The Nation

Scott Walker Has a Rough Race on His Hands—and It’s Not for President

mary burke wisconsin

Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Mary Burke’s name appeared for the first time on a statewide ballot in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor of Wisconsin.

In fact, it was the first time that Burke’s name had ever appeared on a partisan ballot.

Aside from a successful nonpartisan bid for a seat on the Madison School Board in 2012, Burke has never before contended for elective office.

Yet, on Tuesday, the former Trek Bicycle executive and Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce won the highest vote of anyone on the ballot for any statewide office, taking 83 percent of the vote against state Representative Brett Hulsey, D-Madison. Despite his long record in state politics, Hulsey’s run was weakened by personal and political stumbles; yet in a year of political frustration and disenchantment that has seen top-of-ticket contenders in other states (such as Kansas Governor Sam Brownback) lose as much as 35 percent of the vote to little-known primary challengers, Burke’s finish was robust and significant. Notably, in many western and northern Wisconsin countries where she must renew her party’s appeal, Burke was winning well over 90 percent.

The scope of the statewide win builds on the sense created by recent polls—which have since May portrayed the race as a toss-up, with Walker and Burke both capturing around 47 percent of the likely November vote—that Burke has evolved into a serious challenger to Republican Governor Scott Walker, the anti-labor, pro-austerity, extreme social conservative who began the 2014 race as a prohibitive favorite.

That does not necessarily mean that she will beat Walker, the all-but-announced 2016 Republican presidential contender who was unopposed in Tuesday’s GOP primary. But the strong primary finish provides another indicator that Burke, an unlikely and unexpected contender for the governorship, might well be putting together the campaign that Democrats lacked in their 2010 and 2012 attempts to beat Walker.

A favorite of the Koch brothers and conservative donors across the country, Walker will still have a lot more money to spend in 2014. And he has already confirmed that he will use it wage a scorched-earth campaign, characterized by brutally negative television ads. Unfortunately for the governor, however, his ads may actually have strengthened Burke—especially after the governor launched a bumbling attack on outsourcing by Burke family’s firm, Trek, that drew criticism even from Walker-friendly media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal.

Walker will also have the power of incumbency—no small factor in the hands of a Chris Christie–style electoral micromanager who has done more to politicize appointments and policymaking than any Wisconsin governor in modern times.

But Burke brings to the fall race two strengths that go to the heart of Walker’s vulnerabilities in a state that has not backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Even now, Burke remains relatively unknown—almost half of voters tell pollsters that their opinions of her are not fully formed. That gives Walker an opening for more attacks, of course. But it also means that the challenger has room to build on her strengths, which are:

1. Burke is the first woman ever nominated by a major party for governor of Wisconsin. And polls show that she has benefitted from a gender gap that has been an increasingly significant factor in the state’s elections. Like US Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who coasted to victory in 2012 on the strength of a 56-41 advantage among women voters (as opposed to a much narrower 51-46 advantage with men for Republican former Governor Tommy Thompson), Burke’s position is bolstered by support from women. Marquette University Law School polls have given Burke a seven- or eight-point lead among likely women voters, while Walker maintains a solid advantage with men.

As women make up more of the electorate, the female voters who are putting Burke into contention could be a determining force in November. If the Democrat builds even marginally on her advantage among women, Burke’s chances of winning expand exponentially. If she can get anywhere near Baldwin’s numbers, she wins. And Burke got a good break on primary night, when voters chose Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ as the Democratic nominee for state attorney general. That means that the Wisconsin Democratic party will, for the first time in history, be running women in both of the state’s marquee races. This could help to attract a crossover vote from moderate Republican women and Republican-leaning independents. But, far more significantly, it could help with generating turnout among young women—a critical factor in a low-turnout off-year election.

2. Burke is, by most reasonable measures, a political newcomer, a relative outsider in a year when voters are very upset with the political class—and when polls show that voters much prefer candidates with a background in business to candidates with a background in politics.

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The contrast with Walker is stark. The incumbent has since 1990 run twenty-five primary and general election campaigns (counting a scrapped gubernatorial bid in 2006, but not counting the 2016 presidential bid he is furiously advancing). Few figures in Wisconsin, or national, history more fully fit the definition of a political careerist than Walker. His ambition is intense; he lives for politics and he surrounds himself with political junkies—several of whom have gotten into serious trouble for political abuses. Yet the governor shows few signs of being satisfied with his current position; he has already published a 2016 campaign book, made trips to key Republican primary and caucus states and nurtured a national network of billionaire donors and friendly operatives.

When the Marquette Poll asked Wisconsin voters about Walker’s national ambitions, however, the response was strikingly unenthusiastic. A overwhelming 67 percent of Wisconsinites said they did not want Walker to seek the presidency. And 65 percent (including a majority of Republicans) said they did not think a governor could run for president and handle his state duties.

Like fresh contenders who have won Wisconsin’s governorship in previous periods of political turbulence—most notably Republican Lee Sherman Dreyfus in 1978—Burke is not harmed by the fact that she is a first-time statewide candidate. Indeed, in this election, against this incumbent, it could prove to be a decisive strength.


Read Next: John Nichols on why Congress needs to assert checks and balances on any new Iraq mission

The Murder of Black Youth Is a Reproductive Justice Issue

Lesley McSpadden

Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, is overcome with emotions as she holds a drawing of her son while leaving a news conference in St. Louis, Missouri, August 12, 2014. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

If you have followed the aftermath of the August 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, then you have most likely seen the image of his stepfather holding a makeshift cardboard sign that reads, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!” You have likely seen the photo of Brown’s mother staring into the camera, her husband encircling her neck with his arm, her eyes swollen to slits after what must have been hours of crying and asking questions that went unanswered.

The grief-stricken face of the parent is everywhere in moments like this, these too frequent moments when a young person loses his or her life to the senseless, ceaseless fear and hatred that black bodies arouse. It seems to matter little what that body is doing at the time it’s mowed down. Approaching a stranger’s porch to ask for help, listening to music with friends, walking home from the corner store—no activity is safe from the knee jerk responses set off by racial hatred or implicit bias. Whatever the preceding action, a human being is dead and his or her parents are left to convince the public and the courts that their offspring had a right to expect another day on earth.

Often such events are covered as a story about race, police violence, white supremacy or laws that protect murderers from prosecution. But the killing of Michael Brown, like the killing of many young black people before him, is rarely framed as a feminist issue or as an issue of pressing importance to those who advocate for choice, self-determination and dignity as they relate to family life. With this most recent killing, I am wondering what it would take for more people in feminist and reproductive rights circles to begin to think of parents such as Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton and Angela Leisure (a mother whose ordeal I’m especially reminded of in the wake of this latest tragedy) as women they advocate for just as passionately and vigorously as they advocate for a young woman’s right to contraception or an overwhelmed mother of three’s right to an abortion.

This broader perspective has long been that of the reproductive justice movement, whose participants support “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.” And some writers, mostly black women, are explaining why the death of Michael Brown terrifies and infuriates them as mothers. Earlier this week, Stacia Brown posted an entry titled “When Parenting Feels Like a Fool’s Errand” on her blog. She writes:

I think about how often I keep you near me and how many people take umbrage with that. She has to learn, they say, how to live in this world.

But how can you learn at 4 to do what still makes me flail and falter at 34? And how can I let you go when a girl a year younger than you was gunned down in our city last week and a boy who would’ve headed off to college for the first time on Monday was executed within steps of his Ferguson, MO home on Saturday?

I’ve no more access to the language for this than you do.

What I have is you and the God who gave you and the God who just may take you away.

After the first-degree murder charges facing the killer of Jordan Davis were dismissed earlier this year, Black Twitter and the #DangerousBlackKids hashtag provided a space where people could express the gap between how they see the children in their lives and how an unhinged aggressor might see them. Tamura Lomax at The Feminist Wire offered a response to the verdict that asked how such occurrences fit into a broader feminist understanding of justice. She wrote:

I am a black mother and a black wife. I fear for my beloveds’ safety everyday. Ain’t I feminist too? Ain’t the potential murder of my loved ones and how that may impact me and others in my community a feminist concern too?

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Earlier in her piece, Lomax wrote: “Our black children, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, mothers and fathers are being assassinated. For those who still don’t get that this is, among other things, a feminist issue, you will never get it and are thus a part of the problem…” In the wake of Brown’s death, I’m wondering what it would take to prove Lomax wrong. What would it take for the organizations and commentators who beat the drum for policies related to reproductive health and rights to use their platforms to advocate for black parents who lose their children to violent attacks on those young people’s lives? Gun control advocates reached out to Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, to make her an ally and spokesperson on efforts to repeal Stand Your Ground laws. It’s worth looking for similar areas of intersection within feminist circles or, even better, creating new initiatives that put these bereaved parents’ demands front and center.


Read Next: Mychal Denzel Smith on the death of Michael Brown and the search for justice in Black America.

Robin Williams and a Moment of Magic

Robin Williams

Robin Williams performs. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) 

When I was 12, I was trudging along on 77th and Columbus with my sister and father, another desultory post-divorce dinner with dad. Like it was yesterday, I remember looking up and doing a double take, then a triple take, then a quadruple take: Robin Williams was walking alongside us. Robin. Effing. Williams.

This would have been Robin Williams at the apex of his powers—at least in the eyes of a 12-year-old. After Mork and Mindy. After Popeye—which I was shocked to find out years later was “a bomb”—after Moscow on the Hudson, after his Night at the Met HBO special, a videotape of which we passed around school with the electric reverence of an illicit nudie magazine. Save Eddie Murphy, there was no one cooler. No one.

Seeing him walking next to me was as remarkable and otherworldly for me as if my own 10-year-old was walking to school and bumped into Finn and Jake from Adventure Time.

As I did speechless double and triple takes, Mr. Williams noticed me gawking at him, looked down and smiled. He was with a woman whose arm was entwined in his and she was bumping into him with her hip, smiling, as if to say, “Look at this goofy kid.” His smile turned into a wide grin beneath his beard as my eyes continued to expand.

At the corner, they crossed the street and I finally was able to find my tongue, turn to my father and sister and stammer, “Wobin Rilliams! Bobin Billiams! Yo! That was Robin Williams!!” I think my father, whose comedic tastes tended toward the cartoons of The New Yorker, may have grunted. My older sister—although I frankly can’t remember her response—almost certainly rolled her eyes, as if I had just said I saw a Sasquatch.

I remember grabbing them both and gesticulating at the couple across the street and saying, “I’m totally serious! That guy is Robin Williams!” After I was able to focus everyone’s disbelieving gaze, Robin Williams looked over at us, and danced. I’m completely serious. He did that Chuck Berry dance where you kick one leg up and down and hop up the street as if you are doing the guitar solo from Johnny B. Good. He looked over at us, and at at our walking pace, did that dance for about one quarter of a city block. Now it was my sister’s turn to have her jaw hit the ground. Then we cheered.

I have, obviously, never forgotten that small moment of pre-adolescent magic. As I’ve been reading the obituaries and remembrances of Mr. Williams it has been striking just how seamlessly that tiny story fits with the words of people who actually knew him. You hear the same things; He was uncommonly kind. He absolutely adored children. He gave of himself without desire for public relations. Hell, he walked picket lines. And he truly—even manically—cared about being loved. Some of the most heartbroken remembrances, tellingly, have come from adults who acted with the man when they were still kids. It’s a rare quality: those who take the time to actually be kind to children.

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I don’t want to speculate about why Robin Williams took his life. People trying to tie it to the vicissitudes of his career—his show was cancelled!—frankly need to stop. Depression in this day and age is that powerful. If it finds you in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can swallow you whole. It’s happened to people I’ve loved. It’s happened to Robin Williams. I hope if nothing else that people in a similar circumstance reach for a phone instead of whatever instrument of death is handy. I also hope that Robin Williams’ family knows that their dad was truly loved. Not just for his art but for the small anonymous moments that revealed who he actually was when the applause stopped. I wish I’d been able to meet him as an adult and simply thank him for gracing my young self with a dollop of magic.


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If Congress Won’t, Obama May Have to Address Corporate Tax Inversion

President Obama

(Reuters/Jim Young)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Corporate “inversions” are all the rage.

No, I’m not talking about Wall Street yoga—although the term does refer to a method for companies to twist and contort themselves in order to evade taxes.

Inversions are when a corporation buys a foreign company and reincorporates overseas in a country with a lower corporate income tax rate. Operations remain the same—they still benefit from U.S. infrastructure and stability and research and development. They just change their answer when the government asks where home is, thereby avoiding paying billions of tax dollars.

As Stephen Colbert said, “It’s like me adopting an African child, then claiming myself as his dependent.” And it’s becoming increasingly popular.

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Enter Walgreens, which made big news last week when it announced that it would forgo its inversion plans. As I’ve previously written , the drugstore giant had been considering a rather unpatriotic move to reincorporate in Europe. But after strong backlash, including petitions signed by several hundred thousand people, protests at Walgreens stores, and even rumblings of a consumer boycott, the company decided to keep its legal status as an American corporation.

Their decision means that the United States government won’t lose an estimated $4 billion in tax revenue. That money alone could fund six months of Head Start, providing a preschool education to nearly a million low-income children. Walgreens's reversal is a victory for the American people and a testament to the power of groups that advocated tirelessly against the proposed inversion, including Americans for Tax Fairness,Campaign for America’s Future, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.


Take Action: Tell President Obama: Stop Corporate Deserters

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Students Stand Up and Speak Out in Sacramento, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC

Gaza protest

Saturday’s march on Washington for Palestinian justice. (Photo: WJLA)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on student and youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out July 14 and July 25. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. At 11, Not One More

On August 2, more than 2,000 people marched on Washington, DC, to pressure President Obama to stop deportations and expand deferred action for all. The mobilization, organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, was led by undocumented individuals and families affected by the president’s policy on deportations. Day laborers, members of the LGBTQ community and children were among the speakers at the march—illustrating how deportations impact many communities. Starting at the National Mall, we took over the streets en route to Border Patrol, where we stopped briefly to hear from families affected by the crisis at the border. From there, we continued to Freedom Plaza, where we dropped banners reading “Not1More Deportation” and “DACA4All.” Our last stop was at the White House, where we announced ongoing local action to pressure the president.

—Reyna Wences

2. At 12:30, Free Palestine

On August 2, some 20,000 people marched from the White House to The Washington Post in a display of anger over Israel’s most recent onslaught against the Palestinians. Before the march, supporters rallied in Lafayette Square to listen to a variety of speakers, ranging from Cornel West to local student activists. As a sea of Palestinian flags flooded the streets, traffic came to a halt. Once the march reached the Post, activists began to stack coffins against the windows. The protest was more than a cathartic experience; it was an opportunity for activists of all ages to reunite or meet for the first time—and share ideas for future action, including ramping up BDS work across the country.

—Tareq Radi

3. #MyOwnAdvocate

On Monday, July 28, undocumented leaders from the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Undocumented Illinois, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, ASPIRE and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network launched #MyOwnAdvocate, a campaign demanding that DC-based immigration advocates step aside and make space for undocumented people to negotiate the Obama administration’s pending changes to immigration policy. Together, we visited the National Immigration Forum, the Center for American Progress and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, asking all three to boycott all further immigration meetings with Obama until the people directly affected by his current and pending policies are present at the table. Afterward, we started a picket line in front of the White House and publicized our call.

—Hairo Cortes

4. #SupportSalaita

This week, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign revoked associate professor Steven Salaita’s appointment to its American Indian Studies program. Salaita, who left his position as an associate professor at Virginia Tech, was set to join UIUC this month—until his hiring was overturned by Chancellor Phyllis Wise following Twitter posts critiquing Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza. Wise’s decision blatantly disregards academic freedom and freedom of speech—which she herself defended earlier this year amid the American Studies Association’s decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. Student and activist groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace have mobilized online, with petitions demanding the Salaita’s reinstatement as well as an email campaign directed at Chancellor Wise. Joining faculty from across the country, the Director of American Indian Studies, Professor Robert Warrior, has stated his support.

—Ahmad Hamdan

5. At UC, Student-Workers Gear for a Boycott

The elected officers of UAW 2865, the union of 13,000 University of California student-workers including teaching assistants and tutors, published an open letter in solidarity with Palestinian labor unions’ call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israeli occupation. The letter, voted on and passed by the union’s 83-member Joint Council, outlines the union’s intent to support its Palestinian counterparts and seek a membership vote once the fall term is in session. If this vote passes, UAW 2865 would become the first US union to join BDS. The Joint Council is asking members to consider divestment of UAW International’s pension investments from companies that profit off Israeli occupation; join five of nine UC campus governments in pressuring the UC to divest; and observe a member boycott of academic activities officially sponsored or funded by Israeli universities justifying apartheid. The letter calls for members to vote “yes” on the resolution. Jewish members also published a letter in support of the move.

—Anti-Oppression Committee, UAW 2865

6. At UMass, Undergrads Call for a Union

In the fall of 2013, Peer Mentors at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst began efforts to join UAW Local 2322, which represents resident assistants and graduate student workers. Peer Mentors are live-in undergraduate student-workers who assist first year students in their transition to the university, with a focus on academics. A majority of Peer Mentors have signed union cards; we believe that we deserve higher compensation and a greater voice in the nature and future of our position—which has been undergoing ongoing revisions with little or no student worker input. While the university affirms the importance of Peer Mentors, it has contested our unionization efforts to the Department of Labor and, in a hearing, stated its intention to convert our job from an hourly waged position to a for-credit practicum with a stipend. By fighting undergraduate worker unionization efforts, the university silences our voices and experiences—and damages the communities it aims to create.

—Jenna Grady, Emily Braun, Ian Roche, Aeden McCarthy and Hoai Quach

7. Capitol Hill’s Title IX Teeth

On the week of July 28, bipartisan coalitions of Senators and Congresspeople introduced two bills to end sexual violence on college campuses. Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW campaign, which advocates for better federal enforcement of Title IX, was particularly encouraged to see two provisions we’ve called for since our launch: greater transparency into civil rights investigations of schools and fining authority for the Department of Education if a school violates these rights. Currently, the only sanction ED can levy against a noncompliant school is revoking all federal funding, which would be a disaster for students, particularly those on financial aid. Perhaps for this reason, no school has ever been sanctioned for sexual assault-related Title IX violations, rendering the law an empty promise. Know Your IX looks forward to working with the bipartisan coalition and student allies across the country to make sure these key provisions become law, bringing our campuses one step closer to safety and justice for students of all genders.

—Know Your IX

8. Sacramento’s Preventative Education

Since last spring, federal complaints filed by scores of students across California, from the University of Southern California to Occidental College to UC-Berkeley, have pressured lawmakers to make campuses safer. Now, California lawmakers are springing into action with SB 967, a bill that would require students to have affirmative consent from their partners before engaging in sexual activity. The bill, which students have been vital in putting at the forefront of California’s legislative agenda, also aims to increase important preventative education and outreach to students to confront the widespread culture of campus sexual assault. Beyond serving as a model for how states can respond to sexual violence on campus, the bill has generated an important dialogue among anti-sexual violence activists, students and the mainstream media about how our culture can encourage safety, respect and consent.

—Sofie Karasek

9. Where Has Corbett Been This Whole Time?

At 9 AM on Wednesday, August 6, students from Youth United for Change protested in front of Governor Corbett’s office in Philadelphia as he held a press conference on funding for education. We tried to get inside, but security refused, saying that the event was closed to the public. As Corbett came out of the elevator, we greeted him with chants—and he ran from us. We were escorted out of the building, where we rallied with students from Philadelphia Student Union. Reporters asked me if we should cut Governor Corbett some slack, because he was giving us $265 million for education—but he doesn’t deserve to be the hero status as he is the main reason we are in this struggle in the first place. We will continue to demand full and fair funding so we can have the education that we deserve.

—Katherine Garcia

10. When Will the Genocide End?

On Saturday, August 2, more than 150 people, mostly under the age of 25, came together to offer and hear public testimony about Chicago police violence, participate in a workshop on the history of police violence and current resistance and network with each other. The gathering was the first event of a new group, We Charge Genocide, a grassroots, intergenerational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. Our next action will be a copwatch training on August 21.

—We Charge Genocide

Who’s Really to Blame for the Newspaper Industry’s Decline?


(AP Photo/George Widman)

The best analysis on the titanic but little-noticed shift in media last week comes from New York Times media columnist David Carr. “In just over a week,” he writes,

three of the biggest players in American newspapers—Gannett, Tribune Company and E. W. Scripps, companies built on print franchises that expanded into television—dumped those properties like yesterday’s news in a series of spinoffs.

The recent flurry of divestitures scanned as one of those movies about global warming where icebergs calve huge chunks into churning waters.

Those spun-off chunks include: USA Today, the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Detroit Free Press (all from Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper company); the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun (split off by the Tribune Company—the company the Koch brothers considered buying last year until protests drove them back); and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (dumped by Scripps and its new partner, Journal Communications).

This month’s break-ups follow similar spin-offs in 2013 by both Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Time Warner. Carr is typically clear-sighted on what this all means for journalism, but the fine grist of his analysis oddly seems to miss the, really any, culprit.

Carr does chronicle the shaggy treatment the newborn print companies have tended to receive from their former bosses, including saddling them with crushing debt. Time Warner handed Time Inc., the spun-off magazine business, $1.3 billion in debt, he writes: “Swim for your life, executives at the company seemed to be saying, and by the by, here’s an anchor to help you on your way.” For its part, Scripps gave the new print company, Tribune Publishing, “$350 million in debt as a parting gift.”

At Gannett:

After years of layoffs, many staff members were immediately told that they had to reapply for jobs when the split was announced. In an attempt to put some lipstick on an ugly pivot, Stefanie Murray, executive editor of The Tennessean, promised readers “an ambitious project to create the newsroom of the future, right here in Nashville. We are testing an exciting new structure that is geared toward building a dynamic, responsive newsroom.” (Jim Romenesko, who blogs about the media industry, pointed out that Gannett also announced “the newsroom of the future” in 2006.)

The Nashville Scene noted that readers had to wait only one day to find out what the news of the future looks like: a Page 1 article in The Tennessean about Kroger, a grocery store and a major advertiser, lowering its prices.

Carr, who invites us to play a “sad trombone for the loss of reporting horsepower that will accompany the spinoffs,” clearly believes that the engine driving print’s demise is Wall Street. Back to his column:

The persistent financial demands of Wall Street have trumped the informational needs of Main Street. For decades, investors wanted newspaper companies to become bigger and diversify, so they bought more newspapers and developed television divisions. Now print is too much of a drag on earnings, so media companies are dividing back up and print is being kicked to the curb….

Newspapers continue to generate cash and solid earnings, but those results are not enough to satisfy investors.

But here’s where the villain of the piece goes missing. After pointing the finger at Wall Street greed, Carr punts:

So whose fault is it? No one’s. Nothing is wrong in a fundamental sense: A free-market economy is moving to reallocate capital to its more productive uses, which happens all the time. Ask Kodak. Or Blockbuster. Or the makers of personal computers. Just because the product being manufactured is news in print does not make it sacrosanct or immune to the natural order.

But why accept the free-market economy as “the natural order,” as a force that’s not malleable, and therefore, somehow, not at fault? There once was a time when newspapers operated in a steady state, making healthy profits, producing news about the local communities and overall doing fine.

It wasn’t so much the advent of the web that started to edge out newspapers (though the web’s use of newspaper copy free of charge helped). Newsprint really suffered its killing blow during the ravenous era of freebooting finance, starting in the Reagan ’80s, when mergers and acquisitions began to reduce the ownership of local media to a handful of giant corporations. Newspapers’ new owners-–often business people who had no journalism experience at all—demanded higher and higher profit margins that were achievable only by cutting the costs of reporting, including of course labor. Those higher returns were needed to justify higher salaries for the people at the top who were putting those unwieldy mergers together.

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This whole discussion is a little like the way Republicans today justify kicking people off food stamps so that the 1 percent don’t have to pay higher taxes.

And it reminds me of the Stephen Colbert joke about “the market has spoken,” which is based on something Bill O’Reilly says all the time. What’s happened to the news isn’t a perpetrator-less crime.


Read Next: Has Glenn Beck really evolved?

Reflections From Behind the Brick Wall

Ivy Walls


This article originally appeared in {young}ist and is reprinted here with permission.


I’m writing this as a way to process the four years I spent in school, but I am not sure where to start. I could plunge into a critique of the academic industrial complex and the corporatization of higher education, but my memory is working in snapshots right now. Crying in professor’s offices, in corners of the library, embarrassingly often. Looking at the ceiling and doodling during class in boredom and frustration. Feeling a murky cloud of self-doubt settling over me. I still feel silly and self-indulgent writing this. It’s not something I want to talk about, but I feel like I have to get it out of my head. 

I spent a lot of time wandering campus and feeling cynical and somewhat horrified by my surroundings. The thing about getting a critical education is that it will invert your gaze upon yourself in a self-destructive way. Not everyone carries the analysis of the world that they learn through gender theory, critical race studies or postcolonial studies far enough, but those of us that do realize that we are being given the tools to unravel the institution we find ourselves in from within that institution. It is a hugely unsettling paradox that can provoke a lot of rage (that has nowhere to go). We see what is wrong with not just the broader world, but with our immediate world—the university—a place that thrives off all sorts of material and psychological violence. And it is then that we come upon a painful realization that this place does not want to change, and will not. It may teach you what is wrong with the world, but it is divested from engaging in how to change it. What good is a “reading room in a prison?"

I discovered the limits of supposedly “radical” spaces in the university too quickly. I remember sitting in my senior feminist studies seminar, becoming aggravated with a classroom that was more interested in discussing whether Beyoncé is a feminist rather than talking about how neoliberalism is claiming feminism, more interested in reading Tina Fey than Marxist feminists, more inclined to read Audre Lorde’s poetry as “pretty words” than an clear articulation of a pain that necessitates action. Is this really the next generation of feminists? I would ask myself with frustration. I found out later that this was symptomatic of a focus on postmodernist feminism, one heavily invested in language and representation rather than material realities. In an age where the university was becoming increasingly ruled by capitalist interests, an article about the revolutionary potential of Rihanna’s pussy pat would sell more than writing that actually elaborates the grim realities of capitalist patriarchal exploitation. So even the “feminist" classroom was deeply disappointing; radical theory was far removed from radical action, coupled instead with the glittery status of “sounding” radical without being threatening to the status quo.

And there was no space for our rage. The classroom centered “the personal is political” around the individual, turning politics into a therapy session that glorified the narration of personal experience, rather than affirming that what was political was already profoundly personal and directly connected to histories of trauma and violence. We would hear ten stories about “the first time I got my period”, but reading the first-hand testimonies of third world revolutionaries provoked no emotional response. Centering our personal experience so much made students unable to draw links between their stories and collectives histories of oppression. 

I found that I learned far more outside the classroom, in student groups and organizing. Yet even that work was frustrating—our activism almost always culminated into fruitless meeting with administrators. While I think the presence of a loud and vocal bloc of students was beneficial to the overall apathetic student body typical of elite institutions of higher education, personally I found myself constantly exhausted from being in a kind of war with the university. I signed up for a column in the college newspaper, thinking that it would be a good outlet for my words, but I wondered how long I could keep informing people about the obvious, how many times I could say that an incident was racist, how many ways I could say that this is wrong

Sara Ahmed once described the work of diversity workers in a university as constantly banging their head against a brick wall. The “brick wall” was a metaphor I found grimly accurate for the university – a place that won’t change, no matter how much “head-banging” those invested in changing it painfully endured. I remember walking around campus taking pictures of brick walls as a kind of disillusioned art project. Another time, I took pictures of the beautiful scenery of my campus, and juxtaposed the imagery with text detailing collusion with imperialism, slavery, and colonialism. I spent a lot of my last two years not going to class (somehow I graduated), wandering around, and observing my surroundings with a sense of horror and absurdity that I never want to lose. I think that holding onto that initial feeling of “WTF is this” when our paradigm is being shifted is key to remaining authentically committed to the ongoing project of justice. Don’t get used to the way things are. 

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What to do with a place so absurd that it is showing you the tools to destroy the it but not letting you use them? Become a troll. Trolling as a bullshit response to the bullshit of the university is something that is impervious to co-optation in a way that can allow someone to maintain their sanity in a totally insane place. Subversive actions whether it was late-night “vandalizing’ racist posters with sharpies, wearing Israel day shirts as crop tops marked with Palestine to large school concerts, or gracing a racist and sexist creative writing teacher with a poem entitled “why I don’t want to talk to white people” as a final assignment (and getting full marks) were modes of survival in a place that was constantly drilling into our heads that we were wrong, “crazy”, even worthless. I found myself not being able to do the things I was best at, like writing, because  I was overcome with so much self-doubt. I kept coming back to a quote by Alexis Pauline Gumbs in her article The Shape of My Impact: “the university does not love you, but the universe does”. In such a place of invalidation, the affirming power of laughter and community were very important. My advice to young and critical people in the university is to find a family of trolls to nourish you. 

I hugely appreciated the words of others who have written on this topic, your words made me feel less alone. I write this now with a necessitated urge to take the theory we learn within the academy outside the academy. That is the only healing response to violence of the university: to redistribute its wealth and knowledge potential to the spaces where these things are needed the most, through community organizing, through art, etc. Right now, I am thankful to be out of the often toxic space that academia is, to be able to think outside of it and beyond it, and focus my mind and energy on things that matter. 

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This Week, Look At Real Sharks: Payday Lenders

Payday Loan Protesters

Activists rally Tuesday outside an Advance America outlet in Columbia, Missouri. The company is the largest payday lender in the US. (Photo by Ryan Betz of GRO Missouri)

As much of America turns its attention to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, activists are bringing attention to a different kind of predator—payday lenders. In Illinois, Iowa and Missouri this week, targeted actions outside payday loan outlets aim to highlight the debt traps that so often plague their clients.

At one event Tuesday morning in Columbia, Missouri, activists rallied outside an Advance America “cash advance center,” which offers residents short-term, high-interest loans for relatively small amounts of money. Advance America is the largest payday lender in the United States.

Activists held signs reading “the poor can not afford to pay more” and some dressed as sharks, according to photos reviewed by The Nation, while a Navy airman described being trapped by a payday loan. Further actions are planned this week in Des Moines, Iowa and Springfield, Illinois.

Payday lenders tend to target people of color in high-poverty areas. According to a study by National People’s Action, which is organizing these “Shark Week” protests, such neighborhoods can have as many as three times the payday lenders as in relatively white, affluent areas.

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The basic scheme is to offer these high-interest, short term loans—loans generally cost borrowers about one-third of their income, according to Pew Charitable Trusts—and then entrap customers to coming back and taking out another loan in order to cover the first one. The industry likes to boast that 94 percent of its loans are paid on time, but what it doesn’t mention is that 94 percent of borrowers also become repeat borrowers within thirty days. A study by the Consumer Financial Protection bureau last year found that two-thirds of payday loan borrowers take out seven or more loans in a year.

This is the explicit intent of the industry—at a conference in 2007, Cash America CEO Dan Feehan explained that “the theory in the business is you’ve got to get that customer in, work to turn him into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that’s really where the profitability is.”

But the idea of deliberately creating poverty traps for the already desperate has increasingly drawn the interest of local and federal regulators, including the Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection bureau. On Tuesday, prosecutors in New York charged local payday lenders with running an actual “usury scheme.”

You can follow further actions from National People’s Action’s blog here.

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Clinton Slams Obama on Foreign Policy, Echoing the Neocons and the Far Right

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

For months, Christie Watch has chronicled Hillary Clinton’s hawkish, even neoconservative-influenced views on foreign policy. During her tenure as secretary of state, from the inside, she argued consistently—usually in alliance with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—for polices that were almost universally more hawkish than President Obama seemed to favor, sometimes succeeding in getting her way and sometimes not. She backed the 2009 escalation of the war in Afghanistan, argued for vastly increased US military aid to the insurgents in Syria, and was the leading administration advocate for forcible regime change in Libya. More recently, as reported by Bob Dreyfuss’s Nation blog, she broke with the Obama administration’s Iran policy, joining Israel’s Likud government and neoconservatives in the United States in supporting a zero-enrichment policy aimed at shutting down production of non–weapons grade uranium enriched to just 5 percent.

But now, with her interview in The Atlantic with Jeffrey Goldberg, a staunch advocate for Israel and a neocon fellow traveler, she’s thrown down the gauntlet, openly ridiculing Obama’s cautious approach to world affairs. For those who’ve followed her career, at least since the 1990s, it seems to be a case of Clinton being Clinton, allowing her natural proclivity for hawkishness in foreign affairs to mingle with her political opportunism. Not wishing to let herself be outflanked on the right by hawks—who’ll rev up the Benghazi non-scandal against her in 2016 and who are conducting a nationwide propaganda campaign to blame Obama’s judicious caution for the world’s ills—Clinton has made a fateful decision to go on the offensive. In so doing, she’ll open the door for even harsher Republican criticism, starting a race to the bottom—or to the far right—on foreign policy. Just wait until 2016.

Clinton has already polarized the commentariat, with some liberals delivering critiques of her anti-Obama broadsides, while conservatives are both gleefully defending her, while adding that, of course, she doesn’t go far enough. The New York Times, in its competently written account of Clinton’s slow-moving but accelerating break with Obama, notes that with the interview in The Atlantic, “the veneer shattered.” Most egregiously, she used a single offhand comment by President Obama—“don’t do stupid stuff”—to portray that as the driving principle of Obama’s foreign policy. Said Clinton, in the Atlantic interview: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” (As Mike Allen of Politico points out, the actual quote from Obama was “don’t do stupid shit.” Allen also compiles a useful account of how the phrase emerged.) Even more idiotically, the New York Post headlines its account “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policies.”

In fact, the phrase “don’t do stupid shit” itself is a good one, since it distinguishes President Obama from his predecessor, who in fact did do a lot of stupid shit, again and again. But it’s hardly the be-all and end-all of Obama’s foreign policy. In his West Point speech in May, Obama laid out a carefully conceived view of how the United States should approach the world, in which he emphasized that military action ought to be used as a last resort, with politics and diplomacy first. It’s a view that Obama sometimes forgets, as in the current bombing campaign in Iraq, but it’s the right idea. Don’t expect Clinton to echo it.

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In terms of substance, if you don’t have time to read the whole interview, Clinton repeats her defense of zero-enrichment in Iran, unequivocally supports Israel in its over-zealous, blitzkrieg-like attack on Gaza, asserts that the United States ought to have backed the supposedly moderate factions of the rebels in Syria (which, she argues unconvincingly, would have prevented the rise of the Islamic State radicals), portrays the United States as engaged in a global war against unified jihadists (in fact, the jihadists are much more fragmented and far less dangerous than she implies), and so on. On Iran, she says:

I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out. So, little or no enrichment has always been my position.

In an August 12 piece in Politico, Mike Allen notes that the president and Clinton will be together during Obama’s vacation. The headline: “Hillary Clinton to party with President Obama.” And Allen notes, wryly, “This could be awkward.”


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