Elites / Political / Left

Heilbrun, Carolyn G. The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. New York: Dial Press, 1995. 451 pages.

In this adoring biography of Gloria Steinem, the author proves that feminists are not qualified to write about other feminists. Too much is excused: Steinem's "feminism in a miniskirt" (using her good looks to advantage); her jet-set affairs with the rich and famous (such as Mortimer Zuckerman, or the Ford Foundation's Franklin Thomas); her self-esteem drivel (the 1992 tome, "Revolution from Within"). And despite a chapter on the 1975 Redstockings controversy, in which Steinem's early years as a paid CIA agent were raised as an issue by other feminists, one looks in vain for any hint that this CIA association deserves repudiation. Steinem's only known regret was expressed in 1967: "The CIA's big mistake was not supplanting itself with private funds fast enough," she told the New York Times (1967-02-21).

So why bother? For one reason only -- this book names associates and supporters, as Steinem began Ms. magazine in the early 1970s. Feminism got a grip with private funds from Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Katharine Graham (each laced with CIA connections), and then proceeded to strangle the U.S. left. "The personal is political," they screamed, forcing issues such as capitalism and interlocking transnational power structures into academic oblivion. Valuable time was lost, so that two decades later we're getting snuffed by the globalists. Is it possible that Steinem was being used?

Huck, Dr. Susan. Legal Terrorism: The Truth About the Christic Institute. New World Publishing, 1989. 171 pages.

Susan Huck is a conservative ex-Capitol Hill aide who produced this book with assistance from Theodore Shackley and other fans of U.S. covert activities. It suffers from red-baiting and too many gratuitous slurs.

Yet Huck has some valid points, and she did some homework. There were problems with the Christic Institute -- most particularly with Daniel Sheehan (Harvard Law 1970 and also Harvard Divinity), who frequently seemed to be long on style and short on substantive research. He founded Christic with his wife Sara Nelson and Jesuit William J. Davis in 1981. Nelson is connected to Hollywood entertainers with deep pockets. After working the Karen Silkwood case, Christic took on plaintiffs Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey. Avirgan's injuries from a bomb in Nicaragua offered a hook for a RICO-conspiracy civil suit against an array of ex-CIA types. Ideological glue was provided by Christic's theory that the same "secret team" had been running things for forty years. Nelson's advance work for Sheehan's slick speeches, along with the Jesuit connection to churches, brought in up to $50,000 per week for the Christic road show. Meanwhile, the ex-spooks were deposed through discovery proceedings that Sheehan, who was enjoying himself, tried to drag out. In the end it was thrown out of court, and Christic was assessed $1 million for the defendants' legal expenses.

Parenti, Michael. Dirty Truths. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1996. 282 pages.

This is an excellent collection of essays from one of America's most lucid progressive thinkers. Michael Parenti, born in 1933, grew up in a working-class family but managed to get a Ph.D. in political science from Yale in 1962. Then he made a bad career move: he got clubbed by a cop while peacefully protesting at the University of Illinois in 1970. For stopping a club with his head, Parenti was charged with aggravated battery, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Ever since then, teaching opportunities have been hard to find. It seems that college administrators still hate him, even though he has published a dozen books, and packs them in when he lectures.

The best section of this book is the fifty-odd pages on the topic of conspiracy. Parenti criticizes other leftists such as Erwin Knoll, Chip Berlet, Alexander Cockburn, and Noam Chomsky for their phobia on this topic. As he points out, many of those who complained about the movie "JFK" have yet to read their first book about the assassination. Instead, they imply that examining the evidence is a diversion from true progressivism. Beyond that, they might denounce "scapegoating conspiracism," as if conspiracies never existed, or have always been unimportant. Conspiracy phobia is also a staple of our major news media -- for obvious, self-interested reasons. Fortunately, media criticism is another topic on which Parenti excels.

Powell, S.Steven. Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies. Ottawa IL: Green Hill Publishers, 1987. 469 pages.

Historically, the U.S. Left has done a better job of investigating the U.S. Right than vice-versa, but this is one book that attempts to reverse the trend. The material on IPS is unimportant; the organization is no longer influential. When Powell spends some pages attempting to show significant links between IPS and Soviet KGB-diplomats stationed in DC, it even gets slightly ridiculous. The book is valuable for other reasons -- it represents the best available compilation (over 600 names) of material on elitist Left personalities, organizations, and funding sources during the late 1970s and 1980s. "Elitist" refers mainly to those who are active on the national or international level as opposed to grass-roots organizing. But if you apply to these foundations for project support without being a member of their old-boy-girl network, the word begins to assume its more usual connotations as well. To keep matters in perspective, remember that funding for the Left was only a tiny fraction of the tax-deductible support that flowed into neocon coffers during the 1980s.

Scott Steven Powell had a tremendous amount of research assistance from Rightist groups and individuals, beginning with an obscure outfit in DC called the National Journalism Center. He was last spotted in 1989 as a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Reuther, Victor G. The Brothers Reuther and the Story of the UAW: A Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. 523 pages.

Victor Reuther (1912-2004) and his more prominent brother Walter Reuther (1912-1970) were labor leaders in the U.S. automotive industry beginning in the 1930s. This book is basically a family autobiography and labor-movement history. It begins with memories of his working-class, immigrant parents who were dedicated to the cause, and more or less ends with Walter's death in a plane crash in 1970. Walter survived an assassination attempt in 1948, and Victor survived one in 1949. These attempts were carried out by organized crime thugs with shotguns, apparently hired by corporate interests. Walter Reuther was president of the United Auto Workers from 1946-1970.

One of the most interesting chapters describes Victor and Walter's trip to Germany in 1933, just as Hitler was coming to power, to meet with labor organizers there. Then they went to Gorky, Russia and spent two years as advisors and guest workers at a new auto factory that received substantial aid from Ford Motor Company. Other chapters describe conflicts with George Meany and the AFL-CIO. The international activities of the AFL-CIO were thoroughly compromised by the CIA in the 1960s. Victor spoke out about this as early as 1966, but no one took him seriously until these and other CIA activities became general knowledge in the 1970s.

Timmerman, Kenneth R. Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 2002. 501 pages.

This biography of Jesse Jackson is written by a conservative and published by Regnery, which is very conservative. Occasionally in the book, on certain issues, the author reveals the right-wing baggage that he brought to this project. There is too much red baiting over the background of Martin Luther King advisor Jack O'Dell, a former CPUSA member. (The CPUSA played an important role in the early civil rights movement, and deserves credit for this, not scorn.) Other examples are when the author mentions Jackson's position on the Panama Canal, or his meetings with Yasser Arafat, or with officials from the African National Congress (some of the leaders in the ANC were Communists, which is all the author needed to know about that).

The other ninety percent of this book exposes Jackson's career as a huckster and shakedown artist, and is meticulously documented. Jackson's association with Chicago gangsters has by now evolved into his technique with American corporations. The approach is somewhat crude: if a corporation helps fund one of his many "nonprofit" fronts, Jackson won't sabotage their plans by flexing his affirmative action muscle. Other fascinating chapters chronicle Jackson's inept dealings with African thugs such as Charles Taylor of Liberia. Jackson traveled as a presidential "special envoy" at a crucial time in that region, which amounts to evidence of Clinton's poor judgment.

Tyson, James L. Target America: The Influence of Communist Propaganda on U.S. Media. Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1981. 284 pages.

Tyson is a polemicist based in Darien, Connecticut, who even as late as 1988 was writing to the Washington Times about how they should "be more realistic regarding the menace of communist aggression and propaganda" -- as if the Moonie Times wasn't anti-communist enough! In this case, he didn't like the "laudatory" articles the Times published on [Yale Skull and Bones, ex-CIA] peace activist William Sloane Coffin. This qualifies Tyson as a right-wing innocent who is incapable of a hidden establishment agenda. In other words, Tyson's information on political elites -- in this case, liberal-left elites -- is probably as interesting as anything Coffin, whom I nevertheless admire from my days as a draft resister, might be willing to publish.

Until "Covert Cadre" by S.Steven Powell appeared six years later, this may have been the only book about the U.S. Liberal-Left Conspiracy whose author had actually done some homework and used footnotes. Almost half of the book comes out of the author's travels in southeast Asia. Of the remainder, there are 30 pages on the "Far Left Lobby" that describe various groups and foundations, and another 42 pages on the "War Against the CIA" that name some people I know. -- D.Brandt

Walls, David. The Activist's Almanac: The Concerned Citizen's Guide to the Leading Advocacy Organizations in America. New York: Simon & Schuster (Fireside), 1993. 432 pages.

David Walls began as an activist during the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964 and is now a dean at Sonoma State University in California. From 1966-1981 he lived in Kentucky and was active in local organizing projects. For this book he interviewed leaders of over a hundred groups, which are divided into environmental, peace and foreign policy, human rights (broadly defined to include various special interests from race and gender to animal rights), and multiissue organizations. Most of the organizations selected are national in scope or impact, and all are nonprofit with an emphasis on changing public policy. (Unfortunately, groups specializing in information services are excluded under these criteria, but one has to draw the line somewhere for a project that's this ambitious.) Although one suspects that Walls is more interested in left-liberalism, he also includes centrist, establishment, and conservative organizations, and is able to discuss them objectively.

The group profiles are comprehensive and well-written, and include the history, priorities, internal staff conflicts, funding sources, budget, and membership. Beyond the group names themselves, we also picked up the names of 700 individuals who are mentioned in these profiles.

Wilcox, Derk Arend. The Left Guide: A Guide to Left-of-Center Organizations. Economics America, 1996. 516 pages. (Available for $74.95 from Economics America, Inc., 612 Church Street, Ann Arbor MI 48104, Tel: 734-995-0865.)

Don't be thrown by the title of this reference work -- it includes a substantial number of centrist and establishment organizations, in addition to organizations that would identify themselves as progressive or leftist. Almost every profile is admirably objective, but occasionally the rightist editor cannot resist a gratuitous slur (William Kunstler is described as someone who "made a career out of defending terrorists, bombers, murderers, and robbers who used political justification for their crimes"). Still, this volume is useful, because profiles of more than a thousand organizations were laboriously compiled from IRS Form 990 data (which is furnished by the organizations themselves), along with other sources. In the end the profiles include most officers (including some salaries), some directors, trustees and advisors, budget and funding sources, and data on purpose and programs.

Fewer than half of the names were selected for NameBase. Most labor unions, ecological organizations, feminist organizations, and groups with a local focus were skipped. Centrist and liberal organizations also bore us, unless they have ties to big money, the foreign-policy establishment, or the intelligence establishment. Increasingly, left vs. right seems to us to be a diversion; it's mostly a matter of top vs. bottom. Why not "The Top Guide"?

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