Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, is an associate professor of professional practice and director of Annenberg Digital News at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Cooper's career in journalism began in 1966, when he founded and edited an underground newspaper in high school in Los Angeles. After being expelled from the California State University system for his antiwar activities in 1971 by order of Governor Ronald Reagan, he signed on to work in the press office of Chilean President Salvador Allende. The 1973 military coup found Cooper working as Allende's translator for publication, and he left Chile as a UN-protected refugee eight days after the bloody takeover.
Since then Cooper has traveled the world covering politics and culture for myriad press outlets. He reported on the Yom Kippur War, Lebanon, South Africa, Central and South America, Eastern and Western Europe and domestic American politics for dozens of publications ranging from Playboy and Rolling Stone to the Sunday magazines of the Los Angeles Times and The Times of London.
Cooper was news and public affairs director of KPFK-FM (Los Angeles) from 1980-83 and has been a correspondent for NBC, CBC and Monitor Radio. For television, he has been a reporter and a producer of news documentaries for CBS News, The Christian Science Monitor and PBS Frontline.
Cooper's journalism awards include prizes from The Society of Professional Journalists and PEN America, and several from the California Associated Press TV and Radio Association.
An anthology of Cooper's work, Roll Over Che Guevara: Travels of a Radical Reporter, was published by Verso in 1994. He was also a contributor to the collection Literary Las Vegas, published in 1995 by Holt.
Returning to the system from which he was expelled, Cooper has also taught in the journalism departments at the Northridge and Los Angeles campuses of California State University.
His Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir (Verso), is now available in paperback.
The AFL-CIO has opened its 24th Biennial Convention here in the glitzy neon heart of this very unionized Sin City, but Big Labor's mood is anything but frivolous.
The automatic double doors at the Institute for Creative Technologies' seaside headquarters in West Los Angeles neatly snap open just as they do on the Starship Enterprise. And sitting inside ICT's sleek virtual-reality theater, which features a Cinerama screen, a "rumble floor" with ten subsonic "transducers" and a ceiling with twinkling blue lights, you could easily imagine you are on the Star Trek command bridge alongside Captain Kirk.
But this is the Pentagon's little piece of Hollywood. So at my side is Dr. Mike Andrews, chief scientist of the US Army and described as "founder of and inspiration behind" the ICT.
ICT was launched two years ago with a five-year, $45 million Army grant. Its mission, as defined by executive director Richard Lindheim, is to "mix showbiz with science...to combine Hollywood magic with the real world." More concretely, ICT seeks to develop the most advanced modeling and simulation technologies to train US troops for modern warfare through the use of virtual-reality computer games. According to Andrews, the first use of ICT games in training is still "a couple of years away."
ICT is administered by the private University of Southern California, which stands to profit from sales of technology and products. In addition to games made solely for the Army, ICT is also developing, with investment from Sony and another firm called Quicksilver, two combat training games that will be used by the Army and sold commercially.
Hollywood veterans abound at ICT: They include Lindheim, a former executive at NBC, MCA Television Group/Universal Studios and Paramount Television Group; James Korris, the creative director, former COO and founder of MCA TV Entertainment; and Jacquelyn Ford Morie, manager of one of ICT's training development projects and a former lead designer for Disney's feature animation department. All this talent, combined with some of the best and the brightest drafted from the digital design trenches, has allowed ICT to come up with world-class games aimed at teaching US troops what are called command decision skills.
As the lights dim in the VR theater, and the exquisitely rendered scenario unfolds on the wraparound screen, the viewer finds himself in the Bosnian countryside, bumping noisily along a back road in an Army Humvee. The ground rumbles and shakes as a chopper also arrives at the pivotal scene--a collision between a US Army vehicle and a civilian car, leaving a Bosnian child seriously injured. The trainee must now make split-second leadership decisions: Soothe the angry crowd that is gathering around the child and his distraught mother, or move on to quell a military confrontation somewhere up the road? The trainee, wearing a virtual-reality helmet, talks to the lifelike characters onscreen who, armed with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, are able to logically respond to almost any command.
Later, I accompany chief scientist Andrews to an adjacent ICT facility where he cuts the ribbon on the think tank's newest project, "Flatworld"--a room-sized "set" that, when viewed through 3-D glasses, can transform itself from a training site in Bosnia, to one in the desert, to one on an alien planet. At one point, a monarch butterfly flutters outside an artificial window and then, apparently, flies inside the room and hovers at our nose--a technology filched directly from Disneyland.
And that points to a concern: While the technology is impressive, the scripts and scenarios are cooked up by Hollywood writers and video-game masters--not by linguists, historians or political scientists. Some might say that the current conflict in Afghanistan has its roots not in a lack of US technology but rather in a paucity of human intelligence. That thought was impossible to avoid while watching the training scenario set in Bosnia. At the trainee's feet lay the grieving mother of the injured child, the potential catalyst for an explosion by the local villagers. But she conveniently never spoke up. If she had, it would not have been in English, the only language the trainee is likely to understand.
But Dr. Neil Sullivan, vice provost of research at ITC's parent, USC, expresses confidence. "When we started out two years ago, we thought these were very curious communities [academia, the military and the entertainment industry] to be partnering; we thought it would be Mission Impossible. But ITC now has real products that are going to have real effects on Army training. And who can doubt that training isn't helpful?"
More training can never hurt. But even after all the gee-whiz razzmatazz of the virtual-reality immersion experience, one doubt still nags: Wouldn't American soldiers be better off getting trained in the language, history and culture of the countries to which they are dispatched than spending hours talking to people who look like them on a computer screen?
The Taliban may have met its match: the American Dream Machine.
Unions are grieving over lost members while bracing for uncertainties ahead.
Several individuals have attributed to me certain statements on the issue of the situation known as the "Pacifica Crisis." As I am quite capable of speaking for myself without easy-chai
Augusto Pinochet entered political life in 1973 by destroying the rule of law. Now, twenty-eight years later, thanks to a decision by a Chilean appeals court, he exits the public stage still beyond the reach of the law. The July 9 ruling found the 85-year-old former dictator too sick to stand trial for his role in the kidnap and murder of dozens of civilians. Plaintiffs will attempt a last-chance reversal, but observers agree that this is probably the end of the general's legal travails, which began in October 1998 when he was detained in London on a Spanish arrest warrant.
Over these past three years, Pinochet has been extended every legal recourse and guarantee that he denied his opponents. He was not beaten, kidnapped, tortured or "disappeared." Instead of being hauled before a kangaroo court and sentenced to summary execution, he was delicately passed from the Spanish legal system to the Crown Prosecution Service to the House of Lords to the Chilean Supreme Court.
But then the courts blinked. As the typically understated Chileans would say, this final outcome is lamentable. Still, much has been gained. Pinochet's arrest by Scotland Yard and his detention for 503 days in London shook open the Chilean system and eventually led to Pinochet's indictment in Santiago. A courageous judge, Juan Guzmán Tapia, piled up more than 250 criminal complaints against Pinochet, and he boldly resisted intimidation attempts by Chile's military as well as its civilian government. Soon, dozens of other former military officers, including an active-duty general or two, found themselves formally accused. At precisely the moment when Chile's unresolved human rights debate was threatened with extinction, it came roaring back to life. The Chilean military, which had refused to accept any responsibility for the bloodletting during its seventeen-year rule, finally admitted to killing and throwing into the sea scores of its opponents. Today, even the Chilean right takes pains to distance itself from the sullied general whom it once venerated as a demigod.
Pinochet may be spared trial, but his status as an indicted criminal will stand. His closest collaborators still face prosecution, not only in Chilean courts but also in other Latin American and European legal venues. The Bush Justice Department claims its investigation of Pinochet's role in the 1976 car-bomb murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt is still active. It should be pressured to follow through with an indictment. And a fearless Judge Guzmán continues his work in Chile. In early July he was reported to have issued letters to the US government requesting that then-Ambassador to Chile Nathaniel Davis and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reveal what they know about the murder of Charles Horman, one of two Americans killed in the opening days of the Pinochet dictatorship. As for Pinochet, now suffering from diabetes, "moderate dementia," dental woes and permanent public scorn, one can only wish him many more years among us.
For the first few months of this year, it looked like Hollywood's unionized writers and actors were about to premiere a new labor strategy. As their conglomerate employers raked in record profits from expanding Internet, cable, foreign, video and DVD markets, the writers and actors guilds were talking about staging a fight to win long-deferred increases in residual payments for work that's reused and resold in different media.
With their film and TV contracts expiring back to back, the supposedly militant leadership of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) spoke of ushering in a new era of pay equity, while producers, the networks and studios braced for a historic Tinseltown strike. The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, came to town ready to advise and support the Hollywood unions in their looming titanic confrontation with the entertainment giants.
But instead of debuting a dramatic breakthrough, it now seems that this season's Hollywood labor push is ending in another dreary rerun of business-as-usual back-room deals. After weeks of on-again, off-again closed-door talks, the WGA reached a three-year agreement with employers on May 4, two days after the contract ran out. And though the deal is being presented to the membership (who must ratify it in early June) as a significant wedge of the economic pie, it is in reality a pretty thin slice. The writers won no increase in video or DVD residuals and failed to achieve the exclusive union jurisdiction over Internet production they sought. No additional residuals were won for material resold to cable. Regarding cable, they won a first-time but modest residual for premium services only. And residual increases for foreign sales will benefit only writers on the most profitable shows. Strengthened "creative rights" were won, but the economic tally is meager. On an industrywide scale, writers' residuals will increase about 2 percent.
After so much heat, why such a paltry settlement? "It was collective bargaining without the collective," says a longtime observer close to the negotiations. At a time when their employers have radically restructured themselves on the most sophisticated mega-merger global scale, the traditionally parochial and insular Hollywood guilds seemed incapable of making the transition to a modern and effective labor movement. The WGA neither mobilized nor engaged its membership in a credible campaign against the producers. How could it when it carried out its negotiations under an official "blackout" that kept not only the media but its own rank and file in the dark?
Instead of reaching out to build new alliances with "below the line" technical and craft unions, it alienated them. Instead of relying on an industrywide movement to wring concessions from the producers, the guild put forward a corporate-molded negotiating team much more experienced in managing studio employees than in representing them. Worst of all, the WGA faked itself out of a better deal. By threatening a strike it was unwilling to prepare for, it converted the possible stoppage into a lethal management weapon, with the studio execs, producers flacks and even the conservative mayor of Los Angeles enthusiastically branding any shutdown a certain economic Götterdämmerung for the strikers.
The actors union, whose contract expires July 1, began its round of talks in mid-May. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that SAG will now settle--and settle short. The actors have formally shut down even the pretense of a membership contract campaign and have, like the WGA, imposed their own information blackout on the negotiations. That's not all the two guilds have in common. SAG's relatively new Hollywood leadership talks a tough populist line, but it has little interest or experience in doing the hard work of effective organizing and mobilization. The AFL-CIO is quietly packing up its local support operation, sensing that SAG has no stomach for a real fight.
A historic opportunity to bring Hollywood's professional and craft unions together in a powerful new alliance has thus been postponed, if not lost, and just at a time when industry restructuring makes such unity an iron imperative. Instead, there's already an incipient whisper campaign under way, with writers and actors scapegoating each other's unions for producing such disappointing results. Here it is better to quote not Spielberg but Shakespeare: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves...."
His mayoral campaign platform is the most progressive in modern city history.
Survey the political terrain of this, America's second-largest city, on the eve of the April 10 mayoral vote, and the only possible conclusion is: What a Difference a Decade Makes. When deep-pockets Republican businessman Richard Riordan came seemingly out of nowhere to win the 1993 election for mayor, he persuaded a riot-traumatized and recession-battered city that he was "tough enough" to turn things around and that his first priority would be to beef up the LAPD with 3,000 more cops. Meanwhile his opponent, moderate Democrat Mike Woo, found himself pilloried by white-dominated homeowner groups enraged over his opposition to the death penalty, hardly within a mayor's purview.
That was then. This is now. California's anti-immigrant Prop 187 has since come and gone. Latino immigrants (and Asians, too) have continued to arrive, permanently changing the hue of Los Angeles. And with the military contractor-based economy now barely a memory, the city's work force increasingly grapples with lower-wage service jobs while it transforms LA into the union-organizing capital of America. All of a sudden, in the electoral arena, a powerful labor/Latino alliance, unthinkable in 1993, can credibly challenge the homeowner groups for power.
Consequently, the dozens of mayoral forums held these past few months have been marked by an emerging popular agenda: education, low-income housing, mass transit, environmental protection, expansion of the living wage and not just police but police reform. In a field of a half-dozen rivals, progressive Los Angeles even has its own candidate--one who might even win. Antonio Villaraigosa, 48, a former State Assembly speaker, former trade unionist and former president of the Southern California ACLU, has met the challenge of LA's balkanization by successfully creating a citywide, multiracial coalition. Villaraigosa has the support of major Democratic financial backers like Ron Burkle and Eli Broad, and his endorsements range from the Democratic Party itself and politically cautious Governor Gray Davis to the Sierra Club, NOW, the largest gay Democratic club and the powerhouse LA County Federation of Labor. Not only is labor cranking up the phone banks and deploying a street army of canvassers--it's also reportedly putting up as much as $1 million in an independent expenditure campaign on Villaraigosa's behalf. "Finally we have a candidate who not only supports us but is truly one of our own," says a federation official. "We are pulling out all the stops for Antonio."
Villaraigosa can't win this coming election outright--because of the crowded field, no single candidate is in a position to garner 50 percent of the ballots. So the ultimate winner will be chosen in a June runoff. The real contest in this first round is for second place. The top spot seems reserved for Democrat James "Jimmy" Hahn, LA's affable but lackluster city attorney. For four decades, Hahn's father was a popular liberal county supervisor representing much of Central Los Angeles, and he built a granite-solid base among African-Americans. His son has inherited both his enormous name recognition and the lock on the black vote. The campaigns of the two other Democrats in the race have failed to ignite: State Controller Kathleen Connell didn't even win the support of NOW, while liberal US Representative Xavier Becerra has done little except nibble away at Latino support for Villaraigosa.
Even among the two candidates vying for support from the white, wealthier and more suburbanized voters there's a whiff of new politics. Veteran City Councilman Joel Wachs, a former Republican turned Independent, is waging a middle-class populist campaign banking on his record of opposing public subsidies for big private development. Wachs, who would be the first openly gay mayor of a major US city, has also gone the furthest in criticizing embattled LAPD Chief Bernard Parks, saying he would not reappoint him to a second term. Running the most conservative campaign is Steve Soboroff, Mayor Riordan's handpicked successor. Soboroff, a wealthy real estate dealmaker, portrays himself in expensive TV commercials as a "can do" businessman and elsewhere as a moderate, pro-choice Republican. Still, he is the only candidate who has come out against the consent decree recently imposed by the federal government to spur LA police reform. At first lagging in the polls, Soboroff has recently surged.
A few days out from the voting, it's impossible to predict who will take second place to face Hahn in the June runoffs. A Soboroff-Hahn race would polarize the city along conventional partisan, class and color lines. But a Villaraigosa-Hahn matchup would force the city to choose between two Democrats: a moderate liberal and an authentic progressive. Just what the doctor ordered after eight years of Riordan's uninterrupted pro-business administration.
The search for a shared national agenda.