A 2011 file photo of David Koch, executive vice-president of Koch Industries (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Don't miss Jane Mayer's feature at The New Yorker, just posted online, on little-known story of how PBS's WNET in New York reacted to showing Alex Gibney doc Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream. The film did air but see what surrounded it.
Problem: It partly focused on the Koch Brothers, with David Koch a major WNET funder. So WNET bent over backwards to give him a chance to response even before the doc aired, and also scheduled a roundtable to discuss it. Gibney: “They tried to undercut the credibility of the film, and I had no opportunity to defend it.... Why is WNET offering Mr. Koch special favors? And why did the station allow Koch to offer a critique of a film he hadn’t even seen? Money. Money talks.”
And then another documentary realting to the Kochs ran into trouble and lost funding.
But Mayer's conclusion: "In the end, the various attempts to assuage David Koch were apparently insufficient. On Thursday, May 16th, WNET’s board of directors quietly accepted his resignation. It was the result, an insider said, of his unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor."
The 2013 inaugural ball. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Obama has been eerily silent on the Rana Plaza disaster, the factory collapse that killed more than 1,110 garment workers last month near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Days later, another fire claimed eight people, and Obama said nothing. This week, two people died in a shoe factory collapse in Cambodia. Not a word. The problems that plague the global fashion industry deeply affect the American people, from an economic and humanitarian standpoint, and this situation calls for presidential leadership.
As of today, many of the largest US clothing retailers, including Walmart, Gap, J.C. Penney and Sears, have yet to sign on to a rigorous fire and safety agreement that would require brands to help fund necessary building improvements in Bangladesh. Walmart, the single largest buyer of clothing from Bangladesh, has in fact refused to sign, deciding instead to monitor its more than 200 Bangladeshi suppliers itself. The suggestion that Walmart is capable of monitoring its own supply chain is particularly appaling given that the retail is linked to the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 Bangladeshi workers last November, and sold jeans from a supplier that operated in Rana Plaza. As I said in yesterday's post, the President needs to force these companies' hands and pressure them to sign on.
If Obama is unsure of how to act, he might start where former President Bill Clinton left off. In 1996, Clinton established a presidential task force made up of brands, government officials and labor leaders in order to regulate the global apparel industry, following a string of sweatshop scandals. That year, a human rights group revealed that Walmart’s Kathie Lee Gifford brand was being made by children in Honduras, and public outcry built until Clinton joined forces with brands and labor leaders to forge a solution. Aside from improving factories themselves, the task force’s goal was to give American consumers a way to track the conditions under which their clothing was made.
Clinton’s White House Apparel Industry Partnership spent two years establishing a baseline standard for working conditions in garment factories (it set weekly working hours at 60, for example; and banned child labor). The Fair Labor Association, an auditing group, was set up to inspect progress in factories and make the results of its inspections public.
Since the mid-1990s, many things have changed in the apparel industry and in the world, which Obama's twenty-first-century apparel task force will have to account for. Garment supply chains have moved from Mexico and the Caribbean basin—where one could argue it’s slightly easier to monitor conditions—to places like China and southeast Asia, where language, distance and cultural barriers make monitoring more difficult.
The amount and dollar value of clothing imports to the US has also skyrocketed since 1996. We now make only 2 percent of our clothing domestically. The sheer volume of imports makes monitoring conditions a much more difficult task.
The President may fear addressing the fact that unregulated imports have not only caused human misery but have rapidly cost the US its garment and textile industries. But this is an opportunity for real change both here and abroad: Lifting wages and conditions for garment workers worldwide would be beneficial for places like Bangladesh and would also give our country's manufacturers a chance to compete.
While the Clinton-era monitoring system was a good start, the new presidential task force should fulfill the promise to consumers to be able to trace where our clothes are from. It should require that every American brand make public all its suppliers and for all suppliers to by inspected by an independent group (and that those inspections be made public). Perhaps the results could be collated in one place, on one website, or a fair-labor labeling system could be developed to communicate which brands are responsible.
We also need the leadership of our First Lady, a fashion icon and a consumer of clothes from H&M, which produces in Bangladesh. She must help change the culture of fashion in the United States. The price of a chain-store frock has gone lower and lower in recent decades, and Americans have used this as an excuse to stockpile our closets with gobs of disposable trends. An unhealthy reliance on imports suppresses wages in the US and costs us jobs. Even though cheap imported consumer goods contribute directly to our economic woes, Americans celebrate bargain fashion. And we love it when Michelle Obama wears H&M and shops at Target.
It be would be amazing to hear Michelle Obama say that fairly and affordably priced fashion should be our new goal, not simply scoring the cheapest bargain we can find. And that a clothing steal should never come at the price of life. Lastly, she and Barack should make us believe once again that when brands, garment workers, governments and consumers all work together, fashion can and will be made in safe and healthy conditions.
San Francisco Giants concession workers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. Read Dave Zirin's report.
Public school teachers cheer outside the Chicago Board of Education district headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)
Chicago is braced for a critical vote by the Board of Education this week to determine if 54 schools will be closed.
Last week, parents of three children, two who have disabilities and a third who is black, filed a lawsuit at the US District Court in Chicago alleging the school closings violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
A second complaint, filed by the parents of three more children with disabilities, alleged the closings will occur too late in the year and don't allow sufficient time for those children and their peers to transition to "unfamiliar" schools.
The parents sued on behalf of a proposed class of about 5,000 disabled students they say will be irreparably harmed by a transfer into new schools and for the 23 percent of the city’s black elementary-school children whose rights are allegedly being violated by the plan.…
“Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said of the closings plan in a statement issued on March 21.
The announced closings spurred a weekend of protests in which activists claimed children's lives will be put at risk when they are transferred to new schools, some of which are located in neighborhoods infamous for gun violence.
“There is no way (CPS) can keep people safe walking through this danger zone,” protester Jitu Brown shouted into a megaphone during a protest outside Overton Elementary School in Chicago's Bronzeville neighbourhood—one of the schools slated for closure.
The Chicago Tribune reports, earlier this month, a man was fatally shot along the route that Overton students might take to their new schools.
The Tribune also found that, for children who aren't eligible for busing, the average walk to a new school in the coming year will be almost twice as far as it is now, increasing from about a third of a mile to nearly six-tenths of a mile. Almost all the students—92 percent—at 37 of the schools slated to be shut down currently have walks of four blocks or less. Sixty percent of that number walk two blocks or less.
CPS has claimed that 30,000 children will be affected by the school closings, but WBEZ fact-checked that claim and discovered the district's plan will actually touch more than 46,000 children.
Additionally, WBEZ poked holes in officials' claim that the City of Chicago lost 145,000 children in the past decade, making the soon-to-be-shuttered schools "under-utilized." However, a drop in child population does not automatically mean a loss of students in CPS. In fact, WBEZ notes, between 2000 and 2013, actual enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has not decreased dramatically, and since 2000, the proportion of Chicago kids attending public schools has actually increased. For decades, the percent of city kids (ages 5-19) in CPS hovered around 65 percent, but in 2010, that jumped up significantly to 79.7 percent.
District officials calculate how under-used, overcrowded or "efficient" a school is by assuming every school should have 30 students in each homeroom. WBEZ reports, if you apply CPS's own formula to the 54 schools proposed for closing, you find not all are "half-empty." Fifteen have a utilization rate higher than 50 percent: Buckingham, Canter, Emmet, Ericson, Femi, Goodlow, Key, Mayo, Near North, Overton, Owens, Ryerson, Trumbull, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle.
Activists have challenged that formula. Rod Estvan, education policy analyst for disability advocacy group Access Living, says the utilization rates are "totally wrong" for schools like Trumbull and Lafayette because they have inordinately high proportions of special education students (30 and 28 percent, respectively).
CPS officials have admitted the formula does not take reduced special education class size requirements into account.
Furthermore, there is absolutely zero guarantee that children will be moving on to better schools, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's claim that the key reason to close schools is about getting children "trapped" in low performing schools to a better place.
In a 2009 study of school closings, the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that between 2001 and 2006, most students whose schools were closed by the district re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak. Consortium researchers found that most students lost academic ground in the year their school was slated for closure. And once they were in their new school, they continued on an academic trajectory that was just like the trajectory of the closed school.
The Tribune recently reported that Ericson Academy on the West Side was targeted for closure by officials who claim it would cost $9.6 million to fix the 51-year-old building, but what they didn't point out in materials provided to parents is that they planned to spend nearly as much this umber on repairs to Sumner Elementary, where Ericson students are to be reassigned.
District officials also claimed Calhoun Elementary, another school slated for closure, was being shut down in part due to its lack of air conditioning in every classroom. Yet records that were not part of the district's presentation on closings show the designated replacement school, Cather Elementary, would require the installation of thirty-three window units to bring cooling in every room, the Tribune reports.
After reviewing documents related to the closings, the Tribune concluded, "In many cases, the district appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools. In fact, total renovations to several of the schools slated to take in students would cost millions of dollars more than the estimated cost of fixing up the buildings where those children are currently enrolled."
Michelle Rose, the grandmother of three students at Ericson, was furious when CPS sent a flier home contending that the school lacked the science and computer labs like ones promised at Sumner. This summer's work at Sumner is only a start; the district estimates complete renovations will run a total of $24.5 million.
"We have two computer labs, two mobile computer labs, we have a science lab, we have two pre-K classrooms, so I don't know why no one saw this," said Rose, a volunteer at the school.
Emanuel and company claim the closings must occur because of budgetary shortfalls, but closing 54 schools won't reduce the $1 billion deficit because all of that cost saving (plus tens of millions of additional dollars adding up to around $233 million) will go straight into receiving schools.
“We’ve assumed that we’ll have to spend in this first year an investment that we’ll make back over time with the savings that we’ll realize both in operating savings and cost avoidance of capital investment at these closing schools. So that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley told reporters on a telephone briefing March 21. (Check out the full WBEZ factcheck list on CPS closings.)
Zenitra Hodges, 23, of West Englewood, is studying psychology at Kentucky State University. She learned about one of the anti-closings marches Sunday morning and decided to join.
“My parents instilled with me the importance of education, but there are tons of kids who go without that,” she said. “So I’m here to help change that.”
Think the situation in Chicago is bad? Check out Allison Kilkenny's reports about Philadelphia.
AT&T Park in San Franscisco. (Flickr/CC, 2.0)
Picture AT&T Park, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Picture about as breathtaking a baseball stadium as exists in the United States with the San Francisco Bay, otherwise known as McCovey Cove, framing the outfield like a Norman Rockwell postcard as conceived by Leroy Neiman. Picture seats packed with people clad in their iconic orange and black reveling in the once hard-luck team that now defines the city and stands atop the game. What we don’t picture when we conjure images of this or any ballpark are the people actually doing the work to keep it all running.
As idyllic as the aesthetics of the park remain, those prepping the food and cleaning the toilets make $11,000 a year in a city where, due to yet another round of tech-bubble gentrification, they cannot afford to live. Concession workers at the park earn their $11,000 in a city where a one bedroom apartment runs $3,000 a month and people are spending near that much to live in laundry rooms and unventilated basements. These same workers, who commute as much as two hours each way to get to the park, have now gone three years without a pay increase. This despite the fact that the value of the team, according to Forbes, has increased 40 percent, ticket prices have spiked and the cost of a cup of beer has climbed to $10.25. This also despite the fact that, as packed sellouts become the norm, the stress and toil of the job has never been greater. Now, the 800 concession workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 2, have voted 97 percent to strike.
Team management, which subcontracted food services to a South Carolina outfit called Centerplate, claims no responsibility for the labor troubles, even though they receive 55 percent of every dollar spent by the Giants fans. I spoke with Billie Feliciano, who has been working at the park for over three decades. She said to me, “This is the first time in thirty-five years we’ve had to go to these extremes. Centerplate says talk to the Giants. The Giants say talk to Centerplate. If we stepped back for five minutes they’d figure it out after they started to lose all that money. All we are saying is we want a fair share.”
Getting their “fair share” from Giants owner 80-year-old multibillionaire Charles Johnson will not be easy. A child of Wall Street wealth whose fortune has grown exponentially with the expansion of the financial markets, he now heads the mutual fund Franklin Templeton started by his father. As he said to The San Francisco Chronicle, quoting the company’s namesake Ben Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (It would be far more fitting if he quoted the Ben Franklin who said of money, “The more one has, the more one wants.”)
In a startling bit of symmetry, Johnson lives in the city’s Carolands Chateau, a 100 room, 65,000 square foot palace originally built a century ago for the daughter of railroad magnate George Pullman. That would be George Pullman, namesake of the bloody 1894 Pullman Railway Strike where the United States Army intervened to crush the nascent industrial workers organization known as the American Railway Union. Then, destroying the mere idea of an industrial union like the ARU was seen as a high priority. Today we are seeing service industry workers starting to organize, walk out and be heard, and a twenty-first-century Pullman is looking to halt the mere idea that the expansion of service unions will happen on his watch. This is why the struggle at AT&T Park is bigger than 800 concession workers and why everyone has a stake in offering solidarity and support. As legendary Bay Area KPFA Hardknock Radio host Davey D said, “There is a lot of talk about having a citywide fast food union in San Francisco. So if you can topple the union at AT&T Park, then you can topple that idea. And if you can topple [service] unions there, you can topple them anywhere and can stop that tide around the country.”
The workers are ready. Feliciano said to me, “We come there rain or shine. Are we striking? Not yet. But these workers are ready to strike.” The community, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the players on the Giants, from Buster Posey to Tim Lincecum to Sergio Romo, should support them as well.
As for the negotiations, they display all the arrogance of both Centerplate and Charles Johnson. During one session, while management scolded the union for thinking they were worth more than $11,000 a year, hedge fund honcho Mike Wilkins, a partner at $400 million Kingsford Capital Management, was on the field running the bases with 100 of his buddies, at a one-day rental cost of $500,000. This was described to the website Buzzfeed as an exercise in “grown up boys fantasy time.” Will San Francisco ever again be anything but a playground for the overgrown millionaire children of the tech sector? That’s the question. We’ll find out the answer in the weeks to come.
Go to thegiantzero.org for updates on the struggle.
With its Jay-Z soundtrack, bizarre 3-D effects and commitment of Nick Carraway to a mental institution, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has seemed to some critics insufficiently deferential to a precious cultural totem. But long before it won silver in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels, writers in The Nation offered drastically different assessments on both the book’s meaning and its legitimate place in the literary pantheon.
Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer who later served as Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, reviewed The Great Gatsby for The Nation in the issue of May 20, 1925, just a month after the book’s publication:
Mr. Fitzgerald is a born story-teller…[H]is work is imbued with that rare and beneficent essence we hail as charm. He is by no means lacking in power, as several passages in the current opus abundantly testify, and he commands a quite uncanny gift for hitting off character or presenting a concept in a striking or memorable manner…
Up to date, Mr. Fitzgerald has occupied himself almost exclusively with the aspects and operations of the coeval flapper and cake-eater. No one else, perhaps, has delineated these mundane creatures quite as skillfully as he, and his achievement in this direction has been awarded authoritative recognition. He controls, moreover, the necessary magic to make his most vapid and rotterish characters interesting and even, on occasion, charming, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact that they are almost invariably presented in advanced stages of intoxication…
In “The Great Gatsby,” there are several of Mr. Fitzgerald’s typical flappers who behave in the manner he has conceived as typical of contemporary flapperdom. There is again a gargantuan drinking-party, conceived in a rowdy, hilarious, and highly titillating spirit. There is also, in this novel…something else. There is the character of Gatsby…
But in a review the following year of a stage production of Gatsby, The Nation’s theater critic, Joseph Wood Krutch, mocked Fitzgerald’s blurring of the line between spectator and spectated, satirist and satirized. Almost ignoring the theatrical production entirely, Krutch instead skewered the book:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born into the flapper age with exactly the qualities and defects which would enable him to become its accredited historian. Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of describing, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any very penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do; and when he pictures the manners of the fraternity house or the Long Island villa he pictures them less as they are than as their practitioners like to imagine them. He makes cocktails and kisses seem thrillingly wicked; he flatters the younger generation with the solemn warning that it is leading the world straight to the devil; and as a result he writes The Flapper’s Own History of Flapperism. Thus he becomes less the genuine historian of a phase of social development than one of the characteristic phenomena of that development itself, and his books are seen to be little more than documents for the study of the thing which they purport to treat.
The book, Krutch added, was “preposterously maudlin.”
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The Nation has had only distaste for both screen adaptations of Gatsby reviewed in its pages. Painter and film critic Manny Farber panned the 1949 Paramount adaptation as “a limp translation,” writing that the film’s purposefully antiquated style “takes on the heavy, washed-out, inaccurate dedication-to-the-past quality of a Radio City mural.” Farber also said that the actress Betty Field failed as Daisy because she was “no more marked by Southern aristocracy than a cheese blintz.”
“Respectful work and appalling” were the choice words Robert Hatch, a longtime executive editor of the magazine, had for the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Sam Waterston as Nick and Mia Farrow as Daisy, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola. “When it sticks to the original, it adds nothing; when it deviates, it puts a heavy foot into Fitzgerald’s magic,” Hatch wrote. “Overall, its most conspicuous weakness is that it cannot handle vulgarity or ostentation without becoming vulgar or ostentatious”—precisely the same complaint Krutch expressed about the book itself in The Nation almost fifty years earlier.
Other Nation articles about Fitzgerald include a 1945 essay by Lionel Trilling—putting him in the same category with Shakespeare, Dickens, Voltaire, Balzac and Goethe—and a 1996 appreciation by friend-of-the-magazine E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “in its few pages” Gatsby “arcs the American continent and gives us a perfect structural allegory of our deadly class-ridden longings.” And as many have argued, the release of “Gatsby” should also be an occasion for renewed discussion of inequality in America.
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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
President Obama meets with Jan Brewer in the Oval Office, June 2010. (Wikimedia Commons/CC, 2.0)
President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memo late into last year’s election season, which allows certain undocumented immigrant youth to apply and obtain renewable two-year work permits. While some lawmakers responded favorably, others reacted with vitriol. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer made clear that DACA youth would not be eligible for driver’s licenses. A federal court has now ruled there’s no rational basis for her decision—but refused to issue an injunction as the case moved forward.
DACA isn’t all-encompassing for undocumented youth. Those who arrived in the United States before they were 16, have resided here without interruption since June 15, 2007, are in high school, have graduated or otherwise obtained an equivalent certificate of completion, or have served in the military with an honorable discharge are eligible for the program, which is administrated by the Department of Homeland Security. However, those who arrived in the United States as children but turned 31 before June 15, 2012, are not allowed to apply; the same applies for anyone who arrived in the United States after the age of 16. Those who have been convicted of felonies or even certain misdemeanors are also ineligible.
Still, nearly half a million youth have applied, and so far about 200,000 have been approved. Once DACA youth receive approval and work permits, many naturally look to obtain a driver’s license as well. Arizona Governor Brewer called the entire program a “backdoor amnesty,” while simultaneously drawing attention to the fact that because DACA doesn’t provide permanent relief, she would not allow DACA recipients to obtain Arizona driver’s licenses. DACA youth and their allies organized to challenge Brewer in federal court.
The plaintiffs demanded an injunction against what they say is Brewer’s discriminatory decision. In order to grant that, Judge David Campbell wanted attorneys to show evidence that there is irreparable damage being caused against those DACA youth who are unable to apply for licenses. In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Campbell stated that he hasn’t been persuaded that that kind of damage is being cause—but he also wasn’t convinced to throw the case out, as Arizona’s attorneys wanted. Further, he indicated that Brewer’s basis for denying driver’s licenses was simply her fundamental disagreement with Obama. The judge also chided Brewer for referring to DACA youth as “illegal people,” indicating that the plaintiffs’ broader arguments about discrimination may stand in the final ruling.
Dulce Matuz, a 28-year-old activist who’s organized against Brewer’s decision, respectfully disagreed with the judge’s ruling around irreparable damage—citing that her colleagues are being denied opportunities because they cannot obtain a license. But she’s confident that her side will emerge victorious over Brewer and her backers. “They wanted to dismiss our dreams—even our dream to have driver’s licenses,” she said. “But this lawsuit continues, and I’m confident that justice will prevail.”
The final decision on whether those driving dreams will soon become a reality will be handed down after a yet unscheduled hearing on the matter, which will likely be heard in the coming weeks.
Are millennials really lazy, tired narcissists? Read Emily Crockett’s analysis.
Karl Rove addresses the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. (Steve Helber)
Karl Rove is offering America a super-sized serving of political cynicism.
Since the controversy over the targeting of grassroots tea party groups for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service arose, Rove has engaged in the sort of political sleight of hand that could only be practiced in a country where elite media have no skepticism—and no memory.
Just a few months ago, after the 2012 election, Rove was widely portrayed as having declared war on grassroots conservatives in general and the Tea Party movement in particular. The former White House political czar was frustrated: During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Republicans had been positioned to win control of the US Senate. Yet, in each cycle, they fell short after the party’s grassroots activists upended the candidacies of relatively more moderate candidates in Republican primaries. The Tea Party favorites frequently proved to be weaker contenders and—in the cases of candidates such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell in 2010 and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock in 2012—were seen as having snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
Rove had enough of that. So in February of this year he declared his intent to use his gold-plated political operations to police the party. Specifically, the veteran operative who says his hero is “Gilded Age” political boss Mark Hanna, declared his intention to “avoid having stupid candidates who can’t win general elections. Who are undisciplined, can’t raise money, aren’t putting together the support necessary to win the general election campaign—because this money is too difficult to raise to be spending it on the behalf of candidates who have little chance winning in the general election.”
That stirred an outcry from Tea Party activists and their allies:
Fox News’ Sean Hannity described “a battle between conservatives and the GOP establishment.”
Conservative talk-radio host Mark Levin asked: “Who made Karl Rove queen for a day.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said that Rove’s “American Crossroads is creating a new Super PAC to crush conservatives, destroy the tea party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions.”
Newt Gingrich wrote of Rove’s plan: “No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country. That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican.”
The Tea Party Patriots announced that “Karl Rove believes he can raise hundreds of millions of dollars, crush the Tea Party movement and protect the big-government status quo in Washington from millions of freedom loving Americans.”
What a difference three months makes.
Now Rove is racing from studio to studio to cry crocodile tears about the abuse of, well, the people he was determined to abuse. He decried “the IRS’s thuggish behavior” in a Wall Street Journal column. He told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, “This smacks of a greater, you know, sort of effort inside the IRS to punish conservative groups.”
You would have thought Karl Rove was a Tea Party Patriot himself.
But, of course, he’s the guy the patriots said was “out to crush the Tea Party movement.”
So what gives?
Rove is playing a particularly cynical game. He recognizes that there is going to be a Tea Party movement—and that it may actually be stronger as a result of the current controversy. And he knows that the grassroots groups that are seeking tax-exempt status are unlikely to be able to counter the financial and strategic might of his American Crossroads combine.
So Rove is joining the outcry on behalf of the little folks, recognizing that he can only benefit by being seen as an ally of conservative activists who, before they were enraged with the IRS, were enraged with Karl Rove.
But there is more going on than mere “The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend” positioning.
Rove understands something else. If the IRS is under attack for scrutinizing grassroots groups unfairly—and, make no mistake, it is unfair to target any group based on its ideology—that could create a climate of official caution where it becomes less likely that there will be scrutiny of what the Center for Responsible Politics describes as “the heavy hitters of the multicandidate outside spending groups”: Rove-tied groups such as Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 nonprofit “social welfare” corporation, and American Crossroads, a so-called “super PAC.”
This is where Rove’s shows his smarts.
He understands that the current wrangling over the IRS is going to result in changes, some of them structural, some of them relating to the focus and intensity of inquiries into alleged abuses by tax-exempt groups.
Everyone who has steered a 501(c)4 into the political fray— conservativesand liberals; Republicans like Rove and Democrats with close ties to President Obama—knows that the best possible circumstance for them is one where the rules governing political activity by supposedly “charitable” groups are weak and unclear. And it gets even better for Rove and his ilk if battered-and-bruised IRS agents are disinclined to challenge any individual or group that might accuse the agency of targeting them.
Rove recognizes that the real debate is not about whether discrimination based on political ideology will be aggressively addressed and appropriately constrained. That’s going to happen, as it should. The Congress and the White House will see to it; indeed, President Obama sounds every bit as ardent on the issue as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The question that remains is a bigger one.
Will Congress and the Federal Election Commission establish clear and unequivocal standards that IRS auditors can follow? Will we finally, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, and a host of other rulings, have some definition of the new political playing field? That definition would, necessarily, be fair to conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. But it could still place limits on the ambitious activities of Mr. Rove and his compatriots on both sides of the political aisle.
Only the most naïve observer would imagine that Karl Rove is concerned with protecting the grassroots activists with whom he was so recently sparring. Every evidence suggests that it is Rove’s plan to thwart their activism in 2014 and beyond. What concerns Rove is taking advantage of a political moment. A master of gaming whatever opening occurs, Rove is busily attacking Democrats in the Senate and President Obama for having suggested that clear standards ought to be established.
“Hey, look, the president in some degree is responsible for some of these acts. Remember in September and October of 2010, he went out and denounced…conservative 501(c)(4) groups as enemies of democracy,” says Rove. “You can’t tell me some IRS bureaucrat in Cincinnati, Washington, California—all of which were conducting investigations of conservative groups—were not hardened by the president going out declaring the groups they were looking at quote, ‘enemies of democracy.’”
That’s not exactly an accurate characterization of what the president said. Obama’s remarks on money in politics, made in Philadelphia several months after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision knocked down barriers to corporate campaign giving, made no mention of grassroots conservative groups. Rather, what Obama said was:
[Thanks] to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, they are being helped along this year by special interest groups that are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads… just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.
Now, that’s not just a threat to Democrats—that’s a threat to our democracy. Every American business and industry deserves a seat at the table, but they don’t get to a chance to buy every chair. We’ve seen what happens when they do. They put the entire economy at risk and every American might end up suffering.
So you can’t let it happen. Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections. And you can’t stand by and let special interests drown out the voices of the American people.
Obama wasn’t telling the IRS to go after grassroots activists there. He was talking about the need for Congress to enact the mild reforms of the Disclose Act, which proposed to “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign influence in Federal elections, to prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections, and to establish additional disclosure requirements with respect to spending in such elections, and for other purposes.”
Just days before Obama spoke, in October, 2010, an effort to advance the legislation had failed by one vote in the Senate.
It is hard to imagine a better circumstance for Karl Rove than one in which any effort to control the flow of corporate money into the political process, and to assure at least a measure of transparency, is decried as somehow inappropriate.
Then, Rove would be a man without limits.
He could use his vast resources to beat the candidates favored by grassroots conservatives in Republican primaries and to secure November victories for his favored contenders.
Then the threat to democracy that the president described would be complete—as sincere activists on the right and the left would be shunted to the sidelines of a new political landscape where corporate cash decides the day and the boss is not a CEO but a cynical political operative named Karl Rove.
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it details how the collapse of journalism and the rise of big-money politics threatens to turn our democracy into a dollarocracy.
How long will Arizona deny driver’s licenses to immigrant youth? Read Aura Bogado’s take.
Students walk out on May 9. (Credit: @215studentunion)
Running a massive deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars, Philadelphia’s school system is planning to eliminate all sports, extracurricular activities, counselors and libraries—beyond which, for schools eviscerated by austerity politics, there’s not much left to lose. At noon today, May 17, thousands of students are expected to walk out of class and flood downtown.
“It’s time that the City Council and Governor Corbett started listening to students,” says Sharron Snyder, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School and an organizer with the Philadelphia Student Union. “If they spent even one day in my school, they would know that already we don’t have the right resources to succeed.”
Walkout organizers state, “We are willing to break the stereotypes and expectations of urban youth, and are taking this opportunity to tell the world that urban school districts deserve funding, and it is your responsibility under the Commonwealth Charter to provide us with more than a ‘bare bones education.’”
Here are five backstories to #walkout215:
1. The pregame. On May 7 and 9, students staged two walkouts, the first with a few hundred students, the second with upwards of 1,000. The May 7 action was launched by an unaffiliated group, the Silenced Students Movement, over Facebook and Twitter. By Thursday, members of the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Youth United for Change (YUC), the city’s largest student organizing groups, were in on the call. This time, students have the support of PSU, YUC and the broader Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS). The coalition includes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, both student groups and an array of community groups and other unions.
2. The school closing shell game. The citywide uprising goes hand-in-hand with the city’s unprecedented, Boston Consulting Group-inspired maneuver to shutter public schools. In December, the city announced that 41 schools would be closed or relocated—a total that has since dropped to 23. Over the spring, students, teachers and allies have disrupted SRC meetings, blocked traffic, marched endlessly and released their own survey-based plans to revamp the school system. The district hasn’t undertaken the school-by-school community needs assessment that PCAPS is demanding before any schools are closed. Putting aside the dubious logic of “facility underutilization,” any labor savings from closed schools portend disaster for students and workers alike. And the students who are affected are more likely to be black or Latino. A handful of PCAPS groups, including PSU and YUC, are part of the Journey for Justice, a growing national movement led by people of color. The coalition’s demands pivot on the racialized thrust of neoliberal education policy; in some cities, groups are pushing federal civil rights complaints against school closings and related overhauls.
3. Receivership. City students and state leaders don’t exactly agree on issues of school funding. In response to protests against Governor Tom Corbett’s planned commencement address at Millersville University, state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said, “Unfortunately, those people believe the only support for education is shown by how many zeroes are on a check.” After a Corbett-proposed $1.2 billion in cuts to public education funding in 2011-2012, the state cut $860 million, or $410 per student. That year, Philadelphia lost 1,600 teachers and 2,100 other school staff. For their part, city spokespeople decry state underfunding—while, last year, bankrolling charter school expansion. Since 2001, the district has been run by the state-directed School Reform Commission (SRC). Hundreds of students walked out to protest the state takeover—enacted by the state legislature partly under the pretense of district budget woes.
4. School safety. When schools are closed, students risk crossing myriad social boundaries—including gang lines—to survive in their new environments. Through the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, Philadelphia students are pushing for student voice in school safety policy. After a series of actions last summer, the campaign won a new, less punitive discipline matrix and protections in the school dress code for gender-nonconforming students. More recently, students successfully advocated for pilot restorative justice programs in ten schools. This month’s mass actions aren’t some hormonal release, but flashpoints in years of organizing. The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools is a prime example.
5. History. On November 17, 1967, more than 3,500 students from at least twelve high schools walked out and marched to the Board of Education. In conjunction with the Black People’s Unity Movement, students demanded black representation on the city’s school board, black history taught by black teachers and the removal of police from schools. Despite clashes with 400 cops—and 57 arrests—the walkouts drove the administration to open dialogue with students and allies over curricular reforms and community voice in school policy.
Today’s protests, which land on the 59th anniversary of the Brown decision, recast the legacy of civil rights struggle.
A council controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide who can run for Iran’s presidency. (AP Photo/Hayat News Agency, Meisam Hosseini.)
This is the first in a series of posts about Iran’s crucial presidential election on June 14.
If Iran is a dictatorship, its politics is remarkably rough and tumble.
Not only does the coming presidential election look like it might well be wide open and contentious, but it could have a lot to do with whether or not talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers will be successful when they resume.
As I’ve been writing for more than a year now, the talks with Iran have been largely frozen because both the United States and Iran were engaged in crucial presidential votes. To be successful, both sides will have to make significant concessions to the other—and thus to pay a political price at home, where hardliners in both countries will oppose any deal that’s half-a-loaf. That’s still hard, but with both elections out of the way maybe the roadblocks can be bulldozed.
As the June 14 election draws closer, a vast array of would-be candidates has registered to run. In a few days, the Guardian Council—the body in Iran that vets candidates for, among other things, their commitment to Islamic piety and to the Islamic Republic itself—will decide which of those will be approved to run for president, giving the candidates just a few short weeks to make their case.
In one sense, of course, that’s hardly democratic, since the Guardian Council would instantly bar anyone who doesn’t fit its preconceived standards from running—and that almost certainly includes women, a number of whom have filed for candidacy, along with anyone who’d overtly challenge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And, of course, Khamenei wields near-total power over the council, six of whose twelve members are appointed by Khamenei and the rest by Iran’s judicial authority, whose leader is also a Khamenei appointee.
Still, for a political system like Iran’s, the major candidates who’ve emerged so far represent a broad range of Iran’s establishment. One of them, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has carved out a position that leans more nationalist than Islamist, and he’s emerged as a favorite even for some of the Green Movement’s partisans because both he and Ahmadinejad have challenged the clergy’s power. Both Ahmadinejad and Mashaei appear to be seeking an independent political power base within Iran’s system, and there has been speculation that the two men might be trying to emulate Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s move in Russia, who repeatedly switched jobs as president. Ahmadinejad, who cannot run in 2013 for a third term, has fallen out of favor with Khamenei and the conservative clergy, including Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, who had been Ahmadinejad’s chief clerical backer and purported mentor in 2009.
It’s far from certain that Khamenei and the Guardian Council will allow Mashaei to run. Iranian conservatives frequently attack the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei group, several of whose allies have been either arrested or ousted from their government positions since 2009, as the “deviant current,” and they’ve been accused of witchcraft, sorcery and worse. One of the sins allegedly committed by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei has been to imply that they are in direct, spiritual communication with the Mahdi, a mystical descendant of the Prophet Mohammad who, many Shiites believe, went into “occultation” centuries ago. The political implications of Ahmadinejad’s link to the Mahdi is that he short-circuits the clergy itself, whose ayatollahs claim that mantle of mediator between their followers and the Mahdi. In any case, were Mashaei to be ruled ineligible to run, it could trigger a political crisis, especially if President Ahmadinejad sought in retaliation to postpone the election.
Another candidate—who also might be declared ineligible—is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president (1989-1997). Like Mashaei, Rafsanjani didn’t register as a would-be candidate until the very last moment. He said that he wouldn’t announce his candidacy unless Ayatollah Khamenei gave permission, and although there is no overt sign that Khamenei did so, Rafsanjani’s family and others are hinting that the former president received a last-minute phone call from Khamenei giving him the okay.
In 2009, Rafsanjani strongly backed the reformist candidacy of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. In 2013, Rafsanjani has garnered an official endorsement from former President Mohammad Khatami, the godfather of the reformists. Rafsanjani is trying to cast his candidacy as a chief opposition both to the conservatives, of whom there are several candidates vying for Khamenei’s semi-official backing, and to the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei faction. Despite his complex and controversial past, both as a billionaire businessman and as the man who oversaw assassinations of dissidents in the 1990s, Rafsanjani presents himself as a practical and pragmatic doer who can restore relations with the United States and West, solve the Iranian nuclear dispute, and fix the economy. (As in the United States, the economy—not the nuclear issue!—is the No. 1 issue in the election.)
In different ways, both Ahmadinejad-Mashaei and Rafsanjani are relative “doves” on the nuclear issue, however. In early talks with the Obama administration in late 2009, Ahmadinejad seemed to endorse an interim deal over Iran’s 20-percent-enriched uranium that was later scuttled by his domestic political opposition, presumably with the backing of Khamenei. And Rafsanjani, who is closely allied with wealthy businessmen and the bazaar leaders who resent Western sanctions against Iran, would dearly like to get the nuclear issue out of the way so that the Iranian economy could be freed of the shackles imposed by the sanctions, which have badly hurt the Iranian oil and energy, high-tech, aviation, and automobile industries, among others.
But few if any Iranian politicians are willing to cave in during talks with the United States and the P5+1 over the nuclear issue. Perhaps the leading conservative candidate, who many observers suspect will garner Khamenei’s ultimate backing on June 14, is Saeed Jalili, who is the leader of Iran’s national security council and currently serves as Iran’s chief negotiator in the nuclear talks. Both as a candidate and as a negotiator, Jalili will stand firm in support of Iran’s fundamental right to enrich uranium, on its own soil. On May 16, following talks in Istanbul with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s representative in the negotiations, Jalili gave a clarifying interview to Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor in which he reiterated, once again, that so far the proposals from the United States and the P5+1 have been “unbalanced,” since they don’t recognize Iran’s enrichment right and because they’re asking Iran to make nearly all of the concessions. Said Jalili:
“Their proposals are unbalanced. The other party needs to appreciate that they need to table proposals that have the necessary balance. If they accept to do so, then we can engage in talks that will hopefully bring about that required balance. … As you might appreciate, the US is in no position at the moment to issue ultimatums. And this language, unfortunately, is the language—the words—that created so much headache for the US around the world. After everything is said and done, the Americans usually make such mistakes. And as each day passes, they seem to make fresh mistakes. These mistakes do not come cheap; they are very expensive.”
It’s almost inconceivable that Khamenei will make concessions to the United States and the P5+1 without getting major concessions in return, and so far the Obama administration has not been willing to offer those. In that sense, by supporting Jalili—who is well known to American officials and others—Khamenei could underline his refusal to sign off on any deal that doesn’t allow Iran to continue a carefully monitored civilian nuclear program, including enrichment of uranium. By the same token, none of the other candidates are likely to do so, either.
Finally, one interesting candidate—who, also, may or not be approved by the Guardian Council—is Hassan Rouhani, a long-time Iranian national security official. Like Jalili, Rouhani also was Iran’s chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, with Khamenei’s support, but under the regime of President Khatami. In addition, however, Rouhani is close to Rafsanjani, under whom he served on Iran’s national security council in the 1990s, and it’s possible that either Rouhani or Rafsanjani could step back and support the other’s candidacy. Indeed, Rafsanjani’s son and daughter prominently attended Rouhani’s announcement of his candidacy last month.
Rouhani, too, has been outspoken about improving relations with the United States. “It is not that Iran has to remain angry with the United States forever and have no relations with them,” he said. “Under appropriate conditions, where national interests are protected, this situation has to change.” To be sure, in a series of speeches, Ayatollah Khamenei too has declared that Iran might be willing to restore ties with the United States, and nearly all of the candidates have echoed that view. Still, Rouhani seems to be unafraid to make better relations with a West a key plank of his campaign, though he too focuses overwhelmingly on Iran’s economic problems:
“My government will be one of prudence and hope and my message is about saving the economy, reviving ethics and interaction with the world. Inflation is above 30 percent, the reduction in the value of the national currency, unemployment and zero economic growth are among the country’s problems.”
There’s a lot more to say about Iran’s election and its implications for U.S.-Iran relations, and there are plenty of other candidates—including powerful conservatives, such as the mayor of Tehran—who have thrown their hats and turbans into the ring.
But let it not be said that Iran doesn’t have a vibrant political debate. In 2009, that debate spilled over into the street following what many thought was the fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad. But if anything, there are more and greater contrasts today between those seeking to run for president than before.
Does it have meaning for the talks with the P5+1 over the nuclear issue? Yes. Not only do the potential candidates have differing approaches, I suspect, but the election itself might say something about Khamenei’s own views about Iran’s future relations with the West. We’ll see. If the Guardian Council bars Rafsanjani, Mashaei, Rouhani, and others and endorses only strict, “principlist” conservatives as candidates, it could signal that Khamenei won’t give an inch in the talks. If the council lets a hundred flowers bloom, or at least a handful or so—and there are hints that as many as ten candidates might win approval—then perhaps it’s a tea leaf signaling that Khamenei will have a little more give later this year when talks resume in earnest.
To be continued.
Read Bob Dreyfuss on the latest possibilities for peace talks on Syria.
A shot from The Great Gatsby. (AP Photo)
There is one thing that Baz Luhrmann gets right about The Great Gatsby, and I think it’s unintentional. It has to do with the way that, turned at a certain angle, lit in a certain way, Leonardo DiCaprio again looks like the boy everyone I knew (I’m that age) grew up loving. The rest of the time, well, he’s still handsome, but he’s aged in such a way that it makes the features of his youthful beauty look a little ridiculous, in retrospect. The worry lines and stubble seem to be telling us that the beauty of that face was only a temporary, fleeting thing. I guess you could say he looks like a ruin of a movie star—a gorgeous ruin, but a ruin nonetheless. And ruin, I always thought, was what Gatsby was all about. Everything in the book is ruined: the old mansion he lives in, the love he has for his perfect woman, the business he runs, Tom Buchanan’s mistress and, more broadly, in the way your tenth grade English teacher taught it to you, the American Dream.
Luhrmann clearly disagrees that rot has any place in the story; he sparkles and spangles his Gatsby to the hilt. But then his interpretation seems to be the dominant one. Kathryn Schulz, in a well-argued piece in New York, pointed out that Scott Fitzgerald was always a bit of a hypocrite about class. In spite of himself, he sort of liked the rich, and she argued that Gatsby suffers from that. “As readers, we revel in the glamorous dissipation of the rich, and then we revel in the cheap satisfaction of seeing them fall,” she wrote. “At no point are we made to feel uncomfortable about either pleasure, let alone their conjunction.”
For this heresy, Schulz received some entertaining blowback: A.O. Scott, in The New York Times, called her a “showboating critical contrarian,” and Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, in apparent reaction, that “Hating ‘The Great Gatsby’ [the novel] is like spitting into the Grand Canyon. It will not be going away anytime soon, but you will be.” But in fact Schulz’s position has been around as long as Gatsby has. Here in The Nation, in a review of a 1926 stage adaptation of the novel, a critic began with a rant about Fitzgerald’s worldview,
Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of description, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do…
I guess I just don’t know precisely what would separate Fitzgerald from Danielle Steel if this perspective were 100 percent true. Call me naïve, but I feel certain that prose style alone doesn’t bridge that gulf. There’s some other difference at work, here. When most people write about flappers qua flappers—these days, it’d be more like celebrities qua celebrities—it’s not quite Fitzgerald-esque. When Gatsby first appeared, in 1925, the reviewer for The Nation, Carl Van Vechten, said it was the character of Gatsby himself that embodied a new and bolder art for Fitzgerald than merely chronicling the activities of flappers.
The figure of Jay Gatsby, who invented an entirely fictitious career for himself out of the material of inferior romances, emerges life-sized and life-like. His doglike fidelity not only to his ideal but to his fictions, his incredibly cheap and curiously imitative imagination, awaken for him not only our interest and suffrage, but a certain liking, as they awaken it in the narrator Nick Carraway.
I confess I’ve always wondered about the last half of that common interpretation. Gatsby sympathetic? I think he evokes pathos, because he is the kind of person who cannot see how ridiculous it is, when Nick asks him where in the Middle West he’s from, to answer “San Francisco.” Because he thinks Daisy is some kind of grand romantic heroine when she’s just someone who, like everyone else in the novel, isn’t sure what she wants. Because he thinks he’s fooling anyone with all those big parties, the sign of someone with something to prove. But liking him? I’ve always been more in the interest and suffrage camp. Identifying with Gatsby would involve me wanting him to get what he wants. Instead, I just want him to want something else.
Schulz argued that a higher-minded reading doesn’t map with Fitzgerald’s authorial intent, though I think one statement of his not considering the psychology of his characters is not a total guide. No one can say for sure, but I suspect it isn’t an accident that that “beautiful little fools” line really is nonsense, just as one example. It was, in real life, something Scott borrowed from his wife Zelda, who said it coming out of anesthesia after the birth of their daughter. The lush romanticism notwithstanding, there’s something about using that drugged fragment from a dream, the sheer unreality of it, that suggests on some level that Fitzgerald knows all his characters are caught in a set-up, deeply vulnerable to the incursions of a messier reality.
Another way to put this is that the thinness of the tragedy in Gatsby—all that deception not quite getting him the really-quite-imaginary girl—should be, for modern audiences, exactly the point. Of course you can’t have something that doesn’t exist. Which, I thought anyway until very recently, was what we all agreed about the “American Dream” he represented. That it was silly, and in the end a kind of hurtful delusion. That there was very little to admire in it when it manifested itself, as in Gatsby’s case, as a kind of greed that can only be supported by gangsters. But then, I guess, we live in a world right now where the gangsterism is forgivable, and the indulgences of the rich are things we want for ourselves. Some things, I suppose, really haven’t changed.
Why do big chain retailers get to decide on their own safety standards for supply-chain workers? Read Elizabeth Cline’s analysis.