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Republicans, the Republic, and the Imperial Presidency: Clinton's Impeachment Mar. 1st, 2008 @ 08:07 am
In The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans, William R. Everdell points out the stark contrast between the reaction of Congress to Ronald Reagan's undermining of the Constitution through his funding of a "private" terrorist war in Central America (called "the Iran-Contra" scandal, though that is a misnomer) and the reaction to President Bill Clinton's lies about his own personal sexual affairs.

Twelve years after Iran-Contra, the issue of presidential power came up again, only this time Congress actually voted to impeach. This time the president was chief of the Democratic Party and the party of impeachment was the Republican, the party that had once endorsed Reagan. Small "r" republicans, one might think, should have been pleased at the Republican initiative, and the more republican they were, the less pleased one should have expected them to be that the impeachment process, which the Framers designed to check monarchical tendencies in the executive branch, had not proceeded all the way to conviction by the Senate. In the main, however, republicans disageed with Republicans . . .

Why was this so? Was it because the impeachment of William Clinton turned out badly, like that of Andrew Johnson in 1868 thus tarnishing the impeachment tool? This theory is unlikely is unlikely because the Senate's failure to convict Johnson did not, in fact, prevent impeachment from "working." Its effect was to cast an impeachment shadow over every subsequent presidency, and not until Grover Cleveland did a president indulge in the kind of unilateral action that had been characteristic of Lincoln and [Andrew] Johnson.


Everdell then points out reasons why other presidents should have been impeached but weren't. Lying, obstruction of justice, and aggrandisement of executive power are grounds for impeachment if the idea of the Republican form of goverrnment has any meaning. Going to war by executive order is grounds for impeachment if you adhere to the ideology of republicanism. There are very few republicans left in the commanding heights of the Republic. For republicans executive power is suspicious by its nature. In this light one might ponder the non-existence of republicanism in the Republican party. For a conservative republican the idea of the Imperial Presidency should be considered an abomination. By any definitiion, there have been very few leaders of the Republican Party since Thaddeus Stevens who have actually been republicans, and there have been very few leaders of the Republican Party since Robert Taft who have even tried to be conservative republicans. The name of "The Republican Party" has become like one of those real estate developments or geriatric care centers that are named Pine Estates or Lake View to make up for the complete lack of pine trees or lake views.

The impeachment tool was invented to curb the monarchical tendencies of executive power. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, Federalists and anti-Federalists alike argued over whether their were enough safe-guards against the presidency turning into an elected monarchy, no matter for how limited a time. The thrust of Hamilton's arguments in Federalist #67 and #69 was that there were plenty of limits on executive power in the Constitution and impeachment was one of them. Hamilton, who was in favor of a strong executive, seemed to believe that Congress would be vigilant in protecting the Constitution from the president. There is evidence that the framers of the Constitution thought that impeachment and the subsequent trial would not be an exceptional tool but a threat that could be used to keep the president from over-reaching. Later this was certainly the view of the radicals in the Republican Party during the period of Reconstruction. Thaddeus Stevens believed that any excessive exercise of presidential power or refusal to use the executive branch to institute the laws passed by Congress should be an impeachable offense. Presidential lying to one of the other branches and to the citizens of the Republic should be impeachable in principle. Congress, as a separate branch of government, a branch of government entailed to protect the people from the monarchical tendencies of the executive, should use impeachment, trial, and conviction to curb such misdeamenors of the President as lying to the other branches of government and to the citizenry. So why, Everdell asks, did most consistent republicans consider the use of the impeachment tool against Clinton, who lied and obstructed justice, a misuse that brought discredit to the idea of impeachment? Everdell then compares Nixon's crimes to Clinton's crimes:

[I]f President Clinton obstructed justice, in the manner alleged by the House, it can only have been in order to avoid prosecution for perjury in a civil suit brought against him personally - a perjury alleged under a legal definition which his testimony hardly met - and Clinton seems to have scrupulously avoided using the public powers of his office to fend it off. By contrast, Nixon obstructed justice in order to cover up illegal activities deliberately designed and undertaken in order to undermine the constitutional powers of the other branches of government, and thus ultimately undermining the powers of the people who made that government in the first place. Moreover, he used the statutory powers of his own office to do it. Clinton's wongdoing, in other words, was a private offense, whose victim, if any, was an individual. Nixon's wrongdoing was public; its victim was not only the people but their polity. Nixon's was therefore a crime against republican government; and Clinton's was not. Widespread inability in 1998-99 to make the distinciton between these two kinds of wrongdoing was an indication that the republican concept of political "virtue" had changed its meaning. Many on both sides of the debate, it seemed, had lost sight of the public interest and a few had even lost the capacity to deploy the very concept of the 'public good.'

Reagan's activities, too, and those of his loyal appointees, had struck a blow at republican government. . . . Reagan's wrongdoing, too, was constitutional rather than criminal, not private but public. Fundamental to all these presidential cases is a confusion between private and public, personalities and powers, that still threates the Constitution; and the impeachment of President Clinton began by making that confusion worse.


The tradition of consistent republicanism, not to say radical republicanism (both in the post-civil war Republican Party version and in the revolutionary tradition of John Milton or Thomas Paine) was once a good bourgeois tradition. It could even be considered a tradition of a section of the capitalist ruling classes. There are perhaps still a few who are rooted in this tradition --Gore Vidal comes to mind -- but it is hard to think of prominent intellectuals or capitalists that consider themselves consistent or radical republicans in this old idea of the virtue of the commonweal, res publica, the public thing.

Why has radical republicanism so thoroughly disappeared from the Republic that was at one time its modern emblem? Part of the story has to do with the rise of industrialism and the modern working class. As the socialists used to say and as was recognized even by Romantics such as Percy Shelley, it is the working class that inherited the tradition of radical republicanism. The demand for universal suffrage for all men and women became a working class demand and along with it came the idea that the economy itself was part of the commonweal. The economy was a social as well as a political good.

But this is not the part of the story I want to concentrate on. Proudhon, Marx, and Engels long ago told this story much better than I can ever tell it. They understood the decline of radical republicanism among the creators of modern republicans from a socialist and class point of view. But I think it is useful to briefly assume the world view of an Old Roman Tribune. I don't mean a famous tribune such as Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus or Marcus Livius Drusus, the kind you read about in the history books who sought to reform the Roman Repubic, in the teeth of the rulers in the Senate, for its own good These tribunes were surely good republicans and deserve our respect. What I am thinking of is the kind of tribune who fought the everyday fight for the independence of the plebs as a group and gave protection to all those who were unjustly (and sometimes justly) accused of crimes. Think of Radical Republicanism from the Old Tribune's point of view and try to translate that ideology to our time.

What the Old Tribune would see is the following: The constitutional Republic has become a vast empire and in order to control an empire there is a need for a standing army that can respond anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. In order to control this standing army a strong executive authority is required. Thus the imperial presidency grows with every expansion of U.S. military and economic dominance in the world. The Old Tribune will understand that in order to protect economic dominance military dominance must follow. Economic dominance is either protected directly through domestically raised military forces that are then stationed at foreign bases or is maintained indirectly through client state military regimes that are bought and supplied. The Old Tribune would understand that a strong executive is needed for both of these kinds of regimes of military protection. In other words he would understand the rise of the Imperial Presidency quite well. If the Old Tribune had survived a bit into the Principate of Caesar Augustus he would also understand how a Republic can maintain its outward form but at the same time come to be ruled by a strong Imperial Executive. From the Old Tribune's view it would be easy to see that that is what we have now.

The Old Tribune would find it harder to understand other aspects of our political and social system. The existence of the business institutions we call corporations does not have any easy analogy with business groupings in the Roman Republic. The nearest he could come to by way of analogy would be the publicans and the colleges of business groups. But as far as legal relations are concern the idea of the Pater Familias combined with the Publicani and Colleges (collegia opificum) would be closer to the mark for the Old Tribune. For then the Tribune would see the enormity of the power of the modern Corporation. The biggest modern multinaional corporations are bigger than all but the biggest States. The multinationals corporations act as if they have their own special sovereignty. In this sense corporations are like heads of families in the Roman Republic. Each head of a family had his own sovereign domain separate from Res Publica, just as each corporation has its own legal domain separate from the commonweal. But the difference is that there is nothing "personal" about a corporation and nothing to stop it from growing immensely big. In this way a modern corporation will look to the Old Tribune something like an impersonal separate sovereignty, a Pater Familias without moral compunction, a combination of publicani with legal sovereignty, and a huge power center with separate loyalties like one of Caesars' armies.

Now if the Old Tribune comes to that realization he will understand what has happened to the Republic. It has disappeared under overlaying sets of separate sovereignties (i.e. corporations) and the overarching Imperial Presidency that has become necessary to protect the economic domination of those separate sovereignties. The Old Tribune would tell us that we no longer have much of a Republic.

Bringing this note back to the impeachment of Clinton. Strangely, the impeachment of Clinton had the effect of strengthening the Imperial Presidency, not weakening it. The one salutary effect of the Nixon presidency was to make the idea of impeaching a president a viable alternative that could limit presidential action. There was what might be called "A Watergate Syndrome" that was analogous to "The Vietnam Syndrome." The Reaganites, among them Cheney and Rumsfeld, spent much of the 1980s arguing for an expansion of presidential power and a full return to the imperial presidency. They blamed the "Vietnam Syndrome" on the fact that the U.S. president could not bomb and invade at will, but they also blamed the "weakness" of the presidency and Watergate, on the fact that the President could not ignore Congress at will. One unintended but welcomed consequence of the Clinton impeachment proceedings was to trivilize impeachment as a tool of republicanism. Bill Clinton was an imperial president. There is no way that a president can lead this country with its military reach without acting like an imperial president. But he was too nice of an imperial president. He believed in cooperation with Congress and with European allies. This was not the kind of President that they wanted at all. How to hurt such a preseident without hurting the furture of the Imperial Presidency? By diligent displacement of problems of personality onto questions of power; by a substitution of the trivial of the private for the good of the public.

As for those of us who still consider ourselves in the revolutionary tradition (republican or socialist, bourgeois or working class) we can at least honor the ideal of republicanism of those such as Thaddeus Stevens. Let us do so by imagining a counterfactual for U.S. history. Thaddeus Stevens and his supporters succeed in convicting Andrew Johnson in the Senate. The precedent is established that "advise and consent" over members of the president's cabinet gives congress a great amount of power over how those cabinet members exercise their duties. The President's cabinet, including the Secretaries of War and of State serve at the behest of congress. In such a situation no president would be able to make an end run around congress and go to war without an official declaration of war. Such a situation would resemble a parliamentary system with the President as elected figure head, more than an Imperial Presidency.



1 March 2008
New York City



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Defend Creative Protest: 29 students punished after paying for $2 lunches with pennies Feb. 29th, 2008 @ 05:22 pm
29 students punished after paying for $2 lunches with pennies
2/29/2008, 2:13 p.m. ET


READINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J.

Readington Township school officials gave 29 students detention after they used pennies to pay for their $2 lunches.

Superintendent Jorden Schiff says it started out as a prank. But as the eighth-graders began to get in trouble for taking up so much time, it turned into a protest about Thursday's shortened lunch period.

Schiff says the students were punished for holding up their peers and disrespecting lunch aides.

Schiff says some parents think a two-day detention went too far and others think it wasn't enough.

The school says it wants students to know they can express themselves without disrupting other people.


On the contrary the students were expressing themselves in a way that was nonviolent and creative and we should be proud of them. The students should be rewarded for their creative protest. In a democratic society we would promote, encourage, and honor such protests as a way for the otherwise powerless to promote their interest within the commonweal. These creative ways of getting bosses and authorities to listens, people who rarely listen to those less powerful than they are, should be taught to children as part of their preparation for citizenship.

As far as the story itself is concerned I have a few questions for the reporters: Were the students interviewed? Why should we take the word of the authority who metes out punishment? Why not ask the kids for their side? How long was the lunch period? How long does it normally take kids to get lunch and eat it?

Of course I know the reason why the kids weren't asked to contribute to this story. Their opinion really doesn't count. This is a small story and it is easier to get the story from the official, the bureaucrat, the authority or the boss, than to do the foot work and write the story as it should be written. The Associated Press certainly doesn't have the resources. But shouldn't some local paper have the resources? Shouldn't someone at least post the story of the kids on their weblog? Anyone out there in cyberspace know these kids? If you do interview them and post their stories. Maybe we have a couple of future union organizers among them.

So maybe the lunch period should be longer. And maybe the lunch should be free.
music: Karma Police - Radiohead

Pragmatism at the NYT: Reading the Newspaper Feb. 25th, 2008 @ 06:54 pm
The New York Times is very polite. Out right lies only come in the heat of the moment. The issues are framed so that all reasonable men and women can agree on the basic issues: that peace is a good thing, except when war is necessary; that the moderates should always be supported, because the radicals are always on the wrong side, and strangely, moderates always turn into radicals when they don't support the United States; that "pragmatism" is the world-view of the realistic politician, except when cynicism turns the pragmatist into a corrupt or radical supporter of our enemies; that the new era is always better than the old era where mistakes were made that we could not avoid, but luckily those bad things don't happen anymore; that torture is always a bad thing, except when it is not torture; and we are always in favor of democracy except when the irony of history finds us, with the best intentions supporting a murderous dictatorship; and that Americans are always "innocents" taken advantage of by wily foreign leaders who use our good will to do bad things we never intended.

In a moment I would like to write about the use of the words "pragmatism" and "pragmatic" and "radicaism" and "radical" in The New York Times But first a personal note: The writers' strike, and especially the biased "coverage" of Michael Cieply has brought me back to an old habit: reading The New York Times with an eye to detail. I intend to do an occasional ideological critique of the media to Shandean Postscripts and especially of The New York Times. I intend to select stories of which I have substantial knowledge and present a "correction." The correction maybe historical or philosophical, or simply a telling of what was left out of the story. I hope to provide over time a guide to "How to Read the New York Times." When I used to read the Times very closely I would concentrate on reports from Latin America. What should strike everybody who kept up with the writers' strike and who follows U.S. policy in Latin America is that union leaders are treated in a similar way that Latin American leaders are treated in U.S. newspapers. The union leaders are put in the position that they must justify their positions and actions as abnormal, unless they support the business view. The bosses are assumed to be in the right or simply to have made mistakes. The union leaders are presented as aggressive and over-reaching. Finally union leaders are divided into categories such as "pragmatic" or "ideological" or "moderate" and "militant."

PRAGMATIC and RADICAL in the Lexicon of The New York Times

It should be obvious to any regular reader of the New York Times that the words "pragmatic," "radical" and "moderate" are not neutral terms. They are used in Times "news" stories to classify and "value" people. A "pragmatist" is not a follower of Pierce, William James, or John Dewey, but a person who the United States can make a deal with; a deal that is advantageous to "us". (There is good reason to believe that John Dewey, who was a socialist, would not be called a "pragmatist by The New York Times if he led a Latin American country today. He would probably be labeled a "radical" and a friend of Hugo Chavez.) The words "pragmatic" and "radical" are used in contrast to each other but in the times lexicon they are not opposites. The word pragmatic is meant to provide shading and distinction. A pragmatist is not a person who is on "our" side but simply a person who is willing to bargain in a way that we like.

For instance in an article on the election of Evo Morales the Times reports:

Mr. Morales, a former congressman, is untested as an executive and known less as a pragmatist than as a fiery orator and protest leader. Several of his associates, including Vice President-elect Álvaro García and Carlos Villegas, who will oversee economic planning, are leftist academics with no experience in government.

"There could be realism and pragmatism in their policies, or they could allow ideology to guide them," said Roberto Laserna, a political analyst with San Simón University in Cochabamba, the city where Mr. Morales makes his home. "But we do not have a way to gauge their management experience." (Bolivia's Leader Solidifies Region's Leftward Tilt By JUAN FORERO and LARRY ROHTER Published: January 22, 2006)


In the same article a contrast is made between a radical and pragmatist: the radical is Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the pragmatist is Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil. After observing that the seven leftists elected in Latin America are "a varied crop," the Times writers begin to make distinctions among those various weeds and flowers.

With the exception of Mr. Chávez, who is bankrolled by Venezuela's oil wealth, most of the continent's other left-leaning leaders, like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, have pursued pragmatic policies once faced with the real task of governing.


It is strange to read from the times that Lula da Silva is a "pragmatist" because I remember when the very same New York Times presented Lula as a dangerous "radical," who would destroy the fabric of the economy in Brazil. But that was when he first ran in 1989. At that time Lula's program was aggressively socialist and the United States went out of its way to see that he wasn't elected So what changed in the mean time? Luckily we have the Times to provide us with a narrative.

But Lula has proved a curious surprise to most everyone, taking only small, measured steps toward domestic reform and staying well within the accepted covenants of global capitalism. For an idealist, perhaps the ideal is to be in the opposition. Lula, finally in power, now has to contend with the many forbidding obstacles in the sightline of a genuinely egalitarian vision. Brazil, doubled over with debt, is beholden to lenders. The Workers' Party, with only a minority in both houses of Congress, is not a complete master of the public agenda. The apparatus of government, besotted with inefficiency and corruption, resists change. ''I don't have the power of God to do miracles,'' Lula says these days with unmasked frustration. He has become the lead character in another common fable: the dreamer who runs headlong into the cul-de-sacs of reality.

This is not an unfamiliar problem for leftist leaders throughout the world. Lula views Fidel Castro as an iconic presence; he dined with him in Brasília on Inauguration Day. But in Latin America, exhortations to a people's revolution today seem as out of fashion as the red-and-black flag of the Sandinistas. Leftists in developing nations find themselves working within the margins of the global financial schematic. Their urge for reform is most often constrained by a dependence on international creditors. Default would be a debacle. Investor confidence would plummet, capital would flee, the poor would take an abrupt beating. The left may criticize the so-called Washington consensus, an economic model that largely leaves the fight against poverty to the efficiency of free markets, but it is hard pressed to veer off the trodden course without facing uncontrollable consequences. Extremism is out; pragmatism is in. (Poor Man's Burden By BARRY BEARAK June 27, 2004, The New York Times Magazine.)


A couple years later The Wall Street Journal helps us to understand the deeper meaning of this use of the word pragmatism.

Mr. da Silva would carry some undeniable strengths into a second term, including ample credibility with financial markets earned after his success in taming inflation and paying off the International Monetary Fund loans ahead of schedule. He can also count on the goodwill of the U.S. Among the leftist leaders that have emerged in Latin America in recent years, Mr. da Silva's economic pragmatism makes him a bulwark against more-radical anti-American populists such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez or Bolivia's Evo Morales. (Lula Is Set for Costly Victory Brazilian Leader's Election Strategy May Heighten Polarization By MATT MOFFETT September 23, 2006; Page A4 The Wall Street Journal September 23, 2006.)


But the only real question as far as Mr. Moffett of The Wall Street Journal is concerned is whether Lula can become a true "moderate" by attacking the poor.

To unlock Brazil's potential, economists say, Mr. da Silva needs to pass pension, labor and budget overhauls that would reduce a bloated public sector, which currently saddles Brazil with a tax rate comparable to that of a rich country.


Lula could also cut food subsidies, which benefit the poor but in order to do this he would have to get more political clout: "Mr. da Silva's supporters say he might have more clout in Congress if he could expand his base of support beyond poor Brazilians." For WSJ the true test of Lula da Silva's pragmatism is his willingness to cut himself off from the poor and policies that benefit the poor. The New York Times is more polite about such things. They would not ever actually recommend less food for the poor in so few words. They would call such policies "disciplining" the economy or "hard choices" or some such euphemism.

WSJ in its honesty gives us another clue to Lula da Silva's transformation from "radical" to "pragmatist," the emergence of even more dangerous radicals. In an article on the radicalism of Hugo Chavez, in the Latin American economic organization Mercosur: the Times reports,

“It was a tremendous error to allow Chávez into Mercosur, not only because he wants to control it, but also because he is Lula’s biggest rival,” said Felipe Lampreia, who was Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 to 2001, referring to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. “Lula is moderate and pragmatic, while Chávez is a revolutionary, socialist and international agitator who sees himself as the leader of Latin America.” Venezuela Wants Trade Group to Embrace Anti-Imperialism By LARRY ROHTER Published: January 19, 2007


When reading The New York Times you have to be aware of key words that are meant to frame the emotions of the published stories. The New York Times itself is a business institution, a corporation, that actually does not do anything. The people in the corporation serve institutional goals. By nature the Times is a profit making institution "protective" of other profit making institutions. If writers for the Times began to write favorable stories about states or organizations that threatened profit making institutions those writers would soon find the accuracy or balance of their stories questioned. So the smart journalist finds ways to frame the story that is always favorable to the business classes and critical to those who may threaten smooth gain of profit and power for the business class. In Latin America that means writing about "radicals" as if they are outlandish or crazy or threatening in some other way. It means promoting people who can counter the disruptive radicals. It means finding signs that the radicals are transforming themselves into pragmatists who might someday become moderates.

In this context the reader should remember how Michael Cieply for The New York Times portrayed the leaders of the WGA during the writers strike. David Young was a militant leader of the WGA and News Corp. president Peter Chernin was "protective" of business interests. John Bowman, chief negotiator for the WGA, was described as "flexible," a word that in the Times' lexicon is a synonym for "pragmatic." (See The Cynical Mr. Cieply: The New York Times and the Writers' Strike: #4)


25 February 2008
New York City



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music: Fifty Years After The Fair - Aimee Mann

Toward a Long Range Evaluation of the Writers' Strike Feb. 23rd, 2008 @ 05:18 pm
“The writers' strike has been the most successful strike in this country since the 1997 UPS strike,” WGA West President Patric Verrone said on a Los Angeles radio show. “What it's done is to show that collective action on the part of workers can actually have a successful result. This is historic.”

This I think is a realistic evaluation of the strike by Patric Verrone. It gives the due emphasis to collective action and solidarity without overselling the results.

I also think the comparison with the 1997 UPS strike is apt. It was a strike that gained public support in ways that surprised the company bosses. And it was a strike that gave hope to others in similar industries. A full evaluation of the writers' strike cannot be written yet, but one aspect of such an evaluation must be measuring the ripple effects on other unions, beginning of course with the entertainment unions.

Jerry Monaco

U.S. Imperialism, the British Empire, the Marshall Plan Feb. 16th, 2008 @ 04:48 am

"After the programme, among the several conversations, were one or two remarks which might surprise you – they surprised me – one that after the Second World War, the Americans discovered a great affection for the British Empire, partly because it had many, many handy islands near to places that they wanted to invade or influence. Also, that the Marshall Plan was essentially a quid pro quo. The deal was that America would give help, provided that Europe would integrate. The integration of Europe, according to Kathleen Burk, is a direct consequence of American pressure."

Melvin Bragg, "In Our Time" Newsletter, 16 February 2008.



Quite true. During and after World War II one of our main goals was to make sure that the territory we wanted of the British, French, and Dutch empires fell under our control, one way or another.

As far as the Marshall Plan was concerned it was a brilliant post-war imperial policy. Back then the U.S. ruling class thought through post-war policy because they knew that the period immediately following a war is more important than victory on the battle field. It is a sign of a decaying ruling class that U.S. rulers can't even think through a post-war strategy in one medium sized country in the Middle East.

One aspect of the Marshall Plan, little discussed in the United States, is that it was a "stimulus package" for the U.S. economy.* There was a great fear that immediately after production for the war stopped the U.S. would fall back into a depression. It was only war production that had lifted the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression. The Marshall Plan, essentially was a transfer payment from the pockets of U.S. workers to the banks of Western Europe and from there to the manufacturing sector of the United States.

It is a curious fact that most of U.S. foreign and economic policy in the immediate post war years was focused on improving the manufacturing sector, often ignoring the financial sector. Oh, how times have changed! The financial sector is now the fourth branch of the U.S. government, along with its executive committee in the Federal Reserve. The financial sector is essentially able to veto any political-economic policy they don't like, whether propounded by city, state, or the federal government. Much of the New Deal era was spent inventing ways to regulate the financial sector and since the 1970s we have let banks and insurance companies get out of control and back into a place where they are the masters of the universe.



* Footnote: But see camlina's correction and my caveat in the comments section. What I mean here is that it was a stimulus package specifically for the manufacturing sector of the economy.


16 February 2008
New York City



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Other entries
» A Message of Thanks to the Writers' on the Picket Line from One of Your Supporters:
I am proud of the brothers and sisters at the WGA. You have done a good thing for the union movement. The level of solidarity of your unit is a lesson to us all. The use of new media to get your message out should be taken up as much as possible by all unions. The level of strike support by non-WGA members should bring hope to all of our union brothers and sisters.

A strike is never won completely. You can never know for sure when victory is yours. I have seen great contracts signed after a unified strike and the actual long term prospects that the strike gave access to lost by frittering away of unity. I have seen mediocre contracts signed in the midst of contentious union in-fighting with the result that the specific union and the union movement as a whole has come away stronger and ready for future struggle. A strike is not won or lost on the day the strike ends. It will be the future that will tell. If this fight leads to a Hollywood more united against the conglomerates, to a SAG and WGA in continuous collaboration, to greater connections with the union movement as a whole, and to a spread of the lessons of this strike to other unions in Southern California and across the country, then the victory will not be just in the here and now for this contract but a permanent victory that will grow.

So this is what I have to say: Start organizing now for SAG, for the Teamsters, for other Hollywood unions and for your future contract. Don't forget the lessons you learned in this fight. You are writers, you should write those lessons down. Create a collective history so others can see.

I have a few hopes for the future, the future of the writers' at the WGA, of the website United Hollywood, and the future of the Hollywood union movement. I will list the obvious along with the not so obvious. I hope at later times to write two longer posts on "the measure of victory" and "the lessons for other unions of the WGA strike."

1) Most immediately you need to support SAG and the Teamsters in their upcoming contract negotiations. Do not fall asleep on this, especially in regard to the Teamsters.

2) You need to find a way to unite all Hollywood unions in one bargaining coalition. (I do not yet hope that there will be a single industrial wide union but that should be an aim of the most conscious union members.)

3) Is there any possibility that some tech savvy writers might volunteer to help other unions in need? Damn it! there have been a few organizing drives that I have been involved with, and one major strike here in NYC, that your kind of righteous propaganda, use of youtube, picket line interviews, web log-rolling could have helped us to get the news out to the public that we are not "greedy" truck drivers or transit workers, but just brothers and sisters making a living. (Also star power would help.)

4) I would like to know more about rank and file connections between Hollywood unions and other unions in Southern California.

5) I would like to hear some respectful but clear eyed discussion of IATSE and how to incorporate IATSE into a "United Hollywood" movement.

Going forward will prove the success of this strike. Don't let victory slip through your fingers by relaxing. As Verrone said, you must build on your unprecedented unity. Organize the unorganized! Join with other unions.

The strike captains I read on the internet, heard in interviews, and the ones I met on the picket line in New York were the backbone of this strike. Don't let anyone tell you that this strike wasn't yours because you made it yours. In my 30 years of involvement in the union movement I have rarely met a more motivated group of strike and line captains. They made it a pleasure for me to show up at the picket line in cold, rain, and sleet. I want to thank them.

I want to thank your leadership and your rank and file for giving the union movement a win that can be built upon.

Jerry Monaco
» The Last Picket Signs


From 23/6
» On the Ideology of the Incomprehensibility of Nazism

Seventy-five years after the taking of power by the National Socialists in Germany the phenomena of the party led by Hitler and the enormous destruction wrought by his movement in the space of just over a decade still remain a source of mystery for many commentators.

In its special edition to mark the anniversary of the Nazi takeover (14 January 2008), the prominent German news magazine Der Spiegel headlined its main article “The Triumph of Madness.”

Writing in the January 24 edition of the London Book Review the veteran Stalinist historian Eric Hobsbawm struck a similar note: “The fact is that no one, right, left or centre, got the true measure of Hitler’s National Socialism, a movement of a kind that had not been seen before and whose aims were rationally unimaginable ...”

There can be no doubt that Hitler fascism was responsible for a degree of human depravation and brutality which quite rightly continues to shock and horrify today, but that does not mean his movement was incomprehensible. In fact, there has been a great deal of scholarship in recent years that has thrown important new light on the emergence and rise to prominence of National Socialism.

Utilising new sources, including important archives opened up by the fall of Stalinism in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, the British historians Ian Kershaw and Richard Evans have both published multi-volume works which considerably broaden our understanding of the social and political background to Hitler’s own rise to power—Kershaw’s two-volume biography of the dictator (Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris, and Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis) and the three volumes by Richard J. Evans on the Third Reich (the third volume of the series is still to be completed).

A third very valuable contribution to the current wave of research into National Socialism is the volume by a British historian based at Cambridge University, Adam Tooze—The Wages Of Destruction, which is now available in German translation. In his book Tooze sets out to identify and examine the economic driving forces behind the National Socialist project and in so doing presents the first extensive investigation of this type for many decades. (From : Hitler’s “intelligible response” to the contradictions of global capitalism The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze a Review by Stefan Steinberg.)


There are ideological reasons to insist on the incomprehensibility of the rise of Nazism. But first let me state some of my assumptions about the intelligibility of history.

I assume, that as much as human actions are comprehensible to everyday reason, so are the actions of the Nazis and their minions. I also assume that as much as human history is comsprehensible, if not knowable in every detail, that the historical period of the rise of fasicsm and its consequences is also comprehensible. I do not assume that there can be scientific theories of human choice or of human history. Intelligibility does not necessarily imply a high level of certainty. But the limit of scientific theories, and the declining scale of certitude, does not imply some mystical "unknowability" about human actions. Human historical actions are comprehensible in "everyday ways" through rational thought, empathy, collective historical work, and hard work. I will not argue these assumptions here, but simply move on to what interests me, the ideological reasons for arguing that Nazism and its consequenses are "incomprehensible" and "exceptional."

There are many non-historians, "philosophers," and even a few historians who basically propound the idea that the rise of Nazism, and the atrocities committed by the Naziis, are in essence exceptional and fundamentally unknowable. The ideological point of such notions is that fundamentally unknowable and essentially exceptional phenomena cannot be compared with what is happening in the world made by our actions. Thus we can distance great atrocities from ourselves.

Another effect of such notions is that the very act of comparison between the rise of Nazism, along with the atrocities committed in its name, and current events becomes "empty" and without significance. The act of comparison between Nazisim and anything else becomes something either "unserious," "disgusting", or an indication that you are referring to the irresolveable "problem of evil." Such comparisons then end up denoting nothing, only connoting anger. A comparison with Nazi atrocities becomes like yelling curse words at the top of your lungs. Such yelling will have the connotation of anger but will have little, if any, denotation that you can relate to others

The so-called "problem of evil" is a problem mostly because we refuse to look at ourselves (our own actions and responsibilities) in analogous situations. If we make "evil" something mystical and supernatural it is much easier to avoid responsibility for how we, as citizens, contribute to situations where atrocities occur. I don't mean in this case atrocities committed by "them" or be "bad apples," I mean the atrocities that we commit in the world simply by doing what our nation-state does. There are direct atrocities, such as those that have occurred in Central America where the U.S. and its clients murdered hundreds of thousands, many simply dumped in mass graves. These atrocities, which were committed through our government in our name we have never attempted to rectify.

There are also more "indirect" atrocities that are consequences of the actions of the business institutions that mostly rule our foreign policy. I am not here writing about the obvious fact of wars and invasions that by any interpretation of international law should be prosecuted as war crimes. I have in mind everyday consequences of economic decisions. For instance, it is the policy of the U.S. that small countries in South and Central America should focus on export of commodities to the U.S. In practice this often means the shift of population from subsistence farming, where most resources are directed to feeding the family and neighborhood, to farming for export. (An unintended consequence of this policy is that the best export crops are often those that are refined into legal or illegal drugs, cocoa for cocaine, poppies for opium, grapes for wine, coffee beans for coffee, etc.) This also leads to a greater consolidation of land into the hands of the few who are often connected to foreign corporations. Another consequence is a loss of open access to local resources such as water for drinking. But the biggest consequence is the fluctuation of the availability of food. With subsistence farming, the farming family is usually guaranteed a bare minimum of food for survival. With the switch to export commodities the small farmer must have money to obtain food and this means he is at the mercy of the price of commodities. Decisions made in the markets in Chicago can cause the deprivation of food for thousands across the world. A corporation that does not make as great of a profit off of coffee this year can wait to next year to improve its situation. But a farmer cannot tell his or her children; "The price of coffee has fallen at the town market therefore we can't eat this winter."

My point here is not to make a one-to-one comparison between Nazism and this kind of economic imperialism. But it is to point out that one of the consequences of making "evil" an unsolvable "problem," and then pointing to areas of human history where evil reached "incomprehensible" proportions, is to allow ourselves not to see the consequences of our own decisions in the here and now as "evil". The reasoning goes something like this: "Our" decisions, whether good or bad, are comprehensible and normal, and since "evil" is incomprehensible and abnormal, our decisions cannot be "evil" by definition. Such reasoning allows us not to judge the decisions made in our system of society by their consequences, but only by their subjective "normality". We allow ourselves not to see the system of decisions that leads to atrocities. We don't have to see and we don't have to know about the atrocious consequences of the decisions made here as long as such atrocious things are not happening to us or do not come back to hurt us.

Jerry Monaco


» The Cynical Mr. Cieply: The New York Times and the Writers' Strike: #4
Below is my detailed analysis of the latest from Michael Cieply, The New York Timesman in Hollywood. Michael Cieply is an anti-union, pro-management former producer for Sony. I have read close to 70 articles by Cieply, so far, and I feel that I know his world-view, inside and out. Michael Cieply's specialty is articulating the point-of-view of Hollywood deal-makers to other businessmen. He is a business writer who shows no interest in unions, labor history, or even the history of the Hollywood union movement. All that matters to the cynical Mr. Cieply is how Hollywood makes a deal and does business. Any group or person who gets in the way of "deal-making" Cieply considers an "outsider" and a wrecker, who does not deserve respect. This is true of all of his articles including the articles he has written on the industry in general. He hates writers and has always shown disdain for writers in his articles going back more than twenty years. Cieply is typical of a type of journalist who has been in the industry too long and once tried to get out only to find himself back at the journalist's desk. He looks at his old bosses through the yellow eyes of a jaundiced failure. He both envies the success of his old bosses, and hates those who are not successful. He defines success in the exact way that the Hollywood bosses proclaim success and failure. In short, Michael Cieply is a burnt-out case. The New York Times has once again shown its contempt for workers who organize into unions by assigning Michael Cieply to report on this strike.

As with some of Michael Cieply's previous articles you have to read between the lines to get the most important point. In this article, and in the one entitled Recent Moves by Guild Leaders Rattle Writers’ Talks Cieply takes the point of view of Moonves and Chernin successfully. In his articles he "reads the minds" of Moonves and Chernin in such a way that his anonymous sources could only come from people close to Moonves and Chernin. The headline of both of these articles should have been "CEO Negotiators Break Their Own Blackout Ban." But it was obvious from the beginning of the "informal" negotiations that this is what would happen. Unfortunately in closed door negotiations the advantage is always on the side of the status quo.

In the following The New York Times article by Michael Cipley is indented. I highlight the keywords and phrases that I think the reader should pay attention to. Sometimes I highlight in blue or green, instead of yellow, to emphasize special points. My commentary is in brackets and in bold.

Jerry Monaco

Rescuers Script a Possible Ending for a Strike

By MICHAEL CIEPLY

LOS ANGELES — With Hollywood writers on the brink of ending a three-month strike, they can thank this city's time-honored way of getting things done: connections.

[According to Cieply the strike came to an end because "connections" were made. It has nothing to do with the union or the unity of the WGA. It was "rescuers" who know how to "make deals" through "connections" and nothing else. As usual, Cieply shows no understanding of how strikes work, nor of how unions work.  He has is deliberately ignorant of how collective action may help people fight against the odds.  He is contemptuous of the very idea that solidarity bring about a settlement satisfactory to a union, so he must concentrate on the traditions of Hollywood, the tradition of back-room deals by powerful "insiders."]

Over the last two weeks, Laeta Kalogridis, a movie and TV writer and a founder of United Hollywood, a pro-union Web site, emerged as an unlikely peacemaker.

[Unlikely, why? Because she is a strike captain? Does the fact that you are a strong member of a union and that you believe in your union make you "an unlikely peacemaker"? Obviously, according to Cieply, it does. Does the fact that you might think that the business practices of the big corporations are in conflict with the interests of the workers in the industry make you "crazy" or against "peace"? Yes! According to Cieply, if you are a supporter of a union, or a founder of "a pro-union Web site" then you are not a peacemaker by definition.  You are a troublemaker, and thus you are unlikely to be a constructive "deal-maker."]

Working the phones and e-mail during her forced hiatus, she operated as a conduit between David J. Young, a militant leader of the guild, and Peter A. Chernin, the News Corporation president, who was similarly protective of company interests.

[Young is a "militant leader" and Chernin is "protective" of company interests. Union bad! Company good! Union wants battle! Company is protective mother! Ask yourself why Michael Cieply and the editors of the New York Times would never reverse this kind of phrasing? They would never allow a reporter to write: "David Young, who is protective of workers' interest" and "Peter Chernin who is a militant [ravenous?] corporate president". Why? Because it is impolite to imply that a head of a corporation is out to bleed his workers as much as possible and calling Chernin "protective" is just granting him the respect due to the powerful?  On the other hand, Cieply can label a union leader anything he likes because union leaders are obviously on the "other side" in the world view of the New York Times. Union leaders are always "outsiders" or enemies of peaceful industrial relations or troublemakers according to The New York Times and its anti-union hirelings. Only union leaders that don't fight for their members are regarded with condescending respect. ]

As Ms. Kalogridis joined those trying to resolve the dispute, players on both sides finally shifted ground, most importantly on the issue of new-media compensation. That cleared the way to a deal that will be reviewed by writers in meetings here and in New York on Saturday.

[The use of the word "players" is the key to Cieply's thinking. As usual he cannot conceive of a union that actually acts like a union. He can only conceive of "players" and "deal-makers." Because he himself is failed deal-maker he is a burnt-out case who can only look at the world through the sickly yellow eyes of the cynical confidence player.]

If all goes well, the boards of the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East could end the walkout as early as next week, allowing production of most television dramas and comedies to resume and tens of thousands of people to return to work.

[Never except during a strike do you hear so much lamenting from the business press about all the poor people out of work. When those same peopple are put out of work by layoffs and firings and "consolidation" and "redundancy, those unemployed millions are then talked about as people who should see reality for what it is. Corporations need profits and employing these people instead of firing them would just get in the way of rationalizing the economy. ]


The breakthrough occurred on what many writers regard as a make-or-break issue: Web streaming of TV shows after their initial broadcast, which they suspect will soon replace the reruns that have paid them tens of thousands of dollars an episode.

[When Cieply talks of the point of view of the Corporate bosses he is he not so circumspect. Never in their regard does he use contingent and point of view language. When talking about Chernin or any of the other corporate bosses it is always what they "say" or "do" or "produce", never what they "regard" or "believe" or "think." The reason I highlight this is so that a reader of the NYT will learn to read such articles like a literary critic or a philosopher.  The writers' and the union representatives in this strike are passive "subjects" and not active agents.  They have a "point-of-view" that  is never "true" or "false" or "objective"  but is merely something they "regard".  On the other hand, Cieply writes about the bosses and CEOs as if they are agents.  What they say can be objectively verified according to The New York Times invention of this strike story. ]

Under a compromise proposal, in the third year of their deal, writers would be paid 2 percent of the revenue. In the tentative contract that the Directors Guild of America agreed to last month, on which much of the prospective writers' settlement has been modeled, producers agreed to pay $1,334 for a first year's use, and a percentage afterward.

The arrangement offers bragging rights to writers, who can claim to have won what the entertainment conglomerates said they would never give: a residual based on their gross revenue from the Internet.

[According to Cieply also this is about -- an "arrangement" to save face; an offer that will let the writers "brag" that their strike was not in vain. The implication here is that writers didn't really win a damn thing, only a few cosmetic changes to make them feel better. The further implication is that you have to treat these workers in unions like children or else they will never do what they should do anyway.  Notice also that the writers have "claims" where as when CEOs are talked about they are treated as if their claims simply are "reality" itself.]

Representatives of the production companies and the writers' guilds continued their news blackout Thursday and declined to comment for this article, as did Ms. Kalogridis. But interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the possible settlement described a process so fragile that many still think that Saturday's meetings could derail it.

[ It is Saturday's meeting of the writers that might derail. And by implication it is those writers that have to be treated as if they were fragile pieces of glass. None of this has anything to do with the actual contract, actual work conditions, and actual settlement. Zeus forbid that Cieply might actually take the issues seriously. ]

As recently as last Friday, producers were preparing a "doomsday scenario," in which they were ready to declare that the talks had failed, opening the possibility of an extended strike. That the collapse was averted owed much to Ms. Kalogridis, and diplomacy that turned an icy standoff into the kind of hot-and-bothered bargaining in which Hollywood deals are forged.

[ 1) The people who head up the AMPTP talks do not actually have the job description of "producers." The people who actually fill the job description of producers are in the Producer's Guild of America. They have remained neutral in this strike. People such as Chernin, Iger, Moonves are not producers and produce nothing at all, neither in the strange Hollywood sense of the word where producer has a certain job description, nor in the common sense meaning of this word where producers actually make things. Chernin, Iger, et. al. are corporate heads, CEOs, corporate presidents. They are executives and not producers. The main negotiators in the AMPTP call their organization an organization of producers but it is in fact an organization of business employers. We live in a time where newspaper writers can't even call things by their right names and Cieply is no exception here.

2) Notice that the corporate bosses were ready to declare that the talks had failed. There is no implication that anyone but the union would be at fault in such a case. The corporate executives are poor innocent victims of union obstinacy or amateurism.

3) The usual condescension is thrown in about "hot-and-bothered bargaining." This is Cieply's "ideal" world, the world of Hollywood deal-making. In his mind there exist two "ideal worlds"; the world of Hollywood deal making and the world of normal business. Read 50 or 60 of Cieply's articles and this is what you come up with. There is business and there is weird business that occurs in Hollywood and everything else is a deviation not worth speaking about. Thus unions and people helping each other and ideas of solidarity and sticking together are all inconceivable in the world view of Michael Cieply. ]

As is often the case in Hollywood, an agent was an important link. Rick Rosen is a partner at the Endeavor agency, which represents Ms. Kalogridis. Mr. Rosen is also a lifelong friend of Mr. Chernin, who had opened informal talks with the writers — along with Robert A. Iger, chief executive of Walt Disney, and Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS — immediately after the directors announced their agreement on Jan. 17.

[ The superhero is the deal-maker so enter the agent. ]

Before those informal face-to-face meetings, Mr. Chernin had advised the union representatives to hire a seasoned Hollywood lawyer. If this effort did not work, Mr. Chernin and others feared, the stalemate could easily extend into the spring, when the writers' strike might well merge with one by the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract expires June 30.

[ Fatherly, Chernin, gives advice to those little writers who need help in making a deal. Fatherly Chernin was afraid that this temper tantrum of the writers might extend the strike. And then the unexplained kicker. It would be really bad if the writers' strike was merged with an actors' strike. Why? This is not explained. It is just assumed that the more powerful unions are the worse it is for "everybody". In this case everybody only includes people who count. Writers and actors and for that matter practically everybody doesn't count. Who counts? Stockholders, owners, other executives and of course profits and compensation for the big boys. Those are the things that count. It is assumed that nothing else is worth mentioning.]

But at a meeting two weeks ago, Patric M. Verrone, the West Coast writers' guild president; the chief negotiator, John Bowman; and Mr. Young did not bring in a deal maker. Instead, they spent much of the session catching up with points in the directors' deal, to the frustration of Mr. Iger and Mr. Chernin.

[ Cieply here and in the previous paragraph is fulfilling his function as spokesman for the bosses. Cieply seems to read Chernin's mind. He has read Chernin's mind in past articles also. He might be Chernin's messenger for all I know. That at least seems to be his function. More likely somebody close to Chernin is one of Cieply's anonymous sources breaking the blackout and feeding leaks to the bosses man at The New York Times. Maybe Cieply, the burnt-out case, hopes to bounce back into the business world as a Chernin man.

Those stupid writer's. They are silly that they might not want a "deal maker" who usually sides with the bosses anyway. They are also very silly in actually taking a look at the directors' deal. Don't they know that they are just supposed to accept it as a template for their deal without asking questions? Everything else is pro-forma. Even acctually knowing what is in the directors' deal is not necessary. An explanation is due here. The DGA deal was only a sketch two weeks ago. It was not known in detail. If the deal was going to be used as a template it was necessary to know what Chernin and the CEOs thought the deal was about. If you are going to have a meeting of minds over a contract it is necessary, on an elementary level to know what the other side thinks is in the contract. Even if one side understands the deal there can be no mutual understanding on a deal unless you know what the other side thinks of the same deal.

Of course, what I have just said about the mutual meetings of the mind is only true in a deal between equals. But it seems, if Cieply's mind reading powers are correct, that Chernin was annoyed about the assumption of "bargaining between equals." There is not supposed to be a meeting of minds here. The writers' are simply supposed to accept the directors' deal without question and move on to see what face-saving deals that Cherin will deign to give the writers.]

Mr. Rosen — who, according to biographical sources, grew up in Harrison, N.Y., as did Mr. Chernin — was among several Hollywood insiders who stepped forward at that point. They lobbied executives and writers to make a deal. Mr. Young had at first resisted the push for outside help, but agreed to bring in Alan Wertheimer, a high-powered lawyer whose clients have included Ron Bass and Tom Schulman, both members of the guild's board.

[Again Cieply gives everything to pragmatic deal-makers.]

As the talks resumed, the participants began to compromise. Notably, Mr. Verrone — an architect of the tough stance taken by the guild from the outset — appeared to step back somewhat after the union dropped a pet demand of his, for jurisdiction over animation and reality-television writers.

["Pet demand." This demand has nothing to do with organizing the unorganized, people who wanted to join the WGA but were fired by union busting by companies Organizing the unorganized in animation and reality television is just a pet demand of Mr. Verrone's. And after that was gone he "stepped back." Not a serious boy, obviously. ]

In the meantime, Mr. Bowman, a well-heeled television writer, became more assertive.

[ The silk-suited CEOs are never called well-healed because it is obvious that they make 45 million dollars are year and should make this much money. And the fact that Bowman is "well-heeled" makes him a potential "insider" and being an "insider" is all important to Mr. Cieply, the man who always wanted to be an insider but failed.]

Mr. Bowman's emergence as an independent voice had long been sought by company representatives, who surmised even before the strike began that he would be a more flexible bargainer than Mr. Verrone and Mr. Young. But that would happen only if he were edged away from the guild president, a friend with whom he attended Harvard in the early 1980s.

The empowerment of Mr. Bowman was rooted in a brewing rebellion on the guild negotiating committee, where a rump group feared that a longer strike could lead to a split in the union. Some committee members began asking if Mr. Young, a longtime blue-collar labor organizer who had never settled a major entertainment contract, should be ousted from his leadership role. At the same time, they privately urged growing dissident groups within the guild to sit tight.

[ All of this is largely Cieply's fantasy of how a union works. A good union is a democratic organization. Unlike corporations which have bosses good unions actually have to listen to people. What ever the relationship between Verrone, Young, and Bowman, it is not the relationship that is part of Cieply's mind reading fantasy via the corporate bosses. Even friends argue and everyone knew from the beginning that a deal including animation and reality would be the toughest nut. ]

Even as Mr. Bowman became more vocal, Mr. Young was listening closely to Ms. Kalogridis, who had become a guild confidante. Described by associates as vibrant and impassioned, Ms. Kalogridis — whose credits include the "Bionic Woman" television series — had joined with a half dozen associates to make their United Hollywood site (unitedhollywood.blogspot.com) a rallying spot for striking writers. As recently as last week, the Web site shook the continuing talks by posting a strong critique of the directors' deal by Phil Alden Robinson, the writer and director of "Field of Dreams" and a board member.

[United Hollywood is the website of the strike captains. It is the elementary duty of a reporter for a major newspaper to know what he is talking about and to report on it. Cieply fails in this area as he has often failed. Either he doesn't know or doesn't care or considers the fact irrelevant but United Hollywood is the website of the strike captains. Cieply has never once reported this elementary fact. Not once. This is significant because these are the people who are the people actually getting people out on the (very well-peopled) picket lines. These are the men and women closest to the membership and talk to them everyday and report back to the leadership. They are a conduit from the leadership to the union leadership and vice-versa. They have been very open. They have thought openly, they fought openly, disagreed openly, and debated openly. This openness is incomprehensible to an anti-union pro-deal-maker and pro-management sort such as Michael Cieply. The very idea of open debate and disagreement looks silly to him. His contempt for union democracy drips from everything he has written. But United Hollywood has been more than this. It has been exemplary of new ways for unions to get the news out to the membership, of grass roots discussion and an example of uniting the rank-and-file through debate. By the way Cieply has mentioned United Hollywood disparagingly in the past. But this is the first time he has given the websites' URL. ]

Ms. Kalogridis and her friends, in fact, had become a pipeline to the guild members holding out for sizable gains, whose support would be needed if any deal was to be reached. And she, like Mr. Bowman, had become convinced that the current round of talks must not be allowed to fail.

Perhaps more important, Mr. Young came to share that conviction. On the company side, Mr. Iger and Mr. Moonves, as well as Barry Meyer, chief executive of Warner Brothers, appeared to coalesce around the same view. Meanwhile, Mr. Chernin, who left for London in the middle of the talks but was never out of touch, hung tough on the final point: the writers' demand that companies should pay a percentage, not a flat fee, for Internet streams.

Officials of the directors' guild had already signaled that they would not object if the writers appeared to one-up them on that matter. They reasoned that writers would need to show some gain from their strike, and concluded that actual income from the Internet would remain so small in the next three years, that a percentage payment in 2010 was likely to yield little.

Mr. Young put together the ultimate compromise — a flat fee for part of the contract's life, a percentage during the rest. Ms. Kalogridis, late last week, then found herself in the thick of a bargaining process that eventually won a handshake on the point. She stressed to Mr. Rosen and others that guild members would never approve a deal that did not have a percentage payment for Web streams. Mr. Rosen became an advocate with Mr. Chernin. Mr. Chernin, at one point, invited Ms. Kalogridis to communicate with him directly. And shortly afterward, he signed off.


» Russell and Wittgenstein and the Practice of Anti-Philosphy

In May 1913 Bertrand Russell was working on a manuscript called Theory of Knowledge. The project was abandoned in June when Russell decided that he could go no further. His theory was at a dead-end and he couldn't back out and start over. It was because of Wittgenstein's criticism in conversations with Russell that the manuscript was abandoned and Russell never attempted to publish his "theory."

This history is recounted in Russell and Wittgenstein on the Nature of Judgement by Rosalind Carey (Continuum, 2007, 150pp., $110.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780826488114. [That is right; $110 for 150 pages]). The technical reasons for Russell's failure are accounted for in this very expensive book. (Such books are produced for libraries and then mostly cordoned off from the general public on the shelves of security-guarded university establishments; establishments; which are, by the way, supported in one way or another at the public expense. Such is the state of knowledge in the corporate state. For the most part the general public does not feel the loss because these expensive published theses of 150 pages are mostly nests made by the academic squirrels. The historical nut-gathering that these nests are made to hold is often badly written, though sometimes interesting. But the academics themselves are not really to blame since they are fulfilling an institutional imperative -- publish or perish. Publication seems to be the university's way of accounting for the productivity of their professorial employees, like the aggregation of standardized tests are supposed to measure the health of our elementary schools. Call this the "Fordism" of the educational factories.)

For biographical, historical, and philosophical reasons I am interested in Russell and Wittgenstein in 1913 and thus this book would be interesting to me. But how am I to get hold of such an outlandishly priced piece of work unless I gather some friends to storm the Columbia Library while decommissioning the security guards in the process? So I must make do with book reviews and with my own knowledge, when discussing Carey's book.

Some squirrels do interesting things, and this book is a case in point. I think that someone should write a piece of fiction focusing on the lives of Russell and Wittgenstein from May to June 1913, the period of the writing and abandonment of Russell's Theory of Knowledge, and bringing into the novel the events of the subsequent six years, as if in a dream of history.

Within six years of the Russell and Wittgenstein conversations both were imprisoned; Russell for his opposition and protest against World War I and Wittgenstein as an Austrian prisoner-of-war in Como and Cassino. While Russell was in prison in 1918, he returned to philosophy after a long time writing only social and political works, and wrote Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, and began the book The Analysis of Mind, which was partially a tactical retreat from his attempt to create "a theory of knowledge." While Wittgenstein was a prisoner-of-war in Italy in 1918-19 he rewrote and rethought some of the portions of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which he had finished during his course of military service. (Someone should compile a list of the great men and women who were imprisoned during the period of the First World War. Russell, Eugene Debs, and Rosa Luxembourg come to mind immediately, but the list could be extended to hundreds of names. Does anyone know of a good book that gives a global history of resistance to World War I? If it hasn't already been written it should be written.)

The countries that Russell and Wittgenstein called home were fighting a war against each other and still, in the early part of the war at least, the two managed to exchange letters and post-cards.

In February 1919 Wittgenstein wrote to Russell,

I am prisoner in Italy since November, and hope I may communicate with you after a three-year interruption. I have done lots of logical work which I am dying to let you know before publishing it.

How did such posts get through the lines of war? Did they go by way of neutral countries? According to Ray Monk this post-card found Russell at Lady Ottoline Morrell's country house, Garsington Manor. A postman delivered the card to a place where Russell was not listed. Perhaps the British postal services favored the ruling classes because it beats me how a card gets from an Italian prisoner-of-war camp to a person of no certain address, unless that person got special attention paid to him by the postal services.

But in the Spring of 1913 all of this was in their future. Wittgenstein had not even published a major work when he froze Russell into place on his theory of knowledge. In fact Wittgenstein was in effect Russell's student, not a fellow teacher, and yet his influence, his ability to paralyze thought, was infamous.

This shows one of the great missions of Wittgenstein. In spite of the philosophers, because of the philosophers, Wittgenstein's mission was basically an anti-philosophical practice. He endeavored to get philosophers to shut up -- or at least to stop publishing so much of what they write on the "deep" philosophical subjects. He was against proclamations of philosophical "knowledge" and the propounding of philosophical theories. He was engaged in a philosophical practice that would in effect limit the very notions of what we call knowledge.

Wittgenstein's only published major work, the Tractatus, was anti-theoretical to the core. It did not present "a theory" of logic and its relation to language, or a "theory" of propositions. What it set out to do is to clarify certain aspects of language use and misuse from within a philosophical frame. The Tractatus attempted to set the limits of what any philosophical theory could accomplish. It did this by attempting to show that the capacity of language could only express through propositions what can be thought, and that there is much else that cannot be thought through propositions but can only be shown. On the level of propositions the Tractatus itself does not present a theory, but rather makes clarifications about the possibility of philosophical theories given the limits of language use. But on the level of "showing" the Tractatus as a whole is emblematic of a kind of anti-philosophy: we are shown the limits of human thought and knowledge. The limits of knowledge that can be made from propositions "show" from the book as a whole.

There are only a few philosophers who agree with this interpretation of the Tractatus, and fewer still who agree with the interpretation of Wittgenstein's work which would turn the work as a whole into an anti-philosophical practice. The underpinnings of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, his clarification of language use as putting limits on what we can call thought or knowledge, is itself an anti-philosophical practice to the core. Personally, I think that Wittgenstein is correct, when he insisted that nobody understood the Tractatus, when it was written, and few understand it now. It is because very few people can accept a work that is a set of propositions that say one thing and a book as a whole that illustrates what the set of propositions says cannot be theorized or philosophized by pointing the way to silence. The book is a form of practice. It practices what it preaches. If most philosophers set out to accept the anti-philosophical practice of the Tractatus, they could not write the articles and books, which are their bids for job security in the current academic system.

So Wittgenstein while writing from the prison camp in Italy continually complained, perhaps even whined, that Russell would never understand the Tractatus.

Russell wrote back:

Throughout the war I did not think about philosophy, until, last summer. I found myself in prison, and beguiled my leisure by writing a popular text-book, which was all I could do under the circumstances. Now I am back at philosophy, and more in the mood to understand…. Don't be discouraged, you will be understood in the end. (p. 162)

I think in the matter of understanding both men were wrong about the other. Wittgenstein has yet to be understood because philosophers have a hard time understanding books that are also practices. (Perhaps poets best understand such philosophical works.) And Russell understood Wittgenstein on an intuitive level that has never been acknowledged.

Back in June 1913, because of Wittgenstein's anti-philosophical criticism, Russell quit his Theory of Knowledge. And for the first time Russell himself began to think about the limits of knowledge and the limits of theory. Theory, after all, can only confront and provide knowledge of a very small part of the world.

More than thirty years later Russell came out with a book called Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. It is my contention that this book is a strange bastard child of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In 1913 Wittgenstein planted the seeds of "theory-skepticism" into Russell's thinking and over the course of Russell's long life that skepticism grew. Unlike our modern skeptics, the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens, Russell's skepticism constantly turned around on itself and embraced nationalism, the social system of classes, philosophy and even science. Russell's skepticism did not limit itself to skepticism about religion. There came a time at the end of his life that he began to look at his own intellectual pretentions as also a form of superstition. Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits is not a "theory of knowledge" but an attempt to describe knowledge and how we come to know. In short, Russell's book is an anti-theory. It is not an anti-theory in the multiple ways that the Tractatus is an anti-philosophy -- propounding, illustrating, and practicing anti-philosophy all at once -- but an anti-theory in a much more everyday way. The goals of Russell's long book were modest, unlike the immodest idol-smashing goals of Wittgenstein's short book; one of the limits of human knowledge is that there can be no grand theory of knowledge, and no metaphysical ground to knowledge, but only local descriptions of how in a common sense way we as individuals, with these brains, can come to know limited parts of the world through specific theories. As Russell himself wrote at the beginning of Human Knowledge:

To scientific common sense (which I accept) it is plain that only an infinitesimal part of the universe is known, that there were countless ages during which there was no knowledge, and that there probably will be countless ages without knowledge in the future. Cosmically and causally, knowledge is an unimportant feature of the universe; a science which omitted to mention its occurrence might from an impersonal point of view, suffer only from a very trivial imperfection.


» Oh Wasn't It All So Wonderful? Georgetown, Gentrification, Camelot - Morality, Myth & A.J. Ayer
I want to bounce the ball of thought around a little. (Think of my brain as "a cooler" where Steve McQueen is locked away throwing the baseball against the opposite wall. Reference to The Great Escape, for those who don't know.) This was "written" at 4:30 on a Sunday morning with the single purpose of applying linguistic shock therapy to my brain. So forgive me for making sense where there is only non-sense. It helps to bring meaning into my life.

The truth of this mixed bag of a post is that it is only meant as a sort of bracket to mark the hold while I wait. I am waiting to see if my friends among the writers on strike have wrestled a half-decent deal from the conglomerated multinational corporations that endeavor to take control of our cultural life.

So some quotes:
It is sometimes forgotten that only thirty years earlier Georgetown had been a rundown, semi-bohemian section of town, where young cash-strapped reformers drawn to work for the New Deal took up residence in cheap flats and what are now called fixer-uppers. By the early 1960s, when the new generation ascended to power, the area had become the chief bastion of Washington social life, blending remnants of its down-to-earth (and even earthy) past with the grandeur of politics at the political capital of the Free World. To be sure, the intellectual level, except every now and then, was not exactly Augustan; Georgetown evenings during the Kennedy years had a snobbery and self-importance all their own. Still, it was a far cry from the gilded, media-mad place that Georgetown (including some of its surviving overseers from the Kennedy years) became in the 1980s.


From a Review in The New Republic(an)
By the good writer Sean Wilentz

Journals 1952-2000
by Arthur Meier Schlesinger

The Vital Centrist
A Review by Sean Wilentz

Yes, if you read the literature, novels, and memoirs from D.C. in the New Deal era what can be found is young New Dealers setting up shop for themselves in Georgetown living next door to fallen gentry and collections of slumming Harvard types in Washington for fun and power in the FDR administration.
****
The Camelot Myth and Intellectual Pretentions

There is also this:

Over the years, an anti-Camelot myth has arisen that portrays the Kennedy administration as a sybaritic private men's club whose members occasionally took breaks to attend to matters like the Cuban missile crisis. Schlesinger, according to the myth, was the Kennedy family's chief courtier and propagandist, and nothing he says about the family can be trusted -- including his denials that, as he once put it, "an unending procession of bimbos" marched through the Kennedy White House. The journals from the early 1960s contain no hints about Kennedy's unruly sexual waywardness -- which Schlesinger eventually conceded, adding that it did "not constitute John Kennedy's finest hour." Later his love for and loyalty to the clan, and his desire to believe the very best until it became impossible to do so, could get the better of him. But the journals do convey the ease with which high spirits and cultivated, even serious thought once commingled in Washington -- an aspect of the Kennedy years that the prurient revisionists have buried.

Hickory Hill certainly saw its share of inebriated high-jinks, but it was also the site of the so-called Hickory Hill seminars, in which Schlesinger arranged for various intellectual luminaries to rehearse their ideas before administration officials and specially invited guests in an informal atmosphere- -a freewheeling and unusual mixture of personalities as well as professions. (At one of these seminars, the philosopher A.J. Ayer gave a talk that attacked abstract propositions, only to have Ethel Kennedy, a devout Catholic, rise and challenge his rejection of "conceptions like truth and virtue and meaning.") The journals also describe a bygone world of Georgetown salons and dinner parties in which Schlesinger took constant pleasure. There are accounts of gatherings at the Alsops', the Bradlees', and the Harrimans', among others, that emanated political intelligence, elegance, and a certain moral sophistication. Parties do not have to be stupid.



Nothing in the review or the book reinvigorates the Camelot myth. Isn't the "anti-Camelot Myth" merely an unwillingness to accept Disney-like fairy tales as truth? I am not anti-fairy tale, simply opposed to systematic self-deception which is the motive behind the JFK Camelot story. The friendly fascist version of self-deception that is easily found in the Disney fairy tale is especially pernicious. The Disney-fairy tale should be contrasted with the Grimmer kind that always hints at something useful and truthful and uncomfortable. Truly, I am shocked at Sean for wanting to give back-handed support to the Myth of Camelot on the Potomac. There is no need.

As for the intellectual vigor of Camelot, it doesn't and shouldn't impress. Doesn't Sean think that the descendants of ex-Trots and rightwing vulgar Keynsians, those who make up the neo-con and neo-liberal ascendancy from the Reagan admin to the present, also have their study groups and book clubs? I am sure that in 1990 they invited Fukuyama to lecture to them on Hegel and "The End of History". The intelligentsia, whether of the type that once pranced around the Camelot on the Potomac or whether those who were a beacon on a hill in the Reagan administration always have their intellectual pretentions. I do wonder though if the Fundamentalist Christians, imported in mass by the Bush administration to run everything from Iraq to the Department of the Interior, read anything at night except for the Bible and the sci-fi weirdness of The Left Behind series. What would they have made of A. J. Ayer? What would A. J. Ayer made of them?

****
The Everyday System of Violence and Moral Insight

Intellectual pretentions aside: What is missing in all of the reviews I have read of Schlesinger 's Journals, and from the book itself when I glanced through it at the library, is any consideration of morality. It is superficially assumed that the only moral questions for those in power are those that are either personal or those that lead one to want to change or not change the system. There is no thought on a deeper moral level how a system of violence can be justified. In a system of violence decisions that create violence are made as a matter of course and as if such decisions were "natural".

Let us put aide Vietnam and Southeast Asia in this discussion, because the line of the Camelot Mythologists now is that JFK would have gotten us out of Vietnam and thus avoided a disaster. But let us conisder the normal and "uncontroversial" decisions of the Kennedy Administration, The daily decisions involving Latin America, which Schlesinger witnessed, are simply not thought about as presenting a moral quandry. These are the years when the Kennedy Administration decided that the military in Latin American countries should be reformed in order to focus on "internal security." Thus the U.S. brought Latin American military officers here to the U.S. to be trained at places like the School of the Americas. These were the same officers that would later lead the armed forces, with U.S. help, in establishing military dictatorships across Latin America, resulting in mass death and torture. What was established by the Kennedy Administration in the 1960s was a framework that created a wave of state-supported mass murder, torture and terror for the next thirty years. It is only in the last few years that Latin America has emerged from this period.

These are just "normal" decisions that must be made to maintain U.S. power and domiinance. Such decisions create the system of violence I referred to above. But it is exactly these normal decisions, the everyday decisions that we make without looking, that are the ones that must be held up to moral scrutiny. I do not expect the likes of Schlesinger to perform this duty for us. He is too caught up in the bright social whirl, the seduction of fame and beauty, the vanity of power and the lust to be close to the "Stars" (in Washington, in Hollywood) but some of our secular public intellectuals (other than Chomsky) could try to point out that there are moral issues that are ignored by Schlesinger in his journal.

Who does this? Who points these morals issues out regularly and consistently? Who focuses on the moral issues of systematic violence? Who looks at the decisions in the everyday life of the powerful (both political and economic) and puts them up to moral scrutiny? Only left religious radicals -- groups similar to the Catholic Worker, some of the Mennonite left, and Quakers. The secular left can do this. But for some reason the secular left has not been able to hold on to this function for long. It is people such as the Berrigan brothers and Dorothy Day and Miles Horton and Bob Moses, religiously and philosophcally inspired leftists who have always been best at this kind of moral prophecy. And further back it was people such as William Lloyd Garrison, Thoreau, and Tolstoy and hundreds of radical Anabaptists, who fulfilled the function of moral prophecy. It is these people that often point out that violence is a part of everyday life; that violence is a standard that is daily committed by people in power to the people who do not have power.

Many of these people learned their initial way of thinking about systematic and everyday violence from the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. He saw that the violence of slavery does not occur once and only once. It does not occur only when the slave is kidnapped and put into bondage or when the slave is whipped for disobeying the rule of the master. The violence of slavery is daily and it occurs whenever the slave does something in fear that the violence of his master will ensue if he does not do what he is told. The violence occurs everyday the slave hurts himself morally or physically while performing services for his master or when the slave is unable to perform services for him/herself or his/her friends and family. People such as Garrison pointed out that the decisions for this kind of systematic violence were attenuated and abstracted in such a way that the people who actually made the most important decisions did not have to see the consequences of the decisions that they make. The important people are able to sit safely and comfortably in their political palaces and bourgeois brownstones while others bloody their hands. In this way, the system of violence is standardized and institutionalized.

Reading reviews of the Schlesinger book, I ask myself: Why has the secular left so often failed to hold on to the moral criticism of systematic violence? Such criticism is a proper "utopian" function of criticism of society. It is a criticism that implicitly contrasts what we can be as individuals and a society with the current failure and success of what we are. Is it because the secular left too easily disdains the poetry of everyday and integral utopianism (of living "the moral life") as antagonist to everyday political and economic organization and infighting? I have no real answer. I am not religious. But it was the insight of the early socialist movement that some aspects of "radical religion" were to be admired. People such as Karl Kautsky once wrote about how early Christians were a revolutionary movement with many admirable attributes. He sought to incorporate the insights of the early Christians into the socialist movement.

***
A. J. Ayer and Ethel Kennedy: Logical Positivism and Catholicism

The most interesting meaningless fact in the review was the bringing together of Ethel Kennedy and the great philosopher A.J. Ayer in a debate that I am sure would have shook the philosophical community to the core, if the philosophers had only found out about it. We can all be happy that Ethel Kennedy opposed A.J Ayer. She was bright enough to know that philosophical skepticism of the logical positivist variety and the recitation of the Roman Catholic catechism could not co-exist.

I don't mean to snicker. I actually think that the conflict betweent A.J. Ayer and Ethel Kennedy is the same theme as the one between being able to see systematic violence and simply accepting the world as it is without looking. Only in this instance I am not sure that there is a side to take.




3 Feb. 2008
New York City



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» The Writers' Strike & the Presidential Race: Where Clinton & Obama Get Their Money

The lengthy quote below is from the article, Why the writers’ strike never came up in the Democrats’ Los Angeles debate by David Walsh, 2 February 2008.

One of my goals has been to get my friends on the left to recognize some of the importance of the writers' strike. Among the few left-wing outfits covering the strike are the Trotskyists at the World Socialist Web Site.

The coverage by David Walsh at this site has been very good except for a few lacunas. Perhaps I will talk about those lacunas in another context, but I will list them here: 1) There has been no analysis about the significance of the idea of industrial unionism in the writers' strike. 2) A left-wing analysis, or any pro-union analysis, of the writers' strike must deal with the significance of IATSE, the problem with its leadership, and the need for a caucus of IA-progressives to support the writers. 3) The problem of relative social-power in the industry is never discussed by David Walsh, except in the context of the notion that the strike can't be fought well unless the fighting is done from a socialist perspective. (The sermons about socialism are the price you will pay for getting Walsh's decent analysis about the writer's strike. Just think of it as WSWS's version of product placement.)

The article quoted below is mostly about why Clinton and Obama did not have the guts to mention the writers' strike during their debate in Los Angeles.

A note by contrast should be added to the observations below. One reason why it was significant that Edwards turned up for a WGA demonstration in New York is because it took guts. By unambiguously supporting the writers' union in this strike a presidential candidate gives up a significant portion of Hollywood money, which has always been important for Democratic party candidates. (As a caveat to this I must mention that I don't support Edwards or any other presidential candidate and never have.)

The four big and consistent financial backers of the Democrats are (1) the big city real estate and construction interests; (2) the trial lawyers; (3) individuals in media and entertainment; and (4) unions. These four groups are rarely in agreement on goals and policies. The unions are usually the outliers, in this group, and are less significant financially than the other groups. Among the other three elite donors the only money that can be taken by Democratic presidential candidates with a clear conscience is trial lawyer money. If a Democratic presidential candidate alienates any of the first three of these financial groupings it is usually considered a disaster for their campaign. It is possible to alienate the unions and survive in the Democratic Party, but it is not possible to alienate the financial block represented by media and entertainment.

I usually don't write about the presidential beauty contest, because, frankly, I think most of what is talked about and written about in the context of this kind of pseudo-politics is irrelevant. But it is important to know where the money comes from for these people because those who give the moneys are essentially investors in a set of policies. The investment strategy of the economic elite, represented in this case by the flow of money to any particular politician, usually sets the boundaries that the candidate must work within.

The current bitter conflict pits the writers against a number of massive corporations, pillars of the US ruling elite. This Hollywood wing of the elite plays a particularly significant role in bankrolling the Democratic Party. While both Clinton and Obama released statements at the beginning of the strike expressing their support for the writers, that was merely for public relations purposes. In reality, the two Democratic hopefuls depend heavily on the largesse of film and television executives—at present stubbornly refusing the writers’ modest demands and smearing them in the media—for campaign funds.

Late last February, for example, during the Presidents’ Day recess of Congress, Obama’s campaign organized a $2,300-per-ticket Beverly Hills reception, attended by film stars, studio executives and others, which raised some $1.3 million.

Not to be outdone, in March 2007 the Clinton campaign raised $2.6 million at a Beverly Hills gala held at the estate of supermarket billionaire Ronald Burkle, also attended by Hollywood leading lights.

Like the Democratic Party establishment as a whole, the media and entertainment elite is divided in its loyalties, or still undecided. Clinton has the support of Rupert Murdoch of News Corp (Fox Television, 20th Century Fox) and National Amusements billionaire Sumner Redstone (CBS, Viacom), former Paramount Studios chief Lansing, Barbra Streisand, Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein and Hugh Hefner.

In his camp Obama has Spielberg’s DreamWorks partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, ex-Disney chief Michael Eisner (who denounced the writers’ strike as “stupid” n November), producer Norman Lear and Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton, among others.

After Thursday’s tepid debate, as one commentator noted, “it was off to even more important business, as Obama drove up the street to the Avalon nightclub and Hillary headed west toward the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, each to attend $2,300-per-ticket fundraisers.”

In the 2008 election cycle so far the television, film and music industry has provided the various candidates with $15,354,208 in contributions, 77 percent of that going to the Democrats (www.opensecrets.org). Individuals or Political Action Committees involved in movie production specifically have handed over $4,175,659—91 percent to the Democratic Party.

On the list of top industries contributing to the Clinton campaign, “television, music and movies” ranks 7th, having given $2.1 million. The same industry ranks 6th on Obama’s list, having contributed $2.2 million. Clinton has received $6.3 million from the Los Angeles-Long Beach, California area (with $565,525 coming from Beverly Hills), while Obama has taken in $5.1 million from the same area.

Among the top 20 contributors to the Clinton campaign organized by individual firm, along with banking and investment giants Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns, one finds Redstone’s National Amusements ($193,850), Time Warner ($124,150) and Murdoch’s News Corp ($99,350).

On Obama’s list, in addition to Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, one again comes across the names of National Amusements ($220,950) and Time Warner ($142,718).

The prominence of Time Warner on both lists is noteworthy, so too the personal contributions of Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros (a division of Time Warner), to both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. The debate Thursday was broadcast on CNN, another division of Time Warner, and moderated by the cable network’s Wolf Blitzer. Warner Bros is one of the companies currently struck by the writers and Meyer is considered to be one of their most intransigent opponents.

Is it any wonder then that the writers’ situation never came up for discussion Thursday? No, it’s not.


» "Solidarity With the WGA:" A Query & a Request for Help
I have consolidated my WGA related posts at one place at Blogspot:

Solidarity with the WGA

The reason I chose blogspot is because the functionality is easier to handle on short notice. For example putting the United Hollywood Live widget on the the site only took a few seconds.

The first reason for consolidating my WGA posts is because I wish to keep a Weblog separate from my journal Shandean Postsripts, where I also write about literature, philosophy and politics. I will continue to post WGA strike and media analysis to Shandean Postscripts.

The more important reason why I wish to start the Solidarity with the WGA Weblog is to make contacts with others who support the strike but who are not WGA members. I wish to post longer pieces from such people - analysis, reflections, historical pieces.

I would also like to interview (by email or in person if you are in the NYC area) or publish pieces by other union members who support the strike or are critical of the strike but still support its overall goals.

So this is where I would like to have the help of others. I am especially interested in reaching out to IATSE members. Any IATSE members who would like to write about the WGA strike or about their union? Are there any IA progressives who support the writers in an organized way?

Anybody who has suggestions or can help, please contact me through my journal monacojerrry and we can exchange emails.

In solidarity,

Jerry Monaco
» The Corporate Media Tries Out a New Narrative for the Writers' Strike
This is Part 3 of a Series of Posts specifically on The New York Times and the Writers' Strike:
Part 2: The New York Times and the Writers' Strike: Part 2 - General Reflections
Part 1: How Weird is The New York Times?: NYT Assigns Former Producer to Cover the WGA

Here is the new narrative line in a nutshell

HOLLYWOOD UNDER THREAT!

RADICALS IN SAG ARE PUSHING WRITERS TO CONTINUE A POINTLESS STRIKE

Radical Writers at a Web Site called "UNITED HOLLYWOOD" are Disrupting Quiet Negotiations


Radical writers and SAG told to sit down and keep quiet

Here are my Brechtian rewrites of the headlines for these non events:

The Los Angeles Times and Variety Develop a New Narrative on the Writers' Stike In Which They Warn Us That the Real Radicals are SAG and the Hot-Heads at United Hollywood

Michael Cieply, at The New York Times follows the lead of the New Narrative and gets it all wrong:

Cieply Fullfills Role as Ventriloquist Dummy for the Hollywood Deal-makers, Signals Change of Propaganda Line

Michael Cipley's article for The New York Times 31 January 2008, is "Recent Moves by Guild Leaders Rattle Writers' Talks".From the headline to the final paragraph Cieply proves himself adept at voicing the point of view of the studio executives and their bosses, the CEOs. He is also adept in propagating a new narrative for those who oppose the writers and the WGA.

Michael Cieply, is The Times reporter on the Hollywood business beat and a former producer for Sony. He is also the main Times reporter of the current struggle between the writers in the Writers Guild of America and the media conglomerates controlled by the likes Rupert Murdoch, General Electric, Sony, Viacom, etc. The New York Times, as I have noted previously, does not acknowledges the conflict of interest of assigning a reporter to cover a strike who was once an executive for one of the companies involved in the strike; nor does The Times do its readers the courtesy of informing us of this conflict of interest. Blame The Times not Cieply. Cieply is simply doing his job as a "business journalist." Like practically all business journalists he is articulating what the business executives say for other business interests.

Cieply's article of the 31st of January is another step in his endeavor of articulating the "larger business interests" involved in the writers' strke. In this article he has indicated the new propaganda narrative that the moguls and the corporate media are likely to follow as long as "closed door negotiations" continue.

The previous "narrative" set down by The New York Times and other papers has been the following: The WGA is led by "ideological" hot-heads and people who are "not professional." Patric Verrone and his "lieutenant," David Young (according to the original narrative) are singled out for their "outsider" status, and their inability to comprehend the subtleties of deal-making.

The old narrative then turns away from the leadership and focuses on "cracks" in the union. Without any evidence Cieply and the other reporters of the corporate press tell us that there is a great divide in the WGA. The officially designated (but mostly unnamed) "moderates" who are not in the leadership are more powerful than the "radicals" such as Verrone and Young. It must be understood that in the anti-union rhetoric of the corporate press the idea of a "moderate" is meant to designate anyone who is willing to make the deal that the bosses want; and the idea of an "ideological" radical is meant to designate anyone who is for a strong union movement. According to the old narrative, the moderate dissidents will triumph in the end but only if the WGA leadership is ignored. Therefore, only when a deal with the responsible and more "collegial" Director's Guild is a made will the moderates in the WGA have room to force their union into "serious" negotiations. In this narrative the dissident "moderates" will put pressure on the leadership to take the DGA deal.

Unfortunately, writers haven't been following the conglomerates' narrative. In spite of all the searching and scrutinizing for signs of disunity among the writers, the membership of the WGA has remained remarkably unified. The WGA is a democratic organization, so there are bound to be plenty of disagreements. But my experiences on the picket-line, and in email contacts with writers, have been evidence of unusual unity among a union three months into a strike. Further after seeing everything that the corporate media has failed to produce as far as evidence for this disunity among the writers, I have to conclude that the "disunity" campaign is a myth. Since this conclusion seems to be general the narrative must change.

And the narrative does change.

I have suffered through every single one of Michael Cieply's articles in The Times in the past three months and have read them carefully. Cieply has been one of the main proponents of the old narrative.

Now the propaganda line has changed. The switch has happened, as if on cue, in the whole corporate press. But nowhere is there a more tortured attempt to hide the ball than in Michael Cieply's New York Times.

What is the new narrative coming from The Times, Variety, The Los Angeles Times, and The Hollywood Reporter?

According to the new narrative it is the SAG leaders who are the ideological hot-heads and who are spoiling the party. Also there aresome people within the WGA who are being painted as the radicals and who are trying to scuttle the super-secret peace talks between select CEOs and the WGA leaders. The unexamined implication in all of these articles is that the deal with the DGA is in the best interests of "Hollywood" and the negotiatons must conclude quickly with the acceptance of the DGA deal.

In the new narrative the lines about WGA leaders, Patric Verrone and David Young has also changed. Now there are two kinds of leaders in the WGA and the question is where does Verrone stand. Some of these leaders the "executives" can deal with and the others may rattle the cages in the zoo. In this narrative it might just be possible to make a deal with Verrone and Young, but only if they learn how to play the game. The implication is that "the executives" and "Hollywood" are not quite sure about these two. But maybe the collective minds of "the executives" and "Hollywood" might be proven wrong about the initial condemnatory judgments they made about Verrone and Young. The question that is posed by the new narrative in these articles is essentially, "Has the WGA leadership learned its lesson or not? If they have learned their lesson can they 'control' their union and tell the 'radicals' to shut up?" Or to quote Cieply:

"Production companies representatives… said the comments [by those who don't want to accept the DGA deal] had added the difficulty of making a deal with a guild torn by conflicting demands."

In other words, union democracy is bad. Why isn't Verrone controlling his recalcitrant members?

The new propaganda line that the media is picking up has the following story to tell: There are radicals in the Writers' union; some of those radicals sit on the board but are not currently at the negotiating table. There are also moderates in the writers' union who want to make a deal. The moderates are being respectful and are shutting up and not making noise. According to the new narrative, that is what good people in a union do; they shut up and don't make noise for their position. But bad people like these radicals are not shutting up and if they don't shut up they will scuttle a good deal for "Hollywood". Patric Verrone, in this narrative, is balancing in between the unnamed "moderates" and the hot heads. According to Cieply the hot-heads are at a "Web site called United Hollywood." Will Patric do the right thing for "Hollywood" or will he follow the hot-heads?

(A digression on word use: The newspapers and the Moguls now use the word "Hollywood" with similar meaningless connotations to the way the neo-cons use the phrase "the national interest." In fact where ever the proper noun "Hollywood" is used to designate "the interests of the industry" try substituting the phrase "the national interest" and you will see with what intent the word "Hollywood" is used in these cases. Always be suspicious of very amorphous "key words" that are meant to designate "the general interest" of a group or a nation. Such key words are usually terms of art used to designate "the particular interest" of a preferred group. In this case the amorphous term "Hollywood" is being used to equate the corporate interests of the entertainment industry with the general interests of everyone in the industry.)

Tomorrow I will look at Michael Cieply's article piece by piece. (I cannot do it today because I am late for a WGA benefit in the City.) I think a detail look at this article is proper because it will give the careful reader tools for reading anti-union articles in newspapers, such as The New York Times in the future.

But for now let me say that my first message is that Cieply has been an unusually lousy reporter when it comes to his articles on the writers' strike. I am not blaming him for how lousy a reporter he is in this case. He simply does not have the tools to cover a union action. He only knows what the business executives say and how they act and talk. In all the articles of his that I have read that were written previous to the writers' strike, he has been adept in articulating the Hollywood deal-maker's point of view to other business executives. It is his special talent and he has no other. I think he is too much of a burnt-case to learn anything about the union movement. And as a former Sony executive he probably has imbibed the same anti-union attitudes and misconceptions as most of his fellow corporate executives.

So when I complain of Cieply's bad writing and lousy reporting it is because I think that in this case they are not mere slips; that the lousy writing signifies. The bad reporting is a function of Cieply's bias and is therefore meaningful. I have read close to 60 of Cieply's articles in the last few weeks. He is not a bad writer when his writing meets his expertise.If he is a bad writer in his articles on the WGA, SAG and the writers' strike it is because he doesn't understand unions and he doesn't care to understand the workers point of view and The New York Times does not care to understand the workers point of view.

More tomorrow.


31 January 2008
New York City



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» A Pro Union Video: What Have The Unions Ever Done For Us?
This was made Down Under and I found it posted at United Hollywood:

What Have The Unions Ever Done For Us?



More and better propaganda from the left is always welcome!

Jerry Monaco
» My favorite writer's strike cartoon

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller
» Nugget of Information - Gaslight Companies, Lamp Lighting - 1887
For no reason at all I decided to post this.

While searching for something else (a hint of when a scholar of Rome gave a lecture in New York City on the Pons Aelius) I came across an item in the New York Times that is of some interest for those who are curious to know small facts about disappeared infrastructure... in this case how much a city paid a company to employ people to light the gaslights.

The following is an item from The New York Times, Wednesday, April 6, 1887 on page 5 of the "CITY AND SUBURBAN NEWS." The item is labeled simply "Westchester." I quote the item in full.

"The long war waged by competing gas companies in White Plains for the contract to light the streets has come to an end. The White Plains Company has been receiving $25 a year per lamp for the past 20 years. The People's Gaslight Company offered to light the streets for $18 per lamp, but the White Plains Company dropped its price. Then the People's Company went down to $17, but the Village Fathers have given the contract to the White Plains Company for $18 a lamp."


That's $18 dollars per lamp per year, that The White Plains Company received.

What story of long term relationships between politicos and corporations is told here I do not know. Who were "the Village Fathers" involved, and who were the people of "The White Plains Company" and "The People's Gaslight Company?" Why was "the war" for a contract waged for so long? The company gots paid eighteen dollars per lamp per year. What did the workers get paid? Who were the gaslight workers?

Jerry Monaco
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