Quantcast

The Nation

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shot Down Near Ukraine-Russia Border

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

The Donetsk Whodunnit: Ukraine and Russia Blame at Each Other for Shooting Down Malaysian Jet

Soon after the horrific news began circulating that a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed in eastern Ukraine, both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels fighting there agreed that the plane had been shot down. But explanations of who shot it down—and why—immediately began diverging wildly in what has become the latest battle in the information war that has been waged between Ukraine and Russia since protests began in Kiev in November. The 295 people killed in the crash could not temper the politicized finger-pointing.

American and Ukrainian authorities said the plane had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, and speculation immediately centered on the Buk (otherwise called a “Gadfly”) missile launcher that Kiev said the rebels had used to shoot it down. Anton Gerashchenko, an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister, wrote on his Facebook account shortly after the crash that “terrorists shot down a passenger plane with a Buk missile that Putin kindly gave to them.… The cynicism of Putin and his terrorists knows no bounds!” He called on the United States and Europe to “help us with everything you can.”

For his part, Vladimir Putin refrained from saying who might have shot down the plane in a segment broadcast on Russian television, but noted that Ukraine “bears responsibility” for the downing of an airliner on its territory.

The rebels immediately began denying their involvement and blaming the Ukrainian military. On Twitter and in interviews, Alexander Borodai, the Muscovite who heads the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, maintained that the rebels did not have weapons capable of hitting an airplane at the height Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was traveling, above 32,000 feet.

“It was shot down by the Ukrainian military. I think this is a deliberate provocation,” Borodai said, using the term that both sides have employed to explain many murky incidents over the four months of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

But the rebels by their own admission do have these missiles, as Russian news agencies reported at the end of June. The Donetsk People’s Republic Twitter account even posted a photo of the missiles at the time. A correspondent in eastern Ukraine for Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 later reported that the militia does possess Buk launchers, but that they’re “all undergoing repair.”

Pundits in the Western media quickly joined Gerashchenko in claiming that Moscow had provided the pro-Russian militia with the advanced missile launchers. The Ukrainian representative to the United Nations went further, promising to “present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash.” But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said allegations of Russian involvement “stupidity,” and the rebels had said in June that they captured the Buk missiles from a Ukrainian air-defense base near the village of Oleksiivka.

The Ukrainian intelligence service released an intercepted recording it said showed Russian rebels admitting to downing the plane, but dismayed that it had turned out to be a civilian flight. Similarly, a deleted post on a social network page that has published statements by the rebels’ military leader, Muscovite Igor Strelkov, praised the downing of the plane, also under the assumption it was a military flight.

Meanwhile, increasingly wild versions of events began to appear. Representatives of the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that unnamed witnesses had seen a Ukrainian fighter jet attack the Boeing 777.

Russian defence analyst Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, said on Rossiya 24 and RIA Novosti it was “obvious” that MH17 had been accidentally shot down by poorly trained Ukrainian government forces while checking the battle readiness of a Buk missile launcher. But Western military experts on CBS News and elsewhere argued that taking down the plane with a Buk would require extensive training and a careful shot.

RT and other Russian media began quoting a confidential source at Russian Aviation arguing that Ukrainian forces had been trying to down Russia’s presidential plane, which he or she said had passed through a certain airspace near Warsaw shortly after the Malaysian airliner had.

Among Twitter accounts supporting the rebellion in Ukraine, it was common knowledge Ukrainian forces had shot down the airliner, only their goal had been to draw Western forces into the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Rossiya 24 hinted at a similar conclusion when in between segments on the downed Boeing 777 it broadcast a recap of Siberia Airlines Flight 1812, which the Ukrainian military admitted to accidentally shooting down over the Black Sea in 2001.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist for the independent Novaya Gazeta, said the fact that the rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military An-26 transport aircraft on Monday at about 20,000 feet—one of three military aircraft they downed this week—proved that they had acquired more powerful weaponry.

“The most plausible explanation is, of course, it was the rebels with Russian help, or Russian volunteers on the side of the rebels,” who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17, Felgenhauer said. “That’s more plausible than all other shit being circulated.”

US Hawks Would Love to Wreck the Iran Talks—but They Won’t

Iranian Flag

(Blondin Rikard, Creative Commons)

Barring a last-minute miracle, the talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers on Iran’s nuclear program will go into extra time. Since January 20, when the parties began to implement the interim accord struck last fall, the clock has been ticking on a six-month deadline to reach a final agreement. But the accord itself contained an option for another six-month extension, and by all accounts it now appears that that’ll happen. As a result, though, one can expect many of the hawks and neoconservatives who’ve opposed the talks from the beginning to launch a new effort to disparage, disrupt or even wreck the negotiations.

Their effort won’t succeed, though they’re trying. Last January, following the interim accord, a coalition of hawks including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, led by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and a passel of meddling members of Congress tried to enact yet another round of sanctions against Iran—even though the interim accord explicitly forbid the imposition of additional sanctions during the negotiations, and even though the White House made it clear that the legislation that AIPAC wanted would destroy the talks. In a display of toughness, back then the White House issued a strongly worded, direct challenge to the supporters of the sanctions bill, telling them that if they wanted war with Iran, they should say so. The tough talk from the White House scared off a number of pro-AIPAC members of Congress, especially in the Senate, and the legislation died. It was a huge and unprecedented defeat for AIPAC.

Despite important signs of progress, no agreement has been reached yet, so there’ll likely be more talks—perhaps not as long as six months, if an accord can be reached sooner—and President Obama says he’s ready to extend the talks. “We have a credible way forward,” said Obama. In editorials, The New York Times, Bloomberg and, a bit more surprisingly, the hawkish Washington Post support the extension in editorials today. The Times, in its editorial, points out that hawks on both sides would love to derail the talks:

Negotiators have made progress on other issues, such as strengthening inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites and winning Iran’s consent to alter a heavy water reactor at Arak to reduce its plutonium output. None of that has impressed the hard-liners in Tehran and Washington who are determined to sabotage any deal. Some in Congress are demanding conditions that would tie President Obama’s hands and make it impossible to lift sanctions on Iran, essential to any agreement.

Among the conditions demanded by members of Congress is for the United States to get concessions from Iran on issues that have nothing at all to do with the one at hand, such as Iran’s alleged support for terrorism and its program to build missiles. As the White House and the State Department know, adding unrelated topics such as those to the mix now would kill the talks once and for all, convincing Iranians that the United States isn’t serious about an accord.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Members of Congress such as Menendez and Senator John McCain especially oppose US efforts to reduce or eliminate economic sanctions on Iran unless Tehran blows up its entire nuclear program, destroys its infrastructure, halts all enrichment of even low-grade, fuel-quality uranium and takes other steps—unthinkable, now that the United States has conceded formally that Iran can have a limited enrichment program as part of a deal. The issue of economic sanctions is critical for Iran, needless to say. But if the United States overplays its hand—seeking too many concessions from Iran, pushing moderate President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif further than they’re able to go—then, in fact, the worldwide sanctions regime against Iran could crumble. At present, the United States has been able to corral and pressure most of the world into going along with the set of harsh sanctions, part of which are set by a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions and part of which are unilaterally imposed by the United States and other nations. But if the United States pushes Iran too hard, as hawkish members of Congress demand, and the talks fail, it’s likely that the global sanctions effort will fall apart, with countries such as Russia, China, India, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan simply ignoring them. So Obama and Kerry have to play their hand very carefully in order to the hold the P5+1 together.

 

Read Next: The Palestinians must put an end to suicidal Hamas.

The Myth of the Magical Black Father

black father and daugther

(CC 2.0/Jerald Jackson)

Twenty-three year old Jersey City police officer Melvin Santiago was shot and killed on July 13. According to CBS New York, he "was fatally shot in the head responding to a report of an armed robbery at the 24-hour drugstore." The report explains:

Lawrence Campbell, 27, of Jersey City, went into the Walgreens with no intention of robbing the store, [Jersey City Mayor Steven] Fulop said.

As CBS's Matt Kozar reported, Campbell beat up an armed guard and stole his gun. He then waited outside for police arrive. While he was waiting, he apologized to a customer for his conduct and told her to watch the news because he was going to be famous, Fulop said.

When Santiago and his partner arrived to the scene, Campbell opened fire, which the officers returned, leaving both Santiago and Campbell dead.

It’s a horrific scene to imagine, resulting in the loss of two young lives. But it turned bizarre when News 12 television reporter Sean Bergin offered his explanation of the situation. In explaining to the audience why the station chose to air an interview with Campbell’s wife, during which she offered condolences to Santiago’s family but also expressed her wish that her husband had taken out more cops, he had this to say:

It’s worth noting that we were besieged, flooded with calls by police officers furious that we would give media coverage to the wife of a cop killer. It’s understandable. We decided to air it because it’s important to shine a light on this anti-cop mentality that has so contaminated America’s inner cities. This same sick perverse line of thinking is evident from Jersey City to Newark and Paterson to Trenton. It has made the police officer’s job impossible, and it has got to stop. The underlying cause for all of this of course? Young black men growing up without fathers. Unfortunately, no one in the news media has the courage to touch that subject.

I’m wondering—what can’t be blamed on absent black fathers?

Put aside for a moment that the myth of the absent black father has been debunked time and again. We won’t discuss how black fathers have comparable—and in some cases higher—levels of involvement with their children as do white and Latino fathers. The statistic that 72 percent of black children grow up without fathers, which gets thrown around a lot in these conversations, is about out-of-wedlock births; that doesn’t necessarily mean those children are being raised without a father. But I don’t want to talk about the facts right now. I just want to know if there’s a single problem in black communities that can not be blamed on missing fathers.

Bergin believes “no one in the news media has the courage” to talk about this issue. Except that the missing black father has been a point of discourse in our media, popular culture, and academia for at least the past thirty years. Every time it is injected into a conversation about the ills of black America, the speaker positions themselves as some sort of brave truth-teller unearthing never-before-heard wisdom. But it’s one of the more common and insulting tropes we have in the canon of black pathology.

One thing is true here—I’ve never heard anti-police mentality be blamed on black fatherlessness. Bergin may be a pioneer there. He’s also clueless if he believes that if suddenly every black child were to have a father present in their home at all times, anti-police mentalities among black people would subside. It’s silly to think a population that has experienced disproportionate harassment and violence at the hands of police would pass down the lesson of trusting authority to their children.

But this is the disconnect. Bergin, and others who think like him, don’t see the harassment of young black men by police as a result of racism. They take the view that there are certain criminal behaviors prevalent among black men to which police are responding. If only they would clean up their acts, police would have no reason to bother them.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

The people who support this view rarely take it to its logical conclusion. If you honestly believe that the reason police target young black men is because young black men are more prone to criminal behavior, you have to offer a reason for why that is. And if it isn’t racism, if the centuries of public policy that has created neighborhoods defined by their lack of resources isn’t the culprit, then there must be something biologically “wrong” with black men. They have to be genetically predisposed to violent/criminal behavior and creating culture which supports that. Or else, what other explanation is there?

Oh, yes. Missing black fathers. Those magical black fathers whose return to the home has the ability to cure poverty, violence, drug abuse and anti-police mentalities. A grand patriarch to save us all. It doesn’t matter that our romanticization of marriage and the two-parent (cisgender man and cisgender woman only, of course) home can be dangerous, as evidenced by this New York Times op-ed on domestic violence. It matters even less that the reason raising children in two-parent homes is more advantageous is because our public policies favor marriage and offer little support for single-parent or other “non-traditional” family structures. And the fact that these black men so many people want to step up and be fathers face discrimination everywhere from the job market to the legal system isn’t even up for discussion. No, it doesn’t matter. Just get young black men some fathers and everything will be fixed.

What happened to Melvin Santiago is tragic, but whether Lawrence Campbell had a father in his life (Bergin never bothers to report on this detail) is neither here nor there. The legacy of racism and white supremacy will not be undone by an army of magical black fathers.

 

 

Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on why Obama should see the children at the US-Mexico border as refugees.

Who’s Behind ‘Reform Conservatism’?

Wall Street

Wall Street sign on the New York Stock Exchange in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

This is Part II of a Christie Watch report on “reform conservatism.” In Part I, which appeared yesterday, we asked if there’s anything new in the ideas of the GOP’s reformicons, who got a boost from a big think-piece in The New York Times on July 2. In Part II, we discuss the funders and supporters of National Affairs and the reformicons.

When Barack Obama was elected president, Irving Kristol’s son, neocon Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, saw the need to start yet another new magazine that would revive the spirit of his father’s magazine and counter the menace of a resurgent progressive movement, as described succinctly in an article last year in The New Republic:

Despite his youth, Levin had been anointed the next great neoconservative. And in 2009, Bill Kristol gave him a title to match those expectations. Four years earlier, Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol, had shuttered his legendary journal, The Public Interest. But with Obama’s victory, Kristol the Younger found himself longing to revive his dad’s publication. “The end of the Bush administration showed that conservatism wasn’t strong politically and even intellectually,” Kristol says. So he followed the old dictum: When intellectuals have nothing left to do, they start a magazine. Levin was appointed the editor of the new effort, National Affairs.

In the first issue of National Affairs, Levin took up the mantle of Irving Kristol:

National Affairs seeks consciously to model itself on the most influential American public-policy journal in history: The Public Interest. Founded in 1965, in the midst of an earlier era of daunting challenges and technocratic overconfidence, The Public Interest shed a bright light on our public life for decades, in the hands of its incomparable editor Irving Kristol, his co-editors Daniel Bell and then Nathan Glazer, and in its final years Adam Wolfson. We are successors to their project in a technical sense, as the company they founded to publish their magazine, National Affairs, Inc., is now home to ours (and the complete archives of The Public Interest are available for the first time on our website, www.nationalaffairs.com). We have been the beneficiaries of their guidance and help, too, though they bear no blame for our shortcomings. And we can only hope to be truly their successors in the merit, the quality, and the significance of the work we do, if with some different emphases for a different time.

So who specifically has put up the money to fund National Affairs? Not surprisingly, it’s the same coterie of neocon Wall Street moneymen and foundations that have funded the home base of neocon thought, the American Enterprise Institute, for years.

One prime backer is Roger Hertog, who made his fortune as head of the investment management firm, Sanford Bernstein. He also is a heavy backer of the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has also funded such magazines as Commentary and for a time, The New Republic and the newspaper The New York Sun.

Hertog explained, to Philanthropy magazine, how he and a clique of like-minded Wall Street moguls decided to take action when Obama was elected:

“When [The Public Interest] was formed, it brought together a remarkable group of thinkers to tackle a series of very big questions that at the time were being contested by the Great Society,” says Hertog. “In 2009, a number of us thought this was another moment like that.”

The same article, by Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal and a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, detailed the other money behind National Affairs who hope that Levin can be the same kind of force Irving Kristol was in shaping public opinion:

In backing National Affairs, funders—including Hertog, Bruce Kovner, and Paul Singer, as well as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, and the William E. Simon Foundation—were fortunate to find Yuval Levin. At the time, Levin was a 32-year-old think tank scholar and former White House aide. Hertog considers Levin the “intellectual heir to Irving Kristol.” (The respect is clearly mutual; Levin credits Hertog as the “visionary” and “driving force” behind the creation of National Affairs.) Indeed, it is no stretch to say that Hertog’s investment in the journal is really an investment in Levin himself, consistent with Hertog’s belief that what matters when it comes to investing in ideas is finding the right people first. Only then does the question arise of creating the right vehicle to put their minds to work.

Two other key funders of National Affairs, Bruce Kovner and Paul Singer, are billionaire hedge fund managers and leading funders of neoconservative think-tanks. Kovner, who made his money trading commodities at his hedge fund Caxton, is chairman of the American Enterprise Institute. An extensive New York magazine profile described Kovner’s importance to the neoconservative movement:

He’s a neoconservative godfather…. He is among the backers of the Manhattan Institute and the fledgling right-wing daily the New York Sun…This is perhaps Bruce Kovner’s signal (and shared) achievement: to underwrite what had been extreme ideas and bring them into mainstream discourse…. Kovner’s relationship to AEI is the same as his relationship to all his causes: lordly. He plays visionary and psychiatrist to the AEI board. “He’s brilliant,” says [Richard] Perle. “He’s intellectually rigorous, balanced, and thoughtful.”

As for Singer, consider this, from a piece in Mother Jones last year by Peter Stone:

A hardline free-marketeer with political roots in the Barry Goldwater era, he despises the Obama administration’s push to tighten financial regulations.… The trifecta of big checks, high-powered connections, and influence in GOP policy circles has made Singer a kind of triple threat. “Singer is the big power broker in the Republican financial world,” says one operative who knows him. “He’s involved with almost everything.”

Among those who get Singer’s backing, Stone reports, are the Koch brothers’ various projects and the anti-tax zealots at the Club for Growth.

Along with these three Wall Street neocon power brokers, the funders of National Affairs include three of the top conservative foundations that have long aimed at shaping political and economic policy. The Searle Freedom Trust, founded in 1998 by Daniel Searle, with money from the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle, describes its goal as preventing future generations from “living in a world dominated by big government.” To prevent that the foundation has put money into shaping policy on budget and taxes, education, the environment and the legal system. The foundation funds AEI, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and a host of other conservative think tanks. The Bradley Foundation, which doled out more than $350 million between 2001 and 2010, according to a profile on the foundation in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also funds National Affairs, along with funding the Hudson Institute; the Heritage Foundation; the American Enterprise Institute; the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; and the Federalist Society, among others. And National Affairs’s other top foundation supporter, the William Simon Foundation, is also a leading backer of the Heritage Foundation.

In his New York Times piece, Tanenhaus goes out of his way to present Levin, Ponnuru et al. as would-be challengers of Republican orthodoxy, “serious-minded intellectuals” who are “soft-spoken and self-deprecating, with a quiet fervor for intellectual history and economic argument,” and willing to take on those with an “appetite for ideological purity.” In Washington, they allied with the so-called Young Guns, led by Eric Cantor, and the “YG Network” run by a Cantor aide and several other Capitol Hill conservatives, plus Ponnuru’s wife, April Ponnuru. In an example of Tanenhaus’s credulism, he’s unwilling to challenge the pontifications of April Ponnuru:

“It’s the only game in town,” she told me. “Most of the other activities have been negative and destructive.” She, too, talked at length about how the party was out of touch. “The biggest problem is that the politicians don’t represent the people. We’re identified with the rich and big business,” she said, ticking off a list of constituencies that Republicans have alienated: “Single women, Hispanics, young people.” Also as a wife and mother, she had serious doubts about any movement “that can offer nothing to a married woman with three children at the bottom half” of the economic heap.

As if any of these people have ever met or talked to anyone anywhere near “the bottom half” of the economic “heap.”

Writing in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, E.J. Dionne has penned his own take on the reformicon movement. Given the plight of Republicanism in 2014—given that it nearly self-destructed with the Ted Cruz–led government shutdown and given that it’s unable to connect with women, young people, African-Americans and Hispanics—Dionne notes that “reform” is a popular notion in GOP circles, and he locates it in the context of the George Bush/Karl Rove efforts fifteen years ago:

The reform conservatives can already claim a significant success: Almost all of God’s conservative children seem to want to take up the reform banner. This might lead to a certain skepticism as to whether there is any there here. The word “reform,” after all, polls very well. It was not surprising to see Karl Rove praise the movement in a March 2014 Wall Street Journal column. It was Rove, after all, who shrewdly rebaptized George W. Bush as “A Reformer with Results” to fend off John McCain’s 2000 challenge in the Republican presidential primaries.

Dionne notes that even the reformicons delight in bashing Obama as a statist, socialist-leaning president whose programs and policies—even when, as with the Affordable Care Act, they’re based on Republican ideas—and he questions if there’s anything new here:

So what is serious here, and what amounts to repackaging? David Frum, a true conservative heretic, argues that many on the right know that their product is not selling as they would wish. He uses the analogy of a failing pizza chain to ask the key question: How much are they willing to change the pizza, and how much are they merely changing the box? The answer turns out to be complicated.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Or maybe not so complicated. Dionne nicely eviscerates three speeches given by three would-be proponents of reform conservatism, by Marco Rubio, Eric Cantor and Utah’s Mike Lee. Curiously, though, even Dionne seems to believe that there is something positive in reform conservatism’s struggle to provide a new intellectual backbone for the Republican party. He writes:

Progressives can welcome Reformicon efforts to correct the GOP’s sharp tilt to the right, to reduce its overt hostility to government, and to rejoin the policy debate across a broad range of issues. Reform conservatism is better than the conservatism we have had.

If that’s true, it’s only because nothing could be worse. But really, if anything, it’s the same conservatism. Paraphrasing the Who: “Meet the new right-wing boss. Same as the old right-wing boss.”

You can read Part I here. Part III, on reform conservatism and foreign policy, will appear on Friday.

 

Read Next: Is ‘reform conservatism’ anything new? Or just more of W‘s ‘compassionate conservatism’?

What Do the Recent Supreme Court Decisions Mean for Women’s Economic Security?

Supreme Court

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In the final days of its 2013–14 term, the Supreme Court handed down three rulings of major consequence for women. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a 5-4 majority held that requiring some for-profit employers to pay for insurance that covers contraception was a violation of religious freedom. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court unanimously found that a Massachusetts law creating a thirty-five-foot “buffer zone” around abortion clinics violated protesters’ free speech guarantees. In Harris v. Quinn, the Court ruled 5 to 4 that it was unconstitutional to require homecare workers to pay fees to the unions representing them.

While the McCullen and Harris decisions were adjudicated primarily on First Amendment grounds, and while the Hobby Lobby and McCullen cases, in particular, have often been framed as “culture war” issues, all three rulings have profoundly important implications for women’s economic rights. What does it mean when an employer is able to paternalistically restrict how a worker chooses to use her own health benefits? How does restricted access to abortion and contraception affect women economically? How does the setback the Court dealt to homecare workers—a workforce composed overwhelmingly of women of color—affect their decades-long fight better pay and working conditions, and the feminist project to revalue care work? We explore these issues and more in this week’s roundtable. —Kathleen Geier

Sarah Jaffe: When SCOTUS handed down its decisions, a handful of journalists discussed Hobby Lobby and Harris together—they came out on the last day of the Court’s session, they were written by the same justice (George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito, certainly no friend of women, workers or women as workers), both split 5-4, and both clearly issues of rights in the workplace. McCullen was discussed separately: the abortion clinic buffer zone ruling came out on a different day, was unanimous, and was written by a different justice (Chief Justice Roberts). But McCullen too is a decision that will affect women (and men) in the workplace.

How many other people go to work each day being accosted, called murderers, and violently threatened as they attempt to cross the parking lot?

An abortion clinic is a fraught location, a front in the so-called culture wars, and an institution with which even some pro-choice people have an ambivalent relationship. Decades of legal and legislative attempts to chip away at Roe v. Wade have isolated abortion clinics and the doctors, nurses and other workers there from other, less controversial medical establishments. Decades of anti-abortion rhetoric that calls doctors murderers has painted targets on the backs of physicians who perform abortions. We understand the need for a buffer zone in order to help the patients reach the clinic in safety, but we should also understand it as a way to keep the workers safe on the job. How many other people go to work each day being accosted, called murderers and violently threatened as they attempt to cross the parking lot?

The attempts by lawmakers to make abortion more difficult, more arduous, more expensive to access have a disproportionate effect on lower-income people. Waiting period? Try taking several days off of work, and in a post–Hobby Lobby world, do you really want to explain to your boss why you need that time? For the 40 million workers in this country who have no access to paid sick time, it means losing several days’ pay for an expensive procedure not covered by insurance if you’re lucky, and added travel costs if you aren’t. Add to that the prospect of having to run a gauntlet of people trying to shame you, harangue you, and yes, possibly out you.


Image created by NARAL Pro-Choice America

It should go without saying that the decision to have a child or not is one of the most profound economic decisions most of us will make in our lifetimes. The Supreme Court this week made it harder for lower-income women to be able to make that choice for themselves. While I support those who argue for the right of all people to enjoy sex on their own terms, we have spent far too little time elaborating the ways in which the “culture war” is a class war.

Take Hobby Lobby. The hashtag #NotMyBossBusiness gave me some hope that the discussion of this case would turn not on religion, hypocrisy or even just on corporate personhood but on the place where Americans’ freedoms are most curtailed: work. It is, after all, the boss, not the government, who has the most say over what we do and say, whether we can pay the rent or feed the kids, the boss who has increasingly sought the right to influence our political choices and what we wear and track our every move and keystroke.

Instead, I have watched photos of people going into Hobby Lobby stores to rearrange letter-blocks to read “pro-choice” flit across the Internet as if the workers who will have to put those blocks back away are unaware of their boss’s power over them. If we were more aware of this decision as one that will affect women not simply as women but as workers, we might stop and ask ourselves what it would mean to actually be in solidarity with the people who work at those stores, to help them get what they need.

The separation between abortion care and other healthcare that I commented on above plays out in Hobby Lobby, which attempts to paint birth control not as a legally required part of a worker’s compensation package, one that allows women to work on an equal footing with the men, but as something outside, different and worse. Or, in the voices of some dismissive commentators, simply less important, not a big deal, something easy enough for women to buy on their own.

If we recognized Hobby Lobby as a workplace issue, we might reply that the people who work at Hobby Lobby stores make between $9.50 and $14 an hour (and those are actually fairly good wages when it comes to retail work) and that $25 a month (if it’s actually that cheap; that depends on which form of contraceptive you’re using) is a significant extra expense if one is, say, raising children on the wages from that job.

Which brings me to Harris, also a decision about mostly women in the workplace and about healthcare. Even more so than the retail service work Hobby Lobby employees do, home healthcare work is gendered labor that women are expected to do for love, not money. The age-old expectation that women are natural carers, that their highest calling is to care for a family—that very same sexist expectation is at the core of McCullen and Hobby Lobby. It’s an expectation that both denies women’s opportunities to work outside the home, and devalues the caring work they do, waged or unwaged.

Kathleen Geier: There is much to be said about the Supreme Court’s deeply disturbing Harris decision. But as Sarah points out, one important aspect of the ruling has gotten buried in the avalanche of more general commentary: its blatant sexism. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito invented a new, separate-but-unequal category of worker known as the “partial public” employee. Alito’s rationale is that because partial public employees perform care work in the home, they should be treated differently from other employees who work directly for the government. The most significant conclusion of this line of argument is that, unlike public employees proper, partial public workers are not required to pay union contributions. The economic threat this poses to their unions is clear: if enough workers choose to opt out of such contributions, the unions could be bankrupted.

In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Supreme Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work.

The ruling is a devastating setback for hundreds of thousands of organized homecare workers nationwide. These workers, who are overwhelmingly women of color, have fought back against the economic exploitation they suffer by joining labor unions. With its decision in Harris v. Quinn, not only did the Court target this largely female workforce, but it also undermined broader feminist goals. In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work. It attacked the larger feminist project of advancing women’s economic equality by recognizing care as work and insisting that our society compensate female workers fairly.

Domestic workers, including homecare workers, have long struggled to gain the legal benefits and protections that other workers in our society enjoy. It wasn’t until the 1970s that most domestic workers were finally covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which offers overtime protections and a minimum wage. Even so, one category of domestic worker was exempted from the FLSA: workers who provide “companionship services,” a group that includes homecare workers. Precisely because the traditional New Deal–era legislation offered no remedies to this group of workers, they need unions to fight for their rights. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey, because of union contracts, “this almost entirely female workforce has made huge improvements in wages and benefits, in training, and in respect in the states that provide for collective bargaining.” But those gains are seriously threatened by the actions the court took in Harris.

Low-wage homecare workers illustrate a larger problem, which is the role that women’s care work plays in maintaining their deep and persistent economic inequality. Directly, there is the opportunity cost that comes when women cut back hours or drop out of the paid labor force to provide care; economist Nancy Folbre has referred to this cost as the “care penalty.” Unpaid care work also affects women’s compensation in the paid labor market in ways that are less direct. Research has shown that a portion of the gender pay gap is attributable to the fact that women with children are, on average, paid less than their otherwise identical counterparts, regardless of whether they’ve ever taken time out of the work force to devote themselves to full-time motherhood. The disrespect associated with care is so strong that working in a caregiving occupation is associated with a 5 to 10 percent wage penalty, even when skill levels, education, industry and other observable factors are controlled for. Clearly, feminists have a powerful interest in revaluing care, a cause that has suffered a serious setback with Harris.

Why do we devalue care work in the first place? Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein point out in their excellent history, Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, that intimate care work is associated with the stigma of handling dirt, bodily fluids, mess. Additionally, in a society based on the myth of individual autonomy, care work provides an uncomfortable reminder of how profoundly the condition of dependency structures human existence. Boris and Klein also argue that the “devaluation thesis assumes the unworthiness of the labor because of the race, class, and gender of the workers.” But more than anything else, they say, what ensures the continuing devaluation of this type of labor is “the way the state chooses to structure it.” With the Harris decision, the state has elected, as it has so often in the past, to structure care work in a way that ensures the continuing economic inequality of those who perform it.

Already, Harris is having an effect. Observers believe that the gains of recently organized home-based Connecticut childcare workers are threatened, because the Harris decision would likely apply to them. In addition, in one of a series of end-of-term orders, the Court sent back a Michigan case to the lower courts “for further consideration in light of Harris v. Quinn.” In These Times’s Moshe Marvit argues that since the legal issues in the Michigan case were somewhat different from those in Harris, the Court’s move “may be a quiet expansion of the Harris decision.”

It would hardly come as a shock if the Roberts Court built on the relatively narrow Harris decision to issue far more expansive rulings against labor unions. According to The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, “in confronting a politically charged issue, the court first decides a case in a ‘narrow’ way, but then uses that decision as a precedent to move in a more dramatic, conservative direction in a subsequent case.” Toobin believes that the Court may eventually use Harris as a precedent for a more radical move against public sector sector unions generally. If they do so, it would be a serious blow to women’s economic equality. As a recent study documents, women in labor unions earn significantly highly wages than their non-union counterparts, and this finding holds for every educational level, from women who dropped out of high school to those with graduate degrees. Unionized workers are also significantly more likely to receive employer-sponsored health insurance, retirement benefits and paid family and medical leave. To the extent that the Court weakens unions, it also undermines women’s economic power in our society.

For now, however, the Court has carefully and cleverly restricted its ruling to one vulnerable group: the overwhelmingly female, nonwhite, low-income group of workers who labor in private homes and receive their wages from the state. The Court’s decision rests on the dubious contention that homecare workers are not public employees. But these workers are paid by the government and the vital work they do, which serves broader public goals of improving public health and enabling families to balance work and care responsibilities, is anything but private. By weakening their right to economic redress through unions, the Court increased the state’s—and by extension the taxpayer’s—complicity in maintaining low-wage markets. We are low-wage employers now, and it is women, and most especially immigrant women, women of color and poor women, who continue to pay the price.

Sheila Bapat: As analyses of the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling in Harris v. Quinn continue to swirl, the potential of this decision to weaken public sector unions becomes more and more clear. The “right to work” movement is exploiting domestic workers’ uncertain status and, as Kathleen notes, the bias against women performing care work, to begin dismantling public sector unions. After the ruling, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander weighed in to support the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating that that Illinois’s collective bargaining program is a “disturbing union scheme to turn private homes into unionized workplaces.”

As a result of this ruling, funding for collective bargaining efforts—efforts that can help raise domestic workers’ wages and improve their overall working conditions—will likely dwindle. Yet there are policy changes we can make to lessen the blow.

How can domestic workers seek higher wages and improved benefits, given the Harris decision setback?

Raise the federal minimum wage, for all workers. A wage hike for all workers would improve earnings for domestic workers, too. Unfortunately, in April the US Senate failed to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. While states and localities have been succeeding in raising wages, disparities in wages across states have been found to hurt domestic workers. Some states that did raise minimum wages are still excluding domestic workers from that guarantee—this includes Rhode Island, West Virginia and Delaware. An across-the-board wage increase for all workers—which is what a federal wage hike can accomplish—helps avoid this disparity.

Create a federal program that pays and advocates for domestic workers. It is primarily Medicaid dollars that pay domestic workers in state programs. We could envision a more robust federal program— as part of Medicaid or outside of it—to support domestic workers’ wages and working conditions. We could envision a federal “association” of such workers that solicits comments from fellow workers, holds public meetings, makes recommendations to the state and speaks on behalf of domestic workers. Given the rising demand for care workers in the United States, it makes sense to develop a federal program that ensures the protection of this crucial workforce.

Support state domestic workers’ bills of rights. The domestic workers’ movement secured domestic workers’ bill of rights in New York in 2010, which expands overtime protections for workers, provides a day of rest and disability benefits. Similar legislation has emerged in California, Hawaii and, most recently, Massachusetts. Most of these bills expand overtime protections for workers. The Massachusetts legislation may be particularly important to look at, as it includes model provisions for workers who are not unionized such as a worker’s right to a contract with their employer that spells out wages, hours and expectations.

Support worker centers who advocate for domestic workers. Non-union actors like 501(c)3 worker centers have been crucial to advocating for domestic workers already. Worker centers may become more important given this ruling. The domestic workers’ movement comprises many of these centers and has achieved success by appealing to the public and to state legislators directly. The legislation these worker centers advocate for can ensure that workers are entitled to the state’s minimum wage so that exclusions like those found in Delaware, Rhode Island and West Virginia are eliminated. The local and national campaigns undertaken by worker centers also keep domestic workers’ rights on our local and national radar; they help us remember why domestic work is so crucial and why domestic workers should have better working conditions.

Federal legislation may not be politically plausible right now given that Congress cannot even raise the minimum wage. State-focused campaigns aimed at addressing the effects of Harris v. Quinn may have more success. Regardless, in light of the ruling in Harris v. Quinn, we should begin to explore creative solutions to improving wages for domestic workers and other public sector employees—solutions that can improve conditions both for workers and for those who need care.

Writing a Letter

When writing clues, we often need to refer to a single letter as part of the wordplay. Unfortunately, English only has two one-letter words.

Cluing “I” is awkward for a two-person team, so we sometimes use the word right there in the clue:
   IAGO I back the man who plays Othello (4)

The other one-letter word, “a,” can conceivably be clued as “article”, but “an article” would be weird. So we sometimes use it as is:
   ACROSS  A hybrid alternative to down (6)

However, this in turn raises its own issues, bnecause there is a certain amount of looseness around the question of whether clues need articles for smooth surface or can use “headlinese.” So a solver can often be uncertain about whether “a” is contributing to the wordplay or merely the surface.

Another way to get single letters into a clue is by referring to their position in a word. “Fourth of July” is a classic way to indicate Y, and “fifth of whiskey” can be K.
   BEETHOVEN’S THIRD  E is for “Eroica” (10,5)

Since there are only so many natural-sounding phrases in that format, the references are usually to first or last letters of words:
   SPINAL  Originally, Sarah Palin edited a certain column (6)
   BERET  Hat wearer finally cuts into vegetable (5)

That trick can be pretty transparent when it uses standbys like “originally” or “finally.” So we often strive to find indicators for first or last letters that sound more natural in context:
   PRESIDIO  Fort Pulaski’s chief dies, or I fail (8)
   IMAX  I can take in premiere of Moonraker in huge movie format (4)

Goofiness can also put solvers off the scent:
   UNEARTHED  Vishnu’s foot—where the E might be dug up? (9)

One last technique for this post: a well-established cryptic convention is to refer to a letter by its shape. Here are a couple of examples using O:
   AVOCADO  Fruit and eggs returned by rotter along with bagel (7)
   GORILLA  Having eaten a donut, interrogate a thug (7)

In our next post, we’ll discuss abbreviations.

This week’s cluing challenge: HORSESHOE. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And now, four links:
* The current puzzle
* Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
* Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
* A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Democrats Embrace the Good Kind of ‘Entitlement Reform’

Social Security Check

A Social Security check (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

For many years, the smug elites of Wall Street have peddled “entitlement reform” as a sly euphemism for cutting Social Security. And Washington’s political elites, including President Obama, bought into the propaganda. Social Security, not to mention Medicare and Medicaid, was driving the nation into ruinous debt if government did not act to curb this venerable New Deal program. Think tanks and editorial writers, political reporters and TV talkers, witlessly embraced the big lie and promoted it as indisputable truth.

Except this self-righteous crusade for fiscal discipline failed to persuade the American people—the wage earners who pay the FICA deductions on every weekly paycheck and expect to get their money back as the retirement benefits promised by law. For many folks, the deal smelled like another Washington swindle. The people had it right, the experts were wrong. This time, the people are going to prevail.

This summer, though virtually ignored by the news media, the Democratic Party in Congress has launched a smart, spirited counter-offensive on behalf of Social Security. In the House and Senate, eight differing measures have been introduced by various Democrats to expand Social Security benefits to correct injustices for women and low-wage workers and to increase FICA payments for the wealthiest wage earners who make more than $400,000 a year. Instead of attacking Social Security, “entitlement reform” now takes on an opposite meaning—improving workplace fairness in this much-loved federal program and insuring its solvency for the next seventy-five years.

This may sound like a minor event, since none of these measures will be enacted anytime soon. But it reflects a major political shift underway in the reigning values of Democrats—a reawakening of the reform spirit that used to be the mainstream party’s identity, and another important way of confronting the society’s scandalous inequalities of income and wealth.

The Democratic president, one observes, is significantly absent and silent. Obama has made fine speeches about inequality, but he actually stood on the wrong side of the Social Security debate. Back in 2010, he made common cause with the anti-entitlement case of billionaire Pete Peterson, who recruited scores of influential policy types by dispensing generous grants. Obama opted for “austerity” economics and actively sought a bipartisan deal on trimming Social Security.

Some progressive voices in Congress, like Senator Bernie Sanders, Representatives Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison and John Conyers said, No, this is wrong. But a lot of Democrats were silent. They may not have been for cutting Social Security, but they also didn’t oppose it. Back home, however, they encountered fierce resistance from their constituents. Ironically, Pete Peterson’s millions probably helped awaken the people to the threat. The more Peterson’s wealth financed noisy lobbying of the governing elites, the more he mobilized the anger of common folks.

It now appears that reforming Social Security in positive ways has once again become a mainstream idea of the Democratic Party, aligned with the party’s own base and public opinion regardless of party. Roughly half of the House Democratic Caucus has signed as co-sponsors of the strongest and most generous legislation, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Linda Sanchez of California. Their measure would gradually eliminate the cap on Social Security deductions now at $117,000 incomes. The bill would boost benefits for all Social Security recipients by approximately $70 a month, targeted especially to help low- and middle-income families.

In the Senate, Patty Murray of Washington, a member of Senate leadership, is co-sponsoring with Mark Begich of Alaska the Retirement and Income Security Enhancements (RAISE) bill, which proposes a more modest financing goal—a 2 percent FICA increase for incomes above $400,000, but no change for lesser incomes. Representative John Larsen of Connecticut would bump up benefits modestly for all recipients and guarantee a minimum benefit 25 percent above the poverty level. “No one who paid in the system over a lifetime should come out poor,” Larson explained.

The RAISE bill co-sponsored by Murray and Begich focuses on correcting many longstanding inequities that penalize women because of the changed nature of the workforce. Social Security was originally designed for the era of single-income families, when American companies typically provided generous retirement benefits. Now women are nearly 50 percent of the workforce but are especially vulnerable to hardship in retirement, particularly if divorced or never married.

Under current law, a widow or widower of a dual-income family gets a significantly smaller survivor benefit than a survivor in a single-earner family. Because women earn significantly less than men on average, they retire with significantly less in savings or pensions. Three of every ten women over 65 depend solely on Social Security in their later years.

These long-neglected social realities are at last coming back for honest political debate, and Democrats will doubtless argue many questions among themselves. Groups like Social Society Works, co-chaired by genuine authorities like Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, have marshalled the facts and ideas that helped inspire the revival. Above all, they steadily refuted the Wall Street scare talk distributed by allegedly objective news media.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

The basic distortion is the hysterical claim that the US economy faces a demographic calamity when the Baby Boomers retire. The sky is not falling, and it is not going to fall. The long-term actuarial forecast is that Social Security will absorb a little more than 6 percent of GDP in 2035—6.23 percent—and in 2085 it will amount to 6.17 percent and 6.23 percent in 2090. In other words, it’s a pretty flat line, not an explosion.

Perhaps the most pernicious lie told by Pete Peterson’s anti-entitlement crusade has been his crude effort to pit the young against the old. Peterson’s assorted front groups claim the old folks are robbing from the children by insisting on overly generous benefits. This demonstrates Wall Street’s utter ignorance of American family life. In reality, it is often Grandma’s Social Security check that holds the family together and keeps the grandchildren in hearth and home. Anyone who doubts the importance of these social relationships should consult the voluminous polling on how people feel about Social Security and why they stubbornly support it despite the so-called experts.

Or ask young adults, the millennial generation that faces bleaker prospects for jobs and incomes, savings and retirement. The leaders of Social Security Works feel their ultimate purpose is protecting Social Security from Wall Street, so it will still be around seventy-five years from now when the millennial generation needs it.

 

Read Next: If Congress won’t raise the minimum wage, these cities will.

Why Is Giving Birth in Detroit So Dangerous?

Detroit Hospital

Patient Room in the Henry Ford Hospital System (Ted Eytan/AP)

As progressives descend on Detroit this week for the ninth annual Netroots Nation, those who want to tune into local issues can learn about the mass shutoff of water to thousands of local residents or about how the city’s bankruptcy is leaving retirees without their hard-earned pensions. Another good way visitors can orient themselves to this post-industrial city of 700,000 people is to read a recent Detroit News article reporting that women there die from pregnancy-related causes at three times the national average.

The numbers make sense given the racial disparity in maternal mortality. Black women nationwide are at three to four times greater risk than white women. And since Detroit’s population is 83 percent African-American and more than four in ten of its residents live under the poverty line, it’s no wonder that the chance that pregnancy or childbirth will result in death is so high—higher than in Libya, Uruguay or Vietnam, the article reports.

Blame it on the prevalence of chronic health issues likely to put a new or birthing mother’s life at risk, namely diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease. Black women are also twice as likely as white women to receive no prenatal care, or to receive it only in the third trimester.

According to the Detroit News:

Experts attribute increased maternal death rates to uncontrolled chronic health conditions, which are more common in African-Americans, and to poverty that deprives low-income women of health insurance and access to health care.…

Health care professionals are hopeful that maternal and infant death rates will decline as more women gain health care options through the federal Affordable Care Act or expanded Medicaid, and become more educated about their bodies.

Kanitra Patterson, 27, almost became a statistic, but is learning from her first pregnancy to take better care of herself. She developed pregnancy-induced cardiomyopathy—weakening of the heart muscle—about 24 hours before the birth of her son, Robert, six years ago. Patterson was admitted to DMC Hutzel Women’s Hospital for dangerously high blood pressure when suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. Doctors placed Patterson on oxygen and induced labor, and she and her baby survived.

Patterson is again at risk of the potentially fatal heart condition, now that she’s pregnant with her second child, daughter Kahlia, due Aug. 7. Patterson is watching her diet more carefully this time to control her blood pressure.…

“I went (for prenatal care) a little earlier. And I’m up to the doctor’s office every two weeks since I was five months pregnant.”

The article also touches briefly on health outcomes for Detroit’s infants, noting that the city has the highest infant mortality rate when compared to other major US cities. The number-one cause of death for babies there is preterm delivery—birth prior to thirty-seven weeks of pregnancy. Again, the racial disparity is clear. According to the CDC, black infants die of causes related to premature delivery at a rate three times higher than white infants.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

There will be plenty of ideas to hash over in Motor City this week, and national conferences are rarely any more about the city that hosts them than they are about what happens inside the convention hall. But here’s hoping that some Netroots Nation attendees connect with Detroit health practitioners and organizers who are responding to this challenge faced by the city’s black families. With any luck, innovators there are developing solutions that we can learn from and apply elsewhere.

 

Read Next: Is Canada’s new anti-sex work bill unconstitutional?

Is ‘Reform Conservatism’ Anything New? Or Just More of W.’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’?

Republican National Convention

The 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The following is the first of a three-part piece by Christie Watch on the debate over “reform conservatism” and the so-called “reformicons.” Part II will appear Thursday, July 17, and Part III on Friday, July 18.

Amid the tumultuous debate, in advance of 2016, between “Tea Party Republicans” and “establishment Republicans,” it’s fair to ask: What does either side believe? Generally speaking, it’s easy to categorize this or that potential 2016 challenger as belonging to the “Tea Party wing” or the “establishment,” with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio lumped among the Tea Partiers and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush firmly ensconced among the establishmentarians. But when it comes to policy and ideas, how different are they, really? Do they have any ideas? And if so, who shapes those ideas, beyond rote beliefs: low taxes, less regulation, small government? Which brings us to the latest buzz, namely, “reform conservatism.”

In 1999–2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush put himself forward as what he called a “compassionate conservative.” The term fooled a lot of people, including many independents and some liberals, who overlooked Bush’s Texas record, which focused on cutting regulations, enacting tort reform and tax cuts. Is today’s reform conservatism an updated version of compassionate conservatism? Or is it something else? Back in 2000, “compassionate conservatism” managed to mobilize a phalanx of neoconservative ideologues, who took up dozens of key posts in the Bush administration, under the leadership of Vice President Dick Cheney, resulting in both the war in Iraq and massive, unsustainable tax cuts. At the very least, as we shall see, the reform conservatives include quite a number of unrepentant neoconservatives among their ranks, and their thinktanks and their flagship publication, National Affairs, is lavishly funded by old-fashioned, Wall Street– and hedge fund–backed neocons and American Enterprise Institute–like conservative crusaders.

The current fuss over reform conservatives (“reformicons”) was kicked off on July 2 by a fairly credulous article in The New York Times by Sam Tanenhaus, titled “Can the G.O.P. Be the Party of Ideas?” The article leads with a story about a gathering of the Republican faithful at AEI, in which Eric Cantor—the soon-to-exit House majority leader, just defeated in his central Virginia primary—as the standard-bearer for the reformicons’ notion that the GOP has to recast its appeal with outreach to, as Cantor puts it (somewhat reminiscently of the walrus in Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”) “the working family or maybe the single mom who at the end of a hard day has put her kids to bed and then has to face how she is going to make ends meet and pay the bills at the end of the month.”

The idea-generating folks behind Cantor’s newfound belief that the GOP has to broaden its appeal beyond Chamber of Commerce entrepreneurs and the Christian right to include the middle and working classes writ large include two reformicons highlighted in Tanenhaus’ story: Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review and, especially, Yuval Levin of National Affairs. Says Tanenhaus:

Together they have become the leaders of a small band of reform conservatives, sometimes called reformicons, who believe the health of the G.O.P. hinges on jettisoning its age-old doctrine—orgiastic tax-cutting, the slashing of government programs, the championing of Wall Street— and using an altogether different vocabulary, backed by specific proposals, that will reconnect the party to middle-class and low-income voters.

As Tanenhaus notes, since that AEI gathering the reformicons have been praised and/or taken seriously by The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and Politico. But should they be? Or are they, to use some much-overused metaphors, old wine in new bottles or Wall Street pigs wearing lipstick?

Not all reformicons agree with one another, of course, and no doubt they’re all struggling with the idea of how to rebuild the badly tarnished Republican (and “conservative”) brand, now that the country has skewed ethnically diverse, younger, less religious and more populated with empowered women. But the fact is that reform conservatism is really just a repackaging of old-fashioned GOP ideas masquerading as somehow being in sympathy with the plight of struggling workers and single moms. For example, writing in National Affairs, in a piece called “The Trouble with Public Sector Unions,” Daniel DiSalvo lavishly praises Christie’s attempt to eviscerate teachers and other public-sector unions, without much seeming regard for the working-class and single-mom members of those unions. In the piece, DiSalvo writes:

The firestorm that these proposals have sparked demonstrates the political clout of state-workers’ unions. … Yet confront them policymakers must. As Christie said about the duel with the [New Jersey Education Association[, “If we don’t win this fight, there’s no other fight left.” Melodramatic as this may sound, for many states, it is simply reality.

Well. If that’s reform conservatism, not too many workers and single moms will be buying into it.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

So who’s backing the reformicons? As one might expect, National Affairs was set up by the same billionaires and conservative foundations who’ve been funding conservative think tanks and media outlets for decades in an effort to shape popular thinking and economic policies, and the current team includes financiers and wheeler-dealers such as Roger Hertog, Paul Singer and Bruce Kovner. And as expected, the movement is run by the intellectual heirs of the key “original” neocons including Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, the folks who founded National Affairs’s godfather magazine, The Public Interest. Today, the wealthy backers of the reformicons are single-mindedly promoting their iconic belief in the need to eliminate government programs and encourage the spread of unfettered free enterprise. They founded National Affairs for the same reason that The Public Interest was founded in 1965, by Irving Kristol and his collaborators, namely, to counter progressive thinking. In the earlier period it had led to the Great Society and its social programs and in 2009, when National Affairs was launched, there was strong support for more government regulation of Wall Street and healthcare reform.

To be continued. Part II will appear tomorrow.

Read Next: Christie accelerates 2016 travels, and GOP fundraising