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.
Wrong issue, wrong enemy, wrong country.
The former dictator is charged at last, and human rights are the talk of the nation.
The razor-thin margin that defined the presidential race is sure to stir controversy around the Ralph Nader vote. Those wishing to blame Nader for Gore's troubles and those Greens wishing to take credit for giving the Democratic candidate a political "cold shower" will focus on Florida. Nader's 97,000 votes in that state came to less than 2 percent of the statewide total, but with barely 1,000 Florida votes deciding the national election, they are sure to be dissected and scrutinized. Ironically, only in the final days of the campaign did Nader decide to return to Florida and ask for votes. A last-minute debate inside his campaign weighed the possibilities of focusing efforts in the swing states like Florida or in Democrat-rich states like New York and California, where "strategic voters" could vote Green without concern about affecting Gore's final tallies. Nader eventually decided he would get more media coverage by targeting places like Florida.
On the national level, Nader fell considerably short of his goal of achieving a 5 percent national vote that would have qualified the Green Party for millions in federal matching funds in 2004. When the votes were counted, Nader had pocketed 3 percent, or around 2.7 million votes--almost four times more than his "uncampaign" garnered in 1996. Relentless pressure on potential Nader voters by liberal Democrats to switch to Gore clearly had an effect on the Green campaign, helping tamp down the final vote to almost half the level at which Nader had finally been polling.
No question but that this result is far from the best scenario for those who hoped that Nader's run this year would hand the Greens substantial future leverage. Given the failure to establish a federally funded national Green Party in the balloting, however, that future clout will depend mostly on Nader's ability and willingness to take his list of 75,000 campaign contributors (as well as countless volunteers and voters) and hone it into an identifiable political entity. That task could be rendered even more problematic by those who will blame Nader for a Gore defeat.
That said, various state Green parties will emerge from this week strengthened and positioned to make a difference in scores of Congressional and legislative districts. In some progressive-minded counties--like Humboldt and Mendocino in Northern California--the Nader vote grazed 13 to14 percent. In many others the Greens scored 5 to 10 percent, making them a potential swing vote in further local elections. In this election, nationwide, some 238 Greens ran for municipal office, and fifteen were victorious.
In what had been considered virtual "Naderhoods"--several northern-tier states where the Greens had significant pockets of strength--the candidate's vote was less than spectacular. In Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon Nader finished with only 4 or 5 percent. Just six weeks ago, he was approaching 10 percent in Oregon. The Greens scored 5 percent in Minnesota--a figure they had been polling for some time--and they hit 6 percent in Montana, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Hawaii. The Green high-water marks were in Vermont (7 percent) and Alaska (10 percent--down from 17 percent in some earlier polls).
In the Democratic strongholds of New York and California, where Al Gore won by huge margins and where a ballot for Nader was considered "safe" by those who called for strategic voting, the Greens ended up with a relatively disappointing 4 percent--the same number reached in New Mexico, where Greens have competed statewide for more than five years.
Predictions that the Greens would spoil Gore's chances failed to materialize. Washington, Minnesota, New Mexico, Michigan and Wisconsin--states where Democrats argued that Nader could swing the vote to the GOP--were all won by Al Gore. Even in Oregon, Nader's impact on the major party race was arguably negligible. At press time, Gore was losing the state by about 25,000 votes and Nader's total was 5 percent, or just over 50,000. But whether a sufficient number of the Nader votes would have gone to Gore is open to question. A national USA Today/CNN/Gallup Tracking poll a few days before the election found that only 43 percent of likely Nader voters would vote for Gore as their second choice. Twenty-one percent said they would vote for Bush second. And an equal number said they would vote for Nader or not at all.
As the media obsessed over the seesaw presidential poll, voters across the country quietly made their choices on more than 200 disparate ballot measures and initiatives. For progressives the results are--as usual--mixed.
First the bad news: Three campaign finance reform initiatives went the wrong way. Clean-money measures providing for full public financing were thumped in Missouri and Oregon. Similar measures had been passed in previous years by voters in Maine, Massachusetts and Arizona as well as by the legislature in Vermont--but this time around powerful, well-financed business lobbies weighed in, and dirty money beat clean money. In Oregon opponents ran an effective (and expensive) radio campaign highlighting the out-of-state financial support for the reform, and it raised the specter of extremists running for office if it passed.
In Missouri corporate opponents--including Anheuser-Busch, KC Power & Light, Hallmark Cards and the Missouri Association of Realtors--poured hundreds of thousands into their victorious antireform campaign. Californians, meanwhile, approved Proposition 34, billed as campaign reform but actually cooked up by the establishment to block real reform. The returns on these three measures should compel campaign finance reform activists to rethink their strategies. These are significant and stinging defeats.
The good news is that the failed drug war was a loser in five of seven related measures nationwide. Medical marijuana initiatives passed in Colorado and Nevada (although a full marijuana-legalization bill failed in Alaska). Oregon and Utah voted to reform draconian drug forfeiture laws. And in California, Proposition 36, providing treatment instead of jail for first- and second-time drug offenders, passed easily. But a similar proposition failed in Massachusetts (which also refused to approve a universal healthcare proposal).
Another bright spot was public education. Voucher measures in California and Michigan were beaten by wide margins. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper put up millions for the California proposal--to no avail. California voters also approved a measure that makes passage of school bonds easier. But bilingual education, banned in the Golden State two years ago, was also thrown out by Arizona voters. As he did in California, businessman Ron Unz fathered and funded the Arizona measure.
Colorado voters defeated the so-called informed consent measure on abortion, but Arizona and Nebraska approved a ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions. In Maine a measure to protect gays from discrimination was defeated. In Oregon the notorious Measure 9, which outlaws "teaching" homosexuality in schools, failed. Oregonians also rejected two antiunion "paycheck protection" measures, which the state labor federation had vigorously fought.
As Bush and Gore battle for the Northwest, Nader's power grows.
The advertising industry has come up with a revolutionary, breakthrough, twice-as-bright-as-before proposal: Maximize profits by cutting the earnings of actors. And so, almost five months ago the 135,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists launched a coast-to-coast strike against the producers of TV commercials and ads. At press time it appeared that the unions' militancy and support from a battalion of high-profile celebrities was finally speeding the dispute toward settlement.
The producers have been demanding abolition of the "residuals" system, by which actors get money each time an ad is aired, and instead want to pay a flat fee. SAG/AFTRA not only oppose the rollback but are also calling for implementation of the residuals system in the burgeoning cable and Internet markets. At issue is basic fairness: The more a commercial is aired, and the more money it generates, the more an actor should earn from it. "This is a principle that employers can't bear to live with in the new economy," says John Connolly, AFTRA's first vice president. "They want all rights for all media in the universe and don't want to share the wealth with their workers." As it is, union officials argue, labor costs account for barely 1.4 percent of the billions currently spent producing and airing commercials. Contradicting the stereotype that all actors are wealthy, a full 80 percent of the unionized actors making commercials earn less than $5,000 a year in residuals.
The producers clearly misjudged the resolve and unity of SAG and AFTRA. They thought the unions would roll over after a short, symbolic walkout. But the two entertainment unions, already angered over runaway production (mostly to Canada), have tenaciously met the challenge and escalated the fight. When negotiations stalled over the summer, strike organizers took their picketing right to the doors of multinational advertisers like GM, McDonald's and AT&T--co-producers of the commercials. The corporations felt the bite as central labor councils from Los Angeles to Seattle to Atlanta joined the battle. "Linking up with the rest of organized labor is a historic breakthrough for us," Connolly says. "It's the end of our self-imposed isolation, dating back to the blacklist days."
Negotiations finally resumed in mid-September, when a number of stars joined the fray. Harrison Ford and Kevin Spacey donated $100,000 each to the strike fund. Tom Hanks joined Alfre Woodard at a support rally in Hollywood, while Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Olympia Dukakis and Tim Robbins joined a similar street protest in New York City. The celebrity rallies helped crack a virtual media blackout on the strike. "There's a gag order on the press--imposed by themselves," Newman told the 700 strike supporters who rallied in Manhattan on September 13. "The television magazine shows are paid for by the advertisers, so it behooves them not to cover the strike," Sarandon told The Nation at the rally. "The actors who are affected have been invisible."
The screen elite know that in the spring, when actors' and writers' contracts with the film and TV studios expire, the same sorts of issues are going to be on the table: payment for shows that appear on cable and in foreign markets. "These actors striking today are just the advance contingent fighting for all of us," Robbins said. "This movement will resonate more and more in the coming days as the higher echelons of actors get asked, Which Side Are You On?"
Marc Cooper's July 24/31 "Where's Hoffa Driving the Teamsters?"
provoked a storm of controversy from Honolulu to Brooklyn.
Running from bank- and hotel-lined Wilshire Boulevard, up the glittering
gulch of Rodeo Drive, past the slinky curves of Sunset and snaking up
leafy Coldwater and Benedict canyons to the legend
There was a time when the very word "Teamsters" evoked some pretty dark images: a bloated and notoriously corrupt union president, carried into the Teamsters convention on a gilded sedan chair by