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Ari Berman

Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, will be published in August 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has written extensively about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian, and he is a frequent guest and commentator on MSNBC and NPR. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Photo by Ports Bishop)


  • November 6, 2009

    Injustice in Illinois

    There's a very important editorial in The Nation this week that I hope everyone will take the time to read. It's about the wrongful conviction of Anthony McKinney, who's been in prison for thirty-one years for a murder he did not commit. I'm posting the relevant portions below.

     

    On the evening of September 15, 1978, a white security guard named Donald Lundahl was murdered in a robbery gone awry in a racially fraught southern suburb of Chicago. Police fingered Anthony McKinney, an 18-year-old African-American with no criminal record, as the killer. The prosecution sought death by lethal injection; the judge sentenced McKinney to life in prison.

     

    McKinney has long maintained his innocence. Based on newly uncovered evidence, there's strong reason to believe that he has spent thirty-one years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

    Ari Berman

  • October 28, 2009

    Centrist Democrats = Corporate Sellouts

    Every time I hear about Joe Lieberman's latest apostasy, I think, Oy vey! There he goes again. More Joementum.

    Remind me why we still call this guy a Democrat? Sure, Lieberman caucuses with Democrats in the Senate--Joe is nothing if not opportunistic and who wants to be part of a lowly Republican minority?--but I think he forfeited his right to call himself one when he almost became John McCain's VP and campaigned stridently against an Obama presidency. Yet somehow he managed to keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Gotta love those Senate Democrats--they always find a way to reward someone for stabbing them in the back. See Baucus, Max.

    Following Lieberman's threat to filibuster a public option, every paper played up the story of how the "centrists" are now rebelling. Watch out, the centrists are coming! "Centrists unsure about Reid's public option," the Washington Post reported today. Let's get real. These holdouts are not centrist Democrats; they are corporate Democrats, which should be an oxymoron. They'll do whatever the healthcare industry wants and use their red state constituents as an excuse to do so. Only Lieberman is from Connecticut, one of the bluest states in the country. So what's his excuse?

    Ari Berman

  • August 25, 2009

    What’s Wrong With Washington

    I've never met Heather Podesta. I've only spoken to her husband, Tony, once. But I found this Washington Post profile of her on Sunday incredibly distasteful. And I imagine I wasn't alone.

    Sample quote from the "it girl" lobbyist, nonchalantly praising herself in third person: "This is a very good time to be a Democratic lobbyist...it's incredibly exciting to be able to engage with Democrats and really see things happen. It's always a good time to be Heather Podesta."

    Wow, so much for modesty! It's not clear what things happening Podesta is referring to. The Post notes her clients include:

    Ari Berman

  • August 18, 2009

    Baucus & Grassley Hijack Obama’s Agenda

    Barack Obama received 67 million votes in the last election. Senator Max Baucus of Montana received 349,000 votes when he ran for re-election last year. His Republican counterpart on the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, got just over a million votes when he last ran in '04.

    So how, exactly, was Obama's landslide victory a mandate for Baucus and Grassley to hijack the president's agenda? When it comes to healthcare reform, trusting Baucus was the first mistake Obama made. Allowing Baucus to cede so much authority to Grassley is the second.

    When Baucus became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee after Democrats recaptured Congress, many Democrats were justifiably worried. After all, Baucus helped shepherd through Congress two of President Bush's signature initiatives, his tax cuts and Medicare privatization plan. He received a ton of money from corporate lobbyists, many of whom were former staffers of his. In a Nation profile in early '07, I dubbed him "K Street's Favorite Democrat."

    Ari Berman

  • July 29, 2009

    Dean Slams Senate Finance Committee

    Howard Dean guest hosted Countdown with Keith Olbermann at an opportune time last night, following reports that the Senate Finance Committee--helmed by Montana Democrat Max Baucus--is preparing to exclude a public option from its long-awaited healthcare bill.

    "What if the Senate Finance Committee has already done the Republicans' dirty work for them?" Dean asked rhetorically at the beginning of show.

    Dean has just authored a book on healthcare reform--detailing why America needs a public option--and knows quite a bit about the subject from his years as a doctor and governor of Vermont. He called Baucus's reported bill the "so-called compromise."

    Ari Berman

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  • June 26, 2009

    Is Max Baucus Change We Can Believe In?

    For months, advocates for and against true health care reform in Washington have been closely watching Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the all-powerful Finance Committee, and wondering what he'll do. We don't know the answer yet. Baucus was instrumental in helping George Bush pass tax cuts for the rich and privatize Medicare, but he's also said he wants to shepherd Barack Obama's healthcare plan through Congress and make universal coverage a reality once and for all. Thus far, we don't which Baucus will show up, the Bush-loving friend of big business or the populist ally of Obama.

    There's a reason The Nation dubbed Baucus "K Street's Favorite Democrat" in a profile I wrote back in March 2007, after the Democrats recaptured Congress and Baucus became chair of the Finance Committee. Some background:

     

    After helping to craft the largest tax cut in a generation, Baucus raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the financial sector for his 2002 re-election campaign. Opening doors in both directions were former Baucus staffers. During the debate over whether to add a $400 billion privately run prescription-drug plan to Medicare, his former chief of staff, David Castagnetti, and legislative aide, Scott Olsen, were part of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's $8 million lobbying effort. Shortly after the legislation--written largely by the pharmaceutical industry--passed, Baucus's top staffer on the Finance Committee, Jeff Forbes, left to open his own lobbying shop, with clients including PhRMA, the drug maker Amgen and the American Health Care Association. These companies have in turn donated generously to Baucus; almost $700,000 between 2001 and 2006 from the healthcare industry and pharmaceutical lobby.

     

    Ari Berman

  • June 15, 2009

    Iran’s Twitter Revolution

    Forget CNN or any of the major American "news" networks. If you want to get the latest on the opposition protests in Iran, you should be reading blogs, watching YouTube or following Twitter updates from Tehran, minute-by-minute.

    Some absolutely riveting and thrilling reporting has been done over Twitter by a university student in Tehran who goes by the moniker Tehran Bureau. The Iranian authorities shut his website down over the weekend and he was attacked by hard-line militias but he's been able to send short posts around the world over Twitter. Via Micah Sifry, here is a list of Iranian bloggers who've been twittering about the clashes between opposition protesters and government forces loyal to Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. I found out about many of these sites thanks to the great twittering by Tom Mattzie, formerly of MoveOn.org

    In the US, bloggers such as The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan and the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney have surpassed most traditional news organizations by posting around the clock updates. They've relied on incredible YouTube footage from inside Iran, like this one of a pro-Mousavi rally today.

    Ari Berman

  • June 10, 2009

    Mutually Assured Destruction in Virginia Primary

    In January 2004 in Iowa, an infamous murder-suicide took place. No, not a real one. This was of the political variety. In the final days of the Iowa caucus, Dick Gephardt launched a series of attack ads against Howard Dean. Dean--supposedly still the front-runner--responded in kind. The candidates finished a distant third and fourth. There is some truth and some myth to this theory, but the tale lives on.

    Much the same thing happened in Virginia last night. From the get-go, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran viewed each other as their biggest obstacles to winning the Democratic primary for governor. In debates, radio ads and TV spots, Moran portrayed McAuliffe as a crony capitalist carpetbagger who vociferously campaigned against Barack Obama. McAuliffe tagged Moran as a hot-headed Richmond insider in the pocket of defense contractors and called his political consultant, Joe Trippi (long rivals from the Dean days), "an ass." McAuliffe claimed he was joking but neither Moran nor Trippi were much amused. The contest seemed oddly personal. The video below gives you a good example of the frequent absurdity of the race.

    Ari Berman

  • June 5, 2009

    Dems Vie for Victory in Virginia

    The Democratic primary for governor of Virginia, which takes place on June 9, has been a pretty nasty affair from Day One. At a February fundraising dinner, Democratic candidates Creigh Deeds, Brian Moran, Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Bob McDonnell (the current Attorney General) came together for an ostensibly friendly roast.

    After telling a joke about Deeds' donkey, Truman, McAuliffe referred to Brian Moran's media consultant, Joe Trippi, as an "ass." He said Trippi had come up to him at The Palm one day and offered to help with his race. "I said to him, 'You really want to help me? That's what you want to do? You want to help me, Joe? Great. Go work for Brian and go do for him what you did for President Dean and President Edwards."

    From the audience Moran yelled, "How's President Hillary Clinton?"

    Ari Berman

  • May 29, 2009

    Bloomberg’s the ‘Disgrace’

    It's bad enough that Mike Bloomberg jerry-rigged a third term for himself via the hapless city council--a maneuver not even Rudy Giuliani could pull off after 9/11--and has already spent $19 million in the middle of a recession on an re-election campaign where he's facing only nominal resistance from city comptroller Bill Thompson.

    But now anybody who has the audacity to question the mayor's decision to handicap democracy is called a "disgrace." That's what happened to the New York Observer's Azi Paybarah at a press conference in Queens yesterday. Bloomberg mentioned how the New York economy was improving, which prompted Paybarah to ask Bloomberg if such a turnaround undermined his supposed rationale for running for mayor again--that only Bloomberg could handle the city's finances during an economic calamity. Watch the response:

    Ari Berman