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April 23rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; News, Politics & History; Publishing & Bookselling

Neal Gabler’s Reporting for the NY Times Lends Credence to Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact w/Hitler”

Collaboration coverFirst, a refresher for readers who may not have seen several posts I wrote last fall I wrote about the revelatory book The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand, Junior Fellow of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, published by Harvard University Press:

In one of those posts I had questioned what I saw as biased commentary on, unfair reviews of, and some weird carping about Urwand’s thorough, careful, and unsensational book about the failure of Hollywood moguls, most of them Jewish, to do much of anything to save Jews in Europe during WWII.

David Denby in The New Yorker had a shockingly censorious piece urging that the book be taken out of circulation until Urwand had revised it. Were such steps ever taken it would be an appalling abuse of free speech, violating the moral right of authors writing history to follow documentary evidence and publish their interpretation of events as they’ve come to understand them. The jaded Denby also claimed that much of what’s in the book was already known, but this missed the point: even if Denby’s post was accurate, can there no new or alternative interpretations of previously examined events, even plural interpretations, arrived at in good faith.  Moreover, though, Urwand’s sources included archives and business records that no English-speaking historian had ever worked with, so how could the book have failed to contain new material? Denby never addressed those points, as I read him.

The push-back against Urwand’s book included attacks on him by Alicia Mayer, grand-niece of mogul Louis B. Mayer, who wrote on her website: “I need your help. Imagine for a moment that your family has been accused of collaborating with Hitler and the Nazis.” I urged media outlets to cover her accusations skeptically, taking into account her obvious personal stake in seeing that her great-uncle remain untainted by a critical historian. Another blogger critical of Urwand thought it somehow relevant to question his degree of observance as a Jew because it had been reported he ate a (non-kosher) lobster salad during an interview with a journalist.

Following my posts about Urwand and his book, his publicity tour brought him to the Museum of Tolerance in NYC on October 17, where I went to hear him lecture and meet him in person. The mid-30s Australian scholar’s talk was particularly illuminating, and personal. He began by explaining that he had actually been working on an academic thesis, about Hitler’s taste in movies, information that’s accessible because of Nazi records stating what he showed for himself, and guests, in frequent screenings he held.

Working on his paper, Urwand found records showing that, even before Hitler came to power—because of protests and agitation by Nazis with the weak Weimar regime—the German government lodged protests in Hollywood about “All Quiet on the Western Front,” produced by Jewish film executive Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios. He was a German-born Jew, by then living in the US. The movie, based on novelist Erich Maria Remarque’s global bestseller, depicted pacifism on the part of German soldiers’ in the WWI drama, inimical to the emerging nationalism and militarism in Germany. This sort of influence, flowing from Germany toward Hollywood—often including successful attempts at meddling in the actual scripting and editing of films—continued during the pre-war years, and then once the war began.

Thanks to the slides Urwand showed, he was able to illustrate the documentary trail of evidence he had followed in his research. A handful of those images may be viewed by clicking here.

After a flurry of coverage last fall about Urwand’s important book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitlerthings had quieted down until earlier this month when a lengthy article by film historian Neal Gabler, author of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, was published in the New York Times. “Laemmle’s List: A Mogul’s Heroism” reported on the strenuous and often productive efforts of Laemmle to rescue imperiled Jews from Germany.

Though far as I know Gabler holds no special brief for Urwand, his article lends significant support to the thesis of The Collaboration.

For in his piece, Gabler writes,

“It may seem strange that Laemmle alone among the Hollywood chieftains—a group that included Adolph Zukor of Paramount, William Fox, Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Harry Cohn of Columbia and the Warner Brothers—sought to save Jews, since all of those studio heads were Jews themselves and nearly all of them had emigrated from Eastern Europe, over which Hitler was casting his ominous shadow. But almost from the inception of the American film industry, the Hollywood Jews were dedicated to assimilation, not religious celebration. They had come to America to escape their roots, not embrace them.”

It’s a pity that Carl Laemmle died so early in the war, 1939, or I bet he’d have saved yet many more German and European Jews. He was a good-hearted and generous man whose worries about the fate of many of his co-religionists consumed him to the point that his studio work was set aside while he lobbied Hollywood colleagues and such hard-hearted, anti-semitic officials in the US government as Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

I’m hopeful that the appearance of Gabler’s article will move some of Urwand’s critics to reconsider what I view as their reflexive and unreasonable opposition to his book. Watch this blog for further developments.

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April 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; News, Politics & History; Publishing & Bookselling

Fearing Lawsuit, Cambridge University Press Pre-emptively Quashes Investigative Book on Vladimir Putin

Out of fear of libel action in the UK, Cambridge University Press has declined to publish a new book by Karen Dawisha, Professor of Political Science at Miami University who had earlier published seven well-regarded books with the scholarly press. As first reported in the Economist, Cambridge judged the book—reportedly chronicling Vladimir Putin’s ties to organized crime—likely to draw a lawsuit by Putin and/or the oligarchs covered in the book. Britain’s libel laws have long been regarded as a friendly haven for claimants crying “libel,” and even after a recent improvement to these laws, Cambridge declined to proceed with the book. In an exchange of emails with the press published by the Economist, Dawisha laments,

“One is left to conclude that the main lesson to prospective authors is not to publish in the UK anything that might be seen as libelous. Leaving aside the amusing thought that using the standards of ‘comfort’ set out in the letter–deftly written, one assumes, by your legal department–even the King James’ Version should probably also have been published outside the UK, I do think the field of political science and Russian studies (but also Middle East studies as evidenced by CUP’s pulping of Alms for Jihad) needs to come to terms with the difficult situation that no empirical work on corruption (and probably many other topics) should be published with a British publisher. Last week the EU and the US Government issued a visa ban and asset freeze on the very inner core that is the subject of my book. Many works will now come out on the makeup of the list and why each individual was placed on it. The answers to these questions are in my book. Isn’t it a pity that the UK is a ‘no-fly’ zone for publishing the truth about this group? These Kremlin-connected oligarchs feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools. And as a result of their growing knowledge about and influence in the UK, even the most significant British institutions (and I think we can agree that CUP, with its royal charter, 500-year history and recent annual revenues in excess of $400m, is a veritable British institution) cower and engage in pre-emptive book-burnings as a result of fear of legal action.”

Washington Post foreign policy blogger Adam Taylor also covers the fate of Professor Dawisha’s book, publishing an illuminating Q&A with her. Here’s a sample:

Adam Taylor: Are you able to describe any of the new evidence you found or how you found it?

Prof Dawisha: I rely on published sources, especially Russian investigative journalists in the period before press freedom was attacked. Many of these documents and reports disappeared from the Russian Internet, but I have been able to get hold of them. Interviews were used for background only, but lots of them in many countries. As to the details, I would rather people read the book since the cases I cover provide quite a clear picture of Putin’s role.

Adam Taylor: Do you feel like Putin’s St. Petersburg days are especially relevant now, what with the Crimea conflict and the U.S. sanctions against his associates that time?

Prof Dawisha: Absolutely. Almost all the key players, including (Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry) Kozak, who was just named as Putin’s federal representative to Crimea, started together in St. Petersburg. All the people on the sanctions list are key players in my book….

Adam Taylor: What’s your plan for getting the book published now?

Prof Dawisha: I will seek a U.S. publisher, although this decision has certainly cost me time. And it is a pity because this is a story that should come out sooner rather than later.
—–

Like the author I do hope a US publisher will pick up the title for publication here, though the house that does so will have to try and prevent even single copies being shipped to UK customers, lest Putin and his cronies use these sales as a pretext to claim the book has officially been published in the UK, giving them (spurious) grounds to sue the US company.

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March 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Canada; News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

Lee Lorch, an Exiled American Hero Who Found a Haven in Canada

Until reading this March 1 obituary by David Margolick about Lee Lorch I had not known about this brave man, or the vital role he played in ending racial bias in publicly-subsidized housing in New York City and the rest of the United States.

A WWII vet, Lorch came home from the war amid a nationwide housing shortage that was particularly severe in New York City. Then living with his wife Grace and daughter in what the NY Times reports Lorch called “‘half a Quonset hut’ overlooking Jamaican Bay in Queens,” he applied to live in the housing complex of Stuyvesant Town then being developed on the east side of Manhattan by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company with generous subsidies and accommodations from the city. He learned that African-Americans were explicitly barred from living in the development, as Met Life’s chairman Frederick Ecker told news media, “Negroes and whites don’t mix. If we brought them into this development, it would be to the detriment of the city, too, because it would depress all the surrounding property.” The Lorches and fellow tenants invited African-American families to come stay in there apartments as their guests, a move that drew Met Life’s ire and threats of eviction.

As a result, Lee Lorch lost his job teaching math at City College, and was made unwelcome at other universities where he applied to teach, including Penn State, which hired and then fired him in less than a year. For a time, he and his family were in Little Rock, Arkansas, where in 1957 Grace famously comforted Elizabeth Eckford, one of the “Little Rock Nine,” as she tried to attend Little Rock Central High School.Grace Lorch and Elizabeth Eckford

In addition, Lorch’s unapologetic membership in the American Communist Party caused civil rights leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, to keep their distance from him. After years of erratic employment in the States, in 1959 Lorch was offered a teaching position in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and later York University in Toronto. The Lorches emigrated and much like young draft-age American males of the Vietnam era, the Lorches found a new home and haven north of the 49th Parallel.

Lorch lived a remarkable life, and one that should be remembered. In addition to the March 1 NY Times obit and a 2010 article, here are other Web resources:

1) Video with a 2010 interview of Lee Lorch

2) A segment with Lee Lorch’s daughter Alice from CBC’s As It Happens, remembering her father and the family’s life in Canada.

3) A review of David Margolick’s book Elizabeth and Hazel, on Elizabeth Eckford, of the Little Rock Nine, and Hazel Bryan, a white woman who yelled at her as she tried to enter Central High School in 1957.

4) An Arkansas Times Web feature with lots more information on the Little Rock Nine.

Cross-posted on my blog Honourary Canadian.

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February 23rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

Judith Butler, Once More a Target of Critics Who Would Silence Her

Readers here may recall I’ve written and shared about literary scholar and contemporary philosopher Judith Butler, a frequent target of criticism by right-wing conservative Jewish commentators, owing to positions of hers such as support for the boycott/divest/sanction (BDS) movement with regard to Israel. Some people in this debate–like Peter Beinart in his book The Crisis of Zionism–support boycotting only those goods that come from the Occupied Territories, not all of Israel. That’s my position, too. I’m not certain where Butler lands on that point–but regardless, unlike her opponents, I fully support her right to freely express herself and be heard, in all realms–political, critical and aesthetic.

All this comes up again because of a new instance of the Jewish establishment trying to banish her voice from the communal conversation. In the current episode, Philip Weiss writes in a blog post headed, “Jewish community commits intellectual suicide before our eyes,” that Butler had been asked to participate in a March 6 discussion of Franz Kafka at NYC’s Jewish Museum, but the invitation was withdrawn, owing to what Weiss believes was ‘pressure from donors.’ Weiss writes, “One critic said, ‘The hosting of [BDS] advocate Judith Butler by The Jewish Museum is a slap in the face to every Jew,’ Richard Allen, head of JCC Watch, told JNS.org.” This, all about a discussion of Kafka, with no direct relevance to Israel.

In the same vein of craven submission to angry types, the museum also recently canceled a panel that was to discuss John Judis’s important new book Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. Many Jews on the right are nowadays inflamed by discussions like these, and many organizations, whether or not they share the same conservative ideology, succumb to threats and pressure.

This is all kind of personal to me. Judith Butler and I grew up in the same Jewish community in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, where her father, known to all his patients as “Danny,” was a friendly family dentist. He looked after the teeth of all five Turners. He resembled Jack Paar, but nicer looking. Judith’s sister Diane was in my same year in school, where we knew each other. She moved to NY at around the same time I did, as part of a modern dance company, and we continued to see each other in the city from time to time. I occasionally heard from Diane about her sister, Judith, already then a professor, and a rising star in academia. She is an honorable person and a serious scholar. She should not be castigated or exiled for what I know to be an honest expression of belief, arrived at through careful deliberation and the weighing of difficult moral choices. As an example of her thoughtfulness, I submit this transcript of a talk she gave last February at Brooklyn College. It is well worth reading, and all in her own words.

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February 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Clumsy Mansplaining Strikes the Republicans Yet Again

Chinese finger trapClumsy mansplaining about the Clintons by Rand Paul & other Republicans shows, I suppose, that they want to try and shame Hillary out of the public square, and weary her of the race before it starts, before she can even declare in our out for 2016. But I don’t think it’ll will have that effect, not on her decision, nor on many key voting groups. In fact, it’s more likely to just lock in natural and growing Democratic advantages among key demographic groups nationally.

First, younger voters, many of whom weren’t even alive in the ’90s, will wonder why the enormous bother about illicit sex of a sort that surveys show is more and more common among that cohort. Women voters over forty will loathe the badgering of another woman, one whom history has shown they empathize with, especially when this issue is continually forced into the media by Republicans. In short, this is just the sort of innuendo campaign that drives negative inferences about the opposition up to the stratosphere. Over the past 2-3 decades, the Republican party has become an increasingly unsupportable proposition. I’m reminded of the Chinese finger trap, the toy you stick your fingers in at opposite ends where the harder you pull, the greater is its grip. That is the effect of Republican positions on their standing with voters—the more they cling to them pandering to their narrower and narrower base, the deeper they fall in to their toxic grip, making themselves less and less acceptable to large chunks of the electorate for national and federal offices in states that are not deep red politically.

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February 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

A Congressman’s Profile in Contempt


This congressman from Oklahoma dishonored his office by listening to constituents at a recent town hall urge violence against Pres Obama w/out denouncing them and never saying “stop” to them. This link is to a local story with the 4-minute videotape. They urged something I don’t even want to type a second time. He laughs with them throughout. Now it’s this federal officeholder who should be denounced. The phone number at his Tulsa office is 918-935-3222; in Washington it’s 202-225-2211.

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February 6th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Toxic Chemical Spills, as American as Cherry Pie

Monday Feb 10 Update: The same AP reporter whose story I’d linked to below has a new article on the toxic coal ash spill along the Dan River in North Carolina. Michael Biesecker reports that NC state officials have twice interceded in lawsuits that environmental quality groups had filed against Duke Energy, the company responsible for the horrible spill last week. Ludicrously, the state imposed a scant penalty of $99,000 against the utility, which made no admission of wrongdoing. Rachel Maddow reported on this article and the spill tonight, adding a couple telling nuggets: 1) Duke Energy is a company with annual turnover in the billions of dollars, and 2) NC Governor Pat McCroy took office in 2012, after 28 years with Duke Energy.

Coal ash spill Dan RiverOn the heels of the chemical spill in to West Virginia’s Elk River, a second horrible toxic incident is fouling a river that runs through two other southern states, with tons of coal ash leaking from a 27-acre pond through a busted pipe that is flowing in to the Dan River near Danville, VA. AP reporter Michael Biesecker, downriver in North Carolina, reports seeing “gray sludge several inches deep, coating the riverbank for more than 2 miles,” as seen in the photo above by Gerry Broome. Biesecker also writes,

“Since the leak was first discovered by a security guard Sunday afternoon, Duke Energy estimates up to 82,000 tons of ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water has spilled into the river. Officials at the nation’s largest electricity provider say they cannot provide a timetable for when the leak will be fully contained, though the flow has lessened significantly as the pond has emptied….Environmental regulators in North Carolina say they are still awaiting test results to determine if there is any hazard to people or wildlife. Coal ash is known to contain a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium….Municipal officials in Danville say they are successfully filtering out contaminates in the drinking water for the city of about 43,000 people….Environmentalists and government regulators have been warning for years that the 31 ash ponds at Duke’s power plants in North Carolina had the potential for calamity, especially after a similar pond in Kingston, TN, burst open in 2008.”

  • Water undrinkable or at risk–a situation that more than 300,000 residents of West Virginia have endured since early January.

  • Duke Energy has thirty-one other ponds like the one that just ruptured?

In the best of worlds, chemical companies and energy providers like Freedom International and Duke Energy would be better stewards of the land, but that is clearly too much to hope for. Failing that, I’m disappointed the federal EPA is unable to do a better job preventing hazardous incidents, but I hold states largely responsible for the failure. A lecturer in environmental health at George Washington University said, “West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider EPA interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk.” The EPA can’t succeed without buy-in to the process from state officials.
This is sick. When will we ever learn?

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February 4th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

CBO Report on Obamacare Points to More Economic Justice Over Next Decade

Republicans have seized on news reports of the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast about ObamaCare’s impact on the country over the next decade. The righties instantly and loudly pointed to what they claim is a finding that more than 2,000,000 jobs will be lost between now and 2024. Unfortunately, so far the media is playing along with their false reading of the study.  On his Plum Line blog Greg Sargent has a corrective commentary with an actual quote from the report, followed by a summation of his own:

“‘The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in business’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking, but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week).’

The CBO report actually says that the impact of the ACA will be ‘almost entirely’ due to a decline in labor that ‘workers choose to supply.’ It says explicitly that the ACA’s impact will not be felt as an ‘increase in unemployment’ or ‘underemployment.’”

Useful and necessary as Sargent’s correction is, I’ll  add an interpretation of mine, based on my own experience working in the freelance economy since 2009. That’s when a corporate publishing layoff cost me a full-time job, and my family what had been our employer-based health insurance. For five years–until this month, when we could finally get affordable coverage under the new law–the cost of private health insurance premiums has been an onerous burden on our household economy.

I interpret the CBO forecast as pointing to the likelihood that in future there will be fewer Americans working full-time jobs at major corporations with health insurance attached, as was our national norm in the 20th century. This was an American anomaly, not an historical inevitability, one of those times when our vaunted “exceptionalism” didn’t serve the national interest. This benefit offered people security, but only if you had a full-time job. It also shackled people to jobs they might not have otherwise continued working at. I anticipate that with health insurance reform, many more people will be able to be self-employed while finally enjoying reliable and affordable coverage. The CBO report suggests my hope could become reality.

Since President Obama’s election in 2008, when health insurance reform came back on the national agenda for the first time since the Clinton years, I’ve hoped that reform might unleash many enterprising solo and small shop operators. No longer tethered to corporate jobs, people would be able to take reasonable risk to start a business on their own or with a couple partners, confident that even if their new idea fails, they won’t have to spend down their security to keep themselves from being exposed to the truly terrible risk of illness without insurance. With many more people working for their dreams, we could become to a greater extent, a nation of entrepreneurs, business-builders, and job creators. This is something that pro-market conservatives always tout, so they ought to cheer for health reform that unleashes a new era of entrepreneurial energy.

I miss certain aspects of big-company employment, and continue to apply for full-time jobs as appropriate, and might be glad to take one, but my larger preference is that the economy just begin to grow again with many millions of flowers blooming.  I will add that if the country had not been forced to endure unwarranted austerity through Republican obstructionism the past five years, the editorial & publishing services consultancy I started in 2009 would’ve grown much faster. As to the CBO’s point that people will choose to work fewer hours, I see nothing wrong with people spending more time with their families, traveling, and enjoying new recreational pursuits. With so many of us having suffered financial pain since 2008 it would be economic justice indeed if by 2024 we’re all doing so well that people can work less while enjoying it more.

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