CyberAlert -- 04/12/2000 -- "Authoritarian" Rule in Miami, Elian to be "Sheltered" in Cuba from "Social Breakdown"

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"Authoritarian" Rule in Miami, Elian to be "Sheltered" in Cuba from "Social Breakdown"

No regular CyberAlert today. Instead, a reminder about a gun special today and tonight on MSNBC and the text of this week's MagazineWatch which highlights this in a Newsweek story about the upside of Elian returning to Cuba: "The boy will nestle again in a more peaceable society that treasures its children." Time trumpeted that before Elian fled "the boy's father even had a car, a 1956 Nash Rambler, in which Elian rode through town like a prince, while many people relied on horse-drawn carts." How can Elian resist such luxury? -- Brent Baker

-- Tonight, from 10pm to 12 midnight ET, MSNBC will air a town meeting special hosted by Tom Brokaw from the University of Denver: "Up in Arms: What Should America Do?"

The first hour will be a replay of Brokaw's interview/town meeting session with Bill Clinton scheduled to air live at 3pm ET/1pm MT today on MSNBC. The 11pm ET/9pm MT hour tonight will be a second live town meeting.

To read MSNBC's plug for today's two-part gun policy special, go to:

-- The April 11 edition of MagazineWatch, the MRC's Web-published weekly review of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News. The items in this week's analysis, of the April 17 editions, compiled by the MRC's Tim Graham:

1. Newsweek decried the Elian imbroglio as "the grotesque spectacle of his martyrdom in Miami." They also noted that if the boy returned to Cuba he would be "sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami."

2. Time leaned hard on moral equivalence, suggesting Cuban exiles "fled one totalitarian state only to set up a satellite version." Elian's father was "caught between a government with its own authoritarian rules and a family that was making them up as it went along."

3. Time had two takes on taking it to the streets. The anti-communist protests in Miami were "no longer protest, merely petulance." But the rallies against "global capitalism" in Washington were "going to be a festival of resistance."

4. Newsweek's Matt Bai described the decline of Colt, since "guns are now the target of growing public anger" and "the darkening political climate worried Colt's board members," who "lived in the real world, not Charlton Heston's."

5. In their search for "Good News About Teens," U.S. News found a teen against drunk driving, a teen against gangs, a teen against littering, a teen for education, and - a teen for Planned Parenthood.

6. The new movie American Psycho reheats the '80s hate of the magazine film critics.

(On the covers of the April 17 editions: Time carried "Elian and His Dad," Newsweek called it "Elian's Ordeal." U.S. News & World Report rebelled with "The Good News About Teens." On the campaign front, both U.S. News and Newsweek have items noting Rudy Giuliani suffering at the polls over police brutality, and both Time and Newsweek quote George W. Bush thanking the voters of Kansas, which didn't have a primary last week.)


In Newsweek, Evan Thomas and Joseph Contreras reported on Elian Gonzalez largely from the camp of ex-Clinton lawyer Greg Craig. His hiring apparently came from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who "had performed a greater service than a good legal argument: he had found Eli'n's father a good lawyer. At about that time, the Vermont senator contacted the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, a human-rights activist and former general secretary of the National Council of Churches who had been working to reunite Juan Miguel with his son since Eli'n's rescue at sea...Craig, whose fees will be paid by money raised by the United Methodist Church, flew to Havana to meet Juan Miguel in early March and assure himself that the boy's father was not a stooge for Castro."

Thomas and Contreras ended by declaring Elian a martyr for having to endure the Cuban Americans: "With the right nurturing, Eli'n Gonz'lez may overcome his nightmares, but he has been scarred and prematurely aged, first by losing his mother in a terrifying accident at sea, then by the grotesque spectacle of his martyrdom in Miami."

Brook Larmer and John Leland offered a look at life in Cuba, and began by echoing the Castro line: "In some ways, young Eli'n might expect a nurturing life in Cuba, sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami. Because Eli'n's father, Juan Miguel Gonz'lez, works as a cashier in a tourist resort, the family already belonged to the nation's well-off stratum, who has access to American dollars. The boy's relatives in Miami can offer further support: Cuba now even has ATMs that dispense dollars from foreign banks. The education and health-care systems, both built since the revolution, are among the best in the Americas, despite chronic shortages of supplies. Yet Eli'n's prospects would be limited. Cuban doctors barely earn a living wage. Among many of the nation's youth, the greatest scarcity is hope."

To add to the absurdity of Cuba being the envy of Latin America despite that unfortunate chronic shortage problem, the writers later quote a government official saying that without Miami's animosity, all Castro has is " Just a broken system whose few achievements are deteriorating more every year."

This was not to say that Larmer and Leland liked what the dollar is doing to Castro's paradise: "The currency has upset the social order. Teachers leave schools to earn more money catering to tourists; prostitution has flourished. The dollar has value; it also has values: American music, fashion and conspicuous materialism have proliferated along with the currency, to the alarm of the Cuban government. 'We used to live in a glass bowl, sanitary and pure,' Castro said in 1998. 'And now we're surrounded by viruses, the bacteria of alienation and egoism that the capitalist system creates.'"

Larmer and Leland concluded that Elian would be safe in Cuba, except for the threat of corrupting capitalism: "This is the bifurcated world to which Eli'n may soon return, in the fading years of its remarkable dictator. The boy will nestle again in a more peaceable society that treasures its children. But his life will oscillate to the contrary rhythms of this central Cuban paradox. As a shining symbol of the communist state, he will have access to the corrupting fruits of the new economy. He'll enjoy the best Cuba has to offer, the things only dollars can buy. In short, his will be a version of the American dream, filtered through a glass, starkly."


Time leaned hard on moral equivalence. Senior Editor Nancy Gibbs claimed to like the idea of Elian's father Juan Miguel staying in America: "Republicans would welcome two new voters, the Clinton Administration would celebrate the rule of law, and the Cuban expatriate community in Miami would put to rest the impression that they fled one totalitarian state only to set up a satellite version across the Florida Straits. No one would be asked to choose between freedom and love."

Gibbs found Juan Miguel's Dulles Airport statement persuasive rather than creepy: "anyone who heard his passionate demand to be reunited with Elian, and his denunciation of the Miami relatives who had paraded his son in the streets and fed him to Diane Sawyer, had to believe he might be entirely sincere in his desire simply to retrieve his child and go home to Cuba for good."

She also touted how he "lives, by relative standards, the good life... Altogether, in wages, tips and bonuses, he earns more than 10 times Cuba's $15 average monthly salary -- enough to afford to buy Elian imported Power Ranger toys and birthday pinatas fat with Italian hard candy and German chocolates...Elian enjoyed that rarest of Cuban luxuries: his own air-conditioned bedroom. And before Juan Miguel sold it to pay, he says, for calls to Elian in Miami, the boy's father even had a car, a 1956 Nash Rambler, in which Elian rode through town like a prince, while many people relied on horse-drawn carts."

Then she returned to moral equivalence: "The great challenge for Juan Miguel was that he was caught between a government with its own authoritarian rules and a family that was making them up as it went along...The law may not be on their side, but loads of local and national politicians--even a mutinous Vice President Al Gore -- are." Mutinous? She also quipped that "Robinson Crusoe did not have the misfortune of washing ashore in a swing state."

(Gloria Borger also attacked Gore's Elian positioning in U.S. News.)

To add to the outrage of Gibbs, Time Miami correspondent Tim Padgett championed "moderates" and lambasted "hard-line" anti-communist Cuban exiles for the third week in a row. He began: "The 'banana republic' label sticking to Miami in the final throes of the Elian Gonzalez crisis is a source of snide humor for most Americans. But many younger Cuban Americans are getting tired of the hard-line anti-Castro operatives who have helped manufacture that stereotype - especially the privileged, imperious elite who set themselves us as a pueblo sufrido, a suffering people, as martyred as black slaves and Holocaust Jews, but ever ready to jump on expensive speedboats to reclaim huge family estates the moment the old communist dictator stops breathing."

This must be what Time calls "bringing perspective to the news."

Padgett joined Gibbs in decrying that the exile lobby's clout "can still make politicos like Al Gore do the Exile Shuffle. The Elian episodes were additional steps in that hoary choreography." He also echoed the authoritarian attack: "Few dispute the genuine grievances of the exiles, especially those who have suffered human-rights abuses under Castro, like imprisonment for 'counterrevolutionary activities.'" Then Padgett disputes them: "but the older hard-liners despite their protestations of U.S. patriotism, are still steeped in the authoritarian political culture that existed in Cuba long before Castro took power in 1959."

Padgett concluded by rooting for anti-communism's decline: "As for liberating Cuba, the hard-liners have, in a perverse way, always been Castro's friends. 'The belligerent actions of the hard-line exiles in Miami simply keep giving Castro an excuse to crack down on us,' says dissident leader Elizardo Sanchez. Post-Castro Cuba, he insists will be government by moderates, not right-wing exiles. The same, perhaps, may someday be said of Miami."


Time had two takes on taking to the streets. Padgett complained that "the U.S.'s Cuba policy has indulged the notion that Miami, because its special anti-Castro mission, sometimes gets a pass on the democratic rules that the rest of country observes." Sociologist George Wilson says that because Cuban exiles are perhaps the country's most privileged group, "'most Americans refuse to believe that their civil disobedience over Elian is legitimate.' Viewed from that perspective, shutting down freeways is no longer protest, merely petulance."

Pages later, Adam Zagorin had a different approach to the activists looking to shut down streets in Washington, DC. No one was embarrassed by the hard-line "opponents of global capitalism." No one argued they created an unpopular stereotype, or had a "desperate craving for geopolitical attention in this post cold-war world." Instead, Zagorin quoted one activist, "It's going to be a festival of resistance. We want to stop the current model of globalism that helps giant corporations at the expense of virtually everyone else."

Zagorin concluded: "The protests will surely raise the temperature of debates on global-trade and economic issues. For demonstrators, their appetites whetted by Seattle, the agenda includes the U.S. political conventions this summer. And preparations are also under way for a series of major protests in Prague when the World Bank and IMF meet there in September."

There's nothing like promoting a group of protesters who gained publicity by widespread destruction of property and the use of force to shut down a city on a city-by-city Shutdown Tour. We recommend Rockefeller Center.


Newsweek's Matt Bai covered the decline and fall of Colt, due to the heroic anti-gun force of public opinion: "The fall of Colt -- 'the gun that won the West' -- reflects a shift in the way Americans think about guns. Once the symbol of heroic lawmen and soldiers in battle, guns are now the target of growing public anger. Colt's journey from frontier legend to the brink of extinction is part of a larger story of gunmakers that turned away from hunting rifles and military weapons in favor of handguns that, in the public's view, too often fall into criminal hands."

Bai described the peculiar world of gun buyers: "Selling handguns takes a certain mentality. Manufacturers live by a general rule: you don't have to be a 'gun nut,' but it doesn't hurt to pretend. As outsiders to the industry, [Colt buyers] Zilkha and Stewart didn't get it...The bad publicity and the darkening political climate worried Colt's board members, none of whom had any experience in the gun trade. They lived in the real world, not Charlton Heston's, and the public's growing outrage over handguns made them uncomfortable. Defending themselves against public lawsuits wasn't what board members had in mind when they agreed to serve."


In their search for "Good News About Teens," U.S. News found a teen against drunk driving, a teen against gangs, a teen against littering, a teen for education, and - a teen for Planned Parenthood. The headline called 17-year-old Matt Oppenheimer a "Teenage Dr. Ruth.

Young Matt felt the sex-education classes at school weren't deep enough, "So he went to Planned Parenthood to learn more, and there, an activist was born. Last year, Matt lobbied the Idaho Legislature against a bill requiring parental consent for abortions, partly because he'd heard about a pregnant girl who'd begged a friend to punch her in the stomach. 'She didn't know what her options were,' says Matt. 'She felt trapped. She felt she couldn't talk to her parents.'"

U.S. News rhapsodized: "Now the other kids know they can ask him when they have questions they can't ask grown-ups. Where can I get birth control pills? How much do they cost? What is Depo-Provera? Both abstinence and contraception are OK in Matt's book." They also championed, "Anonymous teen chat rooms and Internet bulletin boards offer more openness." All the U.S. News Web site links were to "hip, nonjudgmental" green-light-to-teen-sex sites, like and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).

Matt believed kids should communicate with parents. His were supportive: "They are very accepting of me. They give me all the freedom I need. And I appreciate that, because it takes guts." No one at the magazine felt the need to balance the story by asking about those parents who might resent their children being encouraged to have sex (not to mention abortions) by other children and adults. Doesn't that take guts?


As novelist Bret Easton Ellis's stockbroker-slasher tale American Psycho arrived on film, the magazine film critics dragged out their Greedy-'80s cliches. In an article headlined "A Yuppie's Killer Instinct," Time's Richard Corliss began: "How to capture the soul of an age that has no soul? That was the task facing Bret Easton Ellis at the end of the '80s." Corliss liked the film, even its stylized violence: "this is a splatter film Martha Stewart could love."

Newsweek's David Ansen summarized the tale: "In Mary Harron's bold, coolly satiric adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's infamous novel American Psycho, we are wittily plunged back into the soulless excesses of Reagan-era Wall Street, where the reigning emotions are greed and disgust, and the 'inside no longer matters.'"

The Clintons and Gores may boast of the booming economy, but a dollop of "I feel your pain" apparently makes the dot-com dynamism of the '90s a much different affair than the Decade of Greed. Perhaps we could convene a seminar: why do they hate Ronald Reagan with such passionate intensity?


END MagazineWatch

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