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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: December 2008

An excellent, thoughtful and substantive article about the different Lefts in Latin America appears in the new issue of the social-democratic magazine Dissent. Written by Ignacio Walker, a former minister of foreign affairs in Chile (2004-2006), and a visiting senior research scholar and professor at Princeton University (2007-2008), it is a serious and important contribution to understanding what is happening in our hemisphere.

Already I can see all the comments from conservatives screaming at me for recommending something written in a left of center publication. Spare yourself the time attacking me, and read his entire article before you even run to your keyboard. If we cannot learn from those whom we may disagree with politically, we are in danger of arguing for policy based on rhetoric, and not on comprehension of a political reality.

In this specific case, Walker argues that one cannot refer simply to a Latin American Left, as if it is one homogenous and undifferentiated thing. Rather, he argues that there are three distinct Lefts: populist, Marxist, and social-democratic. Populism emerged in the 1940s through the 60s, Walker points out, and is “characterized by negative attitudes toward liberal-democratic institutions and liberal capitalism-in Europe, Nazism, fascism and Stalinism; in Latin America, corporatism and populism.”

Obviously, the current regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is the best example of the new populist regimes that are threatening our hemisphere, and pose a challenge to the United States. As we all know, Chavez is seeking allies not only in Nicaragua, but in Iran and Russia. And that is why clarity about the nature of the Left in our hemisphere is so sorely needed.

As the magazine’s co-editor, political philosopher Michael Walzer writes in the editor’s page of Dissent, Walker’s “critique is especially valuable since so many leftists have foolishly celebrated Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who reminds us of no one so much as Argentina’s Juan Peron.”

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Our Hemisphere’s Mugabe?

December 9th, 2008 - 5:17 pm

A while ago, I wrote a blog about the danger Daniel Ortega posed to the people of Nicaragua, and I commented that unlike the 1980′s, few people are aware of what is happening in that nation.

Now, a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, Kevin-Casas -Zamora, has written a brilliant and important article about Ortega and the sad nation he rules. The reaction of the world to what Ortega has done, Zamora writes, “has been rather muted. It shouldn’t be.” Zamora is right. Decades ago, when the threat of a Soviet presence in our hemisphere overshadowed other concerns, people paid attention to the Sandinista commandantes and their attempt to create a Marxist totalitarian regime in Central America. Now, without such a major geo-political concern, most commentators barely give Nicaragua a glance. But they should think again, and take a good look.

As Zamora points out, it matters a great deal. Political instability in the region is something the Western Hemisphere can ill afford, especially if it leads as well it might to conflict between neighbors in the region, and possible civil war within Nicaragua. Moreover, it could also lead to a major refugee crisis, as Nicaraguans again flee to Costa Rica or El Salvador for a safe terrain, as they have in previous years of conflict.  As Zamora writes, “a prosperous and democratic Nicaragua is crucial to stability in Central America.”

Daniel Ortega is moving his nation rapidly to blatant authoritarian rule. Elections are fixed so that the ruling Sandinista party always wins; international observers have been banned from observing election day voting to judge whether it is free or coerced, and government organized mobs- so called turbas- are being used to prevent opposition demonstrations from being held.

Ortega, Zamora writes, “must understand that in a democratic Latin America, nothing less than full electoral transparency is acceptable.” To get Ortega to accept this he suggests that development assistance be used as a lever to pressure him to accept democratic standards of operation. Already Germany, Sweden, Finland and the U.K. have moved to reconsider cooperative links with Ortega’s government.  The United States, even under the Bush Administration, has not withheld resources from a $175 million assistance program agreed to in 2005.   Zamora is right that the balance due should be “used prudently, but firmly.”

It may be a stretch to compare Ortega to Mugabe, who has killed far more of his own countrymen than Ortega. But he is correct to observe that as bad as Hugo Chavez is, he has allowed elections to occur in Venezuela, and has reluctantly observed defeat for his forces at the polls. In the sense that Ortega does not allow any truly free electoral process to occur, he can be compared to Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The need, Zamora puts it, is for our country and other allies in the Hemisphere “not allow him to morph into” a Mugabe.

It is also true that for the most part, the Left’s love affair with the Sandinistas has all but disappeared. One still finds a few really small ads in The Nation promoting tours of Nicaragua to see the great  progress the Sandinistas have achieved for the poor. But the scores of young people who once flooded the country and used to be called “Sandalistas” no longer occurs.

But Ortega still dupes some, speaking as he does the language of anti American imperialism. One wonders whether in the near future, Sean Penn will travel there to write about what a great man Ortega is, and serve up his propaganda to a gullible American audience, as he most recently has done for The Huffington Post and The Nation  website.

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On an entirely different matter, I want to give kudos to Nation columnist Katha Pollitt for her blistering attack on Bill Ayers. It is written from the perspective of a left-wing activist, a point of view I do not share. But she skewers Ayers for all the right reasons, and exposes what a fraud he is.  Readers of this blog are well aware of my own point of view about Ayers. My letter to the editor of The New York Times appeared in today’s edition. I make some of the same points Pollitt makes. I guess this shows that on some matters, people of different political opinions can agree.

Still in Turmoil: The Liberal/Left and Obama

December 8th, 2008 - 5:19 pm

Steve Hildebrand, Deputy Campaign Manager of President elect Barack Obama’s campaign team, made the following statement on The Huffington Post:

“The point I’m making here is that our new president, the Congress and all Americans must come together to solve these problems. This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making… After all, he was elected to be the president of all the people – not just those on the left.”

Yet, the liberals and Left are beginning to openly complain, and their cries are getting louder. Responding to him, columnist David Sirota asks “what is with top Democrats explicitly attacking ‘the left-wing of the Democratic Party?’” Sirota thinks Hildebrand’s message isn’t meant to mend fences, but to isolate the Left, and that is what gets  him angry. And now, tomorrow’s New York Times carries a story further reflecting the Left’s anguish. Journalist Peter Baker’s report cites praise of Obama’s appointments from Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh, which he writes “alone would seem enough to set off a revolt in his liberal base.” That it has not as yet broken out is only, he thinks, because the liberal/left is holding their tongues.

Obama, Baker points our, “has largely passed over progressives,” appointing the existing Defense Secretary, a general who is close to John McCain, and choosing economic advisors from the corporate, free-trade and “deficit-hawk wing of the party.” All this has, in what may be an understatement, “deeply frustrated liberals.”

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Conservatives and the Delusions of the Left

December 5th, 2008 - 3:23 pm

Melanie Phillips is a writer whose yeoman work in defense of Israel and whose critique of radical Islam and its threat to the West is second to none. Her book Londonistan is a clarion call for us to wake up and to ignore the threat of radical Islam at our own peril.

I had the pleasure to finally meet her a few weeks ago, and to have the chance to engage in  a brief conversation. As much as I admire her I have profound disagreements with her column today in the British Spectator.  She came across a blog written by former members of the extremist wing of the 1960′s Students for a Democratic Society, including members of the Weathermen and the Weather Underground.

They make the following claims: Obama was only pretending to lean towards the political center. In fact, he is a committed partisan of the far Left, whose pragmatic centrist strategy is but a shield for the real agenda he will deliver on in the future. Mark Rudd therefore see him as a genius, who understands that a more left-wing Congress will turn against him later. In the meantime, he has the public’s support for small steps, that will become large once momentum is built. It is a strategy of: “feint to the right, move left.” The progressive second string appointments like John Podesta will really be the ones to make policy—not his main Cabinet picks.

Ex Weatherman Jeff Jones agrees. Hillary Clinton is not a hawk; she was picked as a cover for him to adopt an anti-war position. Similarly, his economic team is a cover for extorting a new green industrial revolution in America, and finally, financial resources will be distributed downwards to the people. The centrists are but a “smokescreen” as he co-opts the moderate center and veers to the Left.

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The Cars that Leftists Drive

December 4th, 2008 - 3:38 pm

Everyone knows the stereotype of the left-wing academic liberal, who drinks a daily latte at Starbucks and drives a Volvo wagon. Since that first appeared, the car is no longer a Volvo, but more than likely a Toyota, a Hyundai, a Nissan or even a BMW, a Mercedes or a Volkswagon—anything but an American car.

In fact, I can’t name anyone I know who drives an American car except me. The argument is simple: if you want a good car, buy Japanese. The American cars will give you trouble; they’re not roadworthy, they’re not good on gas, etc. There is another reason not to buy an American car. Foreign and especially Japanese cars have so much more to offer than the competing American model and cost only a thousand or two more

When we had to recently get a new car after an accident that totaled our old car—we did the unthinkable. We settled for a Mercury Sable LS. Yes, an American car. That, I guess, unmistakably marks me as a die-hard conservative.

One reason the American manufacturers cannot compete: labor costs. As an article in The New York Times makes clear, “the average U.A.W. member costs G.M. about $74 an hour in a combination of wages, health care and the value of future benefits, like pensions. Toyota, by comparison, spends the equivalent of about $45 an hour for each of its employees in the United States.”  Those high labor costs make it virtually impossible for GM and the other big U.S. automakers to compete on an equal footing with companies like Toyota.

It is because of this that the dwindling membership of the U.A.W. has announced their willingness to make drastic concessions to help the American firms stay in business. It finally has dawned on them that if their old programs and benefits stay intact, the manufacturers will go bust and all their members will find themselves out of a job. That is why the U.A.W. now proposes to sacrifice job security provisions and financing for retiree health care.

The Japanese automakers, to put it simply, don’t have to deal with the unions. And here is where I get to the blatant hypocrisy. How many people on the Left- who talk regularly about the evil of income inequality and non-union jobs that deprive workers of rights and an income and health care they deserve, drive Japanese cars because they don’t want to buy from American firms whose hands are stymied by those horrible union benefits?  There is no way to take a survey, but I sure know plenty of them, and those I know aren’t driving Fords or Pontiacs or Chevrolets.

Each generation seems to develop its own far leftist “intellectual” leaders.  This generation’s flavor is no longer Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, according to Larissa MacFarquhar in the latest issue of The New Yorker.   I don’t necessarily agree with this judgment, but evidently she thinks they were influential only some thirty years ago. Their replacement is none other than Naomi Klein, whose book, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, was on the The New York Times bestseller list for 28 weeks. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow calls it “the only book of the last few years…that I would describe as a must-read,” and Seymour Hersh- whose shoddy journalism and conspiracy theories often fill up the pages of the same magazine, calls her “one of the most important new voices in American journalism today.”

If this is true, I fear for the future of American journalism, and would have to agree with those who have proclaimed its death as an honorable profession. Klein is regularly on a worldwide,  never-ending tour, where hundreds line up to hear her speak.  In Toronto, MacFaraquhar covered one such event, where the line “stretched to the end of the block and around the corner” of the theater she was speaking at.  Perhaps this speaks to the need of her followers to have an explanation for the evils of capitalism.  The culprit is the late Milton Friedman’s “free-market absolutism.”

MacFarquuhar’s profile shows us that Klein  is a child of ex Communist Party members, who left the Communist movement after the truths about its loyalty to Stalinism were too much to bear, but who continued to think as old Communists in the way they approached the world. She learned her view of American history from them. Here’s how: “Bonnie and Michael [her parents] would play tapes of a Pacifica Radio show that related American history through folk music–the story of McCarthyism through the Weavers, the civil-rights movement through the Freedom Singers.” They instilled in their daughter the culture of the Popular Front and its understanding of the world.

Klein’s husband, Stephen Lewis, reinforce each other. Lewis heralds from a prominent Canadian Socialist Party background. As he tells MacFarquhar: “We understood in my family that we were part of a cause, a movement, and the Party, capitalized, was a big part of that.”

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New York City’s Useful Idiots

December 2nd, 2008 - 1:40 pm
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But is it Art?…and Ed Koch on radical Islam

December 1st, 2008 - 3:35 pm

 I have written many times in various places about the Rosenberg case, most recently in The Los Angeles Times, and in Frontpagemag.com. I argued therein that today, after their co-defendant Morton Sobell’s confession that he the Rosenbergs were Soviet spies, that  almost everyone except the dwindling group of true believers know that a pillar of the left-wing culture of grievance has finally been shattered. In the latter article, I asked the question of what kind of parents would saddle their orphaned sons with the burden of proving their innocence, when the Rosenbergs knew they were lying to them when they wrote “Always remember. We were innocent,” knowing full well they were really guilty?

The final truth is that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were Soviet spies. They were not on trial because they were singled out as scapegoats so the United States could wage an unnecessary Cold War against  the Soviet Union. They were put on trial because they sought to, and did, harm our country. The Old Left’s propaganda apparatus nevertheless made them into heroes and martyrs, victims of a McCarthyite witch-hunt.

As Sam Roberts writes in The New York Times, the case has become “fodder for a growing canon of books (fiction and non) plays, poetry, protest songs, opera, art by Picasso, memoirs and screeds from every perspective.” There are some fine books, especially the novel by David Evanier, Red Love. Usually ignored, it is a masterpiece.  And now, strangest of all, is the Rosenberg puppet show!

Yes, a puppet show, with the doomed couple sitting in little electric chairs. I have not seen this presentation, nor do I intend to, but I think Roberts is somewhat overstating things when he writes that this proves the case still “remains a red-hot touchstone.” What it does prove is only that some Czech born émigrés from Communism still seem to have a soft spot for the Rosenbergs, whom they seem very concerned did not get their due process in the American courts.

It certainly is true that the American prosecutors exaggerated evidence and engaged in indefensible and even illegal tactics to get a conviction. But one of the reasons the world Communist movement created attention to the case was to deflect attention from the trial taking place in Czechoslovakia against Rudolf Slansky and his Jewish co-defendants in the major post-war purge trial, where most of the defendants were forced to confess and then hanged as tools of American imperialism and world Zionism. The puppeteers lived through this epoch in their native land, and well remember it.

At the time, the American left-wing journalist I.F. Stone wrote the following about the campaign in the U.S. by the American Left to free the Rosenbergs:

 The Communists…have cause for shame…the eagerness abroad to use the Rosenbergs to equate the U.S.A. of Truman with the Germany of Hitler, the wild cries of frame-up, sacrificed calm consideration of the Rosenberg case to the needs of world Communist propaganda. After all, no picket lines circled the Kremlin to protest the executions of Jewish writers and artists; they did not even have a day in court; they just disappeared. Slansky was executed overnight without appeal in Prague. How the same people could excuse Slansky and the ‘doctor’s plot’ and at the same time carry on the Rosenberg campaign as they did calls for political psychiatry.

And yet the puppet show evidently centers only on what America did to the Rosenbergs.

Finally, isn’t the very concept of a puppet show about the Rosenbergs not only straining a metaphor, but in very, very poor taste? Is it even art? Perhaps some of you in NYC who have seen this play will let us know.

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On another matter, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch writes the following in his own e-mail blog, about a discussion of radical Islam with some supposedly smart students. I hope he is wrong in his estimate of what their conclusions mean for our future. Koch writes:

            Recently I conducted a seminar for twelve interns a few years out of college who were sent to me by a foundation that placed them with private firms and public agencies for work experience. 

 

            The group asked me what was my greatest concern.  I told them that I feared for America’s future.  I said I do not believe our children are willing to fight and die to defend American ideals and that consequently we might lose the war against Western civilization being waged by international Islamic terrorists.

 

            I said that Americans love life and respect religious freedom.  Islamist terrorists, on the other hand, long to die as religious martyrs while forcibly converting the infidel, primarily Christians, Jews and Hindus.

 

            I repeated what Bernard Lewis, the great historian and specialist on Islam, had told me, that forced conversion or death could be averted if Christians and Jews recognized the supremacy of Islam and paid tribute, while followers of other religions did not have that option.

 

            I was surprised at the opposition of many in the room to my statements.  Two young women identified themselves as Muslims.  They vigorously disputed my statements.  I asked them to check with Islamic scholars and continue e-mail discussions with me on the subject.  They said they would.  If I hear from them, I’ll let you know what they say.

 

            At the end of the hour, I asked the group to demonstrate by a show of hands who agreed with me and who agreed with those who do not think Islamic terrorism is the great danger to the world that I had  described.  It  was shocking to me that the interns split evenly, 6 to 6.  Now I fear more than ever for America’s future.