Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book discussion roundtable

Jim: Roundtable time and this is a book discussion of sort. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz; Ruth of Ruth's Report; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ and Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends. Illustration was done by Betty's oldest son. We're going to start with Betty who agreed to tackle Claud Cockburn's The Devil's Decade. Our choices do add up and, hopefully, as we work to a conclusion, Elaine and C.I. will be able to explain how that is. I assigned books to all but Ty and Kat. Ty's home for the holidays and didn't have time, Kat said last Sunday, "I'm going on the road to speak and also trying to do CD reviews, don't push me Jim." [Rush transcript.] Betty?


Betty: I grabbed this from the list. I enjoyed the illustrations more than the actual book. For example, page 98 featured Jean Harlow in a movie still, a film poster of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' Top Hat and Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in a movie still. Cockburn was a journalist, English, and The Devil's Decade is him writing about the thirties, the book was published in 1973. I started it with great interest. The first section is called "After the Crash" and I hoped it would have something to say about the current crisis, one of those 'we can learn from the past' moments; however, that was not the case. A photo of a soup line on pages seven and eight says more than any of Cockburn's writing in the section. He writes very well in terms of style and can hold your attention but for someone writing, in that section, about the depression, he has so very little to say and I felt he was striving for a sort of Noel Coward piss-elegant. There was no passion, just a love for word choice and formation. Again, the pictures make the book for me. There's a photograph on page 77 of men protesting in Trafalgar Square that captures the time so much better than Cockburn's oh-so-precious writing. The only moment anything stood out was this from page 165:

The Communists, tiny in numbers, had possessed the energy and organizational know-how to bring about the creation of the Popular Front. The policy of seeking to establish Popular Fronts, to include working class and middle class elements in a broad, united opposition to Fascism, had been adopted at the 7th Congress of the Comintern in 1935. By some, it was seen as a purely defensive policy. To view it thus was mistaken, since in the Marxist dialectic there could be no, so to say, static separation of the defensive and the offensive. Still, it did recognize that the meance of Fascism to the whole working class and to broad other sectors of the population was not only real and immediate but was the most important factor in the entire situation. The strategy of the Popular Front was defensive in the sense that it demanded the subordination of the ultimate and necessarily divisive aims to the necessitites of the defence against Fascism.

Betty (Con't): I found that especially interesting in light of the actions by American Communists and Socialists this election cycle as they made a point to regularly hurl insults at the working class. The book, honestly, left me bored. He was a wonderful stylist but apparently polished the life out of pretty much every sentence.

Jim: What did you learn about hidden truths?

Betty: Not a damn thing. It was a real waste of time.

Ava: C.I. and I also didn't read a book for this -- though we'd already read most if not all books that are discussed in this. Jim assigned us the role of rounding out with factoids from time to time so I'll jump in here to explain that Claud Cockburn is of interest to people today as the father of CounterPunch's Alexander Cockburn as well as Patrick and Andrew Cockburn. His grandchildren include the semi-sane Stephanie Flanders, the nutty-as-a-fruitcake Laura Flanders and Shannon-Elizabeth-with-an-accent Olivia Wilde from House -- possibly that's Shannon-Tweed-with-an-accent.

Betty: I would argue Shannon Tweed.

Jim: Thank you, Ava and Betty. Dona will explain the point of this roundtable.

Donna: As we enter what we're considering our final stage online, we really want to do something more than what's offered elsewhere. For example, I.F. Stone. You hear his name on CounterSpin or read it in FAIR's Extra! or The Nation or some column and you think he was a muckraker or an independent journalist. And you're led to believe that, for his day, he did something amazing. What you don't grasp is that he was addressing the issues that are still in need of addressing today. A huge number of the 'new problems' of today are not new and I can't figure out whether there's a desire to rush over that fact because there's so little time or because it hurts someone to admit how long so many problems have lasted. Rebecca, Wally and Cedric teamed up for a book by George Seldes.

Wally: I'm jumping in to hit on "hidden truths." It's supposedly something our brave 'new' left has done 'recently': Revealing who funds right-wing media. No offense to David Brock, but that's really not 'new'. Chapter 24 of Never Tire of Protesting, finds Seldes documenting "The New McCarthyism" and revealing that the right-wing is funding the attack media. He refers to a New York Times article published June 28, 1965 which was written by Donald Janson and opens: "Financial support of the nation's rightwing continues to grow, with a healthy portion of the dollars coming from big business." Examples include Schick Safety Razor Co which "sent [John F.] Fergus hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor right-wing radio and television programs and to advertise in reactionary magazines." That's just a few of the highlights and it's a fascinating chapter -- from a book published in 1968. Cedric?

Cedric: The funding also deals with more than media but I found chapter nine most interesting. There was an article somewhere last week on Readers' Digest --

C.I.: New York Times, Richard Perez-Pena's "Reader's Digest Pushes on in Weak Climate."

Cedric: That was it, thank you. It was talking about how Reader's Digest thinks it is sitting pretty at a time when so many other magazines and publishing houses are in crisis. And Reader's Digest is something everyone knows of. Myself, I don't know anyone who reads it, but everyone knows of it. So he's outlining how, in 1942, the publication's then owner DeWitt Wallace wanted Hitler to remain in power. He didn't want him "smashed" because someone needed to "police the continent" -- Europe -- "and maintain order." That's a frightening revelation. It explored how the Digest attempted to plant articles in other publications so they could 'digest' it and one 'digest' ran on an article that a magazine refused to run because it was so inaccurate. The chapter notes that after many years, the US Justice Department decided, quoting Gazette & Daily (York, Penn), "not to prosecute associate editor [Eggleston] on charge of having received $15,000 from Nazis to publish Hitler propaganda, as stated in report of former assitant to Attorney General, O. John Rogge."

Rebecca: Again, the book came out in 1968 and I think you can take the current illegal war into account when I read this from page 250: "If anyone today believes that things have changed, and for the better, and that the press no longer fools most of the people most of the time, I would suggest that he read the report on Vietnam published for the Ford Foundation by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in 1965. Only one conclusion can be drawn from it: The American government and the American press completely deceived the American public on the tragic and bloody war in Vietnam."

Jim: Which, you are correct, does apply to today. Kat doesn't have a book assignment so she may want to weigh in on this topic. Ty didn't have one either and he'll jump in as he sees fit. Anyone else can as well.

Kat: Think back to when this illegal war started and remember the question of didn't we learn anything from Vietnam? No. What happened is those wanting war knew they had to wait for Vietnam to become more of a memory and then they could force through the illegal war. I mean Norm Coleman voted to authorize the current illegal war. Norm was a CO during Vietnam.

Wally: Elsewhere, Stone's writing about the Bay of Pigs and how JFK's trying to cover over it -- that may be something Jess plans to discuss -- but he's talking about, Stone, how it doesn't need to be swept aside and the lesson needs to be learned. History in the US is the history of very few lessons ever being learned, my opinion.

Betty: Agreed and think about how little we know. On that point, that's not me saying, "Americans are so stupid! What dumb lazy people!" I'm talking about our education system and I'm talking about our media outlets. And as Dona pointed out, the reason for doing this is to discuss a number of topics that do not get discussed -- and we're talking in so-called 'independent' media -- so I'm talking about -- I'm slamming -- both the education system and our media.

Stan: Big and Small.

Betty: Yes, as C.I. would say: All Things Media Big and Small.

Jim: As Wally pointed out, Jess read I.F Stone as well. Jess' book was In a Time of Torment.

Jess: This is a collection of Stone's later writings -- largely from the sixties -- and was published in 1967. He's writing about Republicans in the section I'm going to highlight and the Republican convention pops up in places in this August 20, 1964 piece entitled "An Unsocial Scientist:"

Their objection to the Welfare State is that it takes from them and gives to the poor. Liberalism advocates Welfarism as the only effective way to combat Communism. But the Goldwaterites object to Liberalism as being liberal with their money. The idelogical barricade thrown up by The Conscience of a Conservative is to deny "that a man's politics are determined by the amount of food in his belly." For them man is a spiritual being and therefore, presumably, can live on wind.

Jess (Con't): That's page 40, by the way. In terms of "hidden truths," not many. He goes soft on JFK after his assassination, or does in the selections he offers in this book. Betty was speaking earlier of how devoid of passion Claud Cockburn's writing was -- strange when you consider his son Alex -- and I would argue I.F. Stone's writing throughout this collection is passionate. The reason I picked that passage is because I believe (a) it's still applicable and (b) one of the great failures of 'independent' media has been in defining.

Ty: I'll jump in there. How many times do we have to read Katrina vanden Heuvel yammering on about how the left needs to define what it stands for? But she never does because she can't. She erects monuments on quick sand.

Betty: Mildred Pierce! Sorry.

Ty: I'm laughing. Yeah, Mildred's big mansion is sinking in that film. But she's like someone running to the phone every five minutes asking, "What's our position on this!" She has no idea. She has no grounding and she stands for nothing. And something as simple as what Stone's written, the part Jess read, is so far beyond her yet she repeatedly bores the country with her writing and her talking about this topic.

Marcia: She's unable to think, for one thing. And she has no core beliefs. That's why the supposed Russian expert is always waiting until a crisis has peaked in that region to weigh in. She can't be wrong! She must not be wrong! So she just shuts up when everyone's trying to make sense of whatever has flared up. She's completely useless and that's because she has no core beliefs. I think Jess chose a great section to emphasize because we hear about this issue or that issue and dingbats like Katty-van-van think you can string together positions on issues and end up with a charm braclet and an ideology, but you can't. You need to have a working belief system.

Mike: And she is an idiot but this is something Stanley Aronowitz talks and writes about, the need for something more than just a position on a single issue, the need for a framework. And the first time I came across that was when he was a guest on a radio show and I thought what he was saying was interesting. Then I started reading his books and hearing more from him and I really think he's correct. I agree Jess chose the perfect excerpt.

Ava: Well do we want to talk about why Stanley's not being heeded? It's perfectly obvious why vanden Heuvel's not going to follow that and why others aren't as well. He's talking about a left and an ideology. She's trying to win elections. He's talking about the hard work of serious movement building and she's looking for short cuts and quick fixes.

Kat: She's a farmer planting crops on the same patch of land over and over.

Cedric: Right. Leeching the soil so that, at some point, you can't grow anything there anymore.

Ava: And until the hard work is done, we're not going to see any real changes. Now a perfect example here is Ellen Willis' critique of Thomas Frank's bad book What's The Matter You? I know that's not the title but I think it should be. Katty van-van, the princess of the purile, can never stop praising that idiotic, ahistorical book that offers nothing but quack cures and quick fixes. Ellen Willis, in her critique, was noting how Frank's approach was throwing in the towel and destructive. It's really a battle between standing for something or caving to win elections and the likes of Katty-van-van will always cave and they destroy the left in the process. She is not a thinker and she's not even an editor. If the woman had not bought her seat at the table, she'd probably be raving on some street corner.

Ty: To state a connection that we all made but didn't verbalize, until her death, Ellen Willis was married to Stanley Aronowitz. Ava and C.I. quote from her critique of Frank in "TV: The stench of 'public affairs' programming."

Jim: Alright. Ruth, you also had I.F. Stone.

Ruth: Correct, I had The I.F. Stone Weekly Reader which was edited by Neil Middleton and published in 1973. This is a collection of his pieces for his Weekly Reader. And I wanted to emphasize this from his September 9, 1968 "When a Two-Party System Becomes a One-Party Rubber Stamp," which appears in the book on page 152:

When a country is denied a choice on the most burning issue of the time, the war in Vietnam, then the two-party system has become a one-party rubber stamp. This is the first and essential point to be made in the wake of the Democratic and Republican conventions. The Establishment and the military have locked the ballot boxes. If the results are an intensified alienation among the youth who must fight this war, an increase in resistance to the draft, a rise in street demonstrations and violence, this is the cause and not some occult conspiracy. The real conspiracy was the one which wove together Eisenhower's last inflammatory message to the Republican convention with the iron control Johnson and Daley exercised over the Democrats.
Both parties, both candidates, have been drafted. The Pentagon has won the election even before the votes are cast.

Ruth (Con't): And I chose that because it describes the 2008 election. We,if we stuck to the Democrats and the Republicans, were denied a vote on the Iraq War. Neither candidate of the two major parties supported withdrawal. Barack offered the nonsense of combat troops out in 16 months which would not remove even half the US troops stationed in Iraq currently. John McCain offered nothing. Barack refused to promise that, if elected, all troops would be out of Iraq by the end of his first term, 2012. That told us all we needed to know. As it was then, it is now.

Stan: And don't forget, Barack's supposedly keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.

Rebecca: Change? Ruth's excerpt gets to the heart of it, it is one party. That's the only explanation for a supposed 'anti-war' 'Democrat' keeping the appointee of a Republican War Hawk over the Defense Dept. And Dems will roll over and take it. Can you imagine in the outrage in 2001 on the part of Republicans if the Bully Boy had said, "I think I'll keep Janet Reno on as Attorney General."

Marcia: He's spineless. Barack is completely spineless and stands for nothing. The changeling, trying desperately to fit into all worlds and fitting into none.

Ruth: I also thought of Steve Clemons report from last week about how Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain met secretly back in July "to assemble large rosters of potential personnel for the administration that only one of the candidates would lead." Who ever heard of such a thing? I have very little respect for George McGovern but could you imagine the outcry -- even today -- if we discovered McGovern had met with Tricky Dick in the summer of 1972 to outline a roster? But, as usual, no one's supposed to object to the Christ-child.

Kat: Well it stinks. I agree with Ruth, it stinks. And it demonstrates two things, 1) How to the right Barack is or how to the right he will bend and 2) All those screaming about John McCain and condemning him better grasp he and Barack had very few real differences. And after four years of Barack tilting right and courting Republicans, the left may feel even more stupid than they think they do having supported the War Hawk Barack.

Marcia: Let me jump in. I'll start with an excerpt and then identify:

The President's illness is a world calamity. Dwight Eisenhower has occupied a most peculiar role in American politics. Through him, exploiting his fame as a soldier and his personal charm, the Eastern seaboard moneyed interests who direct the Repbulican party achieved a number of purposes They attracted enough of the independent vote to win the 1952 elections from the Democrats, who have since 1932 been the majority party. They put into effect a program which accepted the main accomplishments of New Deal and Fair Deal but sought to establish a climate favorable to big business, notably in the control of basic resources and of fiscal policy. Above all, in the search for a sound dollar, a balanced budget and tax reduction, they moved to end the Korean conflict, to liquidate the cold war, to recognize the world atomoic stalemate, and to cut down swollen military expenditures. Only through the foremost American General of our generation could they put some curb on the Pentagon, and only through a General speaking for a conservative party could they begin to negotiate with Moscow and Peking without being accused -- in the overheated atmosphere of an America driven slightly wack since 1947 -- of "appeasement," or treachery.

Marcia (Con't): He goes on to note the Weekly Reader's "Challenging the Left: 'Back Ike for Peace'" editorial from June 13, 1953. And to note: At this juncture, the Democratic party, and particularly its liberals and labroites, cannot be relied upon." It's I. F. Stone, again, and this is from the collection of his writings entitled The Haunted Fifties: 1953 - 1963, pp 105-106. And as we see non-stop justifications and excuses offered for Barack's ever rightward drift, it's worth noting that if John McCain had been elected, the left wouldn't be holding their tongues. They wouldn't be waiting for the 'right time' to critique. They'd be on the ground and you'd see action, real action. I want to be honest here, I am now officially done with the Democratic Party. I have no use for them. Consider me an independent -- on the left. I did vote for Nader and I am proud of that vote. But as the Democrats avoid pressuring Barack STILL! I just want to go on record stating I am no longer a Democrat.

Stan: And Marcia also made that announcement to our family at Thanksgiving.

Marcia: And got applause.

Stan: And got huge applause. I'm going to take it somewhere else for a minute and I hope that's okay. Marcia and I had the same book. And a lot of us read additional books for this discussion, by the way. We were assigned particular ones by Jim. But, for example, Mike and I both read The World of Lincoln Steffens which was edited by Ella Winter and Herbert Shapiro from 1963 in addition to the book we were assigned. And I've got a complaint true of Stone and true of Steffans. Stone writes of Emett Till's murder and Steffens writes of the Scottsboro case. Those are both important stories. The writing does not reflect that. I was impressed with neither and Steffens especially seemed to have the attitude of "I spoke to White sources, I did my job." Now sympathetic White sources, to be sure, but it's not really their story to tell, now is it? In the intro to Steffens piece, the editors argue that he was catering his argument to the South to attempt to get them to take action. I want to be clear that I had no problem with that. Nor am I griping about that. I think that was a very smart tactic and I'm certainly well aware that -- despite the lies of Amy Goodamn -- racism existed and exists in the north as certainly as it did and does in the south. But I did want to raise that point. With regards to Stone, who was he writing for? Why write of the case and refuse to identify anyone? We're told "Mrs." so and so this and Mrs. so and so that did this or that in the trial or weren't allowed to but we not only do not get a first name -- not even the first name of their husbands -- we don't get any information on who they are. It's worthless. It's not reporting. I can't imagine his work on the Till case was much more than the equivalent of a headline scrawl across the screen on CNN today. It has no value at all and it's his own fault for refusing to be specific. That may not be true of all his writing. It is true of the writing selected for that collection by him.

Jim: I think those are both good points. I'm wondering where Ava is on any of this?

Ava: On commenting? Well a number of names have been mentioned. Some were blacklisted. Claud Cockburn is considered a Communist by many. His family would publicly disagree. Muckrakers were radicals and could upset the status quo. Not all who were muckrakers were Communist or Socialist but a number were. It's amazing how that is ignored. The blacklist is gone, the people are dead. At what point does history set the record straight and at what point does everyone stop acting like having been a Communist was something to be ashamed of? I've been silent on that in part because I know Elaine and C.I. are going to go into it.

Jim: Okay. Which leaves Mike and Elaine. They grabbed a book that is actually one in a series of books Mike's been reading in recent weeks for another theme he's been making mention of at his site and that we hope to do something on there. I'm sure that theme will come up here.

Elaine: Our book is I'd Hate Myself In The Morning by the creative Ring Lardner Jr. with an introduction -- a bad introduction -- by Money Begger Victor Navasky. If Navasky was to appear in a James Bond film, he would be Money Penny's cousin, Money Begger. For 198 pages, Lardner appears to see how far truth can be stretched before breaking. Jim, you complained about C.I. not having said much in the roles you designated for Ava and C.I., rest assured a great deal will be said during this. Ring's a -- was, he's dead now -- a screenwriter. Not a great screenwriter, not even a good one. Certainly capable of nothing of merit on his own. He won two Oscars. In the first case, he co-wrote a bad script. In the second case, the merits didn't matter. Ring was a Communist and you can surf all over the net and find him noted for his "leftwing politics" but never find the term "Communist." That's Crapapedia and elsewhere. Ring was a member of the Communist Party and makes that clear in his own book if anyone doubted it. I'm going to toss to Mike for his observation.

Mike: I really had no idea about this term "progressive" and where it came from. It seems to have just arrived one day in this century. But it has a long history and Ring's aware of it which is why he says early on that there were the groups of Communists and liberals and then, without even seeming to realize it, he switches over to progressives and liberals. There is one sentence, for careful readers, where the three categories appear. Only one. The switch occurs as the Communists go underground. And that is how "progressive" has most often been used -- that's the theme I've been writing about and researching -- "progressive" has historically in this country been a screen for Socialists and Communists to hide behind. "Hey, I'm a Democrat, what are you?" "Uh, I'm uh . . . a progressive! Yeah, that's it! A progressive!" So it's hilarious when, in the book, Ring sets up the dichotmy between Communists and liberals -- Communists being the passionate, the noble, etc. in Ring's mind -- and then, right as the backlash begins, he switches over to writing about progressives and liberals. That's after Teddy Roosevelt and, no surprise, when Henry Wallace is running for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Drummed out as FDR's vice president, kept around in the cabinet until then-president Harry Truman ran him off, Wallace takes up with the Progressive Party. Who is the Progressive Party? Most liberal critics thought it was largely the Communist Party and certainly Wallace's later avowal of all things Communits would appear to back that up. Who did the Communist Party USA endorse in the 1948 election? Henry Wallace. During the 40s, "progressive" became code for Communist or Socialist and it was not rooted in the early Progressive movement. It's a screen today, I'd argue, allowing cradle Republicans and others to attempt blending in with the left.

Kat: I didn't read a book, I was too busy for Jim's reading list. But let me explain the term Mike just used. Mike and I are Catholic. A cradle Catholic is a Catholic born into the faith as opposed to someone who converts to it. A cradle Catholic is always a Catholic. Mike's using the term deliberately with regards to Republicans and I would argue you could include the likes of Arianna Huffington and other allged 'progressives' in the groupings "cradle Republicans."

Elaine: As Mike points out -- and this is surprising since Money Beggar did the intro and presumably read over the transcript of this garbage published by Nation Books -- Ring is apparently not even aware that, having created and utilized the classifications for the left of Communist or liberal, he then -- as the backlash gets under way -- suddenly drops that to use progressive or liberal as the classification. Money Begger must have been real tired when he read the transcript. It's a fanciful book, filled with half-truths and evasions. That's only all the more laughable when he wants to take Lillian Hellman into account for the difference between her public testimony and her letter to the HUAC. And wants to pretend she hasn't explained that in her own book Soundrel Time -- when, in fact, she has. And disclosure, I knew Lillian and had great respect for her. Ring didn't have any respect for her or any woman. It's hilarious to watch him lie about how Woman of the Year was trashed by another screenwriter! It wasn't sexist until then! It was sexist through and through, long before the ending. What a liar. And it was sexist for its time. I'm tossing to C.I.

C.I.: Before you point out that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn weren't the great love affair and everyone, including Lillian, knew all about how both had many, many sex-same affairs? I'll go there. Elaine and I both knew Lillian and had tremendous respect for her. There's no respect for Ring, writing a book in 2000, a whine -- I'll come back to that -- who wants to tell the world about the great love affair of Kate and Spence. Grow the hell up. They're both dead. Spencer used every party boy he could get from George Cukor and the whole town knew it then and knows it now. Outside of bragging that she'd turned down then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, does anyone know of a woman Hepburn ever turned down? He was an overweight drunk who had trouble getting it up by the time she met him. He preferred oral sex, young rent boys going down on him. At best, they had a six month relationship that was rarely sexual. Then it was to both of their interests to play into the myth of the great love affair of the day. It allowed him to live apart from his wife -- on George Cukor's property! -- with few raising the issue of gay and it finally silenced the lesbian talk that had dogged her since she first started making films. Someone needs to tell Ring that when you're writing a book that's supposedly setting the story straight, you don't take a lavender couple -- with both members dead -- and shore up their cover story. That when you lie like that -- and it is a lie and Ring knew it was -- you call into question everything else you write. Hepburn's dead, Tracy's dead. There's no reason to lie. By lying, it just makes the reader all the more suspicious of his other statements. In chapter three, he's writing romantically of the Soviet Union including of its political structure. This is also the chapter that details his visit there. Then in chapter five, he's writing, "As for the Soviet Union, while we viewed it sympathetically as an experiment, no one I knew wanted to see the same formula applied in our own country -- not the dicatorship, or the repression of dissidents, or the phony elections, or the subordination of the arts to propagnada. America, we were convinced, would become socialist with all its freedoms intact, which Russia never had." What a liar. First off, the things he's listing? Those are your late sixties, early seventies remarks. They are not remarks anyone made in the forties. In fact, I can provide names of people publicly making those statements in the late sixties and seventies including a woman who stated people would drop to their knees and pray for socialism if they knew what it was. He is writing of being physically in the forties and is imposing decades later opinions on them -- as he damn well knew. It needs to be noted that Marx' belief was that Socialism would be the transition phase between capitalism and Communism. Something party member Ring damn well knew. He had no such reservations in the forties that he's expressing on, I believe, page 99. If he had, prior to the US involvement in WWII, all of his talk about how now it was so wonderful that Communist and liberals could again be on the same page talk wouldn't be in there. The Communist Party USA took its marching orders from the Soviet Union. That's reality. The party line came out of Moscow and you followed it or you were kicked out of the Party. That was especially true in the entertainment industry and Ring's not only aware of it, he alludes to it in terms of What Makes Sammy Run? This is revisionary history at its worst and goes far beyond his need to make a joke -- which distorts some truths after the blacklist -- and his tendency to play glory hog.

Elaine: Jumping in to back up a moment. The Communist Party USA did take its marching orders from the Soviet Union in the lead up to the blacklist. That is why its followers in the US were twisting in knots over this decision or that pact. It's referred to in The Way We Were when Katie's confronted with her twisting positions. Her positions twisted and turned because the calls were coming out of the Soviet Union. As C.I. points out, in discussing reviews of What Makes Sammy Run?, Ring alludes to that but he does not come out and explain it and, elsewhere, he goes to great lengths to ignore that fact. That is the reality. When he circumvents the truth, he makes everything he writes questionable.

C.I.: And let's get back to HUAC, or go there, I don't think we have. This isn't a justification of it, but let's remember that the Communist Party loved, loved HUAC. They thought it was the bee's knees. That's because it was originally investigating Americans for links to fascism. Many people know the name Smedly Butler and we've discussed his book here before. But that testimony was to the HUAC. In its earliest days, it explored fascism. And the New Masses -- a USA Communist periodical -- couldn't say enough kind things about the committee. Now this was before the US was in WWII. So maybe if people hadn't applauded the committee then, it wouldn't have taken off later? We like committees that probe into private citizens' lives if the citizens are our enemies? Is that how it works? Let's remember this at the heart of the New Deal, this is 1934, when the committee begins and it's original name doesn't cause alarm? "Special Committee on Un-American Activities." For its first years, it's not the least bit concerned with Communism or Socialism. And it did get applauded by many on the left. The pendulum swings both ways, a phrase drilled into people Elaine and my head back in the day. And what was a left-wing investigation of American citizens became a right-wing one later on. Again, that's not a justification, it is stating, don't act like the HUAC came out of nowhere. How ironic that New Masses would applaud the work of the committee and call out the major publications of the day -- including The New York Times -- for ignoring the work of the committee in the thirties only to be the target of the investigations in the forties and beyond.

Elaine: The ahistorical approach -- encouraged by the likes of Money Beggar -- are not allowing for a full understanding of what the time was like, what led up to it, or how it came to be.

Mike: I want to point out something. Ring admits he was a member of the Communist Party. And he's offended that he was asked if he was. And to some degree you can understand that; however, he's talking about how Dorothy Parker, for example, was a member and how she and other names were not 'mixing' in the general meetings because there had to be secrecy. Okay, when there has to be secrecy about whether or not you're a member of a political party, right away, an alarm should go off. I'm not saying, "Illegal!" I'm saying when you have to do something in secret, and he writes at length about the secrecy, you might want to ask why it can't be exposed to the sunlight which is supposed to be the cure-all in a democracy? When your entire life is hidden behind a screen, maybe you should ask yourself why that is?

Elaine: I want C.I. to tackle the excuse aspect of it.

C.I.: Gladly. There are people whose careers were truly damaged by the blacklist. Lee Grant is a good example there. It's hilarious to read Ring's book and read of all the ones damanged. It's as though everyone wants to recite Brando's I-could've-been-a-contender speech. Here's some reality. An actress who was 48 years old when she was 'blacklisted'? Her career was already over. She was a queer sort -- I don't mean gay -- onscreen. A White Anglo who most infamously played an Asian woman in Bette Davis' The Letter. That was her biggest film, her only A-lister to be sure. And yet, two years later, she's at Paramount doing a Bob Hope caper? I happen to enjoy My Favorite Blonde but let's not pretend it wasn't intended as and seen as a B-movie. From the height of William Wyler to Bob Hope in two years? Her career had other problems. In 1946, she's doing a bit part, playing another Asian and she is Anglo. It's insulting. And those things do matter, yes, they do. Those things do build up ill will as did her on the set issues. Not everyone enjoyed working with her, Hope did, but not everyone else did. And along comes the excuse everyone's been waiting for and they can say, "She's married to a Communist!" and stop hiring her. But her career was already over in films and TV didn't exist then as an industry. I think too often people whine, "The blacklist killed my career!" when, reality check, there really wasn't a career. Lee Grant? Absolutely. She had a career in store. It harmed her. Gale Sondergaard was about to hit 50, was never a star, had a million enemies and no screen presence for the entire 1940s unless you count Anglo passes for "Sinister Asisan." Now this decade, a movie was made full of lies and one of them is that poor Gale couldn't be hired again until her husband died. He died in 1971. She's doing Get Smart and It Takes A Thief in 1969. It's a cute little rewriting of history and for a lot of losers it's all they have to shore up their claim to fame. "I didn't make it, but I would have!" Some use the blacklist, some say they refused to 'sleep their way to the top,' or whatever else. Ring writes of his 150 page scripts and how wonderful they were and blah, blah, blah. One page equals one minute. He was hopelessy out of date if he thought the studios were looking for movies that ran for two hours and thirty minutes. He might argue, were he still alive, "They could cut thirty minutes!" They'd want to cut more than that. But it's really his job, as the writer, to cut out all the padding and provide only the necessary. He whines about a Ray Stark offer in 1980 and that's when Ray Stark's career is over as Stark will soon find out but somehow, in 2000, that escapes Ring's attention. Remember talking about how Gale made enemies? So did Ring. The stunt Katharine Hepburn pulled, taking a script by two non-names, making Louis Mayer think it was written by two names and charging a huge, outlandish fee for it? That bites you in the butt at some point. You think you put one over on someone but in reality, everyone's waiting for your first trip, your first stumble and, at that point, the knives will come out. Ring's not that talented as a writer. He whines repeatedly about the cult of the director but his bad writing is one of the reasons that directors had to step foward -- and I am huge, huge defender of screenwriters, to be clear, just not of bad ones. He was never that talented. He has two films that are known and neither are known for the script. M*A*S*H is known for Robert Altman, rightly. And Woman of the Year is known for being the first pairing of Hepburn and Tracy. Take Desk Set, which is usually considered an inferior film pairing of the two. That is a much stronger script -- script by Phoebe and Henry Ephron. Ring's damn lucky he had a career ever. He is someone the blacklist hurt but he wasn't going to be writing smash films one after the other -- or producing them as he blathers at one point. He was a bad writer. He has no appreciation for dialogue and he didn't know how to shape a film. Even M*A*S*H -- which is nothing but a series of episodes and not a true narrative -- had to be reshuffled by Altman just to make sense and hold the audience's interest. This was not a Joe Mankiewicz or Billy Wilder. He was a sub-standard talent. And for someone who supposedly doesn't want to take credit from others -- there's a fairy tale of how he wrote a script during the blacklist that won an Oscar but he didn't want to embarrass the writer who acted as his front so he wouldn't name the script -- he sure is eager to steal credit for the script of Laura, a credit he doesn't deserve. Not surprisingly, he specifically has to steal from a gay man, Clifton Webb, and claim he made the part Clifton plays. He's a second-rate, sub-standard talent. He wants his success in TV noted. Done. No problem. TV and film are not and were not the same thing. His hackery was well suited to churning out scripts about Robin Hood's weekly adventures. He just wasn't able to come up with a big story people would pay to see.

Jim: To jump in here, I can see the e-mails, "C.I. is denying the blacklist! And saying it didn't hurt anyone!"

C.I.: That's not what I said.

Jim: I know that. But to save Ty time reading them, I thought I'd toss that out.

C.I.: Gale was not an attractive woman and by 1946 when she played yet another Asian, the backlash against Anglo performers playing Asians was well established. That would have harmed her had the blacklist not. She was not a well endowed woman and I fail to see how the fifties -- and their breast obsessions -- could have found time for a strange looking, flat chested, fifty plus year old woman? Whose mother can she play? Let's be clear, they weren't writing lead parts for women that age as Myrna Loy and countless other female stars could and did point out. So what exactly was Gale going to play? Keep in mind Bette Davis does All About Eve, a box office hit, shortly after Gale's no longer working. A box office hit that lands her another Oscar nomination. And? She never gets another great picture. And she's Bette Davis. A two-time Oscar winning star. She's got to grab the dregs, she's got to grab offers from Europe. Or look at Joan Crawford's 50s output. This idea that Gale, a non-entity, a strange screen persona who was never a star and much older than Bette Davis, was denied stardom? If stardom was going to come to her it would have done so long before 1948. She'd been working for how many decades in films? On the other hand, Lee Grant was an attractive woman -- that does matter in film -- as well as talented and young. Her career was stopped dead in the tracks because of her marriage. Lee actually suffered. She had a career. A writer like Dalton Trumbo, Waldo Salt? Their careers were seriously harmed and destroyed. Both managed to come back and Trumbo fought the blacklist while it existed. They were immense talents. But there are a number of people who have used the blacklist to excuse their dying careers when that wasn't the reason or, if part of the reason, not even the main reason.

Elaine: And we're not in the mood for his whining when he lies in the book and tries to settle old scores, including one with a sixties actress whom he slimes and pushes the slime off on someone else. Reality: He was a member of the Communist Party. Reality he was a writer. Reality, he managed to work at a time when studios put writers under contract. His bad writing would have meant that, as soon as the studios were forced to start selling off their theater chains and as soon as other economic forces hit, someone like him would have been shown the door. He had nothing to offer. And his book was an embarrassment to read.

Mike: And I want to come back to one point. He feels wronged. I agree he was wronged by the government doing a witchhunt. And let me add Elaine told off a bitch-boy -- yeah, I said it -- of a supposed 'man,' the brother of a well known jerk, right before we came out to California last week when he was whining that his brother was the victim of a witchhunt. You break the law and you 'fess up to it, you're not the victim of a witchhunt. Anyway, back to the book, you're meeting in secret, you're plotting in secret. Page 101, he's outline what thoughts/positions were required to be a member of the Communist Party. Where did those guidelines come from? They're requirements. Who is enforcing them? Gee, Ring Jr., you leave a whole hell of a lot out of your book. But when you're meeting in secret and you're taking orders from someone -- someone that in 2000 you still can't specify -- maybe you're begging for trouble? You didn't break the law but you didn't do the smartest things, now did you? And there are so many lies in that book that I have no use for it or for him. I'm not denying there were real victims. I am saying that, dropping back to C.I.'s point, maybe the Communist Party shouldn't have been so thrilled when the UnAmerican Committee first got established? Maybe people should have called it out back then?

Jim: And on that note, we'll end.

C.I.: No, we won't. I want to build on a point Mike was making. And I also want to clarify what Elaine and I are criticizing. Ring Jr. suffered in terms of prison. Others suffered in terms of prison. Some suffered careers nipped in the bud. Some did not but claim they did. Some claim their families suffered. Building on Mike's point re: sunshine and how Ring Jr. writes of the secret meetings and the efforts to keep various cells from mingling -- and that is what he's describing. When your political work has to be done in secret, you're opening yourself and your family up to problems. Socialist Barbara E made a fool of herself this year with her lunatic article about Hillary's 'secret' religious ties. The same ties Barack has but Babsie couldn't point that out. It was a bad article, it was a hideous article. But if you said, "Hey, Red Babsie, how do you justify writing that attack piece?", she'd respond that things need to be out int he open. Muckraking, by its very nature, is about getting things out in the open. If Babsie can go off on a 'witchhunt' regarding some religious group, then anyone else can do so over political groups. Elaine's point regarding witchhunt, yes, it [the term] is used way too often. McCarthyism was governmental. It's insulting to those who actually suffered and insulting to history to offer something as lunatic as listing Bill Ayers' activities is "McCarthyism!" But it does demonstrate, when idiots push that lie, that they do think the Communists during the 40s and 50s were doing something illegal since Ayers was clearing breaking the law in the seventies. I don't believe that Communists were breaking the law back then. I do believe they were acting in secret and when you do that a muckraker comes along -- and the right has had their own muckrakers, Jack Anderson for example -- and exposes you. In the case of Communists of that period, they wrongly applauded the UnAmerican Committee and they had increasingly angered Democrats in Congress. They faced a backlash and it was a governmental one that turned into a witchhunt and destroyed many lives including the lives of people who were never members of the Communist Party. But, as Mike pointed out, sunshine is what democracy is about.

Ava: And I need to make a point here. The National Guardian, a weekly newspaper, is mentioned by many authors discussed in this roundtable. It was a US weekly and it was a Communist Party publication in the same way that The Nation is a Democratic Party organ. Authors like I.F. Stone go out of their way to insist that it was not a Communist paper. It was. I mention that because the revisionary history is "No one was a Communist." As Elaine pointed out, go to any mainstream site, and you won't find an entry on Ring Jr. stating he was a Communist. You'll find that he was into 'left-wing politics.' He was a member of the Communist Party. He admits that in his own book. Why are people so afraid of saying that truth today? We link, community wide, to Socialist and Communist publications. We have no problem with anyone not in the political closet. We do have specific problems with Communists of that era due to their refusal to address the issues of equality. To them, equality was nothing other than 'the Black man.' Forget women. They were openly homophobic and hostile to gays and lesbians. Those are our problem with the hardliners from that era still alive today.

Mike: And hold on, Jim. Let me add those are our problems and my grandfather's problem. My grandfather is a Socialist and has always been a Socialist. He never hid in any political closet. And he doesn't have any respect for any of the ones who have. I don't like posers who pretend they're Democrats when they're something else. No political closets.

Jim: Okay and I think on that note we're going to end.
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