My new Think Again column is called “A Bully Pulpit for Billionaires” and it examines The Economist’s odd coverage of the New York City mayor’s race.
My Nation column is called “Village People” and it discusses the sequel to Game Change, Double Down and its authors’ contempt for liberals.
A few final words (I hope) about You Know What.
I am resisting the urge to delve back into the muck with regard to the Blumenthal book—recently endorsed, I see, by the website of famed neo-Nazi, David Duke—I do, however, feel a need to clarify two points that may be lost to those who are still paying attention amdist all of the hysterical (and patently false) accusations I’ve experienced as a result of my column, “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook.”
1) There were no errors in my column. None. Zero. Zilch.* If there had been, The Nation would have run a correction in the magazine. It didn’t and it won’t.
2) It is nonsense to claim, as the website “Mondoweiss” did, that I publicly refused to debate Blumenthal and secretly demanded $10,000 to do so. What happened was this. Phil Weiss has been hassling me for years to debate him about Israel. I have said “no thanks” for years, but try to get him to leave me alone, I told him that if someone wanted to pay my speaking fees, I would debate anyone at all. I’m hardly afraid to debate people. I just don’t believe in giving away my time for free, especially to people like Weiss.
When the Blumenthal column came out, Phil started hassling me again. I said “no” again, adding the same conditions I had given him years ago still applied no matter who he wanted me to debate. Phil broke all the known rules of journalism by not only publishing my private responses to his entreaties when I had clearly and explicitly refused permission for this--he asked twice and I said “no” twice--but also making it appear that I had said things I clearly had not. Looking back, I don’t know why I was surprised. I do know it’s the last time I will ever answer an email from Phil Weiss.
And speaking of Jews, I love this anecdote about Norman Mailer and Philip Roth that I noticed in Andrew O’Hagen’s review of the big new Mailer bio in The London Review of Books
‘You know,’ he said, ‘when you get to my age you have to pee a lot. And there is no distance at all between knowing you want to pee and then just peeing. I was at Plimpton’s funeral in St John the Divine not long ago, and they sat me near the front, you know. Suddenly, I had to go. I knew I wasn’t gonna make it all the way down the aisle so I spotted a little side door and I got the canes and nipped in there. Halfway down the corridor, I was looking for a john and who do I see but Philip Roth. “Hey, Philip, what you doin’ here?”
“Oh, I had to pee,” Roth said.
“Happens to me all the time,” I said. “You just have to pee.” The previous week I went to see my daughter in Brooklyn and I couldn’t make it up the hill and had to stop in a telephone kiosk to pee.
“Oh, that’s happened to me,” Roth said. “I’ve done the kiosk thing.”
“Well, Phil,” I said. “You always were precocious.”’
Ladies Sing the Blues at the Allen Room @ Jazz@LC
Jacky Terrasson at Dizzy’s @Jazz@LC
Gary Clark Jr.@ the Apollo
Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings
It’s A Scream The Way Levine Does the Rhumba: The Latin-Jewish Musical Story 1940s-1960s
I try to see Catherine Russell every chance I can, sometimes in a back up roll with Steely Dan or Paul Simon, among others, but especially when she singing her own sultry stuff from way back. Last weekend at the beautiful Allen Room, she was joined by young singers Brianna Thomas and Charenee Wade in an evening of tribute to the songs of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, and others called (not so imaginatively, I must say) “Ladies Sing the Blues.” The song selection leaned heavily on the salacious and the women and the crowd milked every available entendre, whether double, triple or quadruple. There were too many highlights to pick anyone out--I’ve been killing myself trying to play “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out” on the guitar and here I heard it turned upside down. The accompaniment was perfect, with a number of members of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (who also tend to show up on “Boardwalk Empire.”) All three women found nooks and crannies and the material that you might not have known were there, no matter how many times you’ve heard “Am I Blue” or “Trouble in Mind”; songs that are nearly a century old by now. I wonder what their authors would have thought had they known how fresh they could sound a century later. The blues truly are eternal.
The following night, across the hall at Dizzy’s I caught a set by pianist Jacky Terrasson, who was joined by a bass player and two percussionists. Terrasson, who grew up in Paris, won the 1993 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition and has been recording ever since. He’s proven incredibly versatile, working with in Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Ry Cooder and his own band. Last Saturday, he did that thing that jazz musicians do, of not saying a single word and not even really pausing between songs. The songs, though were ones you knew--from the great American songbook--or at least they started out that way--and then travelled into other spaces and places before doubling back. The double percussion provided a powerful counterpoint to Terrasson’s exquisite piano work and together, they created just the kind of hypnotic effect you get in a jazz club even without the usual stimulants. It was my first time seeing Terrasson, but he and his band are highly recommended if you like melifluous, unflashy playing and beautiful noodling.
You can find the upcoming schedule for Jazz@ Lincoln Center here
It’s been hard, merely listening, to separate Gary Clark Jr. from the hype that has surrounded his rise. Before he had issued a major label album, he had already been embraced as a guitar god, first by Clapton’s Crossroads and then by the Stones and by the White House blues festival. I saw him do a solo set at Clapton’s show last year and could not get a feel for what the big deal was. The word “Hendrix” was frequently mentioned.
His album, “Blak and Blu” came out last year and last night, I caught his show at the Apollo. What he shares with Hendrix, in my view, aside from color--there are not many African-American guitar gurus once you get past the founding generations of blues-focused players-and so the comparisons are inevitable--is an addiction to power chords that tend to overwhelm the melody. But coming from Texas, it should surprise no one that his style is more Stevie Ray than Jimi. He is a comfortable front man and he does not allow his virtuosity to overwhelm the music or the rest of the band. And yes, there’s plenty of charisma. The dude can sing, too. What I wonder about--at least so far--is the material. Perhaps it’s me, but I’m not feeling it yet. There’s another issue. After I left the show, some deep cuts from the outtakes from “Exile” and “Some Girls” came onto my Ipod and I marveled at the economy, the self-discipline and, if I may say so, the organicism of Keith’s playing--all the more powerful because its unflashy and blends into the music. Clapton’s playing is like this too. Not everyone’s is, but one gets tired of just flash and I’d like to see Clark develop in this direction; more of band man than a front-man, since the world doesn’t really need much more in the way of pyrotechnics but does need a lot more good music. The crowd sure loved him though, I’ll say that. You had to stand for most of the show if you wanted to see the guy play. You can read more about Gary here.
If you’re looking for Hannukah presents to buy, here are two really, um, different suggestions.
First is the nicely compact and admirably complete Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings. Comprised of nine CDs in mini-LP replica jackets, it’s a perfect way to get introduced to Miles, given that it’s got the classics from the “first great quintet” at Columbia, (with John Coltrane) ’Round About Midnight, Milestones, Jazz Track, Kind Of Blue, Someday My Prince Will Come, and Miles And Monk At Newport; as well as the groundbreaking Gil Evans, albums, Miles Ahead, Porgy And Bess, and Sketches Of Spain. It’s also got two brand new albums, Jazz Track, presenting 10 improvised tracks that Miles recorded in Paris with European musicians in 1957, for director Louis Malle’s film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator To the Gallows), plus three tracks by Miles’ own sextet in New York—featuring Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb—from their only other studio recordings of 1958, prior to the Kind Of Blue sessions in ’59; and Miles And Monk At Newport, featuring four songs recorded live by the Miles Davis Sextet at the jazz festival in 1958, followed by two classics recorded at the festival in 1963 by the then-newly-signed Thelonious Monk Quartet. And it’s not that expensive.
At the other end of the world from Miles is handsome set of two cds and lots of historically minded liner notes called It’s A Scream The Way Levine Does the Rhumba: The Latin-Jewish Musical Story 1940s-1960s. It’s the 2014 annual release from the nonprofit Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, a small, all-volunteer non-profit organization who work hard to preserve this kind of thing and spread the joy it inspires. They can describe it better than I can:
“The sweaty mambo dance-floors of the legendary Palladium nightclub. The weekend Borscht Belt ballrooms of the Catskills hotels. The bar mitzvah bandstands of Brooklyn. The Fania All-Stars stages of the Cheetah and Yankee Stadium. The pianos of the Brill Building. The bullrings of Tijuana. The confluence of Jewish and Latin cultures expressed in music is what you’ll find here, featuring legendary names like Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Herb Alpert, Carole King, Tito Puente to name a few.
Welcome to one of the great unsung currents of American pop music: the forgotten musical mash-up of Latin and Jewish, bagels and bongos, Spanish and Yiddish, manteca and schmaltz, that’s been a bubbling undercurrent of American pop music since the early 1900s. It’s a story full of Jewish mambo dancers, Jewish salsa greats, beloved sidemen, and record label chiefs on the one hand, and Latino bandleaders, singers, composers, and entrepreneurs on the other.”
Outsourcing Accountability to the Political Opposition: The Beltway Media’s Agency Problem
by Reed Richardson
There’s a term in poker for having a strong hand and nevertheless losing due to an unfortunate, last-minute turn of the cards: “bad beat.” And after two big stories unexpectedly blew up this past week, folks at CBS News might be cursing their luck.
On Sunday, Lara Logan of “60 Minutes” was forced to air a 90-second correction that effectively undermined most of her yearlong, blockbuster story that alleged a flawed administration response to the 9/11/12 terrorist attack on the U.S. Benghazi Consulate. Logan’s primary source for the story, it turned out, is a self-aggrandizing fabulist. Three days later, CBS Evening News reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s supposed exposé on the security risks inherent to the troubled Healtcare.gov website unraveled too. In this case, the key piece of evidence, a leaked, “partial transcript” of Congressional testimony, proved to be flagrantly and deceptively edited to make the White House look bad.
But rather than dig into why these embarrassing mistakes occurred, CBS News seems fine with chalking them up to isolated failures of judgment and move on. For example, Attkisson, as of this writing, has issued no correction to her misleading report, and Logan’s on-air admission of error represented but the bare minimum of disclosure that should occur when a story of this magnitude blows up. (The network has announced it is conducting an internal “journalistic review” of what went wrong with the Benghazi report, but it’s worth noting that the person most likely to lead such an investigation, Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News, does double duty as the executive producer of “60 Minutes.) Meanwhile, there’s been no public talk from CBS News of firing or even disciplining anyone connected to either story. As I said, bad beats, I guess, better luck next time.
Except, of course, this isn’t just about CBS News and this isn’t about journalistic misfortune. Indeed, the establishment press in New York and Washington consistently make these same mistakes. Time and again, whether it’s the New Black Panthers, Solyndra, Fast and Furious, IRS audits, Benghazi, or nearly anything related to Obamacare, the presidential scandals hyped by the Beltway conventional wisdom amount to little more than busted flushes, gut-shot straights…a whole lotta nothing. Initial, ominous reports about broad conspiracies and rampant abuse of White House power inevitably collapse into banal examples of governmental friction and democratic messiness. And no sooner does one phony crisis deflate and flutter harmlessly off the front pages before another one pops up to replace it. So, what’s really going on here?
Certainly, there are many mechanistic factors contributing to this continual, Cassandra-like coverage of President Obama, from the voracious 24/7 news cycle and its rampant obsession with scooplets to the industry-wide denuding of journalistic resources and staff. However, the root cause of this behavior, I believe, stems from a press corps that has broadly conflated its efforts at impartial, accountability journalism with the partisan goals of the Republican Party. I’m not claiming individual members of the mainstream media possess an inherent, ideological right-wing bias that they are intentionally pushing into the news. But when the media, as a whole, routinely lets the political opposition serve as its proxy for setting the news agenda, the coverage provided to the public will naturally bend toward an inherent, practical right-wing bias.
On its face, this assertion seems counter-intuitive. How can striving even harder at being neutral exacerbate the partisan effect of one’s reporting? The devil is, of course, in the details. The modern conventional wisdom on objectivity effectively rewards a kind of institutional timidity and intellectual false equivalence—that is, it’s not the press’s job to tell us who is wrong or right, it’s merely their job tell us who says they’re wrong or right. As a result, the media increasingly has no agency in our democracy, no real role as an independent actor correcting and guiding the discourse. Instead, it now seeks to launder all arguments and judgments on an issue through external sources or political parties.
Dartmouth professor of government Brendan Nyhan gets at what I’m calling the media’s abdication of agency in a recent essay at the Columbia Journalism Review. “Skeptical reporting depends on the combination of technical policy critiques and attention from opposition elites. If either component is absent, journalists are all too likely to miss the story,” he writes. “The press often takes its cues about the flaws in a policy from the opposition party, which is part of a pattern of indexing coverage to the range of debate among political elites.” And when the party opposing the president has adopted a nihilistic, post-policy approach to governance, it’s no coincidence the press finds itself obsessed with process and blowing up at every little perceived slight by the White House.
This close marrying of the press’s accountability agenda with that of the Republican opposition’s political agenda has a doubly deleterious effect on our democracy. For one, it promotes a ridiculousboom-and-bust cycle of phony scandals that undermines the media’s reputation as an honest, accurate broker of debate in our democracy. When the only things fueling a DC scandal are Republican outrage and media oxygen, it’s no surprise, then, that said scandal coverage is swiftly snuffed out when the GOP talking points fizzle.
One need only look at Attkisson’s reporting over the past few years to get a clear picture of how this cycle manifests itself. Whether it’s been Fast and Furious, green energy loans, or Benghazi, Attkisson has been a reliable conduit for the GOP’s favorite manufactured indignations. This past week’s embarrassing episode with her Obamacare exposé wasn’t even the first time she’d been publicly burned by regurgitating doctored GOP documents. She is always careful to defend her reporting as done under the banner of objectively holding the powerful accountable, but disingenuously ignores how her coverage so neatly serves as a convenient cudgel for conspiracy-minded Republicans to attack the White House. (Attkisson’s unfocused zeal for questioning authority also includes a troubling history of enabling anti-vaccine truthers.)
The aftermath of CBS News Benghazi debacle speaks to the same institutional blind spot. In the days right after her report aired, the network arrogantly ignored critical voices from the left, like Media Matters, while Logan defended the piece to the New York Times, using telling language: “We worked on this for a year. We killed ourselves not to allow politics into this report.” The mindset on display here speaks to either invidious guile or incredible naiveté. Before the president had even announced the deaths of all four Americans in the Benghazi attack, Republicans were already using the tragedy as a political attack on the president. Save for Obamacare, there might not be a morepoliticized issue in America right now. So, is it any wonder that Logan’s attempt at reporting on Benghazi without honestly addressing this overarching reality would lead her to miss the many warning signs displayed by her story’s key right-wing source?
In this case, it seems, Logan’s personal biases about the Benghazi attack likely played a role in how she reported the story as well. And while I strongly disagree with Logan’s ominous, clash-of-civilizations rhetoric, I have no problem with a professional journalist covering a topic on which they have strong opinions. That’s what editors are for, to keep those prejudices in check and tell a fair story. But as is obvious, CBS News editors also fell victim to blindly wanting the tale of administration malfeasance to be true.
Surely, not everyone at “60 Minutes” shares Logan’s worldview, so how then did such a shoddy story still get on air? No doubt the concept of sunk costs had an effect—work on anything for a year and you too would be hard pressed to honestly look for reasons why all that effort should be just cast aside. But again, I believe a subtler, pernicious bias was at work, one that is indicative of a larger, almost sub-conscious absorption of right-wing political criticism into the journalistic bloodstream. How else to explain the network’s rather bizarre dismissal of the story’s potential to harm its long-term credibility?
“Over the weekend, CBS staff members expressed confidence that the damage to ‘60 Minutes,’ while certainly the worst it has had to endure in the decade since Mr. Fager succeeded Don Hewitt as the show’s executive producer, would not be enduring. One reason is the deep reserve of good will the program has built up both with viewers and in journalistic circles. But the staff members also agreed that the program would be helped by that absence of a cause to inflame right-wing media voices, as well as by the belated effort to apologize." [italics mine]
There is a lot here to be troubled by. The network’s laughably anachronistic mindset toward its own authority as well as its viewers’ expectations of accuracy is bad enough. But to strongly imply one’s news organization is far more concerned with conservative, rather than liberal, media complaints? I mean, if that’s the takeaway CBS news bosses have from the Benghazi debacle, it’s hard to see how they aren’t further reinforcing the institutional sensitivity to right-wing rhetoric that caused the problem in the first place. Or, as NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, put it: “It is time to ask if inoculation against conservative complaints has become an action item at CBS News, leading to these dubious stories.”
This potential for bias and self-censorship leads to the other downside of the Beltway media’s fondness for right-wing accountability framing—the stories that don’t get covered. Whether it’s draconian deportation policies, immoral drone strikes, or secretive trade deals, there are plenty of legitimate policy critiques of this administration that simply never get establishment media traction because they don’t dovetail nicely with a GOP bumper sticker. The only recent major news story that has included notable left-wing critiques of the White House—about the sweeping surveillance of our national security state—required an unprecedented leak of classified NSA documents from Edward Snowden to ignite it and a steady drip of other leaks to keep it alit. Whatever one’s feelings about Snowden, even President Obama has acknowledged his leaks have spurred a valuable debate about surveillance and privacy issues. But the complex nature of the NSA story doesn’t bode well for substantive reform. That’s because, without readymade soundbites from the GOP, the process-obsessed DC press isn’t really wired to dig into the details of the issue on its own and notice the administration’s deeds often don’t match Obama’s words. But of all these instances, A similar failure by the press has occurred with Obamacare.
In his CJR essay, Nyhan focused on why the press mostly ignored the now infamous promise by Obama that: “If you like your insurance, you can keep it.” As Nyhan points out, holding such a statement up to the light of truth would have necessitated a press corps that is more than a cat’s paw for angry Republicans intent on destroying Obamacare at all costs. Back in 2009 and 2010, could a more robust, honest debate on the law’s impact on the private insurance market have prevented millions of cancellation letters? Perhaps. We’ll never know because simply passing the current law was a Herculean achievement thanks to a press corps that chose to waste much of its coverage lending legitimacy to shameful conservative myths like the “death panels” lie.
In the end, this willingness on the part of the establishment press to forego its singular role as watchdog of the president hurts more than just journalism. We are all poorer for it, as it gives undeserved attention to partisan arguments made in bad faith and overlooks substantive critiques that could make our government and country work better. Making common cause with the right-wing may seem like an effective way for the media to foster more White House accountability, but as CBS News found out this past week, that's playing in a game no amount of luck will let it win. And it brings to mind another old poker saying that the rest of the press would do well to remember the next time it thinks about sitting down with the GOP: If you look around the table and you can’t pick out who the sucker is, it’s you.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.
I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
*A later blog post about the book did have a couple of small errors, but these were entirely technical matters, including a typo and an "a" that should have been a "the," but these did not in any way affect any issues of substance with regard to my arguments or analysis of the work.
In general, I believe in forgiveness in public life. With social media and ubiquitous cameras, we’ve built ourselves a digital panopticon. Sometimes people are going to be caught at their worst, and it shouldn’t define who they are.
Still, it’s puzzling that Alec Baldwin keeps getting a pass for so frequently morphing from an urbane liberal into a raving bigot. In 2011, he complained to his Twitter followers about an “Uptight Queen barista named JAY” at a 93rd Street Starbucks; as offensive as the homophobia was the bullying of an ill-paid service worker who’d dared displease him. Then, in a confrontation earlier this year, he allegedly called a black New York Post photographer a “coon” and a “crackhead.” Just a few months ago, he went on a berserk homophobic Twitter rant against a Daily Mail reporter who had accused Baldwin’s wife of tweeting at a funeral: “I want all of my followers and beyond to straighten out this fucking little bitch, George Stark…If put my foot up your fucking ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too much … I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna fuck…you…up.”
Somehow, because he’s a charming white man with good politics, none of this seemed to touch him, and a month ago he got his own show on MSNBC, Up Late with Alec Baldwin, airing Fridays at 10 pm. Now, of course, he’s in trouble for calling a paparazzo a “cocksucking fag.” (He claims he really said “cocksucking fathead,” which would still be homophobic in the unlikely event that it were true.) Then, in a weird stunt, he dragged his hairdresser before reporters to testify to his good will towards gays, which is sort of like Republicans claiming that they can’t be racist because they love Herman Cain.
Given Baldwin’s history, this was all pretty predictable, but it puts MSNBC in a difficult spot. Had a Fox News host done what Baldwin did, MSNBC would be in full outrage mode right now; I might well be sitting in makeup at 30 Rock getting ready to join in. If the network isn’t going to fire Baldwin, it should at least take him off the air tonight. The right-wingers suddenly clutching their pearls about homophobic hate speech are obviously acting in bad faith. Still, they sort of have a point.
In the past twenty-four hours, both the White House and House Democrats have said they want an extension of unemployment benefits included in the upcoming budget deal—and now senior Senate Democratic aides close to the budget discussions have told The Nation that they are pushing for an extension as well.
The Democratic Senate negotiating team for the budget talks “would absolutely be interested in whether getting a fix would be possible in this deal,” said the aide, who also noted that naturally “the big question is whether Republicans would be open to that.” Representative Paul Ryan, who is leading the Republican negotiating team in the House, did not return a request for comment.
Without a Congressional fix, 1.3 million Americans who are long-term unemployed—meaning they’ve been out of work for six months or more—will lose access to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Another 850,000 would lose access in the first quarter of 2014 (chart courtesy National Employment Law Project):
The program was created in 2008 to help support Americans who remained jobless after their state unemployment funds ran out. There were 4.1 million long-term unemployed Americans in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher than at any point in the Great Recession.
A fix would throw a crucial lifeline to those job-seekers, and also provide an economic return of $1.74 for every federal dollar spent. The program has been expanded or renewed eleven times since it was created—but almost always in crisis standoffs like the looming budget talks. With Democrats now unified from the White House through the two chambers, the prospects are certainly looking up—but the question is whether Republicans will go along, and at what cost.
George Zornick on how the next fiscal cliff could jeopordize the long-term unemployed.
As Congress debates an overhaul of the military justice system to stem an epidemic of sexual assault, the armed forces are struggling to conceal their own internal divisions over the scope of reform. According to a senior officer who spoke with The Nation, the military is actively encouraging service members to lobby against legislation that would curb commanders’ authority over the prosecution of sexual assault cases, while suppressing pro-reform voices within the ranks.
Asked what would happen if he advocated publicly for limiting the power of commanders, the officer, a high-level Air Force lawyer (known as a Judge Advocate General, or JAG) with decades of experience with sexual assault and other criminal cases said, “It would kill my chances of ever having a good job again… I would be ostracized.” He concluded, “It would be the end of my career.”
At issue is a proposed change to the military justice system to give military lawyers, rather than commanding officers, the power to determine whether accusations of a serious crime warrant a trial. The Senate is divided over the proposal (introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and known as the Military Justice Improvement Act, or MJIA), one of several reforms being considered. Survivors’ advocates say MJIA is critical to shield victims from retaliation, but it has elicited total opposition from the top brass, who argue that commanders’ authority to convene a court-martial is essential to their ability to maintain good order and discipline.
The JAG’s account raises the question of whether Congress has heard a representative range of military opinions as it considers historic reforms. According to the JAG, perspectives on taking prosecutions out of the chain of command are decidedly more mixed within the ranks than the brass’ testimony would suggest. As a result, he believes, the debate in Congress has been skewed.
“The people who are opposed to the Gillibrand amendment don’t understand that there is a different view within the DOD,” he told The Nation. “There is not this monolithic view that they want Congress to believe that all commanders support [preserving convening authority], at all.” But because of the strict hierarchy within the military, officers who support MJIA have not been able to make the case for reform to Congress. (At press time, the Department of Defense had not responded to inquiries from The Nation.)
Other active-duty service members are beginning to speak privately to lawmakers about the importance of MJIA, said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network and a former Marine Corps captain. “The First Amendment is an interesting gray area when it comes to wearing a uniform,” she told The Nation. Another prominent survivors’ advocate told The Nation that “behind the scenes, many commanders support this reform.”
Already, a number of retired generals, veterans groups and the DOD’s own advisory committee on women in the services have recommended removing the decision to prosecute serious crimes from the chain of command. That has left the top brass scrambling to maintain the impression of unified opposition.
“The reason we have so many generals is not to fight a war but to keep Congress off balance,” said Brig. Gen. David L. McGinnis (retired), who sent a letter of support to Senator Gillibrand, the New York Democrat working to add MJIA to the Defense Authorization Act, which will receive a vote in the Senate sometime before Thanksgiving. McGinnis, who is in contact with active-duty commanders, told The Nation that he agrees with the JAG that opposition to MJIA is not uniform throughout the ranks. “I believe there is a lot of angst at mid-level leadership, at least in the Army,” he said. He accounts the pushback from the top to “a hidden law among the military cultures: Don’t let Congress change anything. If they find out they can change one thing, they’ll be willing to change a lot more.”
As Congress debates MJIA, commanders have encouraged service members to weigh in against the measure. In October, Air Force Lt. General Richard C. Harding, the Air Force’s legal adviser, and Col. Jeffrey Rockwell sent a letter to fellow Air Force lawyers explaining the importance of the chain of command in the military justice system. “[M]any of us have engaged with members of Congress, their staffs and members of the media to teach, implore and explain the reasons, or the ‘why’ behind commanders’ authority and the current set-up of the military justice system,” Harding wrote. “Please read, absorb and share with your commanders and media types wherever you are located. This will truly make a difference.”
Susan Burke, a lawyer who has worked with several survivors of military sexual assault, asked the Air Force inspector general to investigate the letter’s authors. “General Harding and Colonel Rockwell improperly seek to use their influence as leaders in the Air Force to rally support against the political movement attempting to remove sexual assault claims from the military chain of command,” she wrote. Burke cited Air Force rules requiring members to “remain politically neutral and divorced from partisan politics” and prohibiting them from using “official authority or influence to…solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue.”
An Air Force spokesperson denied any impropriety, and said in a statement that the intent of the letter “is to ensure AF [Air Force] leaders and commanders are current on the issue and communicate it properly and clearly to interested publics, nothing more.”
The Air Force JAG who spoke to The Nation confirmed that he also had been encouraged by superiors to write editorials and otherwise argue publicly in favor of preserving commanders’ convening authority. “We’re constantly told in staff meetings and other meetings that we need to fight this, that if Gillibrand’s proposal is passed it will destroy the system,” he said. “There’s never an opportunity to give a contrary opinion.”
All of the active-duty military personnel who have testified before Congress and before the independent panel charged with recommending reforms have expressed opposition to MJIA. According to the Air Force JAG, this reflects deliberate decisions about who is sent to the Capitol. “When they send people to Congress to talk to staffers…they will only send people who support commanders in charge. They will not send anybody who disagrees with that position.”
That leaves only outside advocates and retired officers to challenge statements made by top brass, many of which have been misleading, the JAG believes. He pointed to the claim, made repeatedly by the Pentagon and Gillibrand’s opponents in the Senate, that convening authority is critical to a commander’s ability to enforce good order and discipline within the ranks. But convening authority is not always a function of command; although all commanders are responsible for good order and discipline, many already lack the power to take serious criminal cases to court martial.
“This idea that ‘oh, gosh, I can’t do my job unless I’m a convening authority,’ is laughable,” the JAG said. Brig. Gen. McGinnis agreed. “Don’t talk to me about readiness,” he said. “Once you violate the dignity of individuals in your command, your whole readiness equation starts to deteriorate. It’s like rotten apples.”
Commanders’ lack of legal experience also leaves victims and anyone falsely accused of a crime vulnerable. “We would never expect somebody who is getting medical treatment to ask your commander what kind of treatment they should get, or give commanders the authority to tell them what kind of medical treatment they get, because it’s just ludicrous. Yet when it comes to our area of expertise, the justice system, we defer to commanders in making these decisions. It makes no sense,” the JAG said.
He also pushed back against a claim made by Senator Claire McCaskill, a former civilian prosecutor, that military lawyers would shy away from tough cases out of concerns for their win-loss ratio. “In the world [McCaskill] dealt with, where these prosecutors were elected and their win-loss records are something they trumpet in the campaign, yeah, I suppose that happens,” he said. “Military prosecutors have no political motivation to avoid difficult cases [because] they don’t have to worry about elections.”
McCaskill is one of the most prominent opponents of MJIA, along with fellow Democrat and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, and Republicans Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham. Gillibrand’s amendment is likely to draw a filibuster, meaning she’ll need fifty-nine supporters. So far forty-seven of her colleague have committed, including eight Republicans. Both sides are engaged in an intense campaign to win over some thirty undecided senators.
McCaskill and Ayotte have argued that “the victim community is not monolithic” in its support for MJIA. That may be true, but it appears neither is the military in its opposition.
“You know they always talk about how, you know, look how great we did with the end of segregation—yeah, because you were forced to do it,” the Air Force JAG said. “The same with this. They just resist change.”
Zoë Carpenter on how the VA is discriminating against thousands of victims of military sexual trauma.
Protesting what they see as blatant corruption at the highest levels of government, Bulgarian students have occupied their national university, kicking out teachers and the media and locking the doors behind them.
In a series of protests that has now gone on for more than five months, the students at Sofia University and other universities across Bulgaria have decided to fight for their future in a nation where their outlook is growing increasingly grim: The highest rates of poverty in the European Union, a government that they claim is ruled by a “mafia” that controls the media and pillages national resources, and the wholesale flight of an entire generation of college graduates to other countries.
“As a citizen, I have to speak for myself to make a difference. That’s the reason I stayed in Bulgaria,” said law student Aleksandrina Ikosomova, 19. “I love my country and I love the people. I don’t want to run somewhere else because I’m not happy with our political situation.”
Since general protests ousted the center-right government in March of this year, students had pinned their hopes on the new socialist government led by Plamen Oresharski. When reports surfaced of the same corruption and graft that has impoverished the nation and put money and power in the hands of a few oligarchs, students reacted with outrage.
It didn’t matter who is in charge, because they are all serving the same people,” said history student Mina Hristova, 23. “We decided to occupy the university and focus on one question for the Bulgarian people to ask: Who? Who is behind the corruption? We don’t have to know the answers right now, but the answer is the most important question for our society.
Students occupied Sofia University on October 23, after the country’s constitutional court upheld the appointment of a media mogul as the head of the State Agency for National Security. When the chief lawyer of the court failed to arrive at a heavily protested lecture at the university he’d previously scheduled, students stayed in the lecture hall. Some of them brought chains. By the end of the night, everyone but students had been ejected from the school, with student-appointed sentries standing guard at the gates, blocking entrance for anyone without a student ID. Bulgarian media has been banned from the school because of widespread coverage that the students believe inaccurately reflected the protests. Almost all of the media in Bulgaria is owned by a handful of businessmen, all with deep ties to the ruling government.
We only allow foreign journalists into the school, and we do this to shame the Bulgarian journalists,” Hristova said.
Inside the school, banners hang from the ceiling and signs litter the floor, as rooms are filled with students either sleeping, eating or planning their next protest action. Contrary to the reports of drunken parties propagated by the Bulgarian media, alcohol is strictly forbidden.
Inside room 237, the school of law’s main lecture hall, an executive council sits behind the lecturer’s desk, holding almost non-stop meetings with fellow students. As the occupation has dragged on, protesting students from across the nation have begun flowing into the country’s central university. Unlike occupations that adhere to the rules of non-hierarchical rules of consensus, like Occupy Wall Street, the students at Sofia University have an executive council that presides over meetings, and ultimately decides the direction of the protests. Also, unlike OWS, they have an actual microphone.
At a meeting on Wednesday night, students debated how best to encourage more of their fellow students to join the protests. Already, a group referred to by the occupying students as the “contras” have asked the occupiers to leave the school, so they and other students could resume their classes. Most of the discussion however, has centered on the violence of November 14, when students and police clashed outside parliament as students and allied protesters attempted a siege of the national government.
As police attempted to provide passage through the crowd for departing members of parliament, riot police began beating back protesters, some of whom had knocked down barricades in front of parliament and had started throwing objects at the police.
“They started hitting people. But we can’t handle this anymore,” said law student Jordan Tsalov, 20. “We were radical and they were radical. I was taken down by the police and taken into a police van in which I was beaten. When they arrested me, I showed no aggression. I was given a black eye and bruising along my side. I don’t know which police officers did it.”
Police officers in Sofia, many of whom have been called in from other parts of the country to assist in policing the protests, have not been wearing name tags or ID numbers at the protests, which protesters say violates the law. On November 15, they delivered a signed appeal to the defense ministry to let police officers identify themselves and know who is accountable for some acts of violence.
Walking through the dimly lit school (the students don’t know where many of the light switches are and some utility rooms remain locked), Mina Hristova pointed out the custodial and security workers who are still cleaning the school and keeping it running.
“They support us. The first few days, they had to leave. But they came back when we decided we didn’t want them to lose money or their jobs because of our protest,” she said.
Food donations have poured in from well-wishers, keeping the students fed as they plan upcoming protests. This weekend, the two major political parties will rally (the students support neither), setting the stage for a particularly turbulent few days. In the School of Theater (also occupied) students stay up through the night, planning political performances to coincide with the protests. They don’t know what to do with them yet, but someone donated 100 gas masks and offered them the use of horses.
“We’re theater students, so we’ll figure it out,” student-director Lyubomira Kostova told me.
Fighting for their future in a poor country where corruption has marred development since the fall of the Soviet Union, the students at Sofia University have taken dear hold of what little is theirs: Their classrooms and their friends. They’ll take whatever else they can get, even if its the parliament.
At the close of the 1976 Republican convention in Kansas City, after President Gerald Ford barely squeaked out the nomination against Ronald Reagan, the Reagan aide David Keene gave a revealing interview to The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Drew.
Keene is a conservative movement lifer. In college he was national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. He ran for public office only once, for Wisconsin state senate, in 1969, and lost, then worked for Spiro Agnew in the White House back when the loud-mouthed vice president was the conservatives’ Great White Horse for president (“Spiro of ’76”). He became an assistant to the conservative senator James Buckley (William F.’s brother). He was chairman of the American Conservative Union from 1984 until 2011. At the time Drew spoke with him, Keene had been the head of Reagan’s presidential campaign in the South. In my Nation cover story last week about the Tea Party’s continuities with conservatism past, when I wrote about the right’s “ideological entrepreneurs” who work to leverage grassroots outrage into conservative power, Keene is exactly the sort of figure I had in mind.
In Kansas City, Keene spoke to Drew of the anger against Reagan among conservatives for his last-minute gambit to save his failing presidential bid by choosing a liberal running mate, Senator Richard Shweiker of Pennsylvania, who had received a 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education. Reagan had defended his decision by stressing Schweiker’s agreement with him on abortion and gun control. Carped Keene, “These are all window-dressing issues. What about the economy?” Keene insisted that it was “economic issues” that conservatives really cared about. He explained, “The picture of hardhats taking to the streets over abortion and gun control is misleading. Those issues aren’t what people care about. What it really comes down to is the economic system and the theory that the government is too big. The big things that thinking conservatives think about involve questions of economics and questions of freedom. They draw on the frustration in the country from the increasing feeling that people can’t do anything about anything.”
He was wrong—as the organizers of the nascent New Right would soon be concluding en masse. Yes, people were feeling plenty of frustration about not being able to do anything about anything when it came to their economic lives. But conservative leaders proved entirely ineffectual at “drawing on that” to get people to believe conservative solutions were the answer to their economic frustrations.
It is, in fact, a truism, confirmed by nearly half a century of political polling, a fact brilliantly explained in a must-read article at Salon.com from Paul Rosenberg. It was true even after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential victory, and his 1984 landslide reelection. Consider the statistics compiled in the perennially useful 1986 study Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics, by Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers. One poll they cite from Opinion Research Corporation asked voters in 1980 whether “too much” was being spent on the environment, health, education, welfare and urban aide programs. Only 21 percent thought so, the same percentage as in 1976, 1977 and 1978. The amount saying the amount spent was either “too little” or “about right” was never lower in those years than 72 percent. The number favoring keeping “taxes and services about where they are” was the same in 1975 and 1980—45 percent. The pattern continued well into Reagan’s presidency. In 1983 the Los Angeles Times found that only 5 percent of Americans found regulations “too strict,” while 42 percent called them “not strong enough.” Between 1978 and 1982, according to surveys from the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, the number of voters who wished to “expand” rather than “cut back” not just social spending in general but the dreaded “welfare” programs, increased by 26 percentage points. And finally, in 1984, when Reagan’s approval rating was 68 percent, only 35 percent favored cuts in social programs to reduce the deficit, which of course was their president’s strenuously stated preference on the matter. Sixty-five percent believed such cuts were imminent—and, of course, that November, well over 60 percent of them voted for Reagan instead of the Democrat Walter Mondale.
So how did the New Right ever manage to achieve its political thunder? How did they help elect Ronald Reagan when so few Americans, despite Keane’s confidence in 1976 they could be swayed, proved to be economic Reaganites? It was by selling what Keane called those “window dressing” issues—over which people suffering “the increasing feeling [they] can’t do anything about anything” were willing to follow conservatism’s lead.
Richard Viguerie once reflected on his and his New Right comrades’ frustration at their inability to get Christians to care about the Washington Marxists’ stealing their freedom—until Jimmy Carter’s IRS commissioner took away the tax deduction for Christian schools that served the cause of school segregation. “It kicked the sleeping dog…. it was the real spark that ignited the religious right’s involvement in politics.” (Then, incidentally, leaders like Viguerie lied so as not to make their constituency sound racist by retroactively claiming that it was Roe v. Wade that had done the trick.) An activated religious right helped put Reaganism over the top—after which Reaganites retroactively claimed a mandate to push economic conservatism.
It’s not that these conservative leaders didn’t care about about what were then called the “social issues”—in addition to abortion and gun control and keeping the IRS out of Christian schools, the ones that counted back then included the Equal Rights Amendment, gay rights and “secular humanism” in the public schools. It’s just that, in their heart of hearts, just like David Keene said, they cared about helping business more. I always found it revealing that, both times I sat in Richard Viguerie’s private office to interview him about the history of conservatism, the books that sat on his coffee tables were not about abortionists or secular humanists or other ungodly creatures, but about the evils of unions. Business, in turn, eagerly lapped up the help on offer.
This is the context we need to understand as we evaluate the question of whether the romance between the business lobby and the conservative movement, in its current Tea Party incarnation, can ever really cool. I don’t think it will. And it’s true that there are many different kinds of corporations, with all sorts of social agendas and interests. The sort of political division among capitalists I described in the first part of this series still obtains in various forms; Tom Frank writes, for example, about the “cool billionaires”—hedge fund folks, tech wizards—and “square billionaires”—resource extractors like the Kochs—the first preferred by corporate Democrats, the second by corporate Republicans. But you only need to consider the outrage of corporate executives over that one little time Obama used the phrase “fat cats” to know toward which side the ledger truly tips. And when it comes to business and conservatism, though some disciplining from the big-money boys might occur around the edges, they’re just too organically intertwined, in the ways I wrote about in my second part, to effect a divorce.
One of the most important things liberal don’t understand about conservatism, obscured by too much lazy talk about conservatism’s various “wings,” is that its tenets form a relatively organic base for its adherents, where “traditional morality” serves the interests of laissez-faire economics and vice-versa. This holds true whether the individual conservative in question is a sincere “traditionalist” or not. Howard Phillips, who died this year, was certainly a sincere traditionalist: he eventually became an outright Christian Reconstructionist, a fan of returning to the punishment of stoning for those who flout Leviticus’ codes. Both the thought of right-wing intellectual guru Leo Strauss and the neoconservative tradition itself as exemplified by a figure like William Kristol (“thinking conservatives,” in Keene’s revealing phrase) have a quiet tradition of allowing that religious orthodoxy is crucial to keeping society orderly and the masses in line, but something they’re far too smart to subscribe to themselves. (This tribute that the right paid to virtue was brilliantly flushed out eight years ago when The New Republic’s Ben Adler asked ten leading conservative intellectuals what they really thought about Genesis’ account of creation.) A similar perspective holds true for corporate masters of the universe as well: “tradition” keeps the worker bees tractable, after all. If you’re a capitalist, or just capitalism’s biggest fan, conservatism works.
The best writing about this ironic organic unity between “traditional morality” and tradition-wrecking capitalist creative destruction comes from the University of Georgia’s Bethany Moreton, in To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise, and, approaching the issue from the other side of the business-conservatism/Christian-conservatism divide, the University of West Georgia’s Daniel K. Williams. Williams argues that laissez-faire was a perfect fit for a figure like Jerry Falwell, too: after all, it was only natural for a Sun Belt entrepreneur like himself, the proprietor of a media network, to preach “that capitalism was a divinely ordained system and that hard work was the key to success, and he exemplified those virtues by logging ninety-hour workdays to turn his church into an ecclesiastical business empire.”
This marriage works so well (for them; not so much for us) because conservatism provides such a great way to manage the very anxieties capitalist creative destruction engenders: convince folks the true threat to families is “liberalism,” not licentious corporate greed, and you’ve worked a pretty neat trick—if you’re a capitalist. What’s more, it’s a great way to get scared victims of capitalism to the polls. The incomparable journalistic chronicler of the religious right and its corporate entanglements, Adele Stan, now of RH Reality Check, unearthed a luminescent recent example:
There is little doubt that the rash of anti-choice measures that flooded the legislative dockets in state capitols in 2013 was a coordinated effort by anti-choice groups and major right-wing donors lurking anonymously behind the facades of the non-profit “social welfare” organizations unleashed to tear up the political landscape, thanks to the high court’s decision in Citizens United….
Helping to drive the right-wing offensive in the states and in Congress is a network of deep-pocketed business titans convened by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, principals in Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States. Like the Kochs themselves, many of the donors in the brothers’ networks signal disinterest in fighting against women’s rights or LGBTQ rights, yet anti-choice groups have seen their coffers swell with millions of the network’s dollars.
“If you want to promote a pro-corporate agenda, you’re only going to get so far,” Sue Sturgis, the Durham, North Carolina-based editorial director of the progressive website Facing South, told RH Reality Check. “But when you start weaving in these social issues like abortion and other reproductive rights issues, then you’re gonna appeal to a broader range of people, and a very motivated voting bloc. They will turn out. So it serves your larger cause.”
That explains why David Keene has finally come around. A past master at exploiting conservatism in the service of corporate cupidity—review if you dare the extraordinary story of how the American Conservative Union under his reign sold itself to the highest bidder in a trade dispute between FedEx and UPS—he’s now one “thinking conservative” who knows that social conservatism is no longer “window dressing.” Nope: he’s now president of the National Rifle Association—the poster-child organization (read our own Lee Fang) for the proposition that scaring people over culture is a splendid way to keep the capital flowing.
Social conservatism, business conservatism: the one side constitutes the other, like some infernal Mobius strip. Let’s not mistake the growls from the US Chamber of Commerce about taking on some Tea Partiers as signs of an imminent divorce. I suspect it’s more more like a lovers’ quarrel.
In the second part of this series, Rick Perlstein explains how conservatives came to embrace Wall Street in the 1970s.
—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“States Moving Beyond U.S. Minimum Wage as Congress Stalls,” by William Selway & Jim Efstathiou Jr., Bloomberg, November 12, 2013.
Earning a minimum wage in an expensive city makes for a generally unpleasant experience—but although I’m grimly acquainted with this situation, I can’t fathom how difficult it must be for those supporting dependents. There are rumblings within congressional bodies across the country to increase the minimum wage as popular support has surged in favor of the idea. Those within the business sector often allege the old lie that raising the minimum wage “hurts the very people it’s trying to help;” true that in the short term some miserly businesses may cut their number of workers to shield the revenue stream for shareholders and higher-level executives, but it’s completely medieval to keep the minimum wage at its current level. Had the wage kept pace with either worker productivity or inflation, it would now be somewhere between $21.72 and $10.52.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“Socialize Social Media!” by Benjamin Kunkel. n+1, November 8, 2013.
In light of the frenzy of Twitter going public, n+1 senior editor Benjamin Kunkel underscores the need to view the digital spaces in which we socialize as publicly owned commons. Profits drawn from the sum of our social interactions, he argues, degrade the quality of these “public utilities” and constitute “a form of social rent.” He unfortunately glosses over the possibility (or inevitability) of government snooping, but, well, it’s a manifesto. He gets some slack.
—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.
“The Video-Game Invasion of Iraq,” by Simon Parkin. The New Yorker, November 13, 2013.
This account of an 18-year-old Iraqi student’s obsession with violent American video games, which he describes as his only escape from the continued devastation of his country, illustrates the ongoing effects of the bungled American invasion and occupation of Iraq through a more personal lens. With the death toll rising by the month due to reignited sectarian violence, it is important to read personalized accounts of the lives impacted behind the headlines listing the number of dead.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“America Has a Long Way to Go Before It’s Fully ‘Clitorate’,” by Anna Lekas Miller. Alternet, October 2, 2013.
It’s that time in your news cycle again when everyone in the media tries to put their finger on what exactly is wrong with women and their orgasms. The New York Times squirreled away an exposé on why women who engage in hook-up culture have fewer orgasms than men on its ‘Well’ blog. The conclusion: women achieve orgasm more easily when they are in a committed relationship (cause we all know that the invention of happy couples came before the invention of sex). Katie McDonough at Salon responded with a meek suggestion that perhaps the real culprits are performance anxiety and discomfort around strangers; she too cites studies. Her article unfolds below a picture of two pairs of white feet, one big and one small, innocently poking out from beneath a white sheet. And Bustle approved of this orgasm-talk with its obligatory high-five to all click-bait floating about the feminist blogosphere: “So, my slutty contemporaries, carry on!” How to make sense of this muddle? I refer you to former Nation intern Anna Lekas Miller’s excellent interview from a few weeks back with artist Sophia Wallace, whose traveling street art, installation and viral information campaign “Cliteracy” seeks to raise awareness about what the clitoris is, where it is and how to debunk the many cultural myths that obscure it.
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“How States Rejecting the Medicaid Expansion Sabotaged Their Biggest Cities,” by Emily Badger. The Atlantic Cities, November 11, 2013.
Large urban hospitals already provide healthcare to thousands of uninsured and underinsured patients each year. Yet the twenty-six Republican-controlled states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion have added to their burden; eight require that counties contribute to the non-federal share of Medicaid costs and fifteen are now insisting that counties provide some kind of indigent care. Instead of receiving much-needed financial support through the ACA, these overburdened city hospitals—and the taxpayers who live in their vicinity—will continue to be saddled with the responsibility of funding healthcare for America’s uninsured.
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures,” by Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati. Reuters, November 11, 2013.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the top cleric in Iran and has the final say in every government decision, but this six-month investigation by Reuters explores another reason why he has been able to hang onto power for twenty-four years: his grasp on major aspects of Iran’s economy through a highly secretive government organization. Part one describes how the organization known as Setad has been seizing and consolidating billions of dollars worth of property belonging to the marginalized Baha’i community, a group whose religion is seen as heresy by Iran’s Muslim majority. Part two describes how the organization later went on to claim major stakes in the banking and telecommunications sectors and was added to the list of companies overseen by the US State Department’s sanctions list. Finally, in part three, we see how Setad has continued to build its economic empire by stretching the limits of the law under Khamenei’s watch.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Refugees in Bulgaria face death threats,” by Krassimir Yankov. Al Jazeera, November 13, 2013.
“People in Syria told me Bulgaria is good. This is not true.” Thus speaks a young Syrian who has fled the violence and injustice of his country to seek a better life in Europe. I’ve written here before about the rise of fascist groups in Eastern and Western Europe, so it’s not surprising—if no less chilling—that some Bulgarians are adopting hard-right anti-immigrant views that would seem more at home under the World War II regime of Tsar Boris III. But the details of the miserable conditions in refugee camps, the violence these immigrants are suffering—and, most importantly, the fact that the state’s machinery is allowing this to happen—are all particularly worrying. Refugees are being dehumanized both by this violence, these conditions and in the popular press, where they have been called “cannibals.” Hopefully good reporting such as this piece will force legislation against hate crimes and the rise of the far right.
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America, with an emphasis on Cuba.
“Venezuelan Soldiers Deployed to Stores,” by William Neuman. The New York Times, November 11, 2013.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is not facing an easy first term. Galloping inflation, tough government control on the export of hard foreign currency, soaring prices despite strict official price controls and widespread shortages of basic goods have the country in economic turmoil. At the same time, Venezuelan opposition figures seek to take advantage of—and according to Maduro, foment—these issues in their campaign to take back power in the upcoming elections. On Friday, President Maduro ordered the military occupation of electronics chain Daka in order to supervise government-imposed prices.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“One day in the life of Mikhail Khodorkovsky,” by Neil Buckley. Financial Times, October 24, 2013.
That an elite businessman worth an estimated $15 billion could end up in prison for ten years (and perhaps more) seems—a little sadly—unimaginable to me as an American. But that’s what happened to Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 after a fallout with President Vladimir Putin. After providing some context for Khodorkovsky’s incredible downfall, Buckley let’s him describe in his own words the conditions of his life in Russia’s prison system.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley,” by Evgeny Morozov. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 11, 2013.
Morozov shows—with examples that may seem like the product of a Luddite’s wild imagination but are in fact real (see: Facebook’s real-time ad auctions)—why his critique of Silicon Valley is not a digital, but a deeply political and economic, one.
There was a wonderful public “memorial” for Lou Reed Thursday afternoon outdoors at Lincoln Center in NYC, amid the opera, philharmonic, dance and theater shrines, with just his music blaring over speakers and people gathering and dancing and playing air guitar for several hours. No speeches. No tribute songs by the famous. Just Lou himself.
And yes, he did hang out at Lincoln Center a lot, even gave a ringing endorsement of Occupy there, captured on video.
Here are three vids. First, a little “Rock and Roll.” Then, the great Sandi Bachom’s footage of what happened when they played “Walk on the Wild Side.” And, yes, the seventeen-minute “Sister Ray,” complete with, ahem, off-color lyrics. Proud to say, I helped her ID “Sister Ray.”
John Nichols reminds us of Lou Reed’s radical politics.
Far be it from me to distract from the important blaming and shaming around the Obamacare website. But if we do have a minute left for our actual health, can we talk about the radiation threat that seems to be soaring on the Pacific?
I don’t want to frighten anyone unduly, so I’ll quote the calm people at Reuters:
The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will as early as this week begin removing 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented operation fraught with risk.
That’s Reuters. Nuclear researcher Harvey Wasserman says things more to the effect of “What the F’ity F. F?”
The point is, since an earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in March of 2011, the fuel rods at Reactor Number Four have been in dangerously delicate shape. They can’t heat up, be exposed to air or break without releasing deadly gas, but the cooling pool they’ve been resting in is leaky and corroded by seawater and could never withstand another tremor or quake.
Starting any day now, Tokyo Electric or TEPCO, is going to begin plucking more than 1,500 brittle and potentially damaged fuel assemblies out of where they are and placing them in new casks.
Each assembly contains some 50-70 spent fuel rods, weighs around 660 pounds and measures fifteen feet long. And I did mention the pool is 100 feet up?
Operations like this are usually done by robot, but here it has to be done by hand because the rods are out of place and the pool’s still littered with junk.
In the GRITtv studios this week Wasserman compared the operation to the fairground game of lowering a clunky mechanical claw into a crowded glass box to snag a prize.
I for one, usually drop it.
It’s important we do more than hold our breath. After years of mistakes, cover-ups and fibs, nuclear watchers don’t want to give TEPCO another chance. A hundred and fifty thousand people have signed a petition calling for the world to take over at once.
It’s certainly a world problem. Tepco has already admitted that 300 tons of toxic water are belching into the Pacific every day, and as long as a year ago, Oregon State University researchers found traces of Fukushima cesium in West Coast Fish.
What next? We can’t afford to wait to find out.
For the very latest from me, and to be one of the first to see what Wasserman had to say about the world’s worst nuclear accident, sign up to join the mailing list at GRITtv.org. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed of these weekly commentaries at SoundCloud
It's not allowed to happen in Russia, or in Kazakhstan—but in the United States, children as young as twelve are allowed to toil on tobacco farms, performing backbreaking work and putting their health and lives at risk. As Gabriel Thompson and Mariya Strauss document in The Nation, agricultural work is dangerous: on top of exposure to heavy pesticides and the possibility of acute nicotine poisoning, young workers are vulnerable to hazards involving farm vehicles, grain silos and manure pits.
The Children's Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), introduced by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard but blocked by the GOP-controlled Education and Workforce Committee, would bring child labor standards in line with protections in other industries and increase civil penalties for abuse. The measure faces stiff opposition, but the exploitation of children, in the final telling, should be impossible to defend.
Join The Nation in calling for an end to child labor in agriculture. Contact your representatives and demand they fight to bring the CARE Act up for a vote. Then tweet at Representative John Kline (@repjohnkline), chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, and demand his committee act to fight this gross injustice.
In the latest issue of The Nation, Gabriel Thompson sheds light on the hazards faced by children working in tobacco fields, while Mariya Strauss documents the ways in which lax regulations have put kids' lives in danger.
In Fingers to the Bone: Child Farmworkers in the United States, Human Rights Watch takes a close look at the lives of the kids the CARE Act would seek to protect..