay. He is hopelessly tied to the Democratic Party and capitalist politics by a thousand strings. While excoriating Obamacare, for example, as “a pro-insurance-industry plan,” he termed the plan a “godsend” because it provides a start “to get what we deserve: universal quality health care.”

The filmmaker is a compromised and increasingly discredited figure.


Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich


One day in March of 2014, a Google engineer named Justine Tunney created a strange and ultimately doomed petition at the White House website. The petition proposed a three-point national referendum, as follows:

1. Retire all government employees with full pensions.
2. Transfer administrative authority to the tech industry.
3. Appoint [Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt CEO of America.

This could easily be written off as stunt, a flamboyant act of corporate kiss-assery, which, on one level, it probably was. But Tunney happened to be serious. “It’s time for the U.S. Regime to politely take its exit from history and do what’s best for America,” she wrote. “The tech industry can offer us good governance and prevent further American decline.”

Welcome to the latest political fashion among the California Confederacy: total corporate despotism. It is a potent and bitter ideological mash that could have only been concocted at tech culture’s funky smoothie bar—a little Steve Jobs here, a little Ayn Rand there, and some Ray Kurzweil for color.

Tunney was at one time a prominent and divisive fixture of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Lately, though, her views have . . . evolved. How does an anticapitalist “tranarchist” (transgender anarchist) become a hard-right seditionist?

“Read Mencius Moldbug,” Tunney told her Twitter followers last month, referring to an aggressively dogmatic blogger with a reverent following in certain tech circles.

Keanu Reeves cartoon

Keanu cartoon by Pete Simon

Tunney’s advice is easier said than done, for Moldbug is as prolific as he is incomprehensible. His devotees, many of whom are also bloggers, describe themselves as the “neoreactionary” vanguard of a “Dark Enlightenment.” They oppose popular suffrage, egalitarianism and pluralism. Some are atheists, while others affect obscure orthodox beliefs, but most are youngish white males embittered by “political correctness.” As best I can tell, their ideal society best resembles Blade Runner, but without all those Asian people cluttering up the streets. Neoreactionaries like to see themselves as the heroes of another sci-fi movie, in fact, sometimes boasting that they have been “redpilled,” like Keanu Reeves’s character in The Matrix—a movie Moldbug regards as “genius.”

“Moldbug.” The name sounds like it belongs to a troll who belches from the depths of an Internet rabbit hole. And so it does. Mencius Moldbug is the blogonym of Curtis Guy Yarvin, a San Francisco software developer and frustrated poet. (Here he is reading a poem at a 1997 open mic.)

According to Yarvin, the child of federal civil servants, he dropped out of a graduate computer science program at U. C. Berkeley in the early 1990s (he has self-consciously noted that he is the only man in his immediate family without a PhD) yet managed to make a small pile of money in the original dot-com bubble. Yarvin betrayed an endearingly strange sense of humor in his student days, posting odd stories and absurdist jokes on bulletin board services, contributing to Wired and writing cranky letters to alternative weekly newspapers.

Yet even as a student at Brown in 1991, Yarvin’s preoccupations with domineering strongmen were evident: “I wonder if the Soviet power ladder of vicious bureaucratic backbiting brings stronger men to the top than the American system of feel-good soundbites,” he wrote in one board discussion.

Yarvin’s public writing tapered off as his software career solidified. In 2007, he reemerged under an angry pseudonym, Moldbug, on a humble Blogspot blog called “Unqualified Reservations.” As might be expected of a “DIY ideology . . . designed by geeks for other geeks,” his political treatises are heavily informed by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas. What set Yarvin apart from the typical keyboard kook was his archaic, grandiose tone, which echoed the snippets Yarvin cherry-picked from obscure old reactionary tracts. Yarvin told one friendly interviewer that he spent $500 a month on books.

Elsewhere he confessed to having taken a grand total of five undergraduate humanities courses (history and creative writing). The lack of higher ed creds hasn’t hurt his confidence. On his blog, Yarvin holds forth oneverything from the intricacies of Korean history to contemporary Pakistani politics, from the proper conduct of a counterinsurgency operation to macroeconomic theory and fiscal policy, and he never gives an inch. “The neat thing about primary sources is that often, it takes only one to prove your point,” he writes.

In short, Moldbug reads like an overconfident autodidact’s imitation of a Lewis Lapham essay—if Lewis Lapham were a fascist teenage Dungeon Master.

Yarvin’s most toxic arguments come snugly wrapped in purple prose and coded language. (For instance,“The Cathedral” is Moldbuggian for the oppressive nexus of liberal newspapers, universities and the State Department, where his father worked after getting a PhD in philosophy from Brown.) By so doing, Moldbug has been able to an attract an audience that welcomes the usual teeth-gnashing white supremacists who haunt the web while also leaving room for a more socially acceptable assortment of “men’s rights” advocates, gun nuts, transhumanist libertarians, disillusioned Occupiers and well-credentialed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

When Justine Tunney posted her petition online, the press treated it like comic relief that came from nowhere. In fact, it is straight Moldbug. Item one, “retire all government employees,” comes verbatim from a 2012 talk that Yarvin gave to an approving crowd of California techies (see video below). In his typical smarmy, meandering style, Yarvin concluded by calling for “a national CEO [or] what’s called a dictator.”

“If Americans want to change their government, they’re going to have to get over their dictator phobia,” Yarvin said in his talk. He conceded that, given the current political divisions, it might be better to have two dictators, one for Red Staters and one for Blue Staters. The trick would be to “make sure they work together.” (Sure. Easy!)

“There’s really no other solution,” Yarvin concluded. The crowd applauded.

This plea for autocracy is the essence of Yarvin’s work. He has concluded that America’s problems come not from a deficit of democracy but from an excess of it—or, as Yarvin puts it, “chronic kinglessness.” Incredible as it sounds, absolute dictatorship may be the least objectionable tenet espoused by the Dark Enlightenment neoreactionaries.

Moldbug is the widely acknowledged lodestar of the movement, but he’s not the only leading figure. Another is Nick Land, a British former academic now living in Shanghai, where he writes admiringly of Chinese eugenics and the impending global reign of “autistic nerds, who alone are capable of participating effectively in the advanced technological processes that characterize the emerging economy.”

These imaginary übermensch have inspired a sprawling network of blogs, sub-Reddits and meetups aimed at spreading their views. Apart from their reverence for old-timey tyrants, they espouse a belief in “human biodiversity,” which is basically racism in a lab coat. This scientific-sounding euphemism invariably refers to supposed differences in intelligence across races. It is so spurious that the Wikipedia article on human biodiversity was deleted because, in the words of one editor, it is “purely an Internet theory.” Censored once again by The Cathedral, alas.

“I am not a white nationalist, but I do read white-nationalist blogs, and I’m not afraid to link to them . . . I am not exactly allergic to the stuff,” Yarvin writes. He also praises a blogger who advocated the deportation of Muslims and the closure of mosques as “probably the most imaginative and interesting right-wing writer on the planet.” Hectoring a Swarthmore history professor, Yarvin rhapsodizes on colonial rule in Southern Africa, and suggests that black people had it better under apartheid. “If you ask me to condemn [mass murderer] Anders Breivik, but adore Nelson Mandela, perhaps you have a mother you’d like to fuck,” Yarvinwrites.

His jargon may be novel, but whenever Mencius Moldbug descends to the realm of the concrete, he offersfamiliar tropes of white victimhood. Yarvin’s favorite author, the nineteenth-century writer Scot Thomas Carlyle, is perhaps best known for his infamous slavery apologia, “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” “If there is one writer in English whose name can be uttered with Shakespeare’s, it is Carlyle,” Yarvin writes. Later in the same essay Yarvin calls slavery “a natural human relationship” akin to “that of patron and client.”

As I soldiered through the Moldbug canon, my reactions numbed. Here he is expressing sympathy for poor, persecuted Senator Joe McCarthy. Big surprise. Here he claims “America is a communist country.” Sure, whatever. Here he doubts that Barack Obama ever attended Columbia University. You don’t say? After a while, Yarvin’s blog feels like the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of a Gwar concert, one sick stunt after another, calculated to shock. To express revulsion and disapproval is to grant the attention he so transparently craves.

Yet the question inevitably arrives: Do we need to take this stuff seriously? The few mainstream assessments of the neoreactionaries have been divided on the question.

Sympathetic citations are spreading: In the Daily Caller, The American Conservative and National Review. Yet the conservative press remains generally dismissive. The American Spectator’s Matthew Walther calls neoreactionism “silly not scary” and declares that “all of these people need to relax: spend some time with P.G. Wodehouse, watch a football game, get drunk, whatever.”

TechCrunch, which first introduced me to Moldbug, treats the “Geeks for Monarchy” movement as an Internet curio. But The Telegraph says, yes, this is “sophisticated neo-fascism” and must be confronted.Vocativ, which calls it “creepy,” agrees that it should be taken seriously.

The science fiction author David Brin goes further in his comment on a Moldbug blog post, accusing the blogger of auditioning for the part of Machiavelli to some future-fascist dictator:

The world oligarchy is looking for boffins to help them re-establish their old – pyramidal – social order. And your screeds are clearly interview essays. “Pick me! Pick me! Look! I hate democracy too! And I will propagandize for people to accept your rule again, really I will! See the fancy rationalizations I can concoct????”

But your audition materials are just . .  too . . . jibbering . . . loopy. You will not get the job.

As strange as it sounds, Brin may be closest to the truth. Neoreactionaries are explicitly courting wealthy elites in the tech sector as the most receptive and influential audience. Why bother with mass appeal, when you’re rebuilding the ancien régime?

Moldbuggism, for now, remains mostly an Internet phenomenon. Which is not to say it is “merely” an Internet phenomenon. This is, after all, a technological age. Last November, Yarvin claimed that his blog had received 500,000 views. It is not quantity of his audience that matters so much as the nature of it, however. And the neoreactionaries do seem to be influencing the drift of Silicon Valley libertarianism, which is no small force today. This is why I have concluded, sadly, that Yarvin needs answering.

If the Koch brothers have proved anything, it’s that no matter how crazy your ideas are, if you put serious money behind those ideas, you can seize key positions of authority and power and eventually bring large numbers of people around to your way of thinking. Moreover, the radicalism may intensify with each generation. Yesterday’s Republicans and Independents are today’s Libertarians. Today’s Libertarians may be tomorrow’s neoreactionaries, whose views flatter the prejudices of the new Silicon Valley elite.

In a widely covered secessionist speech at a Silicon Valley “startup school” last year, there was more than a hint of Moldbug (see video below). The speech, by former Stanford professor and Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasan, never mentioned Moldbug or the Dark Enlightenment, but it was suffused with neoreactionary rhetoric and ideas. Srinivasan used the phrase “the paper belt” to describe his enemies, namely the government, the publishing industries, and universities. The formulation mirrored Moldbug’s “Cathedral.” Srinivasan’s central theme was the notion of “exit”—as in, exit from democratic society, and entry into any number of corporate mini-states whose arrival will leave the world looking like a patchwork map of feudal Europe.

Forget universal rights; this is the true “opt-in society.”

An excerpt:

We want to show what a society run by Silicon Valley would look like. That’s where “exit” comes in . . . . It basically means: build an opt-in society, ultimately outside the US, run by technology. And this is actually where the Valley is going. This is where we’re going over the next ten years . . . [Google co-founder] Larry Page, for example, wants to set aside a part of the world for unregulated experimentation. That’s carefully phrased. He’s not saying, “take away the laws in the U.S.” If you like your country, you can keep it. Same with Marc Andreessen: “The world is going to see an explosion of countries in the years ahead—doubled, tripled, quadrupled countries.”

Srinivasan ticked through the signposts of the neoreactionary fantasyland: Bitcoin as the future of finance, corporate city-states as the future of government, Detroit as a loaded symbol of government failure and 3D-printed firearms as an example of emerging technology that defies regulation.

The speech succeeded in promoting the anti-democratic authoritarianism at the core of neoreactionary thought, while glossing over the attendant bigotry. This has long been a goal of some in the movement. One such moderate—if the word can be used in this context—is Patri Friedman, grandson of the late libertarian demigod Milton Friedman. The younger Friedman expressed the need for “a more politically correct dark enlightenment” after a public falling out with Yarvin in 2009.

Friedman has lately been devoting his time (and leveraging his family name) to raise money for the SeaSteading Institute, which, as the name suggests, is a blue-sea libertarian dream to build floating fiefdoms free of outside regulation and law. Sound familiar?

The principal backer of the SeaSteading project, Peter Thiel, is also an investor in companies run by Balaji Srinivasan and Curtis Yarvin. Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal, an original investor in Facebook and hedge fund manager, as well as being the inspiration for a villainous investor on the satirical HBO series Silicon Valley. Thiel’s extreme libertarian advocacy is long and storied, beginning with his days founding the Collegiate Network-backed Stanford Review. Lately he’s been noticed writing big checks for Ted Cruz.

He’s invested in Yarvin’s current startup, Tlon. Thiel invested personally in Tlon co-founder John Burnham. In 2011, at age 18, Burnham accepted $100,000 from Thiel to skip college and go directly into business. Instead of mining asteroids as he originally intended, Burnham wound up working on obscure networking software with Yarvin, whose title at Tlon is, appropriately enough, “benevolent dictator for life.”

California libertarian software developers inhabit a small and shallow world. It should be no surprise then, that, although Thiel has never publicly endorsed Yarvin’s side project specifically, or the neoreactionary program in general, there is definitely a whiff of something Moldbuggy in Thiel’s own writing. For instance, Thiel echoed Moldbug in an infamous 2009 essay for the Cato Institute in which he explained that he had moved beyond libertarianism. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel wrote.

Thiel’s eponymous foundation funds, among other things, an institute to advance the ideas of a conservative Stanford academic, René Girard, under whom Thiel studied as an undergraduate. In 2012 Thiel delivered a lecture at Stanford that explained his views regarding the divine rights of Silicon Valley CEOs. The lecture did address some of Girard’s ideas about historical “mimetics,” but it also contained a heavy dose of Moldbuggian thought. Thiel says:

A startup is basically structured as a monarchy. We don’t call it that, of course. That would seem weirdly outdated, and anything that’s not democracy makes people uncomfortable. We are biased toward the democratic-republican side of the spectrum. That’s what we’re used to from civics classes. But the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups.

Might a dictatorial approach, in Thiel’s opinion, also work better for society at large? He doesn’t say so in his Stanford lecture (although he does cast tech CEOs as the heirs to mythical “god-kings” such as Romulus). But Thiel knows where to draw the line in mixed company. Ordinary people get so “uncomfortable” when powerful billionaires start talking about the obsolescence of participatory government and “the unthinking demos,” as he put it in his Cato essay. Stupid proles! They don’t deserve our brilliance! “The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom,” Thiel wrote.

It is clear that Thiel sees corporations as the governments of the future and capitalists such as himself as the kings, and it is also clear that this is a shockingly common view in Thiel’s cohort. In a 2011 New Yorkerprofile, George Packer wrote:

Thiel and his circle in Silicon Valley may be able to imagine a future that would never occur to other people precisely because they’ve refused to leave that stage of youthful wonder which life forces most human beings to outgrow . . . . He wants to live forever, have the option to escape to outer space or an oceanic city-state, and play chess against a robot that can discuss Tolkien, because these were the fantasies that filled his childhood imagination.

Packer is perhaps too generous to his subject. But he captures the fundamental problem with these mouthbreathers’ dreams of monarchy. They’ve never role-played the part of the peasant.

Corey Pein is a writer and reporter in Brighton, England. He offers free samples at

Noam Chomsky: America is a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy

The linguist and political scientist weighs in on the forthcoming elections and our politicians’ radical move right

Noam Chomsky: America is a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy
(Credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

As the war of words between presidential candidates have only begun to blossom, I’ve already grown battle weary, anxious, and disheartened.

While critiquing the existing state of affairs in his essay “State of the Union” (The Nation, 1975), Gore Vidal shared the following observation: “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party…and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.” Far from a mere witty turn of phrase, what Vidal alluded to was the not so inconspicuous trend of both camps gradually realigning themselves further “right” (conventional, constrained) on issues despite enthralling rhetoric that would suggest otherwise. Forty years later, his Cassandra dilemma regarding the abandonment of liberalism still rings true though its significance holds no sway over those deafened by partisan favoritism.

In my piece “Under the Microscope: Black Conservatives,” I clarify that, though I hold very progressive political views contra conservatism, I do not identify as a Democrat. Part of the reason is due to the fact that many Democrat officials—and thus the political platform they epitomize and endorse—simply don’t push for truly liberal-leaning policies that would catalyze radical change this nation so desperately needs.

The term liberal comes from the Latin liberalis, which means “pertaining to a free person.” Within the confines of political discourse, liberalism prescriptively refers to one open to new behavior and willing to discard traditional values, the antithesis of “Traditional Values™,” a revered cornerstone of conservative ideation. Why, then, does it appear Democrats have a tendency to disavow programs that would coincide with their adoptive moniker?

Seeking insight regarding this political malaise, I was able to pick the brain of Professor Noam Chomsky, renowned philosopher and linguist. The world’s leading political theorist had this to say about today’s incarnation of the Democrat and Republican parties:

“Both parties have shifted well to the right, the Republicans almost off the spectrum. Respected conservative commentator Norman Ornstein described them, plausible, as a ‘radical insurgency’ that has largely abandoned parliamentary politics. Democrats now are mostly what used to be called ‘moderate Republicans.’ There’s ample evidence that most of the population, at the lower end of the income spectrum, is effectively disenfranchised – their representatives pay no attention to their opinions. Moving up the income ladder, influence increases slowly, but it’s only at the very top that it has real impact. Plutocracy masquerading as formal democracy.”

The frameworks of this nation’s political system is an ostensible democracy as studies reveal, which is only a secret to the apathetic or those living under a rock. In an in-depth interview to be published later this week, Professor Justin Lewis—political analyst and media critic—echoes the sentiment of Chomsky regarding the erasure of left representation, which makes sense given their collaborative work titled The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News (see video here).

Much of Lewis’ research focuses on how there’s many issues wherein the U.S. public are to the left of both main parties but that such polling results are rarely referenced due to it conflicting with conventional political agenda. By contrast, what we tend to see is polling data that reinforces views aligned with mainstream party debates: That which is “Part of the Plan.”

Now, regarding my despondency.

None of the presidential hopefuls impress me, which is par for the course. That said, Bernie Sanders appears to be an apparition of hope for real social progress that would be absent within the neo-conservative seriously-not-liberal regime of Hilary Clinton and would degenerate midst the clutches of any Republican candidacy. There are significant drawbacks with Sanders (e.g., insinuations that he’d maintain “business as usual” regarding foreign policy is egregious), but in a race advertising 31 flavors of the horrible and grotesque, he’s a somewhat bitter-sweet relief for those desiring a faint taste of liberal representation.

Chomsky seems to agree. When asked about the more noteworthy contenders in the 2016 presidential race, he said:

“Sanders is a decent New Dealer, way to the left in the current U.S. political system. I don’t agree with some of his stands, but he’s a breath of fresh air. Clinton’s a centrist Democrat, Bush a right-wing Republican, sane by today’s weird standards. Trump is a very dangerous demagogue, though one can understand his appeal after decades of stagnation and loss of hope, even though the targets of the fears and angers are misplaced.”

The problem is the Wu Tang Clan were right: cash rules everything around me. The Big Two (re: Democrats, Republicans) receive a substantial chunk of financial support from corporate entities that demand politicians reciprocate with supporting policies that favor them. Those who don’t capitulate to these typically conservative forces aren’t likely to be viable contenders, which is one of the reasons why Bernie Sanders is seen as an underdog compared to corporate sycophant Hilary Clinton.

It’s still difficult for me to take Donald Trump’s run seriously. I get that his sideshow bravado swept up in mainstream media’s captivation is dangerous in a way. I also concede with many points made regarding Trump being the new face of white supremacy. The thing is, the appeal of this uncouth loudmouth isn’t proof that his explicitly racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and privilege-induced ramblings are in any way valid, but rather a collective sigh of discontent with common political sophistry. We live in a society that craves entertainment and those with whom we can identify with—Trump delivers on these attributes though lacking any real substance sheltered away behind that obtuse curtain guarded by blowhard antics. Also, keep in mind this white-oriented culture just endured eight years of having to call a Black man their leader…Trump’s present success—given what he represents—doesn’t surprise me.

Moreover, people want tangible change that amounts to more than just a catchy slogan. For the right, that means supporting candidates that thrive on victim blaming, yearn to hinder and divest in policies that aid women, LGBTQIA, immigrants, and people of color, and will greenlight stricter theocratic legislation. For the ostensible left, that means (thus far) placing odds on one of two choices: one with considerable clout but a distant stranger to liberal principles though she feigns otherwise, and one who, though far from flawless, actually bears resemblance to a liberal candidate.

Liberalism is important to me, and likely to anyone else of a similar mindset, because the way progress is effectively enacted across social institutions—the complex of positions, roles, norms and values lodged in particular types of social structures—is by way of evolving and forward-thinking. These standards are prone to stimulate directives targeting the marginalized and support multiculturalism, which literally (seriously, literally) contradicts the motivations and interests of conservative ideology.

You’d think more would be on board for further development and more inclusionary lawmaking…but then I remember those who benefit from the status quo are more inclined to relish the current horse-and-buggy-pace of societal maturation, or even champion a devolution to “The Good Old Days” (read: Dixiecratic, “Jim Crow wasn’t so bad” resolve) where it’d be more widely acceptable to not consider classism, ableism, toxic masculinity, racism, transantagonism, etc. I understand being a decent person is “hard” for those who adore their privilege. These are the people who perceive their abject disconnect from those who are othered as a sign of the outsider’s weakness instead of realizing the frailty is their own.

And so I sit, battle weary, anxious, and disheartened. Liberalism isn’t dead, but when it comes to a political institution that prefers stagnancy, it sure is hard to come by.

Markets “celebrate” poor US jobs data


By Nick Beams
6 October 2015

Last Friday, the US Labor Department reported that jobs growth for September was only 142,000, some two-fifths below the trend of the past 12 months and well below expectations of an increase of 201,000. Coupled with the revising down of August jobs growth from 173,000 to 136,000, it was clear evidence that the deflationary and recessionary trends worldwide are impacting on the US economy.

Financial markets interpreted this news as meaning that the Fed would not now increase interest rates from their present level of near zero until March 2016 and possibly beyond. In September, the Fed had kept rates on hold but indicated that it favored an initial increase before the end of the year.

With that prospect receding rapidly, the stock market began to rise after the release of the jobs data. On Monday, having digested the news over the weekend, the stock market celebrated in anticipation that the supply of ultra-cheap money was going to continue, possibly for at least the next six months.

It was as if the players in a gambling casino had been told that they would get another supply of free chips from the house.

The bad news is good news syndrome saw the Dow rise more than 300 points, an increase of 1.8 percent, the S&P 500 rose by 1.8 percent and the NASDA Composite advanced by 1.6 percent. For the S&P it was the fifth straight day of gains and the longest stretch of increases since last December.

In an interview with the business channel CNBC, the former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, the principal architect of the cheap money policy following the financial crisis of 2008, said the “mediocre job numbers for the last couple of months” was a “negative” for any move to lift interest rates. In other words, what has become known as the Bernanke put—the belief that that Fed will underpin financial markets—will continue.

His comments followed remarks by Boston Fed president Eric Rosenberg over the weekend, who said his confidence that interest rates could rise had been diminished. Rosenberg is not a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets rates, but his comments were significant because in the recent period he has moved into the camp of those who favor an interest rate increase this year.

However this was not a unanimous view. St Louis Fed president James Bullard, who is on record as favoring a move to normalizing the interest rate regime, repeated his view that now was the time to start that process. Fed vice chairman Stanley Fischer said there were obvious “bubbles” in the economy and the Fed could target them with higher interest rates at certain times.

But the prevailing view is that interest rates will not move this year. “In terms of demand, concern about Fed hikes in 2015 is evaporating, particularly following the disappointing jobs numbers,” said Andrew Hollenhorst, an interest rate strategist at Citigroup Global Markets.

Andrew Brenner, head of international fixed income at National Alliance Capital Markets, said: “The Fed is off the table for 2015, no matter what they say.”

It was significant that among the rises on the stock market were energy and mining companies. This was not because the prices of commodities have risen—the downward pressure is continuing. Rather, it was a reflection of the belief that many of these highly indebted companies would not be faced with an immediate funding squeeze which could occur in the event of an interest rate increase by the Fed.

Another expression of the perversity that prevails in financial markets came with the announcement yesterday that, for the first time in history, the US Treasury had sold a government security with a three-month maturity for a yield of zero. This implied that if investors held the security for its full term they would have given the government a short-term loan for free. In fact, those who purchased the security anticipate that with the cheap money spigot still open they will be able to sell at a higher price than they purchased it for and make a profit.

The latest jump in Wall Street again underscores the divorce between financial markets and the underlying real economy. The US jobs data were an expression of global trends, including a marked slowdown in the Chinese economy, lower growth in emerging markets, the mounting prospect of two consecutive quarters of negative growth in Japan—a technical recession—and continuing deflationary pressures.

As the Financial Times noted in an article published Monday: “Deflation, a prolonged decline in the price of products, is flowing like a draught of cold air from Asia’s powerhouse economies and casting a chill over Japan and Europe, while also endangering US efforts to sustain a recovery.”

The intensifying deflationary trend could see both the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank pump still more money into the financial system. However, the continued boosting of the financial markets by the world’s three major central banks is creating the conditions for a potential disaster.

Philip Moffitt, the head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which oversees $1 trillion worldwide, told Bloomberg: “The next stage for both the Bank of Japan and the ECB [European Central Bank] is more easing; they’re going to keep putting more fuel on the fire, but at some point the fire’s big and there’s nothing left to burn. What do we do?”

The immediate response to such a situation, he continued, “would be a huge sell-off in risk assets.”

Following the wiping out of trillions of dollars from global equity markets in August and September, Monday’s rise on Wall Street is not a sign of a return to stability, but rather another gyration in the fever chart of the global financial system.

Washington’s war crime in Afghanistan


6 October 2015

The massacre of 22 people—12 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, along with 10 patients, three of them children—in Saturday’s airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical center in Kunduz, Afghanistan is an appalling war crime for which the US military and Obama administration are responsible.

On Monday, the top US commander in Afghanistan admitted that a US warplane carried out the deadly attack, while seeking to shift the blame onto Afghan puppet troops for calling it in.

“An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban and several civilians were accidentally struck,” Gen. John Campbell told a Pentagon press conference. This account is at odds with the Pentagon’s initial story that US special forces troops had come under fire and called in the airstrike.

The plane involved was an AC-130, nicknamed the “Angel of Death,” a huge, slow-flying aircraft equipped with multiple cannons, rockets and bombs that is capable of circling a target for long periods, delivering devastating firepower. The Pentagon has boasted about this flying fortress’s ability to strike targets with “pinpoint accuracy,” in this case a huge, well-marked hospital.

Survivors of the attack described horrific scenes, with patients burning in their beds and doctors and nurses covered in blood from multiple grievous wounds.

Afghan officials shamelessly defended the attack on the hospital. “When insurgents try to use civilians and public places to hide, it makes it very, very difficult…” Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan member of parliament from northern Badakhshan Province, told the Washington Post. “You have two choices: either continue operations to clean up, and that might involve attacks in public places, or you just let the Taliban control. In this case, the public understands we went with the first choice, along with our international allies.”

Similarly, the acting governor of Kunduz, Hamdullah Danishi, told the Post, “The hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban. The hospital has a vast garden, and the Taliban were there. We tolerated their firing for some time” before responding.

These statements constitute an “admission of a war crime,” MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said Sunday. They “imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present,” he said.

MSF has categorically denied that any armed Taliban were present in the hospital and reported that it had repeatedly advised the US military as to the location of the hospital, which has operated in Kunduz for years.

The most plausible explanation is that the US military and its Afghan forces decided to attack the hospital because of its well-known practice of treating all in need of care, including wounded Taliban fighters. Such an atrocity is meant to send a message: anyone who aids an enemy of the US military forces occupying Afghanistan will die.

The attack is further evidence to be used in future war crimes trials. During its nearly seven years in office, the Obama administration has doubled down on the atrocities carried out by its predecessor.

Tomorrow marks the 14th anniversary of the October 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. The Pentagon dubbed America’s conquest of the impoverished country straddling the strategic regions of Central and South Asia “Operation Enduring Freedom.” It would have been more accurate to call it “Operation Enduring Slaughter.” According to the extremely conservative estimate made by the United Nations, over 19,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since 2009 alone.

Conditions have only continued to worsen. Civilian casualties have hit a record high, increasing by a staggering 60 percent during the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2014. The UN acknowledged that the rise was “mostly due to increased civilian casualties caused by pro-Government [i.e., US-backed] forces during ground engagements.”

Meanwhile unemployment has peaked at 40 percent, while the poverty rate is roughly the same. Social inequality has risen dramatically, as Afghanistan’s US-backed kleptocracy pockets the lion’s share of foreign aid money. These increasingly intolerable conditions have forced many to flee, with Afghans making up 13 percent of the refugees attempting to reach Europe, second only in number to those escaping Syria.

Sold to the American people as revenge for the 9/11 attacks, the war grinds on 14 years later with the US military continuing the slaughter of innocent Afghans for the purpose of keeping a corrupt and impotent puppet regime in power.

Within two days of Washington launching the war, the WSWS rejected the official pretext, insisting that: “… while the events of September 11 have served as the catalyst for the assault on Afghanistan, the cause is far deeper…

“The US government initiated the war in pursuit of far-reaching international interests of the American ruling elite. What is the main purpose of the war? The collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago created a political vacuum in Central Asia, which is home to the second largest deposit of proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world.”

The statement continued, “By attacking Afghanistan, setting up a client regime and moving vast military forces into the region, the US aims to establish a new political framework within which it will exert hegemonic control.”

14 years later, with Washington in a de facto alliance with Al Qaeda in Syria, and amid a steady ratcheting up of tensions with Russia and China, this assessment has stood the test of time.

The war in Afghanistan has turned into a debacle, one of US imperialism’s own making. Washington’s earlier intervention in Afghanistan, directed at toppling the Soviet-backed government in Kabul beginning in 1979, saw billions of dollars in arms and aid funneled to Islamist guerrillas that included those who formed both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This effort ravaged Afghanistan, killing over one million and turning five million more into refugees.

The response to the fall of Kunduz to the Taliban will inevitably be another escalation of the US intervention and even more war crimes like that against the MSF hospital.

While those immediately responsible for the killing of medical personnel and patients must be held accountable for last weekend’s crime, the far greater criminals are those in the Bush and Obama administrations who launched and continued this predatory war based upon lies.

These political criminals can be brought to justice only through the mobilization of the working class against imperialist war and the capitalist system that is its source.

Bill Van Auken

Time Out of Mind: Richard Gere as a homeless man in New York City

By Robert Fowler
5 October 2015

Director Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, with Richard Gere, is a sincere yet flawed film that attempts to portray the struggles of a homeless character named George Hammond.

Time Out of Mind

Moverman’s previous efforts include directing the Iraq war drama The Messenger (his debut as a director) and writing or co-writing I’m Not There (the Todd Haynes film about Bob Dylan) and the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy .

In the opening scene of Time Out of Mind we discover a disheveled George Hammond (Gere) sleeping in a bathtub in an abandoned apartment. He is roused by an officious building manager ably played by Steve Buscemi. The building manager insists on removing George as quickly and efficiently as possible, and despite protestations from our protagonist he succeeds in doing so.

After being forced out of the building, George wanders aimlessly throughout the city. He is accompanied by the sights and particularly the sounds of New York, which serve as the film’s soundtrack. Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski chose to shoot Time Out of Mind in what might be considered a neo-realist style, with hand-held and hidden cameras. We hear off-screen conversations from passersby and there are several long-distance shots of George.

One would assume that this is an attempt to depict the isolation that George and so many homeless individuals must feel, but, unfortunately, in this case it comes across as contrived, and in the end creates an unnecessary distance between George and the viewer. One feels Moverman missed an opportunity or perhaps was reluctant to delve more profoundly into the depths of George’s plight.

As the very loose narrative unfolds, we learn that George has lost his job, that his ex-wife is dying from cancer and that he is estranged from his daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone). Along the way he befriends a gregarious African American man by the name of Dixon (Ben Vereen) in a homeless shelter. They soon become an “odd couple” in a rather clichéd fashion. That being said, Dixon, played competently by Vereen, comes across as the more true to life of the two homeless men. He is a former jazz musician who, despite his predicament, is consistent in his liveliness and ability to find humor and hope.

Some of the more authentic moments in the film come in the form of George’s difficulties with government bureaucracies and homeless shelter officials who insist on seeing some sort of identification. One empathizes strongly with George’s frustrations in these circumstances as he desperately tries to remember his social security number, home address, date of birth and other pieces of information, under constant passive-aggressive interrogation from detached bureaucratic mouthpieces. Moverman attempts to balance this with a scene involving a friendlier homeless shelter attendant who pointedly tells George: “I was once in the position you are now.”

George attempts to reconnect with his daughter Maggie on a couple of occasions. First at a laundromat, then in the bar where she works. Again, these moments, although well-intentioned, seem contrived and quite “Hollywoodish” in both their writing and acting. Predictably, Maggie is aloof and embarrassed at what her father has become. However, toward the film’s conclusion, she does have second thoughts about her coldness.

The inevitably repetitive nature of life on the streets is a strong focus of the film. This approach has mixed results. George pleading for change, for example, although quite realistic, failed in many respects as these moments seemed to lack an urgency and desperation. The little money George receives from the streets is spent on alcohol and clothes. There are vague allusions to George having a drinking problem, but for Moverman to harp on this aspect of his personality seems a bit lazy.

Time Out of Mind

Gere’s performance is earnest, but terribly self-conscious. He overdoes the naturalistic grunts and sighs, trying too hard throughout. Perhaps all this “special effort” is unsurprising as Gere had championed the script for many years seeking a suitable director.

Gere found his man in Moverman, who explains in an interview with Indiewire, “The project came with Richard. He approached me, he told me about a script that he had, an old script, and a character that he’s been obsessed with. That’s where the conversation started. In a way the movie came pre-cast. Otherwise, I would never, ever cast Richard Gere.”

According to, the actor was affected by reading Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets, “a memoir by a homeless person called Cadillac Man. ‘I loved the book because it was artless,’ Gere says. ‘He didn’t know how to write, and, so, the writing, of course, was wonderful.’ Gere met with Cadillac Man—a meeting that gave the actor the confidence to go ahead with Time Out of Mind. For three weeks, dressed in secondhand clothes, he roamed the streets. He’d scour Dumpsters for food, he’d stand at curbs, he disappeared in the thrum and hustle.”

There’s no reason to doubt Gere’s genuineness or his social concern. Another major film performer, Paul Bettany, has directed a film called Shelter, which opens in a limited run in the US November 13, about a homeless couple in New York (with Jennifer Connelly, Bettany’s wife, and Anthony Mackie)

Moverman further explained, “I didn’t make this film as some homeless advocate who is in the trenches for years, or as anyone with any kind of righteousness or superiority on this issue. I’m just like anybody else, I ignore people as much as anybody else. I think we all live complicated lives and we have lots going on. We have a lot of narratives happening in our hands and strands of communication. Reality is really something that we have to block out sometimes, or we can’t help but block out. I think that the movie opened our eyes, for sure, to noticing people more and to maybe being more conscious about it, which is the only thing you can hope for. It’s not a movie with a solution.”

Nobody is expecting Moverman to offer a “solution” to the crisis of homelessness in a two-hour film but surely an artist can at least offer a strong and clear point of view. Instead, Moverman opts for a false objectivity, convinced, no doubt, that he is showing “life as it really is.” In fact, this passivity is bound up with a certain superficiality, an unwillingness to go terribly deep into the social problem or the character’s psyche.

In terms of the housing crisis, as the WSWS has noted in numerous articles, the spiraling cost of living in New York City has forced thousands of people onto the streets. The official total of those living in shelters is over 60,000.

During Michael Bloomberg’s tenure (2002-2013) as mayor of New York, the homeless population is estimated to have increased somewhere between 60 and 70 percent. After his successor Bill de Blasio’s first year in City Hall, the total number of people sleeping in homeless shelters was 58,469. The number of people currently sleeping on the street on any given night is in the range of 4,000.

The great difficulty in finding affordable housing is obviously a major factor. A recent report on the real estate web site StreetEasy pointed out that it is impossible for a worker in New York making the city’s minimum wage, $8.75 per hour, to find an apartment. Meanwhile, the average sale price of a Manhattan apartment is $1.87 million. According to an article in Forbesmagazine, there are currently 78 billionaires residing in New York City.

At one point in Time Out of Mind, George cries “We don’t exist! We don’t exist!” This is a rare and powerful moment in the film that rings true for thousands and thousands of New York residents. Such have been the devastating consequences of the profit system.