The US-Saudi imperial interrelationship

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While the society of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is corrupted, there is another dimension to mention: the US-Saudi imperial interrelationship and where it currently stands. It seems that this relationship is good straits, but could easily bounce back as the masters of war of the murderous empire smile with glee. [1] The plan to “mold” opinion proposed in 1950 has not worked:

“…if the President and the Government and the Department of State…felt there was a menace to the interests of the United States, American public opinion could be molded, if not for the sake of Ibn Saud, for the sake of the interests of the United States and Saudi Arabia”

The KSA was founded in 1932, the year that Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) won the presidential election against “discredited” Republican Herbert Hoover. For years, the Saud family had been hiding in Kuwait, a protectorate of the British Empire, while the Ottomans controlled much of the Mideast. After the collapse of Ottoman Empire in 1923, the Saud family sprung into action. They began establishing the foundation of what would become the KSA. By 1932, when the state was declared to the world, few countries recognized it as there were no resources “of importance” and the country was composed mainly of nomads, delineated into varying ethnic groupings. Later that year, the fortunes changed for the Saud family, which was experiencing an “economic crisis,” when black gold was found. With the oil wealth, the Saud family became the Royals, and their brutal monarchy was cemented. With that, the teachings by Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab on the Arabian Peninsula, originally part of am “18th-century revival and reform movement,” often called Wahhabism in the West, received state sanction. This form of Islam, which insists on a “literal interpretation of the Koran” and declares that those who don’t practice it are “heathens and enemies,” would be promoted for years to come even as it was used by all sorts of Islamic reactionaries.

As years passed, the US, along with many other countries, swooped in and recognized the KSA as a state, and Western oil corporations, like Standard Oil, established their roots in the country. Later a camp was established for foreign oil workers, creating a sort of bubble of security, at least in theory. Years later, some argued that Saudi Arabia and the Islamic movement were part of an anti-imperial front. Canadian socialist Paul Saba, wrote in 1980 that colonialists tried to suppress Islam, which made it stronger and part of anti-colonial struggle, meaning that many Muslim groups often played a “progressive role in supporting national liberation.” He also said that because sentencing in the Islamic world is “far less than severe than the torture and murder which existed under the Shah,” that it is fine, a position which should be unacceptable to any reasonable person. Saba also said that the Islamic movement wanted development and progress apart from “imperialist control,” with the US as a key target for hatred and defiance due to, as he put it, “historical plunder and domination of the Middle East and its backing for Israeli Zionism and the Shah of Iran.” While he makes valid points about countries such as Iran, which is currently at a crossroads geopolitically, he does not recognize that many of these countries are religiously conservative and as a result, do not have true liberation, especially for women, homosexuals, and non-Muslims.

In the 1940s, the equation changed once again. While the US sent engineers to work on Saudi roads, financial loans to the KSA were nixed by the US government because of British support for the Kingdom. [2] Even as veteran diplomat Alexander Comstock Kirk agreed with this assessment, he rejected the idea of “a division of hemispheres of influence” in which the British would take a leading role instead of the United States. US diplomats even debated sending agricultural and technical assistance to the KSA based on what was done on reservations of the remaining indigenous nations in the United States. [3] At the same time, certain policymakers turned their attention to the Kingdom where a “massive oilfield has been discovered in 1938,” and strengthened a relationship with the country, trying to cultivate it as a friend.

All of this happened even as the Kingdom had established diplomatic relations with the Nazis and Italian fascists, both of whom tried to bring the Saudis to their side, sometimes by promising to send armaments. [4] Even so, the US was successful in bribing the Saudis to switch sides and declare war on the Nazis by 1945, even inviting them to a UN conference, a proposal which was roundly rejected by the Soviets.

As time passed, relations changed. Not only did FDR’s meeting with Ibn Saud (known in the Arab world as Abdulaziz), in Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, reinforce the US-Saudi relationship, but the US began sending the oil-rich country military aid. [5] The US began seeing protection of the KSA as vital to the security of the empire. This was a time that the US saw the Kingdom as “a bulwark to peace in the Near Eastern world” supported the extension of a 15 million dollar Export-Import Bank loan to the country to develop its railroads, highways and generally its transportation system. [6]

This relationship was helped because the Saudis were staunchly anti-communist. Millions of dollars of US investments in the country were considered as an “effective weapon against the advance of Communism.” In exchange for such investment, the Saudis allowed their airfield of Dharan to hold US warplanes and US commercial flights by the early 1950s. Afterword, the US sent military advisers to “protect” the Kingdom and reassert US military rights in the country. In later years, during the 1972 border conflict between North Yemen (backed by Jordan, KSA, the US, UK, Taiwan, and West Germany) and South Yemen, also called the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and Libya), and after, the Saudis saw South Yemen as a threat. The country was even praised by the World Bank for satisfying basic needs of the population, raising education standards, and more. The government of South Yemen also engaged in campaigns to eradicate illiteracy, emancipate women, develop a safe drinking water system, and engage in agriculture collectivization. Eventually, the imperial and capitalistic forces got their way, uniting the North and South Yemen behind Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former leader of North Yemen, in 1990, who would be predictably US-friendly until his ousting in 2012. However, in 1994 there was a civil war between the pro-Western northerners and socialist southerners, which was launched by North Yemen, which again led to reunification and purging of the left from Yemeni society. Even since 2013, people resisted Yemeni occupation of the southern part of the country “through the division of labor and through popular committees” which is mainly expressed through peaceful protest as the last secretary general of the Yemeni Socialist Party, Ali Salim al-Beidh, noted in a 2013 interview.

While the Saudis became anxious for not receiving military assistance, they were likely glad that the US negotiated an agreement between them and ARAMCO (Arab-American Oil Company). [7] At the same time, the US had the appearance as a “neutral mediator” in disputes, mainly between the British and Saudis, handled in arbitration sessions. These disputes were over oil field claims near Farsi island, Qatar, the town of Buraimi, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and other border areas. Those involved in the disputes, which had been festering since the late 1940s, included Aramco and British oil companies such as Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Ultimately, the Saudis found the British, who were exploring oil drilling in a disputed zone, to be impolite and were angry at them, which the British found disconcerting.

In subsequent years, as the formal British Empire weakened, which would become, at least for the Saudis, “hostile,” the US would pledge to protect them and their oil from those they perceived as the “aggressors”: the Soviets. Still, in 1952, the Join Chiefs of Staff believed that “from a military point of view, grant aid to Saudi Arabia and certain other Middle East countries is not justified,” even though they agreed that the Kingdom had unique position in the Mideast.The US pledge for support was noted in a summary of a March 1950 conversation, between the US, Britain, and the KSA:

“the United States has an extremely strong interest in the American investment in petroleum in Saudi Arabia. This is an interest which is vitally important to the security of the United States and to the world…it is necessary that the United States render assistance to nations who find themselves threatened by aggression or subversion from the north…The United States feels that the only important long-range security menace that faces the world is the obviously aggressive designs of the USSR…if at any time it [Saudi Arabia] is menaced by aggressive action or subversive activities from any neighboring power, the United States Government will take most definite action…The United States on its side is gratified that American investors, both oilmen and others, have chosen to come here to work with the Saudi Arabian Government”

However the relationship between the United States and the KSA developed a hiccup in the form of the state of Israel.

In 1947, after years of Zionist efforts to establish a state, Israel was established in the Holy Land of Palestine. The area was already torn by strife between Jews and Arabs, which the British imperialists saw as a dilemma to quickly extricate themselves from. While the state of Israel was founded on violence and religious ideals like the KSA, it was different in the fact that it was founded on the genocide of the Palestinians. The Saudis were strongly opposed to this new state and seemed to favor the Palestinians. Ibn Saud, from 1947 to his death in 1953, was strongly anti-Zionist and warned the US of consequences if they supported Israel. [8] Even as FDR has reassured Ibn Saud that the US would not change its policy on Palestine, “without consulting the Arabs,” this was disregarded. Ibn Saud stayed outspoken on Zionism, even canceling an Aramco concession, alarming the military and foreign policy establishment. Eventually, Saud found he could distinguish between US foreign policy elsewhere in the Mideast and ARAMCO, arguing that oil royalties could allow Arab states to resist “Jewish pretensions,” and staying formally hostile to Zionism. Whether it was to curry Jewish votes in the upcoming election (1948) or to establish more of a foothold in the Middle East, the US supported Israel, although not as strongly until the 1960s and 1970s.

Despite this, the US-Saudi relationship persisted. Presidents, whether from the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties, have tried to favor the KSA in whatever way they can, whether that is through arms deals or accepting ceremonial gifts. The US even sent a medical team, led by President Truman’s personal physician, to the Kingdom to make sure that Ibn Saud was healthy before his death! In 1957, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” said that the US would, within constitutional means, oppose “overt armed aggression” in the Kingdom and the Middle East by Soviet and Soviet-aligned agents. Years later, John F. Kennedy, still lauded by conservatives and liberals alike, ordered that a squadron of fighters be sent to the country to protect it from Egyptian air assaults. Years later, the US was grateful for the Saudi effort to avoid a “serious shortfall in oil supplies,” stabilize the world oil market, and the Saudi decision to increase production due to the Iranian revolution in 1979.

In later years, the relationship between the KSA and the US strengthened. A senior fellow at the elite Council on Foreign Relations, Rachel Bronson, wrote in 2004 that the “close, cozy relationship” between the two countries began with Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush, with the relationship cemented in efforts to counter claimed “Soviet aggression.” She continues, saying that the Saudis had their own reasons for fighting the Soviets including their fear that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan would “threaten” their Kingdom. Bronson goes on to say that the Saudis also played a role in funding the contras in Nicaragua, Reagan’s “freedom fighters” for capitalism, along with funding opposition to Ethiopia’s Soviet-aligned government and horrid rebel leader Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA to fight the Marxist government in Angola. She then claims that current attention to Bush family “misses the longer history of the American and Saudi Arabian contemporary relationship.” However, by saying this, she is whitewashing the Bush family’s history with the Saud family.

In 1990, former CIA director and then-President George H.W. Bush brought troops into the Kingdom during the Persian Gulf quest for oil, declaring that the US would “assist the Saudi Arabian government in the defense of its homeland.” This was not a surprise as then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney personally flew to the oil kingdom to ask King Fahd to allow the US to “station thousands of troops there,” saying to the US Senate that the US was coming to their aid because of the agreement between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud all those years ago. [9] Not long after, he subsequently supported the war against Iraq. Years later, George W. Bush would declare the country was “expanding the role of its people in determining their future” even as they remained an authoritarian, brutal state.

Still, there have been disagreements and snipes over the years. Even disgraced war criminal Hillary Killary Clinton, in excerpts of speeches, released by Wikileaks and organized later by the National Security Archive, to bankers and well-off constituencies, criticized the Saudis. She said that they (and the Emiratis) feared “organized efforts for political Islam,” saw the Muslim Brotherhood as threatening, and were against missile defense in the Mideast. She also said that the Saudis did not have a stable government (perhaps indicated by the killing a Saudi royal by head chopping recently), that the Saudis have backed the Sunni fighters in Syria with large amounts of arms, and that the “Saudis have exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years.” [10] This statement aligns with earlier Wikileaks cables saying that the country was “the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups,” with the government not even trying to stop the flow of money, and recent releases saying that the Kingdom and Qatar “fund ISIS.”

As for Clinton, while she may have angered top policymakers when she spoke her mind about Israeli and Saudi actions, she also stated the obvious. She said that that as a result of the so-called “Arab Spring,” Israel and the KSA are “more closely aligned in their foreign policy…[on] Iran…Egypt…Syria and…a lot of other things.” [11] This is was also clear when the late King Abdullah said that the US should “cut off the head of the snake” and bomb Iran before it was too late. [12] More recently, the Saudis even allowed Israeli newspapers to be viewed in the country.

Apart from the powerful (but currently weakened) Saudi lobby, there is the bourgeois media. When King Abdullah died in January of last year, this media could not let down on its praise, calling him “something of an advocate for women” (The Telegraph), “a reformer at home” (BBC), a “reformer and often came up against the more hard-line clerics” (CNN), “accepted limited change” (The Guardian), “pushed cautious changes” (Reuters), “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer…[and] became, in some ways, a force of moderation” (New York Times), “to his supporters, [he]…was a benign and…progressive monarch” (Wall Street Journal), “was seen by many as a gentle reformer” (The Independent), and “was considered a savvy and plainspoken modernizer, if not a reformer” (The New Yorker). [13] While BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and The Independent were more reserved in their praise, they were still part of the general trend.

Apart from crap infotainment sites like BuzzFeed claiming that King Abdullah’s “legacy” was important to care about, President Obama declared that the Saudi king was “always candid and had the courage of his convictions” and corporatist Secretary of State John Kerry, in a bubble of misunderstanding and confusion, said that the US “lost a friend…the world has lost a revered leadera man of wisdom and vision…a brave partner in fighting violent extremism.” To top this off is the State Department-connected and bourgeois Human Rights Watch declaring that King Abdullah’s reign has “brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens,” which basically offering of praise.

Some criticized such praise at the time. One of these people was Jacob Mchangama, the director of the Justia think tank, on the conservative website of Forbes. He wrote that the reactions to the death of the Saudi king “has been a rude awakening.” He criticized the responses of leaders including John Kerry, former UK prime minister David Cameron, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, saying that “acknowledging the victims of King Abdullah rather than singing false praises would be a good start” in the right direction. His tepid criticism doesn’t go far enough: the bourgeois media and Western capitalist leaders are supporting the imperialist US-Saudi relationship by whitewashing the crimes of the authoritarian Kingdom. If anything, people should be celebrating the death of a tyrant like King Abdullah, not praising him as a reformer, and should be recognizing that Saudi society is still violent, like that of the United States, but also in a very different way, with routine executions of “subversives.”

The Iranian leaders clearly agree with Clinton on this point. In a recent speech to the UN General Assembly, the moderate reformist President, backed by the Western capitalists, Hassan Rouhani, argued that if the Saudis are serious about development and regional security they must stop their “divisive policies, spread of hate ideology and trampling upon the rights of neighbors.” He further criticized the US government for not following on the Iran deal, along with the Supreme Court decision earlier this year, to which only chief justice John Roberts and associate justice Sonia Sotamayor dissenting, to seize Iranian assets because they “committed terrorism.” He also said that Iran had a good relationship with the people of the United States, and that their “problem is with the American government, not companies, people and universities.”

Apart from the internal dynamics and land grabs, there are obvious realities which should be pointed out. For one, the Saudis are backing the religiously reactionary opposition in the Syrian Arab Republic, which was not “moderate” but are basically Al Qaeda type-organizations, like Al Nusra. They even offered Russia an oil deal secretly if they withdrew backing of the Syrian government, which they refused, and they provided chemical weapons to Syrian “rebels.” The goal of the Saudis interconnect directly with US imperial interests, which entail the displacing the secular, nationalist, socially democratic government headed by Bashar Al-Assad and replacing him (and the government) with one that benefits imperial power and allows Western investments to flow. The Kingdom is, as as result, an arm of US imperial foreign policy. The KSA even allied with the US-supported authoritarian state of Kazakhstan, and the US, which has a drone base in the Kingdom, has propped up the brutal autocratic state and its leaders. All of this isn’t a surprise since in 2011, the US Senate Intelligence Committee found a list of direct members of the Saudi royal family who were connected with 9/11, a discovery which connects to the fact the Kingdom arguably divided into fiefdoms, with specific princes having their own interests which may have had a “severe impact on 9/11.”

Recently, the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United States has been decisively shaken. On September 28th, the US Congress roundly overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a law which allows families of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for involvement in the attacks, which makes sense since 15 of the 19 hijackers came from the country. [14] Scholar Binoy Kampmark argued that the law was a “very American formula, one born in the court room and litigation process,” that any avenue of legal action “against an ally was tantamount to a confession,” and noting that the Saudi foreign minister said that their assets could be seized due to the law. He also argued that this bill’s passage meant that “various imperial efforts of the US would be compromised,” with US imperial engagements and actions, along with those of US allies, suddenly facing “the prospect of legal targeting,” with the law serving as one the most overt challenges to “assumptions of sovereign immunity.”

Those for the law include president-elect (and fascist) Donald Trump, Killary, Nancy Pelosi, John Cornyn, and a majority of Congress. The main force behind the law, other than feelings of jingoism conjured up even by mention of the September 11 attacks, was a New Jersey group named 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, which is pro-military but critical of the Saudis. The group’s chair, Terry Strada, a former director of J.P. Morgan Chase’s Human Resources department, joined the group in 2002 and became chair in 2012. [15] One of their lawyers, James P. Kreindler, declared that “Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to see this continue in the media or court…we are going to prevail. We are going to win. Either the Saudis will come to the table or we’ll go to court and win there.”

The groups against the law are varied. They include the Saudi government, President Obama, who warned it would lead countries to sue the US in foreign courts for war crimes, CIA director John Brennan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Gulf Cooperation Council, a bipartisan group of former executive officials saying that the law would harm US interests and undercut security of the empire. [16] The Saudi foreign ministry declared that the law would lead to “serious unintended repercussions” such as threats to sovereign immunity. Some have said that the law, coupled with other measures, is a setback for the Saudis, whose influence on Capital Hill is waning, and that “anti-Saudi activity” on the Hill is the strongest it has been in decades. [17] These “concerns” were as bad as an ABC News fluff piece about the law, with their hand-picked experts saying that the law cold lead to “potentially any nation” sued, could make the US “much more vulnerable,” is “very dangerous…a huge mistake,” undermining counter-terrorism, and hilariously that “some countries would be interested in saying our military aid to Israel is aiding and abetting things that they would allege are sometimes war crimes against the Palestinians” which “we” need immunity from.

A Yale-educated individual formerly in the military establishment, named Michael Rubin, went the furthest of all. He said that without oil, the KSA “would be a very different place” and that oil money led the country into “modernity.” After saying that JASTA would shake “Saudi financial stability,” he declared that the Kingdom would become “bankrupt” because of the law, saying that this is not “good for America” since “what happens in Riyadh doesn’t stay in Riyadh.” Then, almost like a giddy neo-con, he worried that political instability in the country would not be “good” because decades of “Islamist education and indoctrination” would lead unemployed Saudi youth to not embrace “liberalism and tolerance if suddenly put in desperate straits.” Basically, this means that the country would not be a bastion of imperialism and could become, hypothetically, anti-imperialist and antagonistic to the US, which he sees as “dangerous.” Reasoned people should welcome such a change in Saudi Arabia if it is pushed by those who want to challenge imperial control, apart from the Islamic reactionaries.

Congressional criticism and efforts to curtail the Saudis only goes so far. In late September, the US Senate passed a law, by a supermajority, to approve the sale of Abrams tanks and other armaments to the KSA, with bigwig Senators like John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Mitch McConnell in support. Those that objected were led by libertarian-Republican Senator Rand Paul and liberal-Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. While Paul opposed giving the KSA more arms because Congress hadn’t discussed the Saudi bombing of Yemen, which has killed over 3,800 civilians and resulted in much turmoil, Murphy had other reasons. He argued that there is “an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen,” a statement proved by the fact that that the KSA is using US-supplied white phosphorous in Yemen. He also said that the KSA was not “immune from criticism” and that the US should not dictate what “form of Islam wins out around the world.” However, he said that the US should still have a strong relationship with the KSA, which he considered vital, that allows “for one party to object to the behavior of the other when it’s not in the party’s mutual national security interests” and that the relationship can survive US challenges. Despite these reservations, criticism of the Saudis in Congress, and generally, is a good sign of things to come. Bourgeois left-liberals have their answer to these problems in (and relating to) Saudi Arabia embodied by veteran peace activist Medea Benjamin. She argues in her new book that the current US-Saudi relationship is destructive and that the US State Department should use its existing policies to sanction the KSA. [18] While this may be satisfying to some, this article will go further be recognizing how the relationship is connected to the capitalist system, imperialism, and the murderous US empire.

On the other hand, the imperial interrelationship with Saudi Arabia could be in trouble. For one, during the continuing US-backed Saudi destructive war in Yemen, some top government officials, especially in the State Department were worried. They said in emails, from mid-last year to earlier this year, that they were concerned about legal blowback from US participation in the Saudi bombing. These officials believed that the US could be “implicated in war crimes” and that the Saudis would kill civilians due to their “lack of…experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles” coupled with weak intelligence, even as they attempted to maintain the US-Saudi relationship. Further emails showed that the Saudis disregarded a list prepared by senior officials to prevent destruction of “critical infrastructure” and reduce casualties, bombing a bridge to the Yemeni capital of Sanaa which was a major rout for humanitarian food aid. Even former military prosecutor and California liberal senator Ted Lieu declared, that due to the assistance in the horrid bombing, the Obama administration is “now in an untenable situation.” This situation is complicated by the fact that risks to US military personnel, the footsoldiers of empire, even those on Navy destroyers, is increasing due to Saudi airstrikes on Yemeni civilians. [19]

Still, there is no doubt that the murderous empire had purposely turned looked away from the abuses of women, non-Muslims, foreign workers, and many others in the Kingdom, as previously noted. Not only is the country a murderous state, but it is effectively a client state of the empire, since without US support it could not destabilize the region whether it is backing horrid “rebels” in Syria or decimating the small country of Yemen. This is not a surprise since diplomats, even in 1946, declared that the US should provide “such assistance as may be necessary and feasible to strengthen and maintain that country as a sovereign state free of internal and external disturbances which might threaten its stability.” But the empire is not the only one that is defending the Kingdom.

As it should be obvious, supporting a relationship, even a “bilateral partnership,” with a tyrannical government like the KSA is against the principles of democracy, freedom, and justice the US supposedly stands for. Some policymakers might speak of the “reforms” in the country such as “expanding rights of women in Saudi Arabia,” but they will never gut the relationship. The fact that the NSA partnered with brutal Saudi state police and that the country’s currency is directly tied to the US dollar, showing that the relationship is entrenched. Even Bernie Sanders, the professed progressive and “antiwar” candidate in the capitalist Democratic Party, believed that rich authoritarian Arab states, such as the Kingdom, should fight against ISIS. Such an approach is not anti-interventionist since it means that the US-backed imperial proxies would be fighting against it, which does not, in any way, shape, or form undermine US imperialism. It also provides the potential for Saudi aggression to expand beyond Syria to the whole Mideast, causing more reactionary responses.

Readers may be looking for a “call to action” after reading this piece. I’m not going to follow the pattern of so many liberal documentaries which say you should go to a website and sign a petition. However, it is my hope that this article helps people start to challenge not only the accepted narrative about Saudi Arabia in the West but informs criticisms of bourgeois liberals. Much of the criticism of the US-Saudi relationship, and the Kingdom itself, mainly focuses on violations of “human rights,” as flawed a concept as that is, and stays within the bounds of accepted discourse in our capitalist society. There needs to be an analysis of Saudi Arabia and US imperial power which recognizes the interconnected nature of imperialism, capitalism, and other systems of oppression. This includes even criticizing states, even those one may be inclined to support, which have relationships with Saudi Arabia. While this article does not have all the answers and is only a first stab at this subject, but hopefully it opens the door for more discussion.

Notes

[1] Under the Obama administration, there was biggest arms deal in US history, at the time, with up to $60 billion dollars of military equipment bought for the Saudis, which was largely ignored by the corporate media.

[2] Wallace Murray, “Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray),” May 29, 1941, 890F.51/21, Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Alexander Comstock Kirk, “The Minister in Egypt Kirk to the Secretary of State,” June 26, 1941, 890F.21/23: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Cordell Hull, “The Secretary to the Minister in Egypt (Kirk),” August 22, 1941, 890F.51/29: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Alexander Comstock Kirk, “The Minister in Egypt (Kirk) to the Secretary of State,” August 30, 1941, 890F.51/30: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Cordell Hull, “The Secretary to the Minister in Egypt (Kirk),” September 10, 1941, 890F.51/30: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Alexander Comstock Kirk, “Minister in Egypt (Kirk) to the Secretary of State,” September 23, 1941, 890F.51/39: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Sumner Welles, “Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Welles) to the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray),” September 26, 1941, 890F.515/1⅓, Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016. Even the US was not on board with a Saudi request for 2 million in gold pieces in 1946.

[3] Harold I. Ickes, “The Secretary of Interior (Ickes) to the Secretary of State,” May 21, 1941, 102.64/100; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Gordon P. Merriam, “Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Gordon P. Merriam of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs,” September 19, 1941, 800F.00/67; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016.

[4] Francis R. Nicosia, Nazi Germany and the Arab World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 43, 76, 88, 110-114, 124-125, 126-127, 130-132. Reportedly, late Saudi King Abdullah treasured the dagger Hitler gave the Saudis in 1939.

[5] Adam Taylor, “The first time a US president met a Saudi King,” Washington Post, January 27, 2015. Accessed October 14, 2016; Rudy Abramson, “1945 Meeting of FDR and Saudi King Was Pivotal for Relations,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1990. Accessed October 14, 2016; G. Jefferson Price III, “Saudis remember FDR’s broken promise,” Baltimore Sun, September 1, 2002. Accessed October 14, 2016.

[6] “Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Villard) to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Clayton),” September 27, 1946, 890F.51/9–2746, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, The Near East and Africa, Volume VII. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Hare) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Thorp),” June 30, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula Affairs (Awalt),” July 28, 1950, 866A.10/7-2850, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Editorial Note,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016.

[7] “Editorial Note,” 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Editorial Note,” 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; Fred H. Awalt, “Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Fred H. Awalt of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs,” October 5, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V, Accessed October 14, 2016; “The Chief of Staff of the United States Army to the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, 786A.5/4–350: Telegram, April 3, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; Raymond A. Hare, “The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Hare) to the Secretary of Defense (Johnson),” March 8, 1950, 711.56386A/2–1350, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1441: Memorandum of Conversation, by Robert Sturgill of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs,” August 19, 1952, 786A.5 MSP/8–1952, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1432: Memorandum of Conversation, by Robert Sturgill of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs,” January 21, 1952, 711.5886A/1–2152, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1451: Memorandum by the President to the Director for Mutual Security (Stassen),” March 14, 1953, 786A.5 MSP/3–1453, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1453: The Under Secretary of State (Smith) to the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister (Faisal),” 786A.5 MSP/3–2653, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1510: Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula–Iraq Affairs (Fritzlan),” April 1, 1953, 780.022/4–153, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1448: The Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula–Iraq Affairs (Fritzlan) to the Ambassador in Saudi Arabia (Hare),” January 16, 1953, 786A.5 MSP/1-653, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1454: Editorial Note,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; Walter B. Smith, “No. 1450: The Under Secretary of State (Smith) to the Director for Mutual Security (Stassen),” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016.

[8] He was also reportedly anti-Semitic. As Tariq Ali writes in his review of Gilbert Archar’s book about Arabs and the Holocaust, he writes that Archar didn’t add that “the late Ibn Saud…was in the habit of presenting visiting Western leaders with copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a virulently anti-Semitic book. Other sources such as an article by Anthony Sampson in the Observer Review titled “Desert Diary” on March 9, 1975 partially confirms this.

[9] Additionally, it is worth noting that Osama Bin Laden used the fact of US troops in the country as a rallying cry to bring support to his cause. He argued that he hated the US also for US sanctions against Iraq and “American policies toward Israel and the occupied territories,” also noting he was infuriated by US troops stationed in the country as he told journalist Robert Frisk.

[10] Clinton also asserted that the Iranians were behind the planned murder of a Saudi ambassador, which was proven false. Investigative journalist Gareth Porter argued, convincingly, that the US government’s narrative on the assassination plot was an an elaborate set up to implicate Iran as part of a campaign against the country and possibly lead to war.

[11] Perhaps this is also why Erdogan thanked Saudi Arabia for its post-coup solidarity as he tries to make Turkey and the Saudis have a common cause.

[12] Wikileaks cables, from the 2010 release with documents gathered by Chelsea Manning, also suggested deals for jetliners given to heads of states and airline executives in multiple Mideast countries, that the Kingdom proposed energy ties with China if Beijing backed sanctions against Iran, and that the country is a major source of financing of Islamic reactionary groups.

[13] “King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud – obituary,” The Telegraph, January 22, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz dies,” BBC, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Anas Hamdan, Catherine E. Shoichet, and Dana Ford, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘reformer’ King Abdullah dies,” CNN, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Ian Black, “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah dies at 90,” The Guardian, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Angus McDowell, “Saudi King Abdullah dies, new ruler is Salman,” Reuters, January 22, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Douglas Martin and Ben Hubbard, “King Abdullah, Shrewd Force Who Reshaped Saudi Arabia, dies at 90,” New York Times, January 22, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Ellen Knickmeyer and Ahmed Al Omran, “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Dies,” Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Helen Nianias, “King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz dead: What did he do for Saudi Arabia?,” The Independent, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Robin Wright, “Postscript: King Abdullah, 1924-2015,” The New Yorker, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016.

[14] CBS News, “Obama vetoes bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia”, Sept. 23, 2016. Accessed October 10, 2016; Associated Press, “Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill aimed at Saudi Arabia sets up standoff with Congress,” September 23, 2016. Reprinted in The Guardian. Also see articles in NBC News and Politico.

[15] For more information, also see Strada’s posts on Huffington Post and her appearance on C-Span. Also of note is the response of their lawyers. I would add all of the press releases of Strada’s group here, but there are so many that the links would take up too much space.

[16] See articles in Al Arabiya, Slate, Al Jazeera, ABC (Australian), BBC, DW, and ABC (American).

[17] Karoun Demirjian, Washington Post, “Saudi Arabia is facing unprecedented scrutiny from Congress,” Sept. 21. Accessed October 12, 2016; Steven T. Dennis and Roxana Toxon, Bloomberg, Sept. 21, 2016, “Saudi Arabia’s Clout in Washington Isn’t What It Used to Be.” Also see an article in Euro News.

[18] This is mild compared to the absurd, silly, downright dumb approach of Charles Davis, called Chuckles by many critical radicals on the twittersphere, instituting a no-fly-zone over Saudi Arabia to stop their war.

[19] Articles in Fortune, Bloomberg, and Foreign Policy claimed when the war began that oil prices were negatively effected. However, a CNBC piece quoted a high-level Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Francisco Blanch, who argued that “I don’t think that Yemen had a lot of importance for the oil market…I’m not very worried about physical supply disruptions coming out of Yemen…The main issue…is whether the airstrikes…end up being a proxy war…a proxy war in the Middle East is always a risky event for oil market; there’s no question about it.” Some even claimed that the war in Yemen was a “proxy battlefield” between Iran-backed Houthis and US allies (Yemen and Saudi Arabia). Recently, the Saudis intercepted a missile from the Houthis which they claimed was headed to Mecca, but they could be twisting the truth.

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Snowden, the CIA, and conspiracies

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Almost a month ago I wrote about celebrity whistleblower Edward Snowden. Some corners of twitter criticized me for my post, basically saying that I didn’t go far enough. Some claimed that Snowden was “concocted” by the CIA and was a personality just like Mickey House (see here and here) while others claimed I had contempt for people who didn’t agree with me. There’s much more than that in terms of criticism, but I think I addressed it adequately on twitter so it seems silly to address it here. However, in this post, which I promised in the past, aims to look at Snowden’s connection to the CIA and some conspiracy theories, to put it rightly, about Snowden floating around the web.

Snowden’s story with the CIA

There is no doubt, even if you are skeptical of Snowden’s story, that he worked for the CIA He admitted this himself in a primetime interview with NBC over two years ago:

 “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word — in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine. Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, oh, well, you know, he’s a low-level analyst…I’ve worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, undercover, overseas. I’ve worked for the National Security Agency, undercover, overseas. And I’ve worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.”

In the same interview he also said that he basically, as noted above and summarized by BBC, “worked for the CIA and NSA undercover, overseas, and lectured at the Defense Intelligence Agency.” He also claimed that he was a “technical specialist…[and] a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top,” possibly even working at a CIA overseas station.

One may ask what he did when he worked at the CIA. One website summarizes the story, saying that in 2007 Snowden is sent to Geneva as part of IT, and is put “in charge of maintaining computer-network security for the CIA and US diplomats” with one incident souring Snowden, but he still “leaves the CIA and goes to work in the private sector” in 2009, then claims that the CIA experts may have accessed NSA documents and “handed them to Snowden” over time, perhaps, since Snowden “worked for the CIA in Geneva, in a high-level position, overseeing computer-systems security.” Wired and the New York Times don’t have the same viewpoint. Wired says that Snowden was offered a position at the CIA, “after attending a job fair focused on intelligence agencies,” with Snowden assigned to “the global communications division, the organization that deals with computer issues” at CIA headquarters at Langley. The story continues by noting that Snowden was sent to the “CIA’s secret school for technology specialists,” living in a hotel for six months and then traveling to  “Geneva, Switzerland, where the CIA was seeking information about the banking industry” in 2007, then “assigned to the US Mission to the United Nations.” The story goes on to say that in Geneva, Snowden saw “firsthand some of the moral compromises CIA agents made in the field” and goes on. The New York Times, in a June 9, 2013 article titled “Ex-Worker at C.I.A. Says He Leaked Data on Surveillance,” by Mark Mazzetti and Michael E. Schmidt, tells a different story. It described Snowden as a “29-year-old former C.I.A. computer technician” who feared that the “C.I.A. might try to spirit him out of China, and speculating that it might even hire Asian gangs to go after him” and that he was “later hired by the C.I.A. to work on information technology security, serving in Geneva.”

Some have openly questioned if Snowden is a spy. Former CIA officer, Robert Baer, scoffed at the notion that Snowden could be considered a spy. He not only implied, laughably, that Snowden was working with the Russian government since 2007, which he couldn’t prove, basing it mainly on “his landing of Moscow” which made him “very suspicious.” If there was anything valid in what he said, it was when he declared that Snowden was “a systems administrator…[and] communicator” for the CIA in Geneva, sitting in “an office and relays messages” and then claimed that “the NSA doesn’t have spies overseas. It’s got technicians who sit in American embassies. They are not even analysts.” A much better article was by Dan Murphy, staff writer for Christian Science Monitor, who said that just because someone works for a spy agency doesn’t make them a spy and that it is “standard practice” for CIA employees overseas to get cover identities. The article continues by saying that not only is “building computer systems” not spying but that if Snowden did “have a lot of high-level spy training, it would appear that either the training stinks or he was an exceptionally poor student, judging by his actions,” including making “arrangements for his flight after he’d blown his own cover” and that there may be some intersecting of Snowden’s interests and those of the Russian government.

You can easily dismiss what these posts say and push them away, but the response to Snowden, Greenwald & co. later on is not disputable. These include that a “secret US government jet – previously employed in CIA “rendition” flights on which terror suspects disappeared into invisible “black” imprisonment – flew into Europe in a bid to spirit him back to America” but failed to make it fully to Moscow, only setting down and waiting at Copenhagen Airport apparently. William Blum, a premier foreign policy analyst of US empire, said that “Edward Snowden had something inside him shaped like a conscience, just waiting for a cause” and then talked about the trials and tribulations of Philip Agee when he ran away from the CIA. Then there was former CIA director James Woolsey claiming, despite the CIA’s record as a handmaiden of imperial destruction, that Snowden had “blood on his hands” because his leaks would supposedly help “terrorists,” and CIA director John Brennan declaring that “any unauthorized disclosures that are made by individuals who have dishonored the oath of office that they raised their hand and attested to undermines this country’s security.”

Some may wonder how Snowden, assuming that the CIA did not assist him in a  covert manner, was able to get away with such leaking. Stories came out that showed that years before the leaking the CIA was suspicous of Snowden. One story said that CIA superiors of Snowden suspected in 2009 that he was “trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access,” and so they decided to “decided to send him home” from his job in Geneva, but that didn’t stop him for doing something that some claimed was “wrong”: gathering documents of misdeeds, mostly of the NSA. All of these stories derive from an article in the New York Times by Eric Schmitt (October 10, 2013) titled “C.I.A. Warning on Snowden in ’09 Said to Slip Through the Cracks.” The article said that before Snowden was about to leave Geneva in 2009, his “supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.” The article then claimed that “the red flags went unheeded” and the “supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors.” The Times also said that in mid-2006 Snowden got an “information technology job at the C.I.A” and that despite formal credentials, “he gained a top-secret clearance and a choice job under State Department cover in Geneva.” Later on, of course, the Justice Department sued a private company, US Investigation Services,  which “provides background checks of the staff being recruited by the US state agencies.”

Another part of this story doesn’t involve Greenwald’s heroic casting of Snowden, like in this opinion piece, Snowden’s claim about the CIA keeping documents away from Congress or the angry CIA veteran who hates Snowden’s guts. This part of the story is the supposed “hilarious” CIA review of Glenn Greenwald’s book on the whole Snowden story, as you can call it, which developed since 2013. The review, by Hayden Peake, in Studies in Intelligence covers many books, including three about Snowden.

Despite what some said about the review, the FIRST SENTENCE of the review praises the book as “the most complete, though far from the most objective account of the Snowden affair to date.” That doesn’t sound like they don’t like the book. The review goes in to talk about the view point of “lawyer-journalist Glenn Greenwald” with the book focusing on the relationship between Snowden and Greenwald, with a “quasi-clandestine meeting in Hong Kong.” The review, of course, goes on to claim that “intelligence issues” led to the adoption of mass surveillance by the NSA, that Snowden should have followed “official whistle-blower procedures” and supposedly ignoring “other interpretations regarding the legality of the NSA’s collection programs.” Peake then claims to be be “surprised” that Greenwald harshly “attacks selected members of the media” for their efforts to  discredit him and that Greenwald criticizes “the Bush and Obama administrations and various private individuals,” along with calling numerous other journalists “dutiful spokespeople for political officials.” Even if you accept that Greenwald is adversarial, it is clear that with statements like this he is boosting his own ego and acting like he is more independent that he is in reality. The review closes by saying that Greenwald says Snowden’s actions are justified and that “journalists have the absolute right to be the final arbiters of what to publish.” Peake, as part of the establishment, doesn’t like the latter, and claims that Greenwald has an “often bitter ad hominem rationale for this” but there is no doubt he is correct that this book is “unlikely to be the last word on the subject.” All in all, I actually think the review is MUCH more positive toward Greenwald that many websites are claiming, even though it obviously tries to cut him down in certain ways. This review is also telling because it shows that Greenwald is not as opposed to the establishment and adversarial then he claims.

The theories, the theories

Now it is time to move onto the conspiracy theories as they should be accurately called. Before that, it is important to make two points. For one, there is no theory that Snowden didn’t read all the documents, since he, as he admitted to liberal blowhard John Oliver, that he didn’t read them all. Secondly, despite some (see here and here) reposting a “story” about Snowden as a “lethal operative” and “lethal killer,” it turns out that the website of that “story” is a satire site.

The first conspiracy theory comes from a site called “Veterans Today” which holds viewpoints in one could call the “Alex Jones camp” in the conspiracy theory world. In the article, Webster Tarpley argues that Snowden is likely “a limited hangout operation, in which carefully selected and falsified documents and other materials are deliberately revealed by an insider who pretends to be a fugitive.” The article also claims that Snowden’s relations have benefited the CIA, that “Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers” along with “the case of Assange and Wikileaks” being limited hangout operations. Tarpley then goes on the say that “limited hangouts have been around for a very long time” and goes on to claim that these operations cats someone as “the darling of the controlled corporate media.” Tarpley goes into wacko land by claiming that Ellsberg’s Pentagon papers were “doctored”  and claims that those really in opposition to the establishment are “kidnapped, renditioned or liquidated,” which pushes away the obvious response by such establishment of ignoring critics. Tarpley goes on and on about Cass Sunstein involved in “creating” Wikileaks in his view,claims that Norman Solomon is a “former State Department public diplomacy asset”and that limited hangouts say little. He goes on to claim that “Assange’s Wikileaks document dump” did little to seriously damage “one US, British, or Israeli covert operation or politician,” that Assange “had a hand in preparing one of the largest destabilization campaigns mounted by Anglo-American intelligence since 1968” and much more. In sum, even if Tarpley’s view has some merit, it is hard to take him seriously as he has only ONE quote in the whole article, has no links to other sources, and seems to just be writing a lot without verification. While I say all this, I am aware that Ellsburg, Assange, and Snowden should be criticized, but to call them intelligence operations seems far-fetched and just putting oneself down a rabbit hole with no escape.

In the same realm, could be this discussion, but is more likely this post which builds off Tarpley. The writer, a certain”Jay,” claims that there is a charade around Snowden,a bogus narrative around people such as Assange, goes as far as to claim that the Chinese Communist Party and Mao were created by the OSS and CIA, forgetting the change over time which he brought China to be more sympathetic with the West, and that there is a “Snowden Psy Op.” Where is no do doubt that Assange and Snowden are likely not in as much danger as supporters claim, to claim they are intelligence assets and other wacky things like the Chinese Communist Party created by certain U.S. covert elements is something that is so ridiculous that it isn’t worth taking anything that this “Jay” says seriously at all.

The final post addresses a supposed division between the CIA and NSA. In the post,  anonymous intelligence community sources claimed to the Wayne Madsen Report that Snowden got “access to and released tens of thousands of classified NSA documents” because a CIA faction “was growing increasingly alarmed over the massive surveillance system controlled by NSA” and that “highly compartmented CIA covert operations abroad were made known to NSA” which did not make them happy. The article then goes on to claim that “a group of active and retired CIA officers, in addition to CIA contractors, set out to expose the NSA’s massive surveillance operations” and that Snowden “was chosen by the CIA faction as the person best positioned to collect NSA documents and leak them to the media.” It is also claimed that a civilian “who worked at the NSA Regional Security Operations Center in Kunia, Hawaii” worked with Snowden and that “the CIA faction helped arrange, through its own back channels, safe passage for Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.” The site where the article is reposted then claims that there is no way of confirming ” whether NSA is actually being brought down by CIA or not” but that “Snowden’s transition from zero to immaculate spy was managed by Booz Allen and CIA” and that even if this is partly true, the war “between CIA and NSA…is representative of a collapse of the elite police force.”

The last post actually seems to be the most plausible of all the theories while the others have problems of verification or are just so off-the-wall as to not be taken seriously. One can easily dismiss all of these theories as hogwash. I am almost tempted do this myself. Still, it is should always be the case that people should think outside the box and challenge themselves.

Closing

I could look more into this and bring in some posts by Douglas Valentine, whose book on the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Strength of the Wolf) I liked very much. I could look into statements by Snowden under his username of “Truehooha” but I feel that has already been done. While I could have written as a piggyback off Fivek’s post about the problems of the peace movement in the United States, that is for another day. In the future I am to use some of the science fiction books I have read on the way to work to write posts on numerous subjects, including but not limited to, animal rights, possibly in relation to the incident on the Cincinnati Zoo, and a criticism of capitalism, of course. As I continue in my new job, which is a temp job, I won’t have much time to write posts such as this, but I may even write some narrative posts. We’ll see what happens. Anyway, I look forward to all of your comments as always.

Snowden’s “adversarial” deception

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Snowden as spotted in Russia in October 2013

Recently, I was pursuing Twitter when a recent interview with celebrity whistleblower Edward Snowden popped up. I’ve criticized Snowden before on this blog as supporting Apple, a company that collects much data but claims it is “pro-privacy.” This post looks at a recent Q&A with Snowden in the Columbia Journalism Review which was promoted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a foundation which has Daniel Ellsburg, Glenn Greenwald, Snowden himself, John Cusack, John Perry Barlow, Laura Poitras, Micah Lee, Rainey Reitman, Trevor Timm, and Xeni Jardin on its board of directors. This organization, founded in 2012 also thinks Pentagon projects like Tor are just great. This post could examine this foundation, but since Snowden, as he admitted himself, is already a celebrity who has wide influence it is best to look at his words and their symbolic meaning. [1] In sum, I read it, as Tarzie would say, so you don’t have to.

Snowden, of course, in his privileged position, can talk about the bourgeois media from afar. He claims that there is a “changing nature of the public’s relationship to media” with the media “strong” but less willing to “use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization.” He goes on to say that back in the past, the media culture assured that media was “intended to be a public service” but now that is lost because of “the 24-hour news cycle.” This “observation” fundamentally misses the role of the bourgeois media in and of itself. Snowden by almost acting nostalgic in acting like media in the past served the public is almost in line with the speech by Edward R. Murrow in 1958 saying that television “can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire…[but] only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box” which arguably removes the role of television in capitalist society. Even if one pushes that aside, it is silly to say there is a “changing nature” of mass media in US society considering that the bourgeois media has always been tied to the profit motive to sell more papers (in the case of newspapers) and garner a bigger audience, while keeping in place the existing capitalist system.

Worst of all is Snowden’s comments on The New York Times. He almost acts aghast that even the Times, which he implies is a paragon of virtue, is not challenging the government. As the Times‘s own media kit shows, their audience is predominantly male, over 35 years old, college graduates, and in a professional/managerial position, along with total expenditures for the audience as a whole in the hundreds of millions. If that’s not enough, the International Business Times has similar data showing a predominantly male and college graduate audience with differing political perspectives mostly ranging from moderate to liberal. Similarly, the International New York Times has even more high-level audience with a high percentage in senior management and a household income over $367,000 a year. This shows that Times basically has a bourgeois audience to give it “All the News Lies That’s Fit to Print” which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Snowden goes on to claim that competition in the media environment means that “institutions are becoming less willing to serve the public to the detriment of themselves.” He further adds that this role is “typically exercised through the editors” and that “the distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world.” This “observation” makes a number of assumptions. For one, it implies that bourgeois media outlets have a “duty to the public.” That is utter crap and he knows it. Any capitalist or capitalist business that does not make a profit will go out of business. Secondly, his focus on editors is misleading. I say this because he NEVER mentions the role of advertisers in determining media content, as even Noam Chomsky has outlined in his Propaganda Model. This shows the weakness of his analysis and how it fails to take into account the reality of bourgeois media.

There’s more horribleness. Snowden goes on to say that there is more competition in the current media environment despite the fact that six corporations control 90% of the media in the US (also see here), and that even as a reformist NGO notes, “massive corporations dominate the U.S. media landscape.” He claims that such competition among publishers has led to “hybrid publications” like BuzzFeed, which in his words creates “an enormous amount of trash and cruft” with their “content…engineered to be more attention getting, even though they have no public value at all” and that “they have no news value at all.” He later tempers this by saying that “if it’s not going to be BuzzFeed, it’s going to be somebody else” and that “this isn’t a criticism of any particular model” and that these outlets “don’t have a journalistic role, it’s a reportorial role.” I think he actually has a good point about BuzzFeed. However, I think his description of attention-getting content and having no public value applies all of the Celebrity Left personalities, including myself. Hence, his own words could be used to describe his own Twitter stream, which has, as he said about BuzzFeed, “no public value at all.” After all, aren’t secretive oligarchs basically controlling media and social media?

Snowden goes on to talk about about the James Rosen and AP cases of course. He argues that this is “suddenly chilling” because it silences “the traditional work of journalism” but then claims that journalists need to use tradecraft used by the CIA because using VPNs could “get you in real trouble in these areas of the world” like Bangladesh. Yet again, this perpetrates the idea that the “West is best” and even justifies the CIA as something to model after. This shouldn’t be a surprise since he admits that before he came out as the NSA whistleblower he had “never talked to a journalist in any substantive capacity” and that he worked as an intelligence officer for the CIA and NSA, saying “everything is a secret and you’ve got two different kinds of cover.” This is disturbing to say the least because it makes it seem that Snowden is proud of what he did for the NSA and CIA, not calling them out and even calling for them to be abolished, at minimum. What he did for the CIA for SIX YEARS he hasn’t talked about much, if at all. Remember when he said this in 2013: “I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA. I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.” What utter bullcrap is that anyway. Anyway, the most laughable thing he says is that “the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace.” I doubt that very much. After all, as Cryptome reported in February at the current rate “it will take 20-620 years to free all documents” gathered by him, with governments and business benefiting the most, along with media and NGOs benefiting as well. I’ll get to the Panama Papers later.

It doesn’t get any better. Snowden states that the government may even engage in prior restraint and that there need to be “institutions working beyond borders in multiple jurisdictions” so that “that the journalists could play games, legally and journalistically more effectively and more quickly than the government.” He then goes on to engage in one of his many self-congratulatory statements claiming that “I was, in fact, quite famous for criticizing the press.” Putting aside his ego-supporting statement, the fact that he supports journalists “playing games” is worrisome. It basically means that journalists can just be pawns in “challenging” the government.

From here, there are a number of self-congratulatory and hence egoist remarks from Snowden himself. He claims to be surprised by the  “impact” of his revelations, claims they are special, claiming that unlike in 2006 when “there was a warrantless wiretapping story in The New York Times” and that his revelations “transformed” the public debate. Then he tries to act humble by saying “I personally see myself as having a quite minor role” and that “I was the mechanism of revelation for a very narrow topic of governments,” that he didn’t have access to court orders from the Department of Justice. He then goes on to boast that he predicted how people would treat him, that the media were useful in making an argument and reporting his leaks. He then almost claims like he is an authority who can tell journalists how to report a story and says that “my ultimate goal was simply to get this information back in the hands of the public” despite the fact that much of what he found has NOT been released as of yet. He then goes further and claims that he believes in “traditional American democracy” whatever that is, a term that refers to an idolized form of bourgeois democracy in the US. He even goes further and says that “if I had stayed in place at the NSA as a source and they had asked me for this document…[it] actually brought risks upon them that could have led to new constraints upon journalism.” That’s so nice of him to look out for the NSA. Not! Snowden also claims that working with journalists changed his “understanding of journalism” and that “public knowledge of the truth is more important than the risks that knowledge creates for a few.” I don’t even think is worth analyzing what he says in a self-congratulatory fashion as it is all wrapped up in puffing up his ego like a puffer-fish blows itself up to take in air or water so they aren’t as vulnerable to predators.

His self-congratulatory statements couple right with those in which he says that Glenn Greenwald and co are great. In his magical view, Glenn Greenwald. Ewan MacAskill, and Laura Poitras, along with the Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman, “simply represented a system that I did not believe could be overcome before the story could be put out. By the time the government could get their ducks in a row and try to interfere with it, that would itself become the story.” Once again, this implies that all of these writers are somehow adversarial, a view that is utterly laughable. Its about as bad as the “glowing” response they had to the new fawning Snowden movie by Oliver stone. Lets not forget that Greenwald was once a lawyer for Big Tobacco companies. As Mark Ames writes,

And this is where whistleblower-irony becomes so dense, it collapses on itself: Because one of Wachtell Lipton’s young associates working on the Philip Morris lawsuit against ABC-TV was a lawyer by the name of…Glenn Greenwald. We know Greenwald worked at Wachtell Lipton’s New York office at the time of Wachtell’s lawsuit because Greenwald himself has talked about working for Wachtell, beginning in 1993 as a summer associate, then joining out of law school in 1994, and staying on until the end of 1995…Perhaps Greenwald had no idea that the law firm he chose to work for was representing Philip Morris in the most talked about case of 1994. That even though his own boss, Henry Wachtell, was a regular on national TV news defending their tobacco clients, he was still oblivious. Greenwald perhaps didn’t watch television. Or read newspapers? It’s reasonable to assume Greenwald—ever the diligent researcher—must have joined Wachtell fully aware that they were helping gag whistleblowers and threatening journalists: Greenwald says that he chose to work for Wachtell in 1994 after being recruited by over a dozen top law firms. But of course that doesn’t necessarily mean he worked on the specific Philip Morris case. Except that a billing ledger discovered in the tobacco library shows Greenwald’s name in a Wachtell Lipton bill to Philip Morris…Other Wachtell Lipton memos show Greenwald’s name prominently displayed on the letterhead in aggressive, threatening letters against ABC-TV, against whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, and against whistleblower Merrell Williams…One Wachtell letter to ABC’s lawyers with Greenwald’s name up top, dated December 14, 1995, warns that Wigand’s testimony in a Mississippi tobacco trial is “in direct defiance of a Kentucky Court order”— and demands that ABC turn over their source’s private testimony to Wachtell Lipton…Greenwald’s name appears on the Wachtell Lipton letterhead of threatening legal letter after letter—targeting ABC-TV and tobacco whistleblowers …the question is, why has he never said peep about Wigand and Merrell Williams? Greenwald styles himself as the most fearless outspoken defender of whistleblowers today—and yet he has absolutely nothing to say about the most famous whistleblowers of the 1990s, a case he worked on from the other side…Again, in the two decades since, whistleblower champion Glenn Greenwald has never said a single word about this case or about the role his law firm played in crushing TV investigative journalism. As far as our research can tell, Greenwald has never taken a position on tobacco laws or  spoken about the horrific death toll smoking is taking…Besides Greenwald’s belief that Big Pharma should be able to sell all of its drugs to any adult who wants them, a very tobacco-industry-esque argument—there’s little to suggest anything like regret, remorse, or any reaction whatsoever to his work on behalf of Philip Morris’ lawsuit against adversarial journalism and whistleblowers. Quite the contrary, Greenwald went on to a close friendly (and paid) relationship with the CATO Institute, one of the tobacco industry’s most active friends in the think tank world.

Back to Snowden, he claims that “the more powerful the institution, the more skeptical one should be,” talks about Daniel Ellsberg, how Greenwald represents the “purest form” of journalist that that he doesn’t see it as a problem that he has “too much faith” in the press. He goes on to say that what need to be changes are “the values of the people in these institutions that are producing these policies or programs.” Yet again, this pseudo-change sentiment is a joke. Snowden of course does not want the system to crumble and there to be a more just one or to even challenge entrenched bourgeois values. But neither does Greenwald or any of the other Celebrity Left personalities.

Most interesting of all is what he says about Twitter, claiming that “individuals can build audiences to speak with directly” which is deceptive because inherently some will be able build bigger audiences than others. He claims that “whether it’s a hundred people or a million people, individuals can build audiences to speak with directly” which is a way that new media actors and “malicious actors” end up exploiting “what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative.” He goes on to say that on Twitter “there are a lot of celebrities out there on Twitter, but really they’re just trying to maintain an image, promote a band, be topical, remind people that they exist. They’re not typically effecting any change, or having any kind of influence, other than the directly commercial one.” Once again, like what he said about BuzzFeed, this analysis can easily apply to himself and other Celebrity Left figures. Arguably they promote an image and aren’t really making any change, at least not that which matters. At the same time, these personalities do have an influence and he is wrong to say that celebrities do not typically have an influence because they definitely do. For instance, if Beyonce did not have the influence she did, supported not only by her own wealth but thinkpieces across the internet, then there would be no one pushing her songs and image as pro-“feminist” or  “black power.”

Near the end of the interview, Snowden claims that there is much that can be done to move forward, at least in the way he wants. First of all, he does not call for eliminating espionage laws, but he claims that there should be “an international framework” for protecting whistleblowers, and claims that the way to implement this is “culture” and a “press that’s more willing and actually eager to criticize government than they are today.” He goes on to say that countries across the world “are embracing the idea of state secrets” and that “we’re increasingly monitored and tracked and reported, quantified and known and influenced” while politicians are “becoming less reachable and also less accountable.” Yet again, Snowden is acting like everything will work out and that capitalist governments will serve their subjects. This is patently absurd. Additionally to claim that the media will  criticize the government, he is once again pushing away the importance of the profit motive, a motive that shows that no one can just push for the bourgeois media to be reformed as it is a press that is fatally flawed.

Beyond his self-congratulatory message that his revelations has an impact on “the publication on the culture of government,” his laughably optimistic (and incorrect) ideas that “secrecy will not hold forever…the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace,” he then goes into almost defending Facebook. He claims that everything will be find if companies like Facebook are “selective” about certain posts to take down and have no restrictions whatsoever, but then asks if private companies should determine “the limits of public conversations.” He then goes on to spew some words which aren’t important to mention here. At the end of his Q&A Snowden claims he has an answer: moving to “public policing”:

“The real solutions here are much more likely to be in terms of entirely new institutions that bound the way law enforcement works, moving us away from the point of military conflict, secret conflict, and into simply public policing. There’s no reason why we could not have an international counter-terrorism force that actually has universal jurisdiction. I mean universal in terms of fact, as opposed to actual law.”

Regardless of his qualification about what “universal” means, even if it doesn’t mean this, this proposition of an “international counter-terrorism force” is ridiculous. After all, he is naive to think such a force would not be used for imperialist purposes. At the same time, he may think his idea is fine since he is ignoring and/or doesn’t recognize where power lies in capitalist society and in capitalism worldwide: with the bourgeoisie.

We finally move onto the Drone Papers. Snowden claims that “releasing” these “papers” was an “extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago.” He goes onto say that these papers are “things that we really need to know to be able to analyze and assess policies” but that this was denied by”major” media outlets like the Times but that The Intercept “saved” the day as “one journalistic institution that breaks the story.” To be honest, this is utterly ridiculous. For one, as Cyrptome’s most recent tally shows, at most, 15.24% of data/files of the Panama Papers have been released but more accurately, the percentage released to date is .0021%. If Snowden, Greenwald and co actually had courage they would call for all of the documents to be released and put in a searchable archive like the Cablegate search, which now includes cables from the 1970s and 2000s.

There is more I’d like to say about the Panama Papers here. For one the whistleblower who revealed the information frames himself almost as a crusader for justice and goes on to explain his ideas, along with claiming he is bringing about a “digital revolution.” which fall into the bourgeois political spectrum nicely. But then at one point he declares the following:

For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly
or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my
decision to share the documents with Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose,
but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale
of the injustices they described.

To me this almost seems like a dodge. He is claiming that he is independent of such forces. However, even if he did not work such entities it is still possible one could say that he could be manipulated, I don’t see why not. Let us consider before going forward that VOA, a US government propaganda outlet promoted the Panama Papers with a guide to read them. Also, we should recognize that one of the organizations that is releasing this information, the Center for Public Integrity, is funded by big foundations such as the Open Society Foundation and Ford Foundation along with George Soros’s Open Society Institute. Should we ignore the views of Swiss banker whistleblower Bradley Birkenfield who said the following to CNBC:

“The CIA I’m sure is behind this, in my opinion. The very fact that we see all these names surface that are the direct quote-unquote enemies of the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Argentina and we don’t see one U.S. name. Why is that? Quite frankly, my feeling is that this is certainly an intelligence agency operation.”

Should we ignore that USAID is basically funding ICIJ and by extension this Panama Papers release? After all, USAID is basically an appendage of the murderous empire. Should we ignore how media, such as The Guardian, which Snowden would laud with praise, twisted the revelations to implicate Russian President Vladmir Putin in corruption? Should we ignore how the liberal media outlets like Truthdig, Slate, New York Magazine, and PBS News Hour are promoting the Panama Papers? Should we ignore who funds the Center for Public Integrity or how Wikileaks and Greenwald are promoting the releases? There is much more on the Panama Papers, but it can be convincingly argued that the releases and the papers themselves are a form of negative propaganda.

I could go on with this post, even citing some of the articles by Douglas Valentine, but I think what I have said so far is sufficient. Perhaps I could have said more, but this post is just one of the many criticisms of Snowden and celebrity left personalities, something that few do because they are sucked in by the allure of celebrity or their veneer of being adversarial. That is all.

Notes

[1] In a fawning interview with The Nation, this exchange ensued:

The Nation: Speaking of films, we understand that in addition to Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour, a couple of others will be made about you.

Snowden: Anything to get people talking about the issues is great. I’m not a movie guy. I don’t know all this stuff that comes with celebrity. I don’t know who the actors will be and stuff like that. But anybody who wants to talk about the issues—that’s great.

The Nation: You already are a celebrity.

Snowden: People say that, but I’ve only had to sign autographs for “civ-libs” types. And I autograph court orders.

The Nation: Maybe, but you need a strategy of how you’re going to use your celebrity, for better or worse. You own it. You can’t get rid of it.

Snowden: [laughs] Well, that’s kind of damning!

Reflecting on the “human rights watcher” guy

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There is one troll and/or deluded person on the twitterverse called the “human rights watcher.” This post aims to point out his delusions, his connections to broader forces of the Celebrity Left, and give more of an overview.

My conversation with Garry

It all started when this Human Rights Watcher, with the abbreviation being the same as the supposed human rights organization named Human Rights Watch (HRW), with the twitter handle GarryR10 smeared a comrade. He claimed that Emma Quangel (EQ), along with RedKahina (RK), was rich and had a “fat” bank account. [1] How he would know this information is beyond me, hence what he was saying is just pure conjecture and arguably makes him a “fascist stalker” as @kazahann (Karen) tweeted in response. GarryR10 later laughably claimed that Karen would have lawyers go after him and that “you piss on Russian graves with your cultist fantasies.” Yikes. I jumped right into this conversation, being a good comrade and ally, wondering where this guy was going. After criticizing his response to Karen, I said that I didn’t know who he was working for with such wacky statements, which I still agree with but will expound on later in this article. Others rightfully poked at his response (see here and here) and said that he sounded mad.

GarryR10’s didn’t get any better. He claimed that Karen was of the “type” that the Russian people kicked “out of their government as fast as they could” and said this was “probably with good reason.” I’m still not sure what “type” of person he is thinking of or what he really isn’t talking about, but this was obviously odd and problematic to say the least. That’s not all. He claimed that he wouldn’t trust American communists again because he apparently hadn’t met “or seen a single one who was not a hoarder themselves & millions starve.” [2] This wacky statement sounds almost like a statement out of anti-communist propaganda and is more like what actions a capitalist would take. I guess that coincidence isn’t a surprise since he claimed that EQ would not be harmed by the doxing, which is utterly preposterous. [3]

This is only the tip of the iceburg. He almost creepily claimed that those who criticize Crabapple don’t donate to causes, and that such critics seem “like a clique based in NYC, pretending to be a “communist party”” and “obsess” over Molly Crabapple (MC), a statement to which he provided no evidence at all. [4] Clearly this indicated that she, MC, should be left alone to which he responded by claiming that critics of Crabapple started the feud “with Crabapple & Vice, after they gave you an opportunity to debate them fully” (he later claimed that this was fracturing the Left too) Before going on, I can say this is utterly false and is arguably historical revisionism. In the first iteration of my account, which I then called CrabappleWatch, I had planned to response to Crabapple as an informed critic and to learn what all the hullabaloo was about. After literally five tweets I was blocked by Crabapple. If she had really wanted to give “an opportunity” to debate her, then she wouldn’t have blocked me. That was not the case. As will be shown later, doxxing of critics has become the accepted method to “discredit” critics in the minds of Crabapple and co. All this is no surprise since Garry admitted, at one point, he would work for VICE even as he said that MC had her “own misguided view,” which is very telling.

I started to challenge Garry even more directly. I called him out on his supposed “exposure” of what he claimed was a “dumb clique,” saying point blank: “Dumb clique. What’s your problem?” His reason for saying this was that he apparently wanted people who criticize MC to “apologize and be better for it” even as he admitted that “I liked some of their points” but thought that “they hoard IMO.” In the same breath he called out MC critics, well-meaning comrades some whom he accused of having “fat bank accounts,” for supposedly not donating and saying that they should do research on “the best charities and funds.” Is he a walking advertisement for a humanitarian org. or philanthropy or what? Just wacky stuff. Of course, I responded by saying that “donation isn’t everything” and that he was being kooky (or acting like a spy).

Garry’s other tweets make him seem even more out there. He said that in “certain times of crisis or despair” the desires or  prudence for martial law was understandable, seemingly implying that he would support martial law under those circumstances. This tweet, which disturbed me, was followed by others such as one saying that he wasn’t communist because “images of Stalinist paranoia or torture” are apparently accepted. I really don’t know where he gets his information. But it almost sounds like the Black Book of Communism. Then he started to get really wacky. He claimed that people were neglecting their ethical duties by not giving aid (which is his big answer to poverty) and claimed the American people were responsible. His exact quotes were that the people of the United States are “accessories & beneficiaries of untold mass murder of the most vulnerable” and if they are shown the facts, “we can avoid further suffering while fully giving aid to the most vulnerable and innocent, desperate for education & opportunity.

I responded to Garry by saying that his statements were not a good start for activism and later said that this approach will make it hard to gain followers.He responded by saying that the “posts about EQ and MC” were apparently “a commentary in a way on American and Western leftist activism” and that their ethics are “typical.” Hmm, who would have thought that from someone who claimed that NO ONE in the United States cares about global starvation, meaning that people who are starving in this country don’t care about their own starvation, and that their ethics should be questioned. Still, he apparently cares about the one million Iraqis that died from the US invasion as this tweet seems to evidence but also supports the actions of Snowden which positions himself in a certain camp with certain types of people (Greenwald and co for example). This isn’t a surprise since he claims that MC and others have done “positive” work. What.

Then the tweets back and forth began. They started with Garry’s response to a tweet from humanitarian interventionist and current US representative to the UN, Samantha Power, a tweet which he claimed was “strange.” I commented on his tweet calling Power an imperialist snake. But it was not this that set off the conversation. [5] Instead it was a set of tweets in which he claimed: (1) stereotype of “Ugly American” is ignored, (2) he was skeptical of “global Wests,” and that millions of people apparently turn away UNICEF donations. I argued that UNICEF was only one organization of many, to which he barked back “Is this your excuse for a debate? I’m right here but it’s like you’re talking over my head” and that UNICEF is only one example. He apparently cares so much about global starvation that he said that Ken Roth had spooky posts and that the US didn’t have “moral fibre” on starvation. Uh huh. He later almost implied that we should be more critical of each other than the economic system with greed seemingly as an “incorrect” side effect instead of one that was intended. [6] Beyond this, he took a stand against factory farming, and is apparently a vegetarian, but in the grand scheme he barely talks about it. [7]

The true back and forth only started in earnest later on. He responded to my earlier tweets first and foremost. He claimed the EQ was Canadian (without evidence), didn’t donate anything, and implied she was a hoarder once again. In response to his “excuse for a debate” tweet I said that I was only trying to say that UNICEF was only one organization (and imply that he hadn’t mentioned any others). Also, in response to one tweet, I said that those living on $2 a day are not hoarders as it seemed he was implying, when I actually think in hindsight he was claiming that EQ was a hoarder again. Garry went even further and said that EQ didn’t donate an “ethical amount” to which I responded was basically irrelevant to her politics. In response to my tweet he went into wacko land and claimed three things: (1) in time some will recognize “the dire situation” of global starvation, (2) people in the West are greedy, and (3) that he has to get on a “base ethical level” when debating with “Wests,” including people like me. To (3) I responded by saying that he is wrong to think that “Wests” are dumb, arguing “some are but some aren’t.” I also responded to (3) by saying that I didn’t understand what he meant by “ethical level.” He responded to this by claiming that “USAs have shallow, bad ethics, thus, starvation” (I later said that this was too much of a generalization) and that by ethical level he meant “confronting the basic beliefs of what is right & wrong, & how a person should behave morally.” As for (2), I responded by saying the following: “there are people starving in the West too. Hence I wouldn’t say everyone in the West is greedy but some are.”

This is only the start. In another response to (2) I argued that the malnutrition in the world is a result of the capitalism, with him backing away from the word capitalism! I responded by saying that the word should still be used. Still he is a person who claims he he is neutral on abortion but agrees with the pro-choice side. Hence, he is NOT neutral on abortion. [8] Anyway, he is also the same person who claimed Samantha Power killed more in Africa than Hitler and is “dumb like [the] Nazis.” Those tweets, almost for shock value as I can see in retrospect, led to a long series of tweets. I responded by asking why she is the only one to blame in his mind. He responded by saying that she should resign because of global starvation. I responded to this by saying that she is a person who pushes humanitarian imperialism. In response to this, Garry argues that the US embassy may write her tweets and that she is reading from a script. He went even further and almost defended her despite he claim she is “or became a horrific mass murderer in my view,” claiming “she is actually in control of a huge embassy, plus shes twitter lonely” despite the fact she is clearly part of the foreign policy establishment. Instead of accepting this claim, he sidetracked, called her a useful tool of neocons and the US military (see here, here, and here), and had this strange tweet. He even thought that those who called the GOPers who signed the letter against the Iran deal “traitors” was irony when it really wasn’t. Later he said that the GOP was incompetent to which I reminded him the Dems were incompetent too. As the conversation chain came to an end he claimed he couldn’t debate with me anymore because I didn’t subscribe to his view that NO people in the US could be trusted on their ethics, calling them “ethnically hazardous.” In response I argued that: (1)”I don’t think Americans overall are “ethically hazardous.” I think like any people there are good, deep-seated values”; (2) “I’m aware that there’s a lot of fucked up stuff in America from a war machine, police killings, sexual violence, & so on”; (3) “I still have faith in Americans or Usians sure. Not sure what “America” constitutes anymore.” The last point was an opening to further conversation which he never explored. But his responses were clues for what was to come.

In a short conversation Garry claimed it was Power’s job to be on top of global starvation. In response I argued that “I don’t think a representative of an imperialist state would magically become more principled.” He fired back by saying it happened with Iraq but not now forgetting that that was a specific circumstance unlike what he describing. Before going on, I think it important to recognize that he seems to be emotionally/mentally unstable as these two tweets (see here and here) seem to indicate. Perhaps that is related, or not, to him calling a wacko Freemasonry video “excellent” despite his criticisms. He also started to get full of himself, liking his own tweets (also noted here and here) which is just bizarre. He even claimed that me calling her part of the foreign policy establishment was unfounded and that she resigned even though this was not the case, as I noted at the time. Then he kinda mocked me and my belief about Power with my response as follows: “Um, you can’t magically think you know what I believe.” Clearly the tension was being raised. He even claimed that Power was a “clownish millionaire” instead of an “imperialist mouthpiece” as I argued. In response to his argument that I hadn’t been engaging in a reasonable debate, I noted that I hadn’t called him any names and he claimed he was just talking about people of the United States as a whole instead, a view I still disagree with.

Herein starts a new thread. In a tweet I was responding to, likely when he said that the people of the United States didn’t care about starvation, I argued that such people support public assistance to the poor, and in response he cited FAO stats. I shot back saying that deaths from malnutrition are the result of capitalism and that giving money to a charity isn’t going to make them disappear (see here and here). He then tried to tell me what ethics was and claimed I was being snobbish when I questioned this. I responded by saying that the US capitalists had the real money, not the populace (see here, here, here, and here). He then cited the amount of US GDP despite the problematic nature of this measure along with claiming the median income was $53,000 which I later learned was wrong according to BLS stats (see here and here. He used this to argue that every person should give $1,000 to which I said would not solve the fundamental problems that cause malnutrition and incur other costs (see here and here). He then cited this NY Times piece once again saying that it would cost $30 billion to end the world food crisis, to which I said he should be pushing the US government to do it rather than the populace, a suggestion he roundly rejected, almost mocking me. He then went even further, making it seem that because people were not giving aid the way HE wanted they were committing genocide (a conspiracy) to which I said the capitalists are responsible, and he said it was “shameful” that I did not feel responsible. [9] I responded with a classic Sarah McLachlan commercial just to show his level of understanding.

Garry said things that were even more wacko. He claimed I had “grand plans” for starving people in the world without evidence and that the USA people don’t care. I countered this by saying that they do care, along with noting UNICEF funding, the former which he characterized as “rationalizing” their actions. It was in this tweet he claimed that I should face starvation so I can “learn” about it: “Disturbing how you try to rationalize their actions. I hope you have to face starvation, so you can learn how bad it is.” [10] What sick individual would wish that for someone? Gosh, what the heck is wrong with him? I later called him out on this, even saying that I was NOT rationalizing the actions of the US populace, and he claimed that he had little “faith that you will ever take or feel responsibility.” He went even further and said wackily that, and I quote, “You don’t care about the people starving now. It’s like bathing a cat simply trying to get you to admit that it happens.” Yikes. What in the world. As for characterizing me a snob, I can’t laugh enough at that and say that by his own standards his own ethics can be questioned (see here and here). When he went down his wacko way, I asked for help from my fellow comrades who helpfully gave me support. Garry continued on saying that there was an “epic situation” of global starvation, that I should blame myself for it and more. I responded by saying again that the capitalist system was more to blame, which he rejected and later called be partially delusional which implies that I should blame myself which I refuse to do. He later said that it is harsh to call me delusional but that “it’s about the life or torturous death of 9 million people every year.” Finally, after I blocked him he declared “not surprised to be blocked by yet ANOTHER person with an antagonistic hate-crush on Molly Crabapple. Sigh… Lol” despite the fact that I have been blocked by Crabapple since DAY ONE of my account and don’t have a “hate crush” but rather believe she should be criticized. Also what’s ridiculous is that the conversation was barely if at all all about Crabapple and he still tried to smear me with it. It’s just absurd.

Later, I said that the whole incident was like this Simpsons clip (along with this one and this one). After I soft-blocked him, I decided to fully block him for good after his wacky tweets, along with joking about it. For those like @africommunist who said Garry should fuck off, they are totally right. And here’s some tweets I found which I thought would close the chapter on Garry the “human rights watcher.” But I was wrong.

Garry entering the world of doxxing

In the past, Garry has shown he was willing to unite with twitterers who favored MC (Molly Crabapple), almost forming a pro-MC front of sorts. Examples include responding directly to MC and to Chuckles of course. [12] He even allied with a Crabapple backer who worked in distributing US imperial propaganda in the past as noted in tweets here and here. In recent days he has said he wanted to smear EQ with something other than words, said he was being slandered, and stalked the TL of @rancidsassy (RS). Lest us remember that Garry is kinda obsessing over EQ, which is interesting since he accuses people of obsessing over MC, falsely claims that she is threatening journalists and calling her a murderer. Jeez. Perhaps all of this is related to his depression, which is as RS notes, a sad story but it doesn’t forgive his actions. Hard to know. At the same time, he find Melanie Trump attractive for some reason, and has a long series of tweets which are bit creepy in which he says he wants to marry an immigrant or non-US citizen, with a focus on a Russian girl, and this messed up tweet. Then he claimed that RS was lead-poisoned, which implies, as noted by his earlier tweet, that RS and critics of MC are just totally brainless beyond belief.

Recently he took another step. He began sharing private information with Chuckles, MC and others. In help with a user named @OzKaterji, he doxxed people who chose to stay anonymous. For Garry, he is ON RECORD as doxxing RK. If you can, report him for this. As for his friend, @OzKaterji, he claims to be a “real” journalist, mad at MC critics for pictures such as this one, and supports the actions of FEMEN (see here and here). [11] At one pint, even when RS was trying to be supportive Garry seemingly threatened RS with doxxing, declaring: “You are a really sad person to me. You can’t hide behind a computer screen any longer. Get used to it.” Clearly since I blocked him, the “desperate idiot,” he has become more wacko, so I regret nothing about that blocking since he can’t bother me anymore. Since I don’t want to perpetrate the dox, it is important to recognize that Oz, with the help of Garry, publicly revealed the names of five people who chose to be anonymous, three of which Oz called “anonymous twitter trolls” as the tweet, which I recently posted, shows:

 

 

 

 

A conclusion

I could continue on with this article but I think it is important to bring it to an honest conclusion. As we all know, this doxing/doxxing business, at least in recent memory, started with Crabapple outing EQ for purely political reasons, saying that she worked for a UN agency and was supposedly doing something heinous when she really was not. A good question to ask, as I did on twitter is who Garry, the “human rights watcher and his snievly friends, in concert with Crabapple and co., will dox next.” Its hard to know. But what is clear is that the pro-Crabapple forces, which may even be a limited characterization, are engaging in actions that reinforce the imperial status quo. Whether Garry and his friend Oz like it or not, they are reinforcing the aims of the murderous US empire. Likely they don’t care much that this is the case or are naive enough to think they are not reinforcing these objectives by giving fodder to the propaganda machine. Never once have these forces tried to dox bigots or racists, instead they dox those who criticize them and reside on the radical left. That is totally unacceptable. It is an open question in my mind if any form of doxxing is acceptable such as against racists and bigots, and if not, then there should be a strong stance against doxxing across the board no matter who it is. As those critical of the Celebrity Left which includes Glenn Greenwald, Deray, Molly Crabapple, and numerous others, there should be no backing down from criticism but instead there should be movement forward. Efforts by the Celebrity Left to reinforce the status quo with faux criticism should be opposed at all costs but this should not include using the same tactics used against comrades such as myself. That would be hypocrisy of the highest degree and would just give more ammunition to the forces in favor of the Celebrity Left. In the end, those on the critical and/or sensible left as some have called it, should oppose doxing, revealing it to show their true tactics, and to serve as a place of criticism and radical thought not available elsewhere. I look forward to your comments.


 

 

Notes

[1] In one tweet I found he condemned EQ claiming that “her job is puffy by global standards” and without evidence said “didn’t see her donating her large salary either.” He also said that “I don’t get it, Em didn’t even respond to the attack, scared for her puffy job likely.” Really starting to think he is a spy or something.

[2] Elsewhere he said the following in a tweet of his own that he favorited: “Mind you, I have never been a communist, but have felt they had some good arguments & materials, and also interesting reads on Twitter.” Also see these tweets related to this: here, here, and here. He also said in a statement that throws radical theory out the window the following: “Western communists should likely fall into this, not worthy of respect, but I don’t have as much experience. 99% hoarders & typical selfish.” Jeez, where does he get his information?

[3] In one tweet I found he said the following: “You’re right. I don’t feel huge sympathy for Emma though, no bad will happen to her.” What a heartless asshole who doesn’t feel anything for commies.

[4] He also used the term “clique” elsewhere to describe people who work at water utility companies who are apparently corrupt (see here and here). So I’m not sure if he even knows how he is using the term.

 

[5] Even my response to a tweet in which Garry claimed that people in the United States are “the most ethnocentric and self-centered people I’ve ever met, & I’ve met many. I’m hesitant of embracing any of them” did not trigger a response from him. Neither did my response to his comment about the US’s mass media market or my question to his strange tweet about a magical database he had heard of.

[6] In a classic Garryism he demanded that people who care about global starvation have a job “to be at the front of the debate-line to demand the 9 million get aid” with the number 9 million coming from the UN’s FAO apparently. That for one isn’t a democratic notion and it ignores WHO will get the aid. In another classic Garryism, he tweets that “it’s somewhat scary to me seeing Germany having a nationalistic government, diplomatic envoy, huge military on the rise – and a new bigotry.” How is only somewhat scary? What really scares him? This tweet really doesn’t make sense to me. Oh and lets not forget that despite the fact that Femen is a supposedly feminist organization run by an abusive man, as I noted on twitter, he supports them. Just see what he says: “I am a funny American, a part of this generation, who might hang out with Femen – but also support fairness towards Russia & minorities.” Still he took positions which seemed to take a positive view of the Syrian government (see here, here, here, and here). But this could just be posing. After all he has some strange views on the US Civil War which don’t mention black confederates. But hey, this is in his character when he, almost in a racist way, calls out “gang rapper profiteers” whatever that means. Don’t worry, he’ll tweet videos like this (also here, here, and here) which either is legit or not at all and claim that political correctness exists when it really doesn’t. Then he has strange tweets like this.

[7] This series of four tweets [here, here, here, and here] is the ONLY place he talks about this I could find.

[8] Just see this set of tweets (see here, here, here, here, and here, along with this one)  to prove this assessment. He ignores that rights to abortion and contraceptives has been under attack since the 1970s.

[9] You could argue that the US public is responsible for genocide especially of the indigenous people and the enslavement of thousands of black Africans. After all, the wealth of the United States is built on the blood, sweat and tears of Asian immigrants (especially Chinese and Japanese), enslaved blacks, indigenous people (by stealing their land), Mexican immigrants (especially after the war of 1846-8), and many others. However, what he is talking about is not genocide in the slightest.

[10] Later he favorited my response for no apparent reason.

[11] He also supports overthrow of Syria’s government, mad that his version of events isn’t being distributed by certain sources (also see here, here, and here), is part of some supposedly pro-refugee charity (also see here), is pro-intervention in Syria, and much more. He describes himself on his blog as “a writer, filmmaker, journalist, secularist and Scotch enthusiast who spends his time bouncing between London and the Middle East and binging on international politics.”

[12] I could get into the recent tweets of Chuckles but that is for another day. For that, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

 

Is the Star Wars series fascist?

vaderquote

I recently encountered a post, promoted by “Crypto Cuddlefish,” and I decided to look into if this post, published three years ago, which has a number of movies as referents, has any basis. As a moderate Star Wars fan, it only makes sense to look at this post, which a transcript of a video by improv and standup comedian Dave Gutteridge. This article will respond to specific elements of the transcript with my own commentary. While this may not seem politically important, it is because of the effect that the Star Wars franchise has on what Jurgen Habermas calls the bourgeois public sphere and the minds of the populace, especially in the United States, and elsewhere across the world. Anyway, here it goes.

Addressing Dave Gutteridge’s argument

“I’m actually not a Star Wars fan anymore. But I want you to appreciate just how far I’ve come when I say I’m not a fan. When I first saw the very first Star Wars movie , I was so young and naive that I didn’t know that in movies the hero always wins. When Luke Skywalker was flying down that trench, and he was being chased by Darth Vader, and he had to hit that target just right… I honestly didn’t know if he was going to pull it off. I was genuinely scared the universe could be doomed. It made a deep impression on me, and to this day, when I see that scene, I can’t help but feel tense. I loved Star Wars. I had all those action figures they made, even the Boba Fett you had to write away for . I had Star Wars wallpaper in my bedroom. On Halloween I dressed as a Jawa. I watched, and enjoyed, that shitty holiday special they made. So you’d think I’d be the kind of guy going to conventions dressed like an Ewok and having furry sex or whatever.”

I must admit that one time I was as sorta that type of fan, when I was younger. I even saw two of the movies in the 2000s (Episode 2 and 3) in a local movie theater which had a huge screen, one of the last of its kind. That always made an impression on me when I watched the movies from time to time. As of now, I’m just a moderate fan but I wouldn’t buy any merchandise, toys or such from the Star Wars franchise. There’s no need.

“Sadly, those days are gone. As more movies were made, it got harder and harder to ignore the ugly truth.”

Well, this should be interesting.

I started to have doubts even before the new series of movies was made. Everyone had a “whoah, what the…?” moment when they first saw Jar Jar Binks . And for good reason. Jar Jar Binks apparently comes from a whole race of ready made Amos and Andy style sidekicks . They have built in Jamaican dreadlock-things and the whole “Me so happy massa” Uncle Tom attitude. What’s the racial message here Lucas? And what about the aliens that the Jar Jarians were fighting, these creatures that had flat faces and yellow, slanted eyes, and were all secretive… There hasn’t been this much sublimated racial stereotyping in a science fiction series since the wildly anti-Semitic Ferengi in Star Trek.

I haven’t seen Star Trek but I can say something about Jar Jar Binks. I think that Lucas did stick him in his movies as a sort of comic relief. However, I do think there is a racial stereotype in place, almost like his a modern version of Stepin Fetchit. Even if one countered this this stereotype, Binks is a horrid character in general who acts like a goof and is extremely mindless. But perhaps that is the point. I’m not sure what the racial message is there, or with the greedy Neimodians of the Trade Federation who could represent an Asian stereotype. As one writer points out, “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace clearly invokes imagery and audio from racist ethnic stereotypes. The fact that the recipient of these stereotypical characteristics are non-human aliens does not change this fact.” As a personal admission I’d need to know a bit more about racial stereotypes to see if this is the reality. Still, I think this a valid concern.

“But the clumsy racial metaphors aren’t what bugged me.”

This bothers me. The six Star Wars movies are white and male-dominated with female characters mostly pushed to secondary roles (except for Princess Leia and Padme Amidala) and male characters are put in the primary role. Literally there are only two black characters I can think of: Mace Windu, who gets pushed out a window in Episode 3, and Lando Calrissian, a black capitalist/racketeer who betrays the Rebels to the Empire in Episode 5 then turns around and “good” in Episode 6. Not a good track record. Yes, the most recent Star Wars movie does have a black main character, Finn, and a female lead character, Rey, but this doesn’t change the nature of the previous six movies in terms of racial and gender diversity.

“If anyone here has seen the movie Clerks , you might remember the scene where they are talking about Return of The Jedi . In it, one of the characters describes The Rebellion as a bunch of leftists. That got me thinking. A bunch of “leftists”.”

I don’t think I’d think of them as leftists necessarily, just a rebellious force, the details of which I’ll explain later.

“In the first movie, it was all about saving Princess Leia. Then in the new movies, there’s Queen Amalamadabadoo , whatever her name is. If you’re a princess, you’re in a royal family… and monarchies are not democratic . Now, the far left is not always democratic either, but since the left is usually socialist in some way, I don’t know a lot of far left extremists who are pro-monarchy.”

Hmm, that’s a good point. However, Leia is only part of the rebellion, she isn’t necessarily leading it. As for Amidala, she is controlling a planet, Naboo, that likely embodies what some have called “capitalist peace” since it was, according to Wookiepedia, “considered a world of classical beauty due to the aesthetics of its population centers” and was “peaceful.” As a result, I don’t know if I’d consider the Galactic Republic, of which Amidala was part of, to be leftist in the radical sense. After all, as it is described, it sounds kinda elitist but a little like the American federal system, which could be endorsed by today’s liberals and conservatives:

“The Galactic Republic, commonly referred to simply as the Republic, and later also known as the Old Republic, was the democratic union that governed the galaxy for a thousand years prior to the rise of the Galactic Empire. The Republic was aided by the efforts of the Jedi Order, who stood as the guardians of peace and justice, enabling the Republic to be free of full-scale conflict for over a thousand years.”

Then you come to the Empire:

“Now take a look at the “Empire”. They come across as hard core right wing authoritarians. But if you look at how they operate, they have a republic, a senate… it’s not too clear if they have universal suffrage . Maybe only the wealthy planet owners can vote. But still… even if it’s a primitive Grecian style democracy, it’s still a democracy.”

I’m not completely sure about this. The reason about this, is that in Episode 3, that evil Palpatine/Sidious who killed most of the elitist force, the Jedi in what was basically a “surprise” extermination campaign, took power and created the Galactic Empire, a day referred to as “Empire Day” in other series. Palpatine in that movie declares that “In order to ensure the security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society.” That doesn’t sound very democratic to me. After all, Wookiepedia notes that this Empire replaced the republic, with authority going to the Emperor:

“The Galactic Empire…was the government that rose to power in the aftermath of the Clone Wars, replacing the Galactic Republic. Central authority was given to Darth Sidious, publicly known as Emperor Palpatine, who was also the Dark Lord of the Sith. For nearly two decades, the legislative body was the Imperial Senate, but it was dissolved by the Emperor shortly before the Battle of Yavin. During the reign of the Empire, countless star systems were conquered and dissident actions ruthlessly stamped out by the rapidly expanding Imperial Army and Navy. The Empire also oversaw the near extermination of the Jedi, with the destruction of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and its renovation into the newly named Imperial Palace.”

I know one could say this a Star Wars wikia and it will bias. However, what this says makes it obvious that the Empire was an authoritarian regime. Also in Episode 4, the Imperial Senate was DISSOLVED. The legislative body was a joke, as noted in the following passage from this article:

“…By its fourteenth year of existence, the new Senate had started growing weaker as the Emperor’s planetary governors assumed more responsibility over their territories. However, the Emperor preserved the Senate in order to make the Empire’s member worlds believe that they still had a part to play in government. Secretly, he planned to disband the Senate from the start but he needed it to preserve order until the Death Star was completed.”

So, I just don’t buy the idea that Empire was a democracy. That goes against the events in the Star Wars animated series and the movies (4, 5, 6) in general. The same goes for the First Order in the new movie which is described as a military junta that was inspired by the Galactic Empire, led by a Supreme Leader and his right-hand man, Kylo Ren who “would oversee the colonization of the Unknown Regions and destruction of the last Jedi” but lacked an official capital.

So back to Gutteridge. He writes that “we’re cheering a bunch of monarchists fighting a democracy? How’d that happen?” then tweets comparisons between the Rebel Alliance, which was a “military resistance government” just like the Resistance. So, in that way the Rebel Alliance are right-wing one could argue. However, one could say they are a resistance force to the empire, almost a guerrilla movement, and don’t really constitute a state like the Empire or the First Order which has, as Max Weber notes about all states, “monopoly on the use of force.” But I’ll address this later on.

“The hints were there from the start”

Ok. Let’s see what you have to say.

“Who exactly are these “rebels”? When you look at it, they don’t seem like an uprising of working class people. When we very first see Luke Skywalker on the farm on Tattooine , his Uncle owns the farmland. It’s droids who do all the blue collar work. It seems the rebellion is led by landed gentry and dispossessed monarchists who’ve had their traditional power structure threatened by an emerging republic.”

Hmm. You could say that and perhaps the rebellion is made up of middle-class folks. By this description Luke would be part of the petty bourgeoisie since he could be arguably part of a strata that “rely entirely on the sale of their labor-power for survival…and thus can buy the labor-power of the proletariat [the droids in this case] and lumpenproletariat to work the means of production” as noted here. At the same time the Rebellion could arguably include lumpenproletariat people like gangster Han Solo and his companion Chewbacca. But I agree its not a rebellion of the proletariat in a Marxian or radical sense. That can even be said about the group of rebels in the new animated series Star Wars Rebels in one sense or another.

Now onto the other claims. According to Wookiepedia, the Rebel Alliance had their origins in a group of Senators who “were vocal opponents of Palpatine’s reformations” and was “found itself increasingly at odds with the Chancellor’s increasing executive powers, and often had trouble gaining an audience with him.” Two of the individuals were key in what became the Rebel Alliance. Jumping ahead, another page notes that this rebellion had a mission to restore “liberty” to the galaxy, at least initially and eventual establishment of a Republic like the Galactic Republic in Episodes 1, 2, and 3. Another part of the same page notes that the Rebel Alliance constituted of a government and a military command led by the Chief of State who was led an “elected dictatorship, [since] the Chief of State had virtually unlimited power over the Alliance” and was taken out of power after the Emperor died. Other parts of the Rebel government included an Advisory Council comprises of representatives from “seven Alliance governments who had given the most lives in battle to defeating the Empire” and it was “responsible for approving or disapproving the proposals of the Chief of State.” There was also an alliance cabinet which allowed the Chief of State to “maintain and run the Alliance,” Alliance Allied Commands, or the “the individual governments of worlds, organizations, and groups that were members of the Alliance” and then the military which was led by the Chief of State. In this way, the Rebel Alliance can be considered a state but also a guerrilla movement at the same time. Undoubtedly it can be considered right-wing but so can the Empire.

“There was one time I was talking about this, a guy said to me, “actually Queen Abadalamadingdong was “elected” to her seat in the senate.” I looked it up on the interwebs, and that’s technically true. She was elected. When she was 14, though. Now, I know this was probably written this way because,George Lucas wanted to line things up so that Princess Allibabababoo [actually Amidala] wouldn’t be too much older, years later when she got it on with young boy-band-era Vader. I don’t know why that was a problem, because there ain’t nothing wrong with a little cougar action, but that seems to be what happened at the script writing level.”

Yes, this is true and Anakin was a creeper. Naboo definitely had what one could call an elected monarchy.

“Whatever, though. Lucas might have been more focused on character time lines than the politics, but it doesn’t excuse anything. We’ve still got the story we’ve got.”

I guess you could say that.

“No functioning democracy elects a 14 year old girl to anything higher than hall monitor , so she has to have been ushered into power by a ruling elite.”

That’s a good point, except not everything in the world that is considered a “democracy” is not necessarily a democracy. So in this way, yes, Naboo isn’t a democracy.

“If the rebellion were just the landed gentry, that might be a excusable. Hell, George Washington was the wealthiest land owner in the colonies , but there was still some merit in his rebellion. But the situation gets worse. Because at the heart of the rebellion are the Jedi.”

Ok, I don’t know how that would be excusable. Well, the Jedi are sort of at the heart of it, but they also aren’t.

“At first glance, the Jedi seem all Zen and spiritual and peaceful. You first see Obi Wan out wandering in the desert, fighting injustices, like Caine in Kung Fu . So, you know, you think they’re all a bunch of counter culture revolutionary warrior monks. But then in the movie The Phantom Menace , which historically is further back in time, you see the Jedi in the penthouse suite of some deluxe high rise on the capital planet of the galaxy. They have this Star Chamber with bay windows overlooking the metropolis. They’re casually chatting over Earl Gray tea about how to influence politics and alter the fates of all the citizens of the galaxy.”

That is kinda true if you think about it. I can remember some scene in a Clone Wars episode when a clone calls the Jedi slavemasters literally:

“As they present Slick before the Jedi, Slick snaps that his brothers are enslaved by the Jedi, that he was striking a blow for all clones and that he loves his brothers, but Cody and Rex retort that he has now exposed them all to certain doom. Cody orders the other clones to take the traitor to lockup.”

Not only that but I can remember people in the animated series saying there’s a hypocrisy for “defenders of the peace” (Jedi) to be warriors. This part from the Episode 3 screenplay is also relevant here:

MACE WINDU: I sense a plot to destroy the Jedi. The dark side of the Force surrounds the Chancellor.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: If he does not give up his emergency powers after the destruction of Grievous, then he should be removed from office.

MACE WiNDU: That could be a dangerous move … the Jedi Council would have to take control of the Senate in order to secure a peaceful transition . . .

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: . . . and replace the Congress with Senators who are not filled with greed and corruption.

YODA: To a dark place this line of thought will carry us. Hmmmmm. . . . great care we must take.

Seriously they want a coup in a republic, arguably a bourgeois democracy/republic. Yikes! Thinking about that now, that’s messed up. This really would make them theocrats and actually kinda philosopher kings too in a sense. However, without this they are neither of these labels.

“Nobody elected these guys. Nobody voted for Yoda. What the hell happened to the separation of church and state? They’re like the evangelical movement in the US Republican party, pushing their agenda behind the scenes.”

Ok. However, they were basically treated as elite warriors who would defend the Republic. But in some sense you could say they are religious leaders. They aren’t really like the evangelical movement in the US. Here’s a relevant passage from the Episode 4 screenplay which sounds almost like the Force is a religion in a sense:

HAN: Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

LUKE: You don’t believe in the Force, do you?

HAN: Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.

Ben smiles quietly.

HAN:  It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

BEN:  I suggest you try it again, Luke.

Then the post notes that:

“Not only are we cheering for anti-democratic monarchists, they’re also fundamentalist theocrats. These guys aren’t just out to stop gays from becoming stormtroopers. These guys start whole ground wars that get who knows how many people killed.”

I wouldn’t say the Jedi start the war. I think Darth Sidious wanted the invasion of Naboo. Even if the Jedi “ambassadors” hadn’t been there, showing their high status, then the invasion and blockade of Naboo would have included. But, yes in a sense we are cheering for right-wingers/rightests. However, there is a bourgeois democracy in the form of the Galactic Republic which sorta seems like the US in some way or another. This “democracy” as it will, which Marx and Engels called “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” mirrors the dictatorship that ruled Mexico with an iron fist from the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 until the 1990s which constituted a corporatist political structure led by the PRI and had the legislature as merely a rubber-stamp.

“For example, in Phantom Menace they go down to planet Jamaica where the Jar Jarians live, and convince them to fight a robot army and get mowed down like Aztecs being slaughtered by conquistadors . What do the Jedi offer in return? They send in two human white guys to rescue a human white girl.”

I guess you could say this. However, the Jedi do offer something in return. They help clear the hangar with the help of the Queen and her forces so that Naboo starfighters can destroy the Trade Federation ship of which Anakin succeeds in but by accident. Anyway, it is true they rescue a human white girl (the Queen). At the same time, the Gungans fight a robot army but are quickly surrounded and have to surrender, so I don’t think it accurate to say that they are slaughtered by Aztecs as that almost implies that the movie condemns imperialism which it obviously does not.

“Why do the Jar Jarians agree? ‘Cause the leader of the Jar Jarians is a fucking king… another monarchist. He’s got a divine right to rule to protect, so of course he’s on board.”

I guess you could say that but I think the Gungans are willing to side with the humans (“the Naboo”) because they see their planet under attack by a foreign force (a robot army led by the Trade Federation).

Now, you’re probably thinking “Yeah, but just look at the Empire, they’ve got lots of black, dark atmospheric mood lighting, and lots of heavy breathing. They’ve got to be evil, right? And the Jedi have all soft earth tones, lots of brown, long hair, and eating granola, they’ve got to be good, right? What makes them so good, all deep down?

No I wasn’t wondering that at all. Not sure who would be wondering that.

“Here’s where it gets really fucked up. In the new series of movies, George Lucas revealed to us what it is that makes a Jedi a Jedi. In order to be a part of “the force”, you have to have this stuff in your blood called “Midi-chlorians”. So… you have to be born with the right blood… Not just antidemocratic monarchist fundamentalist theocrats… they’re also racial supremacists! Holy fuck!”

I don’t think that is necessarily racial supremacy. I guess it could be considered genetic supremacy but not racial supremacy necessarily. This is because Jedi do NOT have to be humans to be Jedi. But I will agree it is strange. In fact, as they note in the movies, EVERYONE has medi-chlorians to some extent. As Qui-Gon said in Episode 1 to a young Anakin, who was literally a slave, but freed:

“Midi-chlorians are a microcopic lifeform that reside within all living cells and communicates with the Force. [they are] In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians [or] Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you.”

So, I don’t think this constitutes racial supremacy akin to the Nazis. In fact, this kinda just says “the Force” comes from within you, but doesn’t have to do with if you have “the right blood.” One could argue this means it constitutes eugenics, but I don’t agree.

Now it makes sense why the Jedi wear the brown shirts ! We’re supposed to cheer for these fascists?

I don’t think they are fascists. Sure, you could argue convincingly they are theocrats, though I don’t agree with that viewpoint, but since the part of the movie about midi-chlorians was wrongly interpreted, this undermines that they are fascists. However, I see the Jedi and the Sith, who are basically conflicting sects of “The Force” religion, as religious warriors, not necessarily as totally theocrats since they don’t completely rule or govern “as a representative of God or a deity, or is a member of the ruling group in a theocracy, as a divine king or a high priest.” Remember there’s still the Senate and the Chancellor. True, these warriors are rogue, but I’m not sure if they can be considered totally part of a “ruling group.” 

“We’re supposed to be happy, singing “yub yub”, along with the Ewoks, when these authoritarian assholes win at the end of Return of the Jedi?”

Well, the Rebels are rightists but aren’t necessarily “authoritarian assholes.” Also by this time most of the Jedi in the galaxy are killed so they aren’t leading the Rebellion.

“A victory which is ludicrous when you think about it. I don’t know what it takes to build a death star, but apparently a death star is something an empire the size of a galaxy can only build one at a time. I think it’s safe to assume that they’d devote their best troops to protecting this thing. The best troops in an entire galaxy.”

Well it could be considered ludicrous except I think the Empire was over-confident and the Ewoks helped the Rebels turn the tide of victory.  So its sorta unbelievable but this is fiction. What do you expect? You could say the same about the destruction of the Starkiller Base in the newest Star Wars movie. Additionally, it is possible for the best troops to be beat by troops that aren’t the best. Its happened in world history before in military battles. It is possible.

“We’re seriously meant to believe that they couldn’t defend a shed in the woods from a pack of plush toys with pre-bronze age technology? It’s so incredulous, it defies all reason… Unless… you think about what the far far away galaxy is like after the final battle that defeats the Empire.”

Well, they couldn’t defend it because of the Ewoks who were able to destroy much of the Empire’s technology in their guerrilla tactics. Also, they only sent a legion of troopers down to Endor, and the Rebels had fought the Empire for years, so I’d imagine there were seasoned enough troops who knew how the fight the empire. Also, what’s so bad with a “primitive” force defeating a “modern,” technologically-advanced force? It happened in Avatar, a movie which had issues considering the white male savior of indigenous people, so it can happen here most definitely.

“There’s probably some tough questions being asked during Luke Skywalker’s thousand year Reich . Questions like, “We fought all these battles, all these people died, We got rid of the evil overlord Darth Vader, and now… his son is in charge? Another Skywalker and his crypto-incestuous sister are running the show now? What kind of revolution was this?””

No, no one is asking those questions. Luke and his sister were NEVER in charge, they were just part of a broader rebellion. Sure, Leia was arguably more part of the ruling class, but she wasn’t directly in charge of the Rebels and Luke most definitely was not, but basically was just like a high-ranking officer in the military. Also, Vader (whose full name could mean “dark father” but it is contested) was never in charge, that was the Emperor. I do think this part of episode 4 is relevant here:

HAN:  It is for me, sister! Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money!

LEIA: You needn’t worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive!

Later Han becomes a loyal footsoldier of the Rebellion, but this still relevant here.

“Not only has all the power in the galaxy been passing around within one family, but with the death of exiled Pope Yoda, Luke has moved into the position of head of the official state religion. Church and state have been unified, and Ayatollah Skywalker reigns supreme over his dystopian theocratic dictatorship.”

I just don’t think that interpretation is correct. Yoda was never the head of the “official state religion.” The Force can be argued as a religious force or feeling but was NOT the official religion of either the Empire, the Rebellion, First Order, or Resistance. Hence, there was no “theocratic dictatorship.” However, there is a convincing argument that two rightist forces were fighting each other.

“And that’s when it hit me. I saw it, man, I saw what was going on. Maybe George Lucas is the most brilliant film maker of all time.”

What in the world. This ia almost half sarcastic.

“You see, think of it like this. History is written by the victors. So maybe what George Lucas is doing is writing this whole series from a meta-contextual point of view, showing us history as it would be depicted if the forces of evil had won.”

Um, ok history is written by victors. As for the next part of this quote, I just don’t think so.

“The story is shown from the point of view after Dear Leader Skywalker went all Stalin on the historical records. The photos have been airbrushed , the scrolls have been burned , the statues knocked down … we’re seeing the revisionist history the House of Skywalker wants us to believe.”

Luke Skywalker never did that. He never was really in a leading position of power. It is true he was a valued footsoldier of the Rebellion, but he was NOT the leader of the Alliance. I don’t even know what to say about the comparison to Stalin here.

“If that’s what George Lucas is doing, it’s fucking brilliant. The hints are there, but you have to peel back the layers of propaganda to look for the real story. What’s really going on?”

Oh boy here we go with the “layers of propaganda.”

“Before the story depicted in the movies begins, democracy was emerging in the galaxy in the form of a republic, with a democratically elected senate. The monarchists and elite were seeing their tyrannical rule coming to an end. They tried to maintain power by filling the sentate with their own kind, like they did with Queen Amadamadingdong. That failed, and they were marginalized.”

I don’t think its that simple. I think there was the pretense of democracy but it was, as Sheldon Wolin puts it, a managed democracy, in the Galactic Republic. But more accurately it was a bourgeois democracy. Yet, Gutteridge doesn’t say this.

“[Referring to an above picture.] In this telling scene, Anakin Skywalker argues against the extra-judicial summary execution of a political leader by a Jedi zealot, and calls instead for a trial by jury. For this, he is depicted as a villain.”

The “political leader” who speak of was actually also a theocrat in a sense and led his own branch of “The Force” religion. Hence, Palpatine was more like a religious leader who masqueraded as a political leader than the latter. He is almost more a theocrat than the Jedi since he holds a leading position in government while the Jedi don’t technically hold such a position but just kinda do their own thing, which has some consequences (good and bad). Also, Palpatine was trying to kill the Jedi warrior. Yes, Anakin was trying to call for a trial, but Windu’s point that he is “too dangerous to stay alive” if I remember the words right, is valid. In my thinking Palpatine knew something like this would happen, so he made it so the Jedi would say he should die and then Anakin would come to Palpatine’s aid. Also, Anakin is a bit selfish and out for himself, so he can’t be painted as the “good” guy here. Anyway, here’s the relevant passage showing that Anakin is painted an agent of evil for good reason, even though he advocated a right for trial of Palpatine even as the courts are corrupt (bolding is my emphasis):

ANAKIN lands his speeder, jumps out, and runs down a long corridor toward the Chancellor’s office.

In the heat of battle, MACE cuts the window behind the Chancellor’s desk, and it crashes away. MACE is forced out onto the ledge, which is twenty stories up. They fight over the precipice. ANAKIN arrives to see PALPATINE and MACE fighting.

They stop as MACE forces PALPATINE to drop his sword. PALPATINE and MACE start yelling at each other.

MACE WINDU: You are under arrest, My Lord.

PALPATINE: Anakin! I told you it would come to this. I was right. The Jedi are taking over.

MACE WlNDU: You old fool. The oppression of the Sith will never return. Your plot to regain control of the Republic is over . . . you have lost . . .

PALPATINE: No! No! You will die!

PALPATINE raises his hands, and lightning bolts shoot out. They are blocked by MACE’s lightsaber. PALPATINE is pushed back against the window sill.

PALPATINE: He is a traitor, Anakin.

MACE WlNDU: He’s the traitor. Stop him!

PALPATINE: Come to your senses, boy. The Jedi are in revolt. They will betray you, just as they betrayed me.

MACE WlNDU: Aarrrrggghhhhh . . .

PALPATINE: You are not one of them, Anakin. Don’t let him kill me.

MACE WlNDU: Aarrrrggghhhhh . . .

PALPATINE: I am your pathway to power. I have the power to save the one you love. You must choose. You must stop him.

MACE WlNDU: Don’t listen to him, Anakin.

PALPATINE: Help me! Don’t let him kill me. I can’t hold on any longer. Ahhhhhhh . . . ahhhhhhh . . . ahhhhhhh . . .

MACE pushes PALPATINE out to the edge of the ledge. As the Jedi moves closer, the bolts from Palpatine’s hands begin to arch back on him. The Chancellor’s face begins to twist and distort. His eyes become yellow as he struggles to intensify his powers.

PALPATINE: I can’t … I give up. Help me. I am weak … I am too weak. Don’t kill me. I give up. I’m dying. I can’t hold on any longer.

MACE WlNDU: You Sith disease. I am going to end this once and for all.

ANAKIN: You can’t kill him, Master. He must stand trial.

MACE WlNDU: He has too much control of the Senate and the Courts. He is too dangerous to be kept alive.

PALPATINE: I’m too weak. Don’t kill me. Please.

ANAKIN: It is not the Jedi way . . .

MACE raises his sword to kill the CHANCELLOR.

ANAKIN: (continuing) He must live . . .

PALPATINE: Please don’t, please don’t . . .

ANAKIN: I need him . . .

PALPATINE: Please don’t . . .

ANAKIN: NO!!!

Just as MACE is about to slash PALPATINE, ANAKIN steps in and cuts off the Jedi’s hand holding the lightsaber.

As MACE stares at ANAKIN in shock, PALPATINE springs to life.
The full force of Palpatine’s powerful Bolts blasts MACE. He attempts to deflect them with his one good hand, but the force is too great. As blue rays engulf his body, he is flung out the window and falls twenty stories to his death. No more screams. No more moans. PALPATINE lowers his arm.

PALPATINE: Power! Unlimited power!

His face has changed into a horrible mask of evil. ANAKIN looks on in horror. PALPATINE cackles.

ANAKIN: What have I done?

Hence, its not as simple as just “defending” the right to a trial. There’s a bit more there.

“Even worse for the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father and their chosen messiah, is won over by democratic values. Anakin becomes so keen to distance himself from the cult that has tried to brainwash him since childhood that he dons a Subcomandante Marcos mask and renames himself Darth Vader.”

Well, he doesn’t completely distance himself. He still accepts The Force but just in a different form. In this way he is a religious warrior who will serve an authoritarian Empire and/or the Emperor. So, NO he is not “won over by democratic values.” Don’t you remember when he KILLS all those Jedi in the Jedi Temple literally. Isn’t that basically a religious massacre or what is called a pogrom? Come on now.

“He then aggressively, and for a time successfully, tries to purge the Jedi from the halls of power, making him a champion of the separation of church and state. Which, in my books, is a good thing.”

There never really was a state religion, hence there can’t be a separation of church and state. No one was EVER forced to believed in The Force. It was almost like the Jedi were like high-level thinkers or philosopher kings to some extent, except that they didn’t really have political power but had political prestige.

“By the time we get to Luke Skywalker, democracy is everywhere and things might have gone well, except no one could have anticipated just how ruthless Luke Skywalker would be. Luke was probably moisture farmer on Tatooine as much as George Bush was a Texan rancher. No, Luke was a demagogue laying in wait.”

I really don’t think that was accurate at all. There definitely isn’t democracy everywhere. The Republic at least had a Senate of some value. However, the Empire has a useless and mock-powerful Senate which is abolished in Episode 4. Of not is an episode of the new Star Wars animated series, Star Wars Rebels where Vader orders the burning of a city (Tarkintown) on one of the character’s home planets, Lothal in order to spread fear. Then there was the massacre, which has a My Lai quality, of the town’s inhabitants and the destruction of the town in the newest Star Wars movie as noted in this screenplay:

“Lor San Tekka moves sadly through the village as STORMTROOPERS wielding FLAME THROWERS destroy structures. Surrendering Villagers are ROUNDED UP. Penned ANIMALS panic…The Troopers and villagers in battle — as one Trooper is HIT and goes down. Another — OUR TROOPER — KNEELS to help. The hit trooper raises a torn, bloody glove — his HUMAN HAND visible — and MARKS OUR STORMTROOPER’S MASK WITH BLOOD just before he dies. Our Trooper, stands — overwhelmed by the battle.”

Then this goes on.

“The Skywalker name gives Luke the backing of the Jedi, but they need the money and resources of the monarchists and land owners to fund the Jedi’s jihad against the secular government. To convince the monarchists to come along, Luke and his cohorts concocted this whole story about how he discovered a weapon of mass destruction that only he could destroy. How convenient.”

No, they didn’t concoct the story. Come on. If the Empire is secular, it is a murderous secular state. Who would want to support that?

“Was there really a death star? Everyone who supposedly witnessed a planet being destroyed by a “death star” are all dead now, except, by no coincidence, for Luke’s sister.”

Um, all the rebel pilots saw the death star. Anyway, at the end of Episode 3 the Death Star was under construction and the Geonosians were apparently constructing it or at least had the plans for its construction in Episode 2.

“It was Luke and the Jedi cabal who blew up Alderaan! It was a galactic Reichstag Fire , Gulf of Tonkin , Manchurian railway in space. Great disturbance in the force my ass. It was a great disturbance by the force!”

This isn’t what actually happened and the writer of the original post knows this. It WAS the Empire that blew up the planet. Its almost sarcasm at this point.

“The monarchists were convinced, and supplied Luke with all the resources he need to launch his bloody coup d’état . Luke then makes a huge display of blowing up a star base that could have been a medicine factory for all we know, and the monarchists adorn him with medals for his “Mission Accomplished” moment, which, like similar moments , was only the beginning of the bloodshed.”

Um, it wasn’t a medicine factory. Also, they once again were NOT monarchists. And yes, the end of Episode 4 could said the reminiscent of Nazi rallies, but this was convincingly more the case in the newest Star Wars movie with a rally of the First Order. Seriously, those First Order folks were fascists.

“The final twist of the propaganda knife is claiming that his father renounced democracy just before dying. Again, anyone on the second death star who might have witnessed Vader sacrificing the emperor in an act of atonement to his son – they’re all dead now too.”

This is ridiculous. How is a system that is led by an EMPEROR a democracy? What movies did you watch? Jeez this is so far off that all I can do is laugh.

“That’s how Luke rolls. He kills all witnesses.”

Um no he doesn’t. He blows up the first Death Star, sure, but NOT the second one which is blown up by the Rebel starfleet. Also, the second Death Star killed people on the two ships it destroyed with its blasts to show off its power.

“The whole Star Wars series is Ayatollah Skywalker’s whitewashed history of his brutal ascent to power. It’s his Triumph of the Will !”

Gosh this is getting ridiculous. Skywalker, once again did NOT hold a leading position in the Alliance but was just one of the best fighters. Come on now.

“It even explains the terrible storytelling set against incredible scenery. I mean, it’s a state sponsored propaganda film. It has all the brilliant special effects of a Chinese Olympic opening ceremony , but the stilted story telling of a North Korean news report . Even in the very production of the films the historical revisionism is hinted at. I mean, we all know that the free market neocon mercenary Han Solo shot Greedo first, but even that detail got suppressed to support the official state narrative.”

What? It isn’t a state propaganda film. It is also is not like Chinese or North Korean news reports or ceremonies. Sure, Han Solo could be considered a “free market neocon mercenary.” However, from what I remember the movie NEVER says that Greedo shot first or is this detail expressed. Come on. Jabba the Hut, the head of the underground criminal network, is mad Greedo is killed but that’s about it.

“If it’s the case that the whole Star Wars series is a post modern metacontextual propaganda for the Skywalker regime, then maybe George Lucas is a brilliant writer working on so many more levels than we’ve even discovered yet!”

You got to be kidding me. There was NO “Skywalker regime.” There was just two rightist forces fighting each other. Additionally, the Rebellion was almost a tent for those of different viewpoints. However, it is evident that neither of the forces fighting each other can be seen as truly part of the Left.

“And then I saw Indiana Jones part four , and was reminded that, Lucas is just a hack.”

I’ll agree that movie was horrible. I’m not sure if calling Lucas a hack is fair though even though I think he was broadly a conservative and wanted to reinforce “traditional” values coming from the 1950s from what I’ve read.

“Still, we’ve got the story we’ve got, the most deceptive and seductive pro-fascist narrative ever written. The Jedi mind trick has been played on all of us. “This is not the hero’s journey you were looking for.””

I just don’t agree with this at all. Considering the faulty interpretations elsewhere, this is just totally wrong. Yes, the six major movies have a conservative element and reinforces traditionalism along with arguably patriarchalism. The same could be said about the new movie, but there is some level of a corrective with a female lead character (Rey) and a black stormtrooper who refuses to commit a war crime, an equivalent of the My Lai massacre, named Finn. The same could be said about the new Star Wars Rebels series which has a number of female characters even know the cast is still male-dominated, and the second animated clone wars series, not necessarily the first one.

“So… I’m not a Star Wars fan anymore. If it ever happens again that I see that scene where Luke is going down the trench, I’ll still get tense… but I’ll be cheering for Vader.”

Good for you. Cheer for an authoritarian empire, which is kinda fascist just from the name of its footsoldiers: stormtroopers. How about cheering for NEITHER side since both sides are kinda rightist? Just an idea.

While I think that comedian Dave Gutteridge makes some valid points about the Star Wars, but his makes a number of conclusions which are not based on evidence from the series itself (ex: that the Empire is a democracy or that Jedi are theocrats). I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I just think there are a number of fundamental issues that he gets totally wrong as I note above. Perhaps I interpreted this all wrong and he is trying to be really really sarcastic but I sincerely doubt it.

Some additional thoughts

There are a number of historical analogies one could make in relation to the Star Wars series. Tom Engelhardt, argued in one written piece that George Lucas challenged the view that Americans shouldn’t be reminded about the Vietnam war, “decontaminating war of its recent history through a series of inspired cinematic decisions that rescued crucial material from the wreckage of Vietnam.” Engelhart continues by rightly pointing out that Lucas started the Star Wars series in its “own self-enclosed universe in deepest space and in an amorphous movie past…an era of civil war, an evil empire, rebels, an ultimate weapon, a struggle for freedom” and that “he uncoupled the audience from a legacy of massacre and atrocity” with Skywalker’s family suffering “its own My Lai,” He writes that this allows the audience and Luke to “set off on an anti-imperial venture as the victimized, not as victimizers” and that later on, “Lucas’s white teenage rebels would glide effortlessly among the natives. They would learn from value-superior Third World mystics…and be protected by ecological fuzzballs like the Ewoks.” Engelhart writes that after the 1970s, “Star Wars-like themes also began to penetrate the world of adult entertainment” and this allowed G.I. Joe to be reintroduced along with other “action figures” to released as Star Wars knock offs.

While Englehart makes valid points, I think it important to recognize the different interpretations of Star Wars before putting forward my own analysis. Steven Belletto and Daniel Grausam argue that the film quickly undermines the reading that it is critical of the United States, saying that Episode IV’s premise “associates the Rebels with Western settlers and heroes” and then populates the Empire “with soldiers and henchmen outfited for a Stanlist regime.” [1] They further argue, on the same page, that the movie also puts forward the idea that the West is represented by “technologically inferior Rebels” rather than an invading war machine, which revives the narrative that “the South Vietnamese Army comprised the freedom fighters” and that the North Vietnamese were “agents of a monolithic, evil, Communist empire set on world domination.” In writing about Episode 5, Belletto and Grausam argue that the movie is just “dumbed down Emerson” and claiming that Yoda has a resemblance to Reagan. [2] They argue that for Episode 6, Luke is an “optimistic Reaganite” who continues to underestimate the power of the Dark Side, that the Rebels aren’t for freedom from the Empire’s grasp but they want to supplant it as the governing force of the galaxy. [3] They later write that there is the triumph of the Rebels in episode 6 means that class distinctions are dissolved, with nobility, who they describe as Luke and Leia, along with Ewok and Wookies participating, meaning that, in their interpretation, “the Eastern establishment and European aristocracy acknowledge their appreciation for the lone ranger, just as he acknowledges his commitment to their benevolent monarchy.” [4] Belletto and Grausum also write that three patriarchs, redeemed Vader, Yoda and Obi-Wan, in their interpretation, return in Episode 6 at the end “to celebrate this marriage of Western adventurism [symbolized by Han Solo] and Eastern monarchy that confirm the union’s implicit hierarchy as part of the natural order.” [5]

Then, there’s Stephen McVeigh who looks at what the engine that drives the Star Wars narrative. He argues that the original trilogy (episodes 4-6) constitutes ” a post-Vietnam critique of military superiority whereby a technological superpower is defeated by smaller, more humanized forces” and that the films present “a dual reading of U.S. military might” as either a “morally bankrupt oppressor” or that U.S. interests and actions are just. [6] He also argues that while some critics tend to argue that the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany is represented by the Empire, that “the dark truth at the core of Lucas’s evil Empire is that it presents a version of America itself” and that the Star Wars movies are more than about posturing of Cold War superpowers, and by recognizing “that the rebels and Empire are one and the same side” only does Lucas’s mission come to the surface. [7]  He goes on beyond this, but this alone is worth mentioning.

It is worth mentioning, last but not least that there is a group of writers that assert that Star Wars is related to Vietnam, as Englehart alluded to. McVeigh writes that Star Wars Episode 4 has to be seen in light of the Vietnam War and that instead of detailing the horrors of Vietnam, he “decided to offer a balm…ramp [of] the mythic landscape that had been so badly traumatized by  American involvement in the war in Southeast Asia.” [8] His mission, as the writers argue, is to repair “the damage done by the Vietnam War on the American people.” [9] McVeigh also writes than later also argue that Episode 1 fit into fears of U.S. culture (conspiracy and paranoia) and that the relevance of Star Wars to “stories that connect to become an account of passage of American self-concept through the aftermath of Vietnam” assures the series a “unique place within American popular culture.” [10] Other than McVeigh, Dan Rubey argues that Episode 4 uses “an image ourselves from the past,” referring to dogfights during WWII which Lucas used as a basis for fights in the Star Wars movies, and that it has direct relation to Vietnam. [11] He also writes that the film feeds on the feelings of the audience of frustration along with numerous desires (escape, mobility, and power) and satisfies them with a good/evil dichotomy, numerous metaphors and endorse “traditional structures of racism, sexism and social hierarchy that have helped to create and maintain those frustrations.” [12] The same write also argues that Lucas has a “conservative ideological bias,” that Star Wars is a “chivalric romance plot” that is about power of the Force which is gendered as male, that the Rebels are restorers of the old order, and that “Lucas dooms Star Wars to repeat all the ideological cliches of our society” [13] 

These assessments are validated in numerous ways by the franchise itself. In one Lucasfilm book titled Star Wars and History, Vietnam is mentioned 19 times. More directly are sections from J. W. Rinzle’s The Making of Star Wars (Enhanced Edition). In the book, it says that George Lucas originally wanted to make Apocalypse Now, which is as any viewers know, a very antiwar and anti-Vietnam War film. As Rinzle writes in a section titled “Vietnam Wars in Space,” “the Vietnam War was just too controversial” meaning that Lucas, who was apparently poor and in debt, turned to an unnamed science fiction project which became Star Wars. In the book, Rinzle quotes Lucas as saying he had “very strong feelings” about Apocalypse Now, implying that Star Wars was about the Vietnam War with political ideas he was going to put in that movie going into Star Wars. [14] The most telling quote from Lucas which basically confirms that Star Wars is about reclaiming the Vietnam War (with “selective” concepts) is as follows:

“A lot of my interest in Apocalypse Now was carried over into Star Wars. I figured that I couldn’t make that film because it was about the Vietnam War, so I would essential deal with some of the same interesting concepts that I was going to use and convert them into space fantasy, so you’d have essentially a large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters or human beings.”

I could go on and mention numerous other books that mention how Star Wars is a reflection on the Vietnam War. However, I think it best to give my other thoughts at this present time. The argument that the Rebels and the Empire are just two sides of the same coin, representing different elements of the United States, is relatively convincing. [15] I was thinking about this today and if the Empire represented the Soviet Union, the process of events doesn’t make much sense. I say that because there was no major military defeat of the Soviet Union by the United States before the 1970s, which would be represented by the Death Star’s explosion, and America was not defeated by the Soviet Union as they were by the Empire at the beginning of Episode 5. This would get even more confusing because the Empire was originally a Galactic Republic, which Russia was NOT before the Russian revolution of 1917. I also thought that maybe Episode 1 referred to WWI and that the Clone Wars referred to WWII but in terms of the events that happened in Star Wars, this doesn’t make much sense either. Neither does the destruction of the Death Star refer to the Korean War or the battle of Hoth in episode 5 refer to the Bay of Pigs invasion (and disaster), as one could think.

Still, there are a number of important observations to make and I don’t need to read the Star Wars and Philosophy book in order to assert them. Both forces, “good” and “evil,” are arguably right-wing. The Galactic Republic in episodes 1-3 is basically a bourgeois democracy, the Trade Federation in episodes 1-3 which was “an interstellar shipping and trade conglomerate,” while the CIS in episodes 2-3 is a confederacy led by a Sith lord. It is also possible that Lucas is condemning certain ideas since, as noted in this Wookiepedia entry, the trade groups that supported the CIS’s cause were nationalized by the Galactic Empire. As for the Rebels in episodes 4-6, they were, as noted earlier, an authoritarian government that aimed to bring back the bourgeois democracy of the Galactic Republic (of which they succeeded in Episode 6). Then, the Empire is obviously a fascist force which is authoritarian in nature as well. The same dynamic is the case in the newest Star Wars movie with the First Order as obviously fascist and after the New Republic, which representing the bourgeois democracy, is destroyed, the Resistance is just like the Rebels.

After reading through these different books on the subject, I am more critical than ever of the series. Still, I guess unlike Gutteridge and others,  I guess I still have some hope in the Star Wars series and think that it has at least some value due to its deeply problematic aspects. But, this hope could obviously be shattered into many pieces, and that is why I look forward to your comments on this issue. In the end, I plan to write another article on this topic but I hope that this is the beginning of a more critical approach to the Star Wars series which is lauded too often, especially after the recent movie.


 

Notes:

[1] Belletto, Steven and Grausam, Daniel. American Literature and Culture in an Age of Cold War: A Critical Reassessment. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2012. 197.

[2] Ibid, 198-9.

[3] Ibid, 200, 203.

[4] Ibid, 205.

[5] Ibid, 206-7.

[6] Sweet, Derek R. Star Wars in the Public Square: The Clone Wars as Political DialogueJefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. 8.

[7] McVeigh, Stephen. The Galactic Way of Warfare. Finding the Force of the Star Wars Franchise: Fans, Merchandise, & Critics (ed. Matthew Kapell and  John Shelton Lawrence). New York: Peter Lang, 2006. 38.

[8] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 39.

[9] Ibid, 46, 54.

[11] Rubey, Dan. No So Long Ago nor Far Away: New Variations on Old Themes and Questioning Star Wars‘ Revival of Heroic Archetypes. Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars: An Anthology (ed Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka). Lanham: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 2012. 51.

[12] Ibid, 52

[13] Ibid, 53, 57-8, 63.

[14] The book also notes that Vietnam, along with conflicts and government affected his thinking about the series. Also, in one part of the book it reprints a telling quote from a legal pad he used when writing ideas for the original movie which shows he is not necessarily against American empire: “Theme: Aquilae is a small independent country like North Vietnam threatened by a neighbor or provincial rebellion, instigated by gangsters aided by empire. Fight to get rightful planet back. Half of the system has been lost to gangsters…The empire is like America ten years from now, after gangsters assassinated the Emperor and were elevated to power in a rigged election…We are at a turning point: fascism or revolution.” Elsewhere the book quotes Lucas as saying that the movie is a reflection on the Vietnam War: “to not make a decision is a decision…what usually happens is a small minority stands up against it, and the major portion are a lot of indifferent people who aren’t doing anything one way or the other. And by not accepting the responsibility, those people eventually have to confront the issue in a more painful way, which is essentially what happened in the United States with the Vietnam War.”

[15] Also, since there is the division of the galaxywide religion of the Force which is divided into “light” and “dark”, Jedi and Sith, it is clear once again that we are talking about two sides of the same coin.

 

Criticizing Ta Nehisi Coates

coates quote

Of our day, Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most pre-eminent intellectuals, writing for the often horrid Atlantic magazine owned by Atlantic Media’s Howard Kurtz, a neocon guy who was “dead certain about the rightness” of the 2003 Iraq invasion. I’ve been in classes where professors have praised him as the best thing since sliced bread. Admittedly, I even skipped a class session because I didn’t want to read Coates’s Case for Reparations again without critically analyzing it. As Mariame Kaba, who uses the handle @prisonculture, declared on twitter recently about an article Coates wrote about Sanders “…When people bother to offer principled critique, it means there’s something they think is worth engaging. So smart supporters would take that seriously & interrogate the claims being made without becoming defensive.” This article does not criticize Kaba with her own words, which is for another day, but fulfills my promise and aims to start the criticism of Coates, which is currently lacking in public discourse .

Beginning the conversation

It is good to begin with a revealing short piece by Coates in the style magazine New York. The piece starts with a praise of the Washington City Paper for its reporting, saying it “was very confrontational and aggressive, and there’d be this mix of history and cultural criticism and first person and journalism.” He then goes on to claim he was mature, cared about his writing and his awareness of race, but also his professionalism:

“…I went in, and I tried to dress as best as I could. And that was not very dressy, but it was okay. I think I had a pair of nice pants, and I remember I had a leather jacket on — I didn’t have like a normal blazer, so I had a leather jacket on — and my little tie. There were no black people in the office. Like none. This is immediately the whitest place I had ever been in my life. Right away. So I get in and culturally, you know, it’s like a different world. I’m looking at these folks, and they’re not even professional, or corporate, like what you see in the movies or on TV. You know, these are like alternative white people, and I had no exposure to alternative white people, like none”

While this seems to show his class blindness, but shows “racial awareness,” the next part is even clearer. He writes that he didn’t think he could write a story about a part of Washington D.C., Ward 8, which he claimed had “a reputation as a really poor area of the city, but nestled within there was this neighborhood of Hillcrest that was very middle class, very working class, very nice” which couldn’t “get services.” What was his reason? “I didn’t think I was that type of person.” Yikes! This leads to a bunch of questions: What type of person was he then? A “bougie” person? Is he the same now but with a different mask on? He then goes on to imply that he is the person who “asks questions”:

“Someone else might be more curious than you, but the functionality of them being more curious than you is that they just asked more questions. That was a deep sort of lesson — that the winner is the person who keeps asking questions. That’s the winner.”

This attitude is not surprising for someone who was likely praised in a one page splash (which you can’t read from the picture) in the Japanese-owned British business publication, the Financial Times. This connects to a recent article about Coates in CounterPunch by Paul Street which a biting and appropriate criticism. The piece argues first and foremost that Coates focuses on race but ignores class. A number of selected quotes are important to mention here:

“I take Coates at his word when he claims not to crave elite class identity and to be more concerned with things, not status. At the same time, I think there’s something else worse to be than “bougie”: bourgeois. And what makes one bourgeois is one’s material and social class position and one’s mental and ideological framework, things that go beyond one’s fondness (or lack thereof) for fine goods and service and one’s quest (or lack thereof) for station. Among other things, a bourgeois world view denies the central importance of class oppression and the need for working class unity and struggle across racial and other lines. Seen this way, I sense that the word bourgeois applies fairly well to Ta-Nehisi Coates. The economic aspect is obvious. He’s moved his family to Paris, with help from a recent $625,000 no-strings-attached “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. His book royalties are no doubt impressive. No, he’s not remotely as rich as world’s 80 wealthiest people…Still, the man is well off…More importantly and far more significantly for the purposes of this essay, why does Coates devalue the “the question [of] whether Lincoln truly meant government of the people?”…The problem here is Coates’ remarkably class-blind, overly identity-politicized bourgeois thinking and his related ignorance of the history of class relations and their centrality to the crucial problem that quite understandably concerns him: racial oppression…What’s all this “class stuff” got to do with the vital topic on which the award-winning writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates focus – racial oppression and racist violence in America? Quite a bit, to say the least…All through American history, moreover…the nation’s capitalist elites have played the Machiavellian game of racial divide and rule to keep the nation’s working class majority down…Coates demonstrates no concern for an essential point: the white working class majority has paid a terrible price for American racism. The wages of whiteness have been very low indeed. And that makes his reflections on contemporary U.S. racial oppression racism and what might be done about it miserably partial and inadequate. He does not see or, perhaps, care that reparations of a kind are due to most of the populace and will have to be pursed through democratic-socialist transformation…I am not sure how well Coates understands contemporary racism even on his own cynical and/or impoverished class-blind terms. Coates’ emphasis on the racial positive…of the disastrous…neoliberal Obama experience at the end of the day is related to his bourgeois position and bubble…not to mention the corporate media, including a regular literary pulpit at the conservative and neoliberal Atlantic. His bourgeois experience and mindset can’t help but bias him towards a positive judgement on the racial meaning of the Obama years.”

Not only does Street’s analysis spot-on but it is telling about Coates. It seems from his description that Coates is a privileged, “bougie” individual who ultimately has a bourgeois position in seclusion in France and defends the Obama administration but is not a petite bourgeoisie individual, unless his writing counts as “labor power,” and is not part of the bourgeoisie proper. Yet, but not analyzing class he is perpetrating bourgeois nationalism.

Coates misses the boat on Sanders

Coates recently wrote an article which supposedly criticizes moderate imperialist Bernie Sanders for rejecting reparations but actually accepts the idea Sanders is radical, which makes no sense to any sensible observer. He declares that Sanders, who calls for investment in rebuilding cities and making colleges and universities have free tuition, among other ideas, is ridiculous, saying this spectacle, as he calls it, “is only rivaled by the implausibility of Sanders posing as a pragmatist.” He then dismisses Sanders’s ideas as ridiculous ones that would never pass Congress, falling into the idea that there can ONLY be the “politics of the possible.” From here, Coates then says Sanders is “the candidate of partisanship and radicalism” not the “candidate of moderation and unification.” Additionally, he claims that “radicals expand the political imagination and, hopefully, prevent incrementalism from becoming a virtue” despite the fact that neither Sanders nor himself is NOT radical in the slightest. He goes on to claim that “Sanders’s radicalism has failed in the ancient fight against white supremacy” and almost if not, implies that Hillary Clinton has better approach, which is ridiculous. Coates then declares that what he calls the “class first” approach is wrong, “originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible” and implying that raising the minimum wage and making college free are “socialist” proposals when they are NOT at all. In fact, even Obama at one point sorta proposed making community college free. Such ideas are NOT radical but are actually mainstream. Coates is basically saying that socialists don’t understand race which is just ridiculous and unfounded. Coates then goes on to complain that housing discrimination and affirmative action are not addressed in the ““racial justice” section of Sanders platform.” I’m not sure what Coates expects of a moderate imperialist who comes from one of the whitest states in America, which could be an example of what some have called a whitopia. So, no wonder he is horrible when it comes to policies supposedly for improving the state of the black community.

Coates then claims that Sanders is a “candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument.” Oh and Hillary Clinton does? Come on. He goes on to say that “from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and government…repeatedly plundered black communities,” which is accurate. However, class is STILL not mentioned. If this isn’t enough, Coates says that “Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy” despite the fact they he was already confronted with by two black female protesters months ago who interrupted a rally in Seattle. Coates then goes on to claim that if “if not even an avowed socialist can be bothered to grapple with reparations…if this is the candidate of the radical left—then expect white supremacy in America to endure well beyond our lifetimes and lifetimes of our children.” He is not only wrong that Sanders is part of the radical left but he is not recognizing that underground/”hidden” racism exists in Western societies, like the United States, and that as long as there are active white supremacists, like the militia members in Oregon, then such white supremacy will continue as a part of society. He then claims that reparations is the only way to fight white supremacy:

“It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy. One cannot propose to plunder a people, incur a moral and monetary debt, propose to never pay it back, and then claim to be seriously engaging in the fight against white supremacy.”

While one could say that is rational, in the last lines of this article he inflates his ego to ridiculous proportions as any sensible person would realize:

“My hope was to talk to Sanders directly, before writing this article. I reached out repeatedly to his campaign over the past three days. The Sanders campaign did not respond.”

Not only is Coates acting like the Sanders campaign doesn’t care and is callous but he is showcasing his supposed self-importance, which doesn’t actually exist.

Then there was an article in the right-leaning The Week promoted by Rania Khalek as a “corrective” to Coates by Ryan Cooper, a correspondent who falsely claimed that Sanders was “pretty far to Clinton’s left,” promotes The Intercept (also see here), and was, and I quote, “a die-hard Obama partisan for a solid year [after the 2008 election]…[I] would have done whatever he asked[.]” That comment by Cooper doesn’t sound very democratic, it sounds pretty authoritarian. But that’s me.

Anyway, its important to talk about Cooper’s article. He writes that Coates, who he claimed is “perhaps the most famous and respected black writer in America” took Sanders to task for “failing to support reparations for slavery” but also claimed that it was a chance for Sanders to “clarify the deep reach of his brand of redistributive policy” and a chance “for Coates to reconsider his rather hasty dismissal of socialism itself.” These ideas presume once again that Sanders is radical when he is not and that Coates is receptive to socialism when he is clearly NOT. Cooper pointed out, as those such as Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report have noted, that Coates doesn’t actually define “what reparations would look like” and in his “case for reparations” article two years ago he “barely even gestured at how an actual reparations policy would be constructed,” with no clarifications since. Cooper then goes into different figures for reparations and claims that slavery is “a crime so vast that it would be impossible to provide restitution of similar magnitude without dismantling the entire country,” implying it is impossible and that others who were oppressed would get reparations. This seems a bit far-fetched considering that Japanese-Americans already received reparations for the racist crime of internment during World War II. Beyond this, Cooper says that it is a problem for Coates to use “Sanders as a stand-in for the radical left” since Sanders’s “favored policies are right in line with the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.” He also says that a “true program of democratic socialism…could unquestionably serve as a part of an ongoing positive force against racism” and would “ensure that black Americans are getting an equal cut of its current fruits,” which sounds like something that Sanders would say on the campaign trail. Cooper ends his article by saying that Sanders shouldn’t have “lightly brushed off reparations as a topic” but that his proposal was “far better than Coates gives it credit for” and that “race-neutral redistribution and welfare are by necessity anti-racist. Full democratic socialism would be even more promising.” While this sounds great, the fact is that Cooper doesn’t seem like much of a radical himself even if he self-identifies as such, like Sanders himself.

A much better article criticizing Coates is by Bruce Dixon in Black Agenda Report. He not only sarcastically says that Coates “lives in France, and earns his keep dispensing timely wisdom upon us all from across the water” but says that since his 2014 piece, “Coates is presumably qualified to speak on the subject.” But that’s not all. Dixon criticizes Coates for not mentioning Clinton’s anti-reparations views, “that the Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein does endorse reparations,” and says Coates’s piece is hallow. He goes on to say that by Coates repeating “nonsense claims that that socialists can’t see white supremacy” will discourage blacks from interest in socialism. Dixon then helpfully says that Coates’s “weekly dose of disinformation” comes in three parts: “[1.] stay away from Bernie cause he ain’t for reparations…[2.] look out for those socialists too, cause they make a point of ignoring and denying the role of white supremacy…[3.] Bernie Sanders didn’t return my call to explain himself” which he says is “pretty lazy stuff” even for “conventional neoliberal wisdom.” Then Dixon has perhaps the best words of his piece, saying that not only is Sanders not a socialist but that Coates is totally wrong:

“In the real world, not the fantasies of Mr. Coates, Bernie Sanders is no kind of socialist. Socialists stand for the working class, the poor, the common man and woman regardless of nation and color. Bernie’s socialism stops at the water’s edge, as he endorses apartheid in Israel, the Pentagon budget and the global empire of hundreds US bases and vast military industries that eat half the nation’s wealth annually. This makes Bernie no friend of the poor anyplace outside the US and not so much the friend of the poor inside it either, really no kind of socialist at all. Bernie know this, and has rarely if ever called himself one in recent years. But he allows, even encourages us to call him that this year because socialism is popular, even though Ta Nehesi Coates thinks it should not be. As long as they keep paying Mr. Coates, we’ll be treated to more of his very conventional wisdom. Get read for it.”

Coates’s sad defense of himself and racial castes

In a recent article, Coates basically attacked those who criticized him on his article about reparations, but didn’t mention Black Agenda Report of course. He claims that he “did offer some details on the proposals which have been put forth by scholars over the years” and supported “John Conyers’s H.R. 40 bill, which proposed to study slavery and its legacy, and to determine whether reparations were feasible.” From here, Coates claimed that “this did not stop people from demanding specifics,” especially from those who don’t believe in it, that his case for reparations was centered on “actual living African Americans who’d been wronged, well within living memory,” and that a vast majority of white America “opposed reparations in all forms” in a 2014 poll. Coates then flouts his self-importance again, saying his article, “The Case For Reparations” meant to “counter” such ideas and that “curious” readers are willing to agree with him, apparently.

This isn’t all Coates writes. He criticizes Kevin Drum, a writer for Mother Jones, and declares that unlike Drum, who says that “problem with the bringing pirates to justice is the distribution system,” he believes that “the problem is piracy itself, and grand piracy always extends beyond the act of theft. It requires the construction of an elaborate architecture to either justify the theft, or to justify non-compensation for the theft.” Before going on, this indicates that Coates cares about the effects of racism, but not institutionalized racism which is a vital part of the American and global capitalist system. Coates then says that considering reparations has a “potential to expand the American political imagination” and claims that he wants people to imagine more, implying that socialism is just a wacko conception concocted by crazies:

“And in this sense the conversation ends right where it began: Liberals and radicals see no problem imagining a socialist presidency. They do not demand specific details of how single-payer health care, free public-college tuition, and the break-up of big banks would make it through a Republican Congress. They are not wrong. God bless them and their radical imagination. I mean it. I just want them to imagine more.”

Let me add here that I will not take a position for or against reparations. I need more information before deciding either way. However, it is important to point out Coates’s arguments in order to engender futrher discussion.

At this point, it is key to introduce a term proposed by social historian Peter Levy in his wonderful book about civil rights activities in Cambridge, Maryland during the 1960s and beyond, called Civil War on Race Street. This term is racial caste. Levy writes on page 11, in the first chapter, the following:

“[During the pre-Civil War period,] Cambridge developed into a racially caste-based society, with whites acquiring a sense of caste superiority over both enslaved and free blacks. I use the term caste rather than simply race because caste better captures the way in which individuals are born with a specific status in society, a status they inherit and cannot alter no matter their individual merits…[in the post-Civil War period]…caste did not disappear…[but] class distinctions became just as important in the life of the community. The term class is best understood as depicting socioeconomic relationships between distinct groups of people. Theoretically, one’s class, unlike one’s caste, can change, and the line between working class and middle class remained family permeable…[in the post-WWII period]…an assortment of forces…destabilized the community and paved a way for a challenging of traditional caste and class relations”

I mention this because the term racial caste can be used in the modern American context and can serve as a corrective to Coates’s purportedly “racially aware” but class-blind analysis of current racial relations. It is also important to challenge Coates’s idea and that perpetrated by too many: the black-white paradigm which presupposes that blacks and whites are the ONLY major races in America. In fact, the US Census declares that there are at least five races: (1) White; (2) Black; (3) American Indian and Alaska Native (overarching category); (4) Asian (overarching category); (5) Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (overarching category). Then there’s Hispanic and Latino, ethnic group labels produced to benefit certain constituencies but hurt radical efforts of unification during the 1960s and 1970s, with millions under that category. At minimum, this could be expanded to include three other groups which are arguably races: Mexican (also called Chicano, bronze race, or Mexican-Americam), Puerto Rican, and Cuban.

Coates praises Obama as a wonderous icon

There are a number of pieces in which Coates praised Obama, despite what some crusty defender, a supposed radical, claimed. I noted these in a number of tweets where I screencaped pieces of this nature (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). These pieces are not surprising when you consider that Coates is high level enough to be read by Obama, who seems to recognize his importance to the bourgeoisie.

The first article worth mentioning is a 2007 piece titled “Is Obama Black Enough?” In the piece, Coates almost seemed disappointed that Obama would not call for reparations but he also declared that “Obama is biracial, and has a direct connection with Africa. He is articulate, young and handsome,” implying his support. Beyond this, Coates said that Obama’s biracialness “opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man” but that his “foreign ancestry could not prevent his wallet from morphing into a gun in the eyes of the police.” Coates then declared that “African-Americans meet other intelligent, articulate African-Americans all the time” who run for elections, and then declared strangely that “Obamania is rooted in the belief that 50 Cent, not Barack Obama, represents the real black America.” This also denies that the black community has a rich history and implies it is dominated by commercialism and/or is hallow. If that wasn’t enough, Coates implicitly defended Obama’s work as a “community organizer” in Chicago and that claimed that Obama was not only given”the escape valve of biraciality” but unnerves “many small-minded racists,” who he claims can be white or black. Before going further, this means he is saying, whether he wants to, that “reverse racism” is real and that racism isn’t a system of oppression. Anyway, the last line of the article is most telling: “Barack Obama’s real problem isn’t that he’s too white — it’s that he’s too black.” This observation is a bit odd but also goes along with the rest of the article by whitewashing Obama’s neoliberalism and/or the PR aspect of the Obama campaign itself.

Then, there’s a 2014 article titled “The Champion Barack Obama.” The article praises Obama as one of the best icons based off a profile in The New Yorker by David Remnick. What he wrote is revealing:

“I have tried to get my head around what he represents. Two years ago, I would have said that whatever America’s roots in white supremacy, the election of a black president is a real thing, worthy of celebration, a sign of actual progress. I would have pointed out that you should not expect a black head of state in any other Western country any time soon, and that this stands as singular accolade in the long American democratic tradition. Today, I’m less certain about national accolades. I’m not really sure that a writer—whose whole task is the attempt to see clearly—can afford such attachments.”

The fact that Coates is admitting he would have been more of an Obamabot only two years before, in 2012, is disturbing. Even considering my own experience, I was critical of Obama in a number of ways by then. I think it is important to make an admission here. I canvassed for Obama in Philadelphia with my liberal/progressive parents during the 2008 election and was optimistic about him despite my support of John Edwards about the “two Americas” (poor and rich). Let me say before someone jumps on me that, I was highly naive (and politically ignorant) about the particularities of politics and the capitalist system. Not anymore! As the years went by, my support of Obama slipped away as I became disillusioned. My criticism started early on, with critical articles even in 2010, it increased in 2011 with my anger at him for supporting an imperialist war in Libya after which I dedicated myself to opposing an future imperial interventions, and in 2012 the criticism hardened, even voting for a socialist for president that year. Then, while I’ve been in college, from 2012 to the present my radicalism and anger at Obama has increased to the point that I detest him. I refuse to be pulled into such a deception like the 2008 Obama campaign and want to serve as a person who counters anyone who tries to peddle such bullshit again. While I transformed from a naive liberal to a critical progressive and then an independent radical, Coates DID NOT do this.

Anyway, back to Coates’s piece. He claims that if you say that blacks are American then “America is, itself, a black country in a way that the other European countries are not,” however, this is a strange idea because America has NEVER been a black country but has actually been a multiracial one, a white-dominated one since its inception. Coates goes on to tell about some history here and there which he clearly cherypicked for his own purposes. If this isn’t enough, Coates claims that Obama and his family are an icon of goodness with his presidency was possible because of “the tradition of black politics”:

“In a literal sense, Barack Obama’s presidency was made possible by the tradition of black politics—he could not have won in 2008 without the proportional allocation that came out of Jesse Jackson’s campaign 20 years before…Barack Obama was not prophecy. Whatever had been laid before him, it takes gifted hands to operate, repeatedly, on a country scarred by white supremacy. The significance of the moment comes across, not simply in policy, by in the power of symbolism. I don’t expect, in my lifetime, to again see a black family with the sheer beauty of Obama’s on such a prominent stage….I don’t expect to see a black woman [Michelle Obama] exuding the kind of humanity you see here on such a prominent stage ever again….I don’t ever expect to see a black man of such agile intelligence as the current president put before the American public ever again.”

 

 

While many radical critics and sensible people were aware of Obama’s deceptions at this time, or even his imperialistic and neoliberal policy, Coates still claims that this symbolism is important, not understanding how it can be destructive. Coates then claims that Obama as a result of such symbolism “becomes a champion of black imagination, of black dreams and black possibilities” which is deeply scary if you believe. I even think that Cornel West would concur with my assessment of Coates. Coates then asks a number of goofy questions, one of which is “how does a black writer approach The Man when The Man is not just us, but the Champion of our ambitions?” and NEVER asserts that the color of someone’s skin, and perception of them due to their skin color, shouldn’t determine how much one criticizes them.

Coates continues on by acting like he is criticizing Obama for “addressing “personal responsibility” and then gives three examples to “prove” that W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Malcolm X are “wrong.” For Malcolm X, he claims “he knew the game was rigged. He did not know how much.” This is just absurd and ridiculous. While one could criticize Malcolm X for his masculinism as scholars like Steve Estes have done, Coates doesn’t even attempt any real criticism other than a snide remark. Then, Coates claims that that “no black people boo when the president talks about personal responsibility. On the contrary, it’s often the highlight of his speeches on race” which IGNORES the criticisms on Black Agenda Report on this very issue! From here, Coates gives a personal story and defends Obama talking about personal responsibility:

“When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever.”

 

This contrasts starkly with what Glen Ford pointed out in a 2013 article on Black Agenda Report in words that still ring true today:

“To put it bluntly, the First Black President gave a very good standup impression of a racist white man…According to Obama, Black folks lost their way when “legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior.”…But, like any cheapwhite politician, Obama spews a mouthful of bile and then moves on to the next rant. Obama bemoans that, at some unspecified point in the Black struggle the “transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination.”…he must have been talking about Black militants of some sort. But he won’t say, preferring to leave his meaning to the audience’s imagination. Then Obama moved in for the big slap-down: “What had once been a call for equality of opportunity,” said Obama, “the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead, was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.” In that one, long sentence, Obama resurrects Ronald Reagan’s phantom armies of “Welfare Queens”; he appears to be taking a cheap swipe at calls for Black reparations…Obama puts the onus squarely on Blacks for destroying the promise of racial harmony…: “All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided.” That’s right: Obama blames Black people for messing up his America”

Coates goes back to praising Obama by saying that “there are many kinds of personal responsibility,” claiming that Obama should be responsible for giving Medcaid expansions to certain states under Obamacare (which was basically removed by the Supreme Court), “for the end of this era of mass incarceration” and destroying white supremacy despite the fact that the last two have NOT  happened. Coates then declares that Obama, the person who declared that American can kill and bomb who it wants in the world from time to time, is someone to be revered and is “rational”:

“And I struggle to get my head around all of this. There are moments when I hear the president speak and I am awed. No other resident of the White House, could have better explained to America what the George Zimmerman verdict meant. And I think history will remember that, and remember him for it. But I think history will also remember his unquestioning embrace of “twice as good” in a country that has always given black people, even under his watch, half as much.”

If any of his article is disgusting it would be this part. It just makes my stomach churn.

Ending on a good note

I could focus on two other articles by Coates, one on Bernie Sanders and another on Hillary Clinton. However I think I’ve written enough here worthy of analysis. I will say that some told me on the twitterverse that Obama reading Coates isn’t a surprise, that he has “echoed some awful anticom [anti-communist] agriprop,” and glad that someone was criticizing Coates. There are a number of points still worth noting. One of these is Coates’s relation with Daniel P. Moynihan. In a tweet from last fall referring to this articlehe declared that “Moynihan needs no rehab from me. Moynihan’s view won. It was Clinton’s view. it’s Obama’s view.” This relates with what RedKahina argued around the same time: “Coates is perfectly Zizekian, indeed a rearticulation of Moynihan, with “Obviously I’m not racist, but…” appended.”

In order to show how problematic this is, it is important to explain a little about Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy Planning and Research, and his 1965 report as noted in Estes’s book, I Am a Man!. In the book, Estes writes that President LBJ first included Moynihan’s arguments in a speech which was praised by civil rights leaders but later led to media controversy (pp. 107). In the report, Moynihan said the government had “a responsibility to provide equal result in jobs, housing, and education” which sounds good except that he emphasized a “crumbling” black family structure among the poor, focused on “systematic weakening of the position of the Negro male” in US society, and believed that black family breakdown was “the principal cause” of delinquency and urban violence in poor black communities, often called ghettoes (pp. 107-8). Additionally, the report had recommendations such as a welfare allowance for families with both parents present, full employment for black men if even some females have to be displaced, more opportunities for black males to serve in the armed forces, and “wider public dissemination of birth control materials” (pp. 108). While some of these proposals may seem attractive to readers, it is important to recognize that the report was a way to counter “obstacles to black manhood” in America, counter supposed “welfare dependency,” and accepted black male patriarchal domination of the family (pp. 108). Estes’s later comments make Moynihan’s report seem even worse. He points out that the report claimed that black men suffered more from racism “than black women,” and that strains on black families created “a tangle of pathology” with examples such as a matriarchal family structure (i.e. black women controlling the household) which he claimed was “so out of line with the rest of American society [that it] seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole” and imposes “crushing” burdens on black men and women (pp. 111-2). Moynihan also argued that a solution to black unemployment was more military recruitment, basically meaning he wanted more blacks, and other minorities, to die in service of the imperialist war machine (pp. 113, 124). As anyone of sense knows, the military should not be a job service for the poor and unfortunate. Still, even some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., endorsed the report, at least initially, saying almost laughably that black males existed in a patriarchal society but were “subordinate in a matriarchy” (pp. 119). I could go on and mention how people interpreted the report as a response to the Watts uprising when it wasn’t really intended that way and debates over other solutions to the condition of the black community. However, it is important to note that Moynihan believed that the answer to improving such a condition lay in “providing black men the economic foundation to exercise patriarchal power in their families and political power in society,” an argument which was seem as an effective “antipoverty policy” by the Johnson administration at the time (pp. 125, 128). All of these ideas matter because “Moynihan’s thesis about the importance of the family” gained a new life in “conservative circles” and was pushed by Republican leaders such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, allowing them to attack and stereotype black people (pp. 129).

While Moynihan is not necessarily responsible for this shift, the report itself is important to mention considering Coates’s interest in him. This “interest” includes some mild criticism, claiming that Moynihan wasn’t blaming black people, and mocking conservatives who like him. In none of his tweets, which are noted here, does Coates challenge the patriarchal assumptions of Moynihan’s report. This was even the case in a September 2015 article on this topic in which he declared that Moynihan was subjected to “unfair” criticism but admitted that “Moynihan’s central idea—that the problems of families are key to ending the problems of poverty—dominates the national discourse today.” In addition, Coates claims that “mass incarceration is built on a long history of viewing black people as unequal in general, and criminal in the specific,” which is true but IGNORES its connection to capitalism or as a form of social control. To his credit, Coates does criticize Moynihan for going along with Nixon’s racist assumptions about blacks and criminality but then he claims that “I almost had the sense that Moynihan was trying to trick Nixon into embracing liberal policy…Moynihan used the rhetoric of black criminalization, even in arguing for government aid.” Coates then jumps over the quote, as mentioned earlier, about displacing “some females” and offers no analysis despite the fact that this shows an ingrained patriarchal mindset. In the last paragraph of his piece Coates has a weird aura of respect for Moynihan which is deeply disturbing and words about mass incarceration which are weird to say the least:

“…[After researching for the past year] I came away with tremendous respect for his intelligence, his foresight and his broad, ranging curiosity…The story of mass incarceration, of American racism, is not simply a story of evil racists. It is also the story of people trying to help. And it is also the story of these same people not fully understanding the ugly traditions alive in their own country. Black criminalization is such a tradition and when Moynihan employed it he was playing with fire. Others got burned.”

I personally don’t know how people who helped put in place mass incarceration, whether they realized it or not, can be considered “people trying to help” the black community. That doesn’t even make sense.

Then, there is a 2010 article which disgraced celebrity left personality Shaun King, even criticized by another personality, a neoliberal egoist named Deray, referenced in deleted tweet, which I responded to at the time:

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In this article, Coates argued against reparations but also went even further. What he said has some implications of denying transatlantic slavery’s connections to capitalism, noted in books like Eric Williams’s famed book, Capitalism and Slavery, and violating the Africa continent (which some have called “raping”) as a whole:

“…The most notable aspect of Gates original PBS piece…is a kind of crude black nationalism in reverse. The crude nationalist asserts that slavery was a white racist plot…Gates implicitly asserts that in trading slaves, Africans somehow violated a common, fraternal “African” spirit…The crude nationalist and Gates come out blaming different people, but both commit the fallacy of judging the sins of the past via the racial tribalism of today…The vocabulary of blame is key–instead of speciously blaming  white Americans for the crimes of their presumed ancestors, Gates speciously blames Africans…Presumably blame is key for Gates because he wants to discuss reparations. Why reparations is relevant right now, and why Obama should involve himself in a discussion on the subject, is never actually explained…To put it differently, I am not concerned about gender equality because I think I’m to blame thousands of years of sexism, I’m concerned about  gender equality because it matches my moral center. Blame is irrelevant…I don’t support reparations, I support all people grappling with all aspects of American history…One of the few things I know is this–Blame is useless to me. Blame is for the dead.”

Yikes! This is utterly vile by not only perpetrating stereotypes about Africa (“racial tribalism” for example) but also acting like one can only deal with issues in the present but NOT have a historical basis or blame people for them happening. It is horrible. There really isn’t much else I can say.

To close out, I’d like to say that Club de Cordeliers has a number of resources, which he shared with me (and are noted in this search), in which he criticizes Coates. There isn’t a whole lot there, but what is there is sizable and of importance. I can assure readers I will look at these articles that Cordeliers highlighted in a future piece. For now, I can say is that this article is beginning a needed critique of an intellectual who gets too much slack from people who should know better.