Sep 1 2007

Letters to the Editor

Violence & Worker Control

I always appreciate—and enjoy—reading Extra!, and the July/August 2007 issue was no exception. I was surprised, though, to read that Noam Chomsky believes that in democratic societies, “the state has lost the capacity to control the population by violence.” Rather, it seems to me, violence is the last resort of the ruling class, when the working class has become too powerful to control by other means.

Weak and disorganized working classes require little effort to control. In the United States, for instance, the working class is so thoroughly disorganized and powerless that it has little ability to produce its own culture, including news media. The U.S. white, “middle-class” working class can be controlled by Hollywood and the mainstream media.

Control of the U.S. black population, somewhat less credulous (for good reason) of the wonders of “democracy” and “markets,” however, requires a significant amount of state violence, hence the extremely high rate of incarceration and other forms of explicitly repressive state power it experiences.

In every case where the working class has acquired and attempted to exercise any significant amount of power, the capitalist/ruling classes have responded to working class initiative with violence. In the USSR, the working class population was quite powerful, and the state lacked significant legitimacy among the working population, hence a large and powerful repressive state apparatus was necessary to maintain control. In Germany in the 1930s, the rise of National Socialism was likewise a response to the high degree of organization of the working class and the power of the Communist Party. It is precisely when the state has lost the ability to control the working class through non-violent means that it builds up its capacity for repression, physical coercion and violence.

I should just like to add that, apart from this one comment, I think Chomsky’s analysis of the workings of the capitalist media was quite accurate.

Thanks again for all your great work.

Blair Sandler

San Francisco, Calif.

Progressive Snickering

I very much appreciated the recent articles on the mainstream press’s lack of interest in the impeachment movement, and its dismissal of “second tier” and “fringe” presidential candidates (7-8/07). Unfortunately, even the more enlightened press is guilty of the latter. See the how-green-is-this-candidate summary in Grist (7/6/07), which snickers at the candidacies of Dennis Kucinich and Christopher Dodd.

Meanwhile, if you read Kucinich’s platform in his interview with Grist, it’s a progressive’s dream: very forward thinking and even, dare I say it, doable. Oh well.

Miranda Spencer

Philadelphia, Penn.

Washington Post,

Take Note

I wanted to thank you for Janine Jackson’s piece “Al Gore, Smartypants” (7-8/07). I had just received Extra! in the mail and was flipping through it when I came across that article. I thought to myself, “This is exactly why I subscribe.” It was, dare I say, “smart,” witty, on-target and, most of all, did an excellent job of telling the story. If only the Washington Post would take its reporting cues from you!

Marshall Miller

Albany, N.Y.

Not Enough Horn-Tooting

I enjoyed “Asleep at the Wheel,” by Robert Kubey, in your May/June 2007 issue. However, I must take issue with his statement that the only editorial about the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act appeared in the New York Times and that “the most substantial online coverage of the legal change was in . . . Toward Freedom.” In my November 7, 2006 column, I wrote about this threat to our civil liberties in some detail. This column appeared in at least 30 newspapers nationwide, mostly dailies. In addition, my column has (I daresay) a more substantial online presence than Toward Freedom.

I notice that Extra! often fails to mention where the progressive media got things right. While it’s well and good to criticize the mainstream media for ignoring big stories, why relegate progressive writers to obscurity by failing to reference their successes? The right toots its own horn all the time. It’s time we did the same!

Ted Rall

New York, N.Y.

An Unmentioned Denier

I appreciate your denunciation of journalists who deny and downplay the overwhelming evidence of global warming (5-6/07). There’s one more ardent denier your article didn’t mention—Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn, who has of late devoted his weekly column to sniping at the scientists, activists and reporters who propagate the so-called “myth” that human activity has contributed to climate change. That the Nation is the country’s preeminent liberal/ progressive publication makes Cockburn’s reactionary rant all the more outrageous: With so few column inches available for left-leaning columnists to have their say, the Nation’s willingness to squander a full page a week on Cockburn’s delusions is lamentable, to say the least.

The Nation has been inundated with letters from readers who are appalled that the magazine has printed so much drivel on an issue of life-threatening magnitude. The editors defended themselves on the ground that the Nation never censors its columnists, a flimsy rationalization if ever there was one. If they don’t want to censor Cockburn’s column, they should simply get rid of him and turn the space over to someone who engages readers in thoughtful discourse on the most urgent issue facing the planet.

Erica Etelson

Berkeley, Calif.