New York City
Regarding Jeff Chang’s “Moving On Up” [Jan. 22]: I was an orchestra member in Jay-Z’s ten-year retrospective at Radio City last summer. In all my years of performing at events like this, I have never seen anything close to the naked frolic of orgiastic corporate reciprocal penetration. With the shiny Maybach parked outside the Sony studios, the side deals, endorsements, jigging eBay for signed tickets, sneakers, product placement and underwriting, it was a festival of getting over, flogging a soggy product of retreaded samples, riffs, sentiments and drug lore in the name of the people’s hip-hop. Apparently as stunned by the razzle-dazzle as the hapless audience members, Local 802 of the musicians’ union rolled over on a contract that was pathetically permissive, paying too late and too little, especially in the context of the tsunami of cash exchanges going on. At the end of the day, I saw a small, charismatic, hideously overcompensated, moderately talented man casting a very large shadow–because he was dancing too close to a scorching light.
Jay-Z’s popularity may be attributed to “brandism,” or hyper-consumerism, but Jay-Z is a byproduct of Reaganomics and gross consumerism. Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) represents the dual consciousness that African-American males face on a daily basis. He has the impossible task of balancing his life as a former project kid and street hustler with goals of “making it” and achieving the American Dream, a dream that has purposely excluded African-American males. I credit Jay-Z for his successes and for remaining an inspiration for African-American males who come from dire and deplorable situations.
GERALD FORD, MR. NICE GUY
Wiley Ford, WV
Thank you, Victor Navasky, for “Ford, Nixon, The Nation” [Jan. 22]. I was beginning to believe I was the only one in the world who believed that St. Gerald struck a deal with the Nixon pardon. Whether he was a nice guy or not, Ford left us with two bombs. First, he was against the war but would not let us know until after he was gone and thousands of people were dead. Second, with his example, what good would it do to impeach the Weasel in the White House? Vice President Cheney would just hand out a pardon.
DENNIS M. LAVIN
On the “honest,” “decent” Gerald Ford: All Warren commission members pledged not to profit from the endeavor. Ford had his staff cobble together a book. At a Senate hearing Ford was asked if he would pardon Nixon. He said, “I don’t think the people would stand for it.” These items get almost no press. Instead we hear of self-toasted English muffins and self-picked-up dog poop!
ROGER S. BROWN
The columns of Alexander Cockburn once caused me to threaten not to renew my membership in the Nation Associates. Now, lo! Cockburn has kind words (in a comparison with Gerald Ford) for the late President Harding! [“Beat the Devil,” Jan. 22] Harding pardoned Eugene Debs! Something the allegedly liberal Woodrow Wilson didn’t do. I am reconsidering.
APARTHEID, ISRAELI STYLE
Henry Siegman, in his review of Jimmy Carter’s new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid [“Hurricane Carter,” Jan. 22], recounts an exchange he once had with Joseph Burg, a mainstay of the National Religious Party in Israel. In 1971, as a young man doing research on the party, I interviewed Burg for an undergraduate project. After kindly answering questions, Burg said that he wanted to discuss the matter of the West Bank as “one Jew to another.” He proceeded to describe Palestinian Arabs in terms that any American would recognize as the un-self-conscious speech of white supremacists. Arabs are animals, he said. I soon learned that the minister’s prejudices regarding Arabs were widespread in the party.
Burg was one of the most powerful members of the pre-war generation of German Jews who had staked out considerable power through the National Religious Party. His influence was felt among my generation, in particular among a faction of the party known as the Youth Circle, which later played an important role in the formation of the settlement movement. Following the lead of elders like Burg, members of the circle were quite comfortable speaking to me about the “Arab animals.”
As shocked as I was, an American Jew brought up believing that Jewish ideals were progressive ideals, I was to learn of a more insidious dynamic in the American Jewish community that has only grown more vicious as this tragedy unfolds: namely, that anyone who attempts to discuss Arabs and Israelis as if they were both cut from the same human cloth must be an anti-Semite. Period.
Excellent review! I hope Dershowitz reads it and has a stroke! It is beyond comprehension why the media and our Congress are so afraid of criticizing the policies of the Israeli government. No one is bashing the Jewish people, who are brave enough and fair enough to criticize their own government.
PINOCHET & THE HEROES OF CHILE
While the death of General Pinochet ends any possibility of bringing him to justice for his crimes against humanity–and displays the failure of Chilean governments to do so [Marc Cooper, “Pinochet’s Legacy,” Jan. 1]–this moment should also be a time to celebrate what the people of Chile did achieve. Pinochet’s loss in the 1988 plebiscite was the result of years of struggle by countless people who put their lives and livelihoods on the line to restore constitutional democracy. The Spanish arrest warrant and Pinochet’s detention by the British in 1998, which Cooper focuses on, do have broader implications for world leaders who murder beyond their own borders. However, under the provisions of the 1980 Constitution written by Pinochet, he would still have been head of state in 1998 (and therefore not subject to arrest) were it not for the human rights advocacy of the Catholic Church in Chile and the heroism and sacrifice of a broad spectrum of the country’s population.
Editor, MultiCultural Review
CHÁVEZ: HE DIDN’T DO IT ALONE
New York City
Daphne Eviatar’s “Latin Left Turn” [Dec. 25] rightly points to the failed economic policies of the so-called “Washington Consensus” as the principal root of Latin America’s dramatic political shifts in recent years, culminating in the re-re-election of Hugo Chávez.
However, she overstates Chávez’s influence in the energy policies enacted by neighboring governments that seek to wrest greater government control from private oil and gas companies. Eviatar suggests that Evo Morales’s renegotiation of gas contracts in Bolivia and Rafael Correa’s “promise to do the same” in Ecuador are the result of Chávez’s encouragement. Chávez has certainly vocally supported these moves, but these policies were instigated by years of massive mobilizations by these two countries’ predominantly indigenous social movements.
Attributing Latin America’s hopeful political changes to Chávez’s meddling echoes the many erroneous accounts in the mainstream media. And it belittles the fact that these changes have been brought about from below by ordinary citizens.
Co-editor, Dispatches From Latin America
Teo Ballvé is absolutely right: Both Bolivia and Ecuador have seen mass mobilizations in recent years demanding that their leaders take over control of oil and gas industries to insure they produce real benefits for the masses, not just the elite. Still, there’s no question that Chávez’s bold moves in forcing major multinational oil companies to renegotiate their contracts and return control of the industry to the Venezuelan government have strongly influenced Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
Chávez’s influence isn’t just bluster: Venezuela has plenty of oil money Chávez can use to back it up. That’s allowed him to provide cash, fuel and technical assistance to countries that oppose US-promoted policies and could suffer reductions in foreign aid or World Bank loans as a result. Chávez’s influence isn’t the reason leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador want more control over their oil and gas industries; but he’s making it a whole lot easier for them to follow through on their promises.
DIVERSITY OVER ADVERSITY
Regarding Patricia Williams’s “America to Me” [“Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” Dec. 25] and the “de facto” resegregation of our society, I would like to give a personal parental perspective. All four of my children attended racially diverse public schools because of magnet programs and/or federal court-ordered busing. In West Texas, it is a great understatement to say that these were not popular programs.
This racially diverse experience, in everyday school life and in athletic competition, has been a true gift for my children. It has been a huge factor in molding their social views, especially the concept that often our socioeconomic level is a mere accident of birth (George W. Bush being a prime example). The continued expanse of the white suburban/shopping mall/white private school culture will widen the divide between people in different racial and socioeconomic groups and will not serve society well. We must embrace diversity.
LEARNINGS FOR PROVINCIAL EDITORS
The letter by Chris Vecchio on the “Tao of Borat” makes many good points [“Letters,” Jan. 1]. However, it was jarring to read of “Americans’ general ignorance of life in Eastern Europe” as he discusses Kazakhstan–an illustration of geographic ignorance in relation to this former Soviet Republic, which is located well inside Central Asia.
BARACK OBAMA & DAILY KOS
Due to an editing error in Christopher Hayes’s “Only Words” last week, Barack Obama was misquoted as calling Daily Kos “boring” and “predictable.” He actually said, “One good test as to whether folks are doing interesting work is, Can they surprise me? And increasingly, when I read Daily Kos, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s all just exactly what I would expect.”