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The Nation

The Alternative to Diplomacy Over Ukraine Is ‘Unthinkable’

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland last summer. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, President Obama criticized Russia for running “roughshod over its neighbors” and reaffirmed Washington’s endorsement of the de facto government in Kiev. He acknowledged that the West was not prepared to use military force to retrieve Crimea, but assured the anxious Baltic States bordering Russia that they are safe under NATO's auspices. Russia scholar and longtime Nation contributor Stephen Cohen joined Bloomberg Radio’s The Hays Advantage to give his take on the situation in Ukraine. Cohen says the provocations coming from all sides—Moscow, Washington, Brussels and Kiev—are fueling “the worst crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis internationally between the United States and Russia.” Presently some 20,000 Russian troops have been assembled on the Russian border with Eastern Ukraine, and NATO commanders and ministers in Washington and Brussels are discussing the possibility of moving NATO troops into Western Ukraine. “A lot of this is bluster and show, but we can’t be sure,” Cohen says. “We need immediately to demilitarize everything—the rhetoric, the troop movements and the rest—because there is a diplomatic way out.” Indeed, there has to be, for the alternative to a negotiated settlement between the US and Russia is, as Cohen puts it, “unthinkable.” 

—David Kortava

Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret

Svoboda

The Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda holds a rally in Kiev, January 1, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

As the Ukrainian crisis has unfolded over the past few weeks, it’s hard for Americans not to see Vladimir Putin as the big villain. But the history of the region is a history of competing villains vying against one another; and one school of villains—the Nazis—have a long history of engagement with the United States, mostly below the radar, but occasionally exposed, as they were by Russ Bellant in his book Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party (South End Press, 1991). Bellant's exposure of émigré Nazi leaders from Germany's World War II allies in the 1988 Bush presidential campaign was the driving force in the announced resignation of nine individuals, two of them from Ukraine, which is why he was the logical choice to illuminate the scattered mentions of Nazi and fascist elements among the Ukrainian nationalists, which somehow never seems to warrant further comment or explanation. Of course most Ukrainians aren’t Nazis or fascists—all the more reason to illuminate those who would hide their true natures in the shadows…or even behind the momentary glare of the spotlight.

Your book, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, exposed the deep involvement in the Republican Party of Nazi elements from Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukrainians, dating back to World War II and even before. As the Ukrainian crisis unfolded in the last few weeks, there have been scattered mentions of a fascist or neo-fascist element, but somehow that never seems to warrant further comment or explanation. I can’t think of anyone better to shed light on what’s not being said about that element. The danger of Russian belligerence is increasingly obvious, but this unexamined fascist element poses dangers of its own. What can you tell us about this element and those dangers?

The element has a long history, of a long record that speaks for itself, when that record is actually known and elaborated on. The key organization in the coup that took place here recently was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN], or a specific branch of it known as the Banderas [OUN-B]. They’re the group behind the Svoboda party, which got a number of key positions in the new interim regime. The OUN goes back to the 1920s, when they split off from other groups, and, especially in the 1930s, began a campaign of assassinating and otherwise terrorizing people who didn’t agree with them.

As World War II approached, they made an alliance with the Nazi powers. They formed several military formations, so that when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they had several battalions that went into the main city at the time, where their base was, Lvov, or Lwow, it has a variety of spellings [Lviv today]. They went in, and there’s a documented history of them participating in the identification and rounding up Jews in that city, and assisting in executing several thousand citizens almost immediately. They were also involved in liquidating Polish group populations in other parts of Ukraine during the war.

Without getting deeply involved in that whole history, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists to this day defend their wartime role. They were backers of forming the 14th Waffen SS Division, which was the all-Ukrainian division that became an armed element on behalf of the Germans, and under overall German control. They helped encourage its formation, and after the war, right at the end of the war, it was called the First Ukrainian division. They still glorify that history of that SS division, and they have a veterans organization that obviously doesn’t have too many of members left, but they formed a veterans division of that.

If you look at insignia being worn in Kiev in the street demonstrations and marches, you'll see SS division insignia still being worn. In fact, I was looking at photographs last night of it, and there was a whole formation marching, not with the 14th Division, but with the Second Division. It was a large division that did major battle around Ukraine, and these marchers were wearing the insignia on the armbands of the Second Division.

So this is a very clear record, and the OUN, even in its postwar publications, has called for ethno-genetically pure Ukrainian territory, which of course is simply calling for purging Jews, Poles and Russians from what they consider Ukrainian territory. Also, current leaders of Svoboda have made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks that call for getting rid of Muscovite Jews and so forth. They use this very coarse, threatening language that anybody knowing the history of World War II would tremble at. If they were living here, it would seem like they would start worrying about it.

Obviously these people don’t hold monopoly power in Ukraine, but they stepped up and the United States has been behind the Svoboda party and these Ukrainian nationalists. In fact, the US connections to them go back to World War II, and the United States has had a longstanding tie to the OUN, through the intelligence agencies—initially military intelligence, later the CIA.

Your book discusses a central figure in the OUN, Yaroslav Stetsko, who was politically active for decades here in America. What can you tell us about his history?

Yaroslav Stetsko was the number-two leader of the OUN during World War II and thereafter. In 1959, Stepan Bandera, who was head of the OUN, was killed, and that’s when Stetsko assumed the leadership. Stetsko was the guy who actually marched into Lvov with the German army on June 30, 1941. The OUN issued a proclamation at that time under his name praising and calling for glory to the German leader Adolf Hitler and how they’re going to march arm in arm for Ukraine and so forth. After the war, he was part of the key leadership that got picked up by the Americans.

There’s a number of accounts I’ve seen, at least three credible reports, on how they were in the displaced persons camp—the Allied forces set up displaced persons camps and picked up tens of thousands of these former allies of Hitler from countries all over the East—Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania. There weren’t Polish collaborators; I think most people know the Germans heavily persecuted and murdered millions of Polish residents—but Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and so forth, Belorussia. They had them in these camps they built and organized them, where the Ukrainians were assassinating their Ukrainian nationalist rivals so they would be the undisputed leaders of Ukrainian nationalist movement, so they would get the sponsorship of the United States to continue their political operation, and they were successful in that regard. So when Bandera was out of the picture, Stetsko became the undisputed leader of Ukrainian nationalists.

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in 1943 under German sponsorship organized a multinational force to fight on behalf of the retreating German army. After the battle of Stalingrad in ’43, the Germans felt a heightened need to get more allies, and so the Romanian Iron Guard, the Hungarian Arrow Cross, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and others with military formations in place to assist came together and formed the united front called the Committee of Subjugated Nations, and again worked on behalf of the German military. In 1946, they renamed it the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, or ABN. Stetsko was the leader of that until he died in 1986.

I mention this in part because the OUN tries to say, Well, during the war we fought the Germans and the Communists. The fact of the matter is that they were the leadership of this whole multinational alliance on behalf of the Germans the last two years of the war and in the war thereafter. All the postwar leaders of the unrepentant Nazi allies were under the leadership of Yaroslav Stetsko.

What happened when Stetsko, and others like him from other German allied forces, came to the United States?

In the United States, when they came, his groups organized "captive nations" committees. They became, supposedly, the representatives of people who were being oppressed in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries by the Soviet Union. They were, in fact, being given an uncritical blank check to represent the voices of all these nations that were part of the Warsaw Pact, when in fact they represented the most extreme elements of each of the national communities.

The Captive Nations Committee in Washington, DC, for instance, was run by the person who headed the Ukrainian organization of nationalists; that was true in a number of places. In my hometown area near Detroit, as well, they played a major role. In the early 1950s, when they were resettled in the United States, there were at least 10,000 of them that were resettled, when you look at all the nationalities. They became politically active through the Republican National Committee, because it was really the Eisenhower administration that made the policy decision in the early 1950s, and brought them in. They set up these campaign organizations, every four years they would mobilize for the Republican candidate, whoever it would be, and some of them, like Richard Nixon in 1960, actually had close direct ties to some of the leaders like the Romanian Iron Guard, and some of these other groups.

When Nixon ran for president in 1968, he made a promise to these leaders that they would—if he won the presidency, he would make them the ethnic outreach arm of the Republican National Committee on a permanent basis, so they wouldn’t be a quadrennial presence, but a continuing presence in the Republican Party. And he made that promise through a guy named Laszlo Pasztor, who served five years in prison after World War II for crimes against humanity. He was prosecuted in 1946 by the non-Communist government that actually had control of Hungary at the time (there was a period from ’45 to ’48 when the Hungarian Communist Party didn’t run Hungary). They were the ones who prosecuted him. He had served as a liaison between the Hungarian Nazi party and Berlin; he served in the Berlin embassy of the Hungarian Arrow Cross movement. This is the guy that got picked to organize all the ethnic groups, and the only people that got brought in were the Nazi collaborators.

They didn’t have a Russian affiliate because they hated all Russians of all political stripes. There were no African-Americans or Jewish affiliates either. It was just composed of these elements, and for a while they had a German affiliate, but some exposure of the Nazi character of the German affiliate caused it to be quietly removed, but other [Nazi] elements were retained.

Your book was researched and published in the 1980s. What was happening by that point in time, after these groups had been established for more than a decade?

I went to their meetings in the 1980s, and they put out material that really made clear who they were. One of their 1984 booklets praised the pro-Nazi Ustashi regime in Croatia; these Ustashi killed an estimated 750,000 people and burned them alive in their own camp in Croatia. And here they are praising the founding of this regime, and acknowledging that it was associated with the Nazis, and it was signed by the chairman of the Republican National Committee. You couldn’t make this stuff up! It was just crazy.

I interviewed the Cossack guy; he showed me his pension from service in the SS in World War II, and how he was affiliated with free Nazi groups in the United States, and he was just very unrepentant. These are the umbrellas that were called "Captive Nations Committees" by these people that Stetsko was over, and was part of, too. The Reagan White House brought him in, and promoted him as a major leader and did a big dinner. Jeane Kirkpatrick [UN Ambassador during the Reagan administration] was part of it, George H.W. Bush as Vice President, of course, Reagan—and Stetsko was held up as a great leader. And proclamations were issued on his behalf.

When Bush Senior was running for president in 1988, he came to these, basically one of the leading locations of the Ukrainian nationalists in North America, which is just outside of Detroit, a suburb of Detroit, to their cultural center, and one of their foremost leaders in the world is headquartered out of there. At the time, he got Bush to come there and they denounced the OSI, and Bush just shook his head; he wouldn’t say anything about it.

The OSI was the Office of Special Investigations. It was investigating the presence of Nazi war criminals in the United States, and deporting those who were found to have lied on their history when they applied to come into the United States after the war. They had deported a number of people from all over the United States. They had a lot of open investigations, and all these émigré Nazis were trying to bring all the political pressure they could to stop these investigations, including the Ukrainian nationalists.

So they denounced them, the OSI investigations, in front of Bush. Bush nodded his head, but he wouldn’t say anything because he didn’t want to sound like he was sympathetic to the Nazi war criminals, but at the same time he didn’t want to offend his hosts by disputing the issue with them. So, the issue of World War II was still being played out over four decades later, in the politics of the presidency, and unfortunately Bush and Reagan continued to be on the side that we defeated in World War II.

What was the response when your book came out, with all this information? How was the information received, and what was the political reaction?

Prior to the book’s publication, Washington Jewish Week had done a story about some of the ethnic leaders of the Bush campaign and their history, like denying the Holocaust, or being involved with these émigré Nazi groups. They named a couple of them that weren’t part of the Heritage Groups Council, but they were part of the Bush campaign.

Then, when I published the book, it brought out a lot more names, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe did stories on them. It got to the point where when a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer would call them about one of their ethnic leaders of the Bush campaign, the standard response was, he’s no longer part of the campaign, and they’d say that almost as soon as the name would get mentioned. So that they would call that person—and I’ll give the example of Florian Galdau, he was, he ran the Romanian Iron Guard in New York City. He had a wartime record. [Romanian Archbishop Valerian] Trifa himself was implicated in the mass killing of Jews in Bucharest in 1941, I believe. Galdau’s record is clear, because when Trifa was prosecuted he was one of the people targeted by the Office of Special Investigations, and he was forced into deportation in the 1980s, but in those records, they identify Florian Galdau as one of his operatives, so his history is known—except, apparently, to the Bush campaign.

So when he was identified by the Philadelphia Inquirer, they immediately said he wasn’t part of it, so the Inquirer called Florian Galdau, and he said, “No, I’m part of it. They never said anything to me. As far as I know I’m still part of the campaign.” And that was the pattern.

The Republican National Committee said after the election that they were going to put a blue ribbon committee together and do an investigation of the charges in my book. I was never contacted, nobody affiliated with the book project, the publisher wasn’t contacted. None of the sources I worked with was contacted. And after about a year, with nobody raising any issues or questions about it, they just folded it up and they said, well, we have not had the resources to investigate this matter.

I did publish an op-ed in The New York Times about two weeks after the election was over, and I think that was the last time anybody said anything publicly about it that got any kind of forum. I think they were allowed to just die and wither away—that is, those leaders. The Republican idea was probably to bring in another generation of people who were born in the United States as these émigré’s died off, but they never did anything about this history that Nixon had bequeathed them with. The Reagan White House had really made deep political commitments and alliances with them. They didn’t want to look like they turned their back on them, and Bush wanted them for his re-election campaign, so he wasn’t going to turn his back on them either.

If you want an anecdote, I know that 60 Minutes was working on a piece that Bradley’s team was working on. Nancy Reagan herself called the executive producer and said that we would really like it if you wouldn’t do this story, and they killed it. Because, basically, it’s not just about Nazis and the Republican National Committee and the White House. It inevitably raises the question of, who are they, how did they get here, who sponsored them? And it goes back to the intelligence agencies at that point. And some people don’t like treading there; if it’s tied to an intelligence agency, they prefer to just stay away from the subject. So, some people at 60 Minutes were frustrated by it, but that’s what happened. I think that they were able to effectively kill the story when people tried to cover it. They were able to persuade news managers to not delve into it too much.

What’s happened since you wrote your book, and most of the World War II generation died off? What have the OUN and its allies been up to since then that we should be aware of?

Once the OUN got sponsored by the American security establishment intelligence agencies, they were embedded in a variety of ways in Europe as well, like Radio Free Europe, which is headquartered in Munich. A lot of these groups in the ABN were headquartered in Munich under the sponsorship of Radio Free Europe. From there, they ran various kinds of operations where they were trying to do work inside the Warsaw Pact countries. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a number of them moved back into Ukraine as well as the other respective countries and began setting up operations there, and organizing political parties. They reconstituted the veterans group of the Waffen SS, they held marches in the 1990s in Ukraine, and they organized political parties, in alliance with the United States, and became part of what was called the Orange Revolution in 2004, when they won the election there.

The prime minister [a reference to Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine from 2005 to 2010] was closely allied with them. They worked with the new government to get veterans benefits for the Ukrainian SS division veterans, and they started establishing the statues and memorials and museums for Stepan Bandera, who was the leader of the OUN, and who I should say were despised by other Ukrainian nationalists because of their methods, because they were extreme and violent toward rival Ukrainian nationalist groups. So Bandera wasn’t a universal hero, but this group was so influential, in part because of its US connections, that if you go online and you Google "Lviv" and the word "Bandera" you’ll see monuments and statues and large posters and banners of Bandera’s likeness and large monuments—permanent erected monuments—on behalf of Bandera so they made this guy like he’s the George Washington of Ukraine.

That government was in power until 2010, when there was another election, and a new regime was elected with a lot of support from the East. Ukrainian nationalist groupings around the Orange Revolution were sharply divided against each other, and there was rampant corruption, and people voted them out. The United States was very aggressive in trying to keep the nationalists in power, but they lost the election. The United States was spending money through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was pumping money into various Ukrainian organizations, and they were doing the same thing in Russia and many other countries around the world as well. We’re talking about many millions of dollars a year to affect the politics of these countries.

When the occupations came in Independence Square in Kiev late last year, you can see Svoboda’s supporters and you can hear their leaders in the Parliament making blatant anti-Semitic remarks. The leader of the Svoboda party went to Germany to protest the prosecution of John Demjanjuk, who was the Ukrainian who was settled in the United States who was implicated as a concentration camp guard in the killing of innocent people. The German courts found him guilty, and the Svoboda leadership went to Germany to complain about convicting this guy. The reason? They said they didn’t want any Ukrainians tainted with it, because they live a lie: that no Ukrainian had anything to do with the German Nazi regime, when history betrays them, and their own affiliations betray them. But they don’t like that being out there publicly, so they always protest the innocence of any Ukrainian being charged with anything, regardless of what the evidence is.

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Your book was an important revelation but was not alone. Your book notes that Jack Anderson reported on the pro-Nazi backgrounds of some of the ethnic advisors as far back as 1971, yet when your report came out almost two decades later, everyone responded with shock, surprise and even denial. What lessons should we draw from this history of buried history? And how should it influence our thinking about the unfolding crisis in Ukraine?

I don’t believe it’s ever too late to become familiarized and educated about the history of this phenomenon—both the wartime history and our postwar collaboration with these folks. There were a number of exposés written about the émigré Nazis. There was a 1979 book called Wanted, and it did a number of case stories of these people being brought into the United States, including the Trifa story. Christopher Simpson did a book called Blowback that discussed the policy decisions; it’s an incredible book. He’s a professor at American University, and he did years of research through the Freedom of Information Act and archives, and got the policy documents under which the decisions were made to bring these folks together, and not just into the United States but to deploy them around the world.

Like my book, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. The New York Times book reviewer was negative toward the book. There are people who really don’t want to touch this stuff. There’s a lot of people who don’t want it touched. I think it’s really important for people who believe in openness and transparency and democratic values, who don’t want to see hate groups come back to power in other parts of the world, to know what happened.

There aren't very many Americans who really even know that the Waffen SS was a multinational force. That’s been kind of kept out of the received history. Otherwise people would know that there were Ukrainian Nazis, Hungarian Nazis, Latvian Nazis, and they were all involved in the mass murder of their fellow citizens, if they were Jewish, or even if they were co-nationalists that were on the other side of the issue of the war. They were just mass murderers, across Eastern Europe. And that history, those facts, aren’t even well-known. A lot of people didn’t even know this phenomenon existed.

I think all Americans have a responsibility to know what their government is doing in the foreign policy in Europe as well as elsewhere around the world, as well as Latin America, as well as Africa. Since our policy was to uphold apartheid in South Africa, why weren’t Americans challenging that more? They began challenging that in the '80s, but the apartheid regime was run by the Nazi party. They were allied with Germany in World War II. They were the Nationalist party and they took power in 1948 and the United States backed that for decades. We backed the death squads in Latin America, even though they massacred tens of thousands of people—200,000 people in Guatemala alone. Americans aren’t being attentive to what their government is doing abroad, even though it’s being done with their tax dollars and in their name, and I think we just have a general responsibility.

I went to these meetings, I went to these conferences, I went over a period of years. I met with them directly, most of the people I wrote about, I met with them personally or in group meetings. People can’t afford to do that on their own, timewise, but there’s enough literature out there so they can read about it. They will get enough of a handle to get what the real picture is, to demand change. I’m not totally partisan: I think the Republican Party was extreme on this, but the Democrats folded and didn’t challenge this when they knew it was going on.

There is an old Roman poet who once said truth does not say one thing and wisdom another. I’m a believer in that. Tell the truth and wisdom will follow.

 

Read Next: Conn Hallinan on the dark side of the Ukraine revolt.

{Young}ist Reclaims the Millennial Narrative

{Young}ist

Members of the {Young}ist staff meet in Berkeley, California. (Photo courtesy of Muna Mire)

Millennials are in vogue. But the very idea of the millennial is a top-down phenomenon, a canned attempt to market to a young demographic. It is a strategy that has found success through the sheer force and repetitiveness of its message. Left with few alternatives, millennials consume this image of themselves. Eventually, they may internalize this set of images and ideals—regardless of how critical they were or still are.

Like many other marginalized groups, Millennials don't have a controlling stake in their own representation. The people who write about millennials aren't often themselves millennials. In fact, you can argue that popular narratives around the millennial as an identity category are constructed outside the authentic lived experiences of actual millennials. Those accounts can look like political disengagement, apathy, technological dysfunction and narcissism. Many of us don’t see ourselves reflected back in that story.

{Young}ist.org is an attempt to disrupt a circular, negative narrative about youth that cultivates hopelessness rather than efficacy among our peers. {Young}ist fills a niche: we see ourselves as positioned to report the stories of youth in crisis and in action.

The {Young}ist site is an independent media platform started by youth for youth to share news, stories, thought and culture that matter to us. It’s a way for young people to find their peers, share visions for change and connect over political struggles on the ground. Our staff and contributors provide a variety of content to make this possible, including multimedia, longform and investigative journalism. We don’t want to merely react to the narratives and stories that have been imposed on us externally—we have other stories to tell about youth. Our editorial strategy is undergirded by an understanding that there is a difference between providing evidence of social problems and mobilizing to fight them.

While we are coming together to tell the story of a generation that has been dispossessed, a generation that has inherited climate and economic crises, we also want to tell stories of how youth are mobilizing to organize around immigration, LGBTQ rights, racial and climate justice, education, labor and more. We are a relentlessly hopeful generation. When we say that we are dispossessed, we say that with an understanding that we also possess the tools, capacity and motivation to contend with these issues. We at {Young}ist want to intervene in the narrative about millennials not just because we think it’s wrong but because we know we embody its opposite: a thriving, capable, growing network of youth fighting for a more just world.

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With our new website launch, {Young}ist will officially begin its journey and continue to generate and support content provided by a network of activists, organizers, journalists, writers, artists and collaborators that are already doing this work on the ground. The new site will make it possible for {Young}ist to continue to grow as a hub for independent media, thought, politics and culture that matters to young people. Our project aims to bring young people to the table who recognize the injustice in their lives and are taking on vibrant, participatory alternatives to make the lives of young people,collectively, more livable. If that sounds good to you, we ask you to check out our new website, now officially live at www.youngist.org.

 

Read Next: Students urge Massachusetts Governor Patrick to ban new fossil fuel contruction.

This Is How You Make Garment Factories Safer

Meeting in Dhaka of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council

Meeting in Dhaka of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council with international safety professionals as part of the rollout of the Bangladesh Accord (Photo: Asiful Hoque. Courtesy: Garrett Brown)

One of the major achievements of the labor movement in the aftermath of last April's Rana Plaza factory tragedy is the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The agreement, which was negotiated by worker advocates and brands last year and is now in its first stages of implementation, is ostensibly a landmark set of health and safety regulations for the country’s burgeoning garment industry. But it is also a political document, and a response to a horrific history of industrial accidents in the Global South. Even more, it symbolizes the tension between the politics of enforcement, and the imperative of public health, where workers now have an opening to win more control over their workplaces.

That said, the very fact that the framework is so basic—make sure that they are working in a safe building and don't have to worry about risking their lives each workday—shows what a hard climb it will be before Bangladesh workers are able to fully assert their rights at work. Moreover, the agreement addresses structural and fire safety issues, but does not directly deal with other common health hazards in factories like chemical exposures, mechanical accidents, and repetitive stress injuries. There are also long-term health issues associated with poverty and sheer physical exhaustion that come with the long hours and backbreaking drudgery of garment production. Other workplace risks overlap with structural social problems, like crowded conditions, the presence of child labor and sexual or physical abuse at the hands of bosses.

And then there is the key question of who will be doing the enforcement. Conventional third-party factory auditing programs used by multinationals like WalMart have historically served as effectively a corporate rubber stamp. Moreover, corruption is endemic in Bangladesh’s garment sector, with close collusion between top industrialists and the political class.

But the Accord does include clear provisions requiring qualified professionals “with fire and building safety expertise and impeccable credentials, and who [are] independent of and not concurrently employed by companies, trade unions or factories.” And the hiring for and administration of the program will be overseen by a Steering Committee with representation from both the signatory companies and labor groups. So the agreement seems in theory to include some internal checks against corruption.

In addition to worker empowerment, developing an indigenous regulatory labor force is also critical. Garrett Brown, a California-based occupational health specialist, recently visited Bangladesh with a group of independent occupational health and safety professionals to assist with the Accord's implementation, and he comments about the challenges ahead via email:

In order to start the factory inspections, the Accord has begun by using international engineers because of the lack of sufficient numbers of available engineers in Bangladesh. The structural/fire/electrical engineers doing the Accord inspections now are from the US, Korea, Taiwan—but the Accord is also now hiring 25 Bangladesh engineers to be part of the permanent, full-time staff of the Accord in office in Dhaka.


Meeting with Bangladesh labor and safety advocates on the rollout of the Bangladesh Accord (Photo: Garrett Brown)

A couple dozen engineers covering more than 1,500 factories seems like a daunting ratio, but it is a foundation for building stronger regulatory frameworks. To aid enforcement, Brown adds, the Accord’s implementation plan prioritizes "training by the Accord’s training department and others of government inspectors, factory owners and managers, workers and their organizations (union and community) to increase their knowledge and skills in occupational health and safety."  And the effort will be transnational:

My meetings with garment workers and their unions in Gazipur, Savar, Rampurra, Chittagong, and the IBC (Industri-ALL [union] Bangladesh Council) were part of the “worker participation” component of the Accord where worker representatives are able to participate as observers in the current and ongoing structural/fire/electrical inspections. …

So—over the 5 years, or a little over 4 years now—there are many aspects of worker participation in the Accord program, and there will be ongoing efforts from California and elsewhere in the US (all now in the planning stages) to assist the Accord’s Training Department to prepare workers and their organizations to play this role.

One of the key points in the Accord is the establishment of factory-based Health and Safety Committees. By engaging workers in direct oversight of employers, these groups might be a channel for worker-driven advocacy and international scrutiny from governing institutions and civil society groups. The Committees would both work with the existing union infrastructure and potentially facilitate fresh workplace organizing:

Health and Safety Committees shall be required by the signatory companies in all Bangladesh factories that supply them, which shall function in accordance with Bangladeshi law, and be comprised of workers and managers from the applicable factory. Worker members shall comprise no less than 50% of the committee and shall be chosen by the factory’s trade union, if present, and by democratic election among the workers where there is no trade union present.


Meeting with Bangladesh labor and safety advocates on the rollout of the Bangladesh Accord (Photo: Asiful Hoque. Courtesy Garrett Brown)

So there might be an opportunity in the absence of a formal trade union to create some kind of parallel organization. This is an important development for a country like Bangladesh, where there is a formal trade union infrastructure in the garment sector, but much of the most vital organizing activity has been spearheaded by grassroots groups like the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, led by the pioneering activist Kalpona Akter. (The BCWS also represents some of the most embattled labor advocates in the country: organizer Aminul Islam was brutally killed in 2012, with signs of government involvement.) Amid that kind of hostile organizing landscape, the Accord can bring much-needed legitimacy to worker advocates on the factory floor.

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At the same time, the International Labour Organization is working with Bangladesh officials and labor groups inside and outside Bangladesh to develop a broad program of labor reforms known as the National Action Plan. Although the plan is still in its preliminary stages, it does mark growing integration of international and domestic efforts toward strengthening and institutionalizing labor protections and union organizing. The next steps will deal with solid collective bargaining processes to win better compensation, benefits and fair working conditions.

That's all far on the horizon. But now a template is in place to create a more comprehensive system of multinational corporate accountability. Time will tell if initiatives like the Accord open the door for broader changes the same way the Triangle Shirtwaist fire helped inspire labor organizing and reform a century ago. The difference today is that the fashion industry moves much faster, pushing products and capital at lighting speed around the world. And so do communications networks and solidarity movements that connect Global South organizers and activists in Europe and North America. And hopefully, in a globalized economic struggle, history will be made at a faster pace as well.

Read Next: Michelle Chen asks, who is responsible for deaths in factories halfway around the world

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Remembering the Passion of Jonathan Schell

Jonathan Schell

(Credit: David Barreda)

"It's tough for me to imagine The Nation without his thoughtful, humane, powerful voice," said Nation Editor and Publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, remembering journalist Jonathan Schell—who passed away this week. Vanden Heuvel appeared on As it Happens with Carol Off & Jeff Douglas (segment begins at 9:05 into the clip) on Thursday, where she paid tribute to a writer whose lifelong commitment to peace and justice found him reporting from Vietnam in 1967, advocating nuclear disarmament and harshly criticizing the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. In the last years of his life, Schell had started work on a book addressing the ecological crisis. "He was a man of conviction," says vanden Heuvel, sustained by a deep belief in the "power of the people."
—Sam Adler-Bell

The School-to-Prison Pipeline Starts in Preschool

School-to-prison pipeline

(Courtesy of Steven Depolo, CC BY 2.0)

The school-to-prison pipeline, to my mind, is the most insidious arm of this country's prison-industrial complex. Under the guise of protecting our children, we push many of them out of school and into prisons, limit their opportunities, fail to and/or undereducate them, all while feeding our addiction to mass incarceration and retribution that is not justice at all. That the students who find themselves funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline are predominantly black is further proof that the United States system of racist oppression chugs along through the rhetoric of colorblindness.

Now that we have the niceties out of the way, let's talk about what really makes the school-to-prison pipeline the worst.

A study conducted by U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights shows that black preschoolers (yes, four and five year olds) make up almost half of all out-of-school suspensions for preschoolers. What any preschool student has to do in order to be suspended is beyond me. That said, black students are receiving the message—at younger and younger ages—that their behavior will be regarded differently, as inherently more disruptive and therefore more deserving of punishment. They are being denied the right to their formative years of education and socialization. And then we wonder why there is an "education gap."

Across all grade levels, Black students represent about 16 percent of the overall student population, but are 32-42 percent of students who face out-of-school suspension, 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students who experience a school-related arrest. Black students are suspended or expelled at a rate three times higher than white students. 20 percent of black boys and 12 percent of black girls face out-of-school suspensions.

It's tempting to focus on the disproportionate percentage of black boys who are suspended—and when we talk about racism and racial injustice, we often focus on what's happening to boys and men. However, it's important to note, as Crystal Lewis does, that girls—especially black girls—often find themselves caught in the juvenile justice system for infractions much less serious those of boys. "In 2010," Lewis writes, "67 percent of the 500,000 young women in the juvenile justice system were arrested for larceny-theft, loitering or violating curfew, disorderly conduct and other low-level offenses. In comparison, 52 percent of males were arrested because of offenses they committed in these categories." Girls are more likely to be arrested on status offenses (like truancy, running away and incorrigibility—being a disobedient youth), things that would not be crimes were they adults.

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It's those lighter offenses that often result in black girls being suspended from school, as well. Monique Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women's Justice Institute, told Women's eNews, "The majority of black girls who have been suspended got kicked out for being loud, even if they weren't being disrespectful." It's consistent with the way school discplined is meted out: black students' behavior is interpreted as more threatening than that of their white counterparts. Combined with "zero tolerance" policies that heavily rely on the use of police to deal with school-level discplinary problems, this means more interaction with the law enforcement/criminal justice system for more and more black students.

It's appalling. Worse, it's completely unnecessary. But it's the logical result of a system dedicated to ensuring inequality persists along racial and gender lines. That alternatives exist apparently doesn't matter. We'll just keep criminalizing, suspending, arresting and locking away black children until there simply aren't any left.

 

Read Next: Respectability politics still won't save us.

De Blasio Administration Appoints NYPD Inspector General

NYPD

New York Police Department. Times Square. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk, CC2.0)

When the four police detectives arrived at the woman's door, they had a list of names they wanted to ask about. They also had a cell phone number they wanted to identify. But they did not have a warrant.

The homeowner didn't know the names; her daughter didn't either. But the daughter did recognize the cell number as belonging to an old phone of hers. So the cops asked to search the house.

"When the woman refused because the police did not have a search warrant," reads a report, "the detective called his supervisor. After reaching his supervisor, the detective told the complainant that he was ordered to conduct a 'walk through' of the house. The detectives searched the entire house, believing that an order from their supervisor and knowing that the daughter's old cell phone number was being used by questionable individuals justified a warrantless search of the complainant's home."

The report was one of two policy studies issued in 2013 by the Washington, D.C. Office of Police Complaints, the head of which—Philip Eure—was just named to be New York City's first NYPD inspector general.

The de Blasio administration's naming of Eure (under the 2013 law creating the IG, the mayor's commissioner of the Department of Investigations—not the mayor himself—made the appointment) brings us full circle from last spring. The moment when the 2013 mayoral campaign began to take its defining shape was when the debate over whether to install an inspector general broke into the open.

The tabloids murdered Christine Quinn when—having been beat up in every forum she attended for her association with Mayor Bloomberg and desire to keep Ray Kelly on as NYPD commissioner—she shifted to support the bill. John Liu, the most liberal major candidate, opposed the bill because he thought it a ploy to lessen mayoral accountability. Bill Thompson, who ended up placing second, backed an IG but wanted them to report to the police commissioner. Only Bill de Blasio backed the proposal as written: an independent inspector general outside One Police Plaza.

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Reading reports at the Washington OPC website, it seems that office is a hybrid of the two police oversight bodies New York will now have: OPC took citizen complaints, as New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board has done for years, and made broader policy recommendations, as the inspector general will be charged with doing.

What's also apparent is that the sound and fury over the IG—which foes suggested would weaken the police command structure—was out of step with reality.

In its report about warrantless searches, the DC office recommended that the police develop criteria for when a warrantless searches are OK, train officers on it, discipline those who do such a search when it's not justified, and require cops to document those searches when they occur. None of the ideas are binding, none ignore the possibility that warrantless searches may at times be necessary, and don't bind the police in any way except to protect the Fourth Amendment (which is kind of important) and the admissibility of evidence they gather during future "walk throughs."

 

Read Next: Who framed Bill de Blasio?

GOP Steps Up Attack on Early Voting in Key Swing States

early voting

Early voting lines in Cleveland, 2012, taken by Ari Berman.

On Election Night 2012, referring to the long lines in states like Florida and Ohio, Barack Obama declared, “We have to fix that.”

The waits in Florida and Ohio were no accident, but rather the direct consequence of GOP efforts to curtail the number of days and hours that people had to vote. On January 22, 2014, the president’s bipartisan election commission released a comprehensive report detailing how voting could be smoother, faster and more convenient. It urged states to reduce long lines by adopting “measures to improve access to the polls through expansion of the period for voting before the traditional Election Day.”

That would seem like an uncontroversial and common sense suggestion, but too many GOP-controlled states continue to move in the opposite direction, reducing access to the ballot instead of expanding it. The most prominent recent examples are the swing states of Wisconsin and Ohio.

Yesterday Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating early voting hours on weekends and nights, when it’s most convenient for many voters to go to the polls. When they took over state government in 2011, Wisconsin Republicans reduced the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks and only one weekend. Now they’ve eliminated weekend voting altogether.

Over 250,000 Wisconsinites voted early in 2012, one in twelve overall voters. Cutting early voting has a clear partisan purpose: those who voted early voted for Obama 58 to 41 percent in Wisconsin in 2012, compared to his 51 to 48 percent margin on Election Day. Extended early voting hours were particularly critical with respect to high voter turnout in big cities like Milwaukee and Madison. “It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics,” said Wisconsin GOP State Senator Dale Schultz, a critic of the legislation.

A month ago, Ohio passed legislation cutting early voting by a week, eliminating same-day voter registration and restricting the availability of absentee ballots while Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive doing away with early voting on weeknights and Sundays as well. 600,000 Ohioans, ten percent of the electorate, voted early in 2012. The cuts in Ohio, like Wisconsin, have a clear partisan and racial underpinning—in Cleveland, for example, African-Americans made up 56 percent of those who voted on weekends in 2008.

Republicans are adopting the early voting cuts under the guise of “uniformity”—claiming they want all counties to have the same hours, which punishes large urban counties if small rural counties don’t have the money or manpower for extended early voting hours.

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But few believe that’s the only reason why early voting is on the chopping block. Many Republicans are predictably reluctant to admit that the main reason they suddenly disfavor early voting is because too many Democrats are using it or because they actually believe, in the words of Jonah Goldberg, that “voting should be harder, not easier—for everybody.” (See Rick Hasen’s piece “The new conservative assault on early voting.”)

The latter argument was endorsed by Florida GOP State Senator Mike Bennett in 2011, who said: “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder...I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.”

That view was widely repudiated in the aftermath of the 2012 election, when even Florida repealed its cutbacks to early voting. A move to significantly reduce early voting recently failed in the Georgia legislature, which can hardly be described as moderate. But Republicans in Ohio and Wisconsin are stuck on the disgraced idea that the best way to win an election is to make it harder for your opponents to participate in one.

 

Read Next: An in-depth look at the growing Moral Monday Movement

More is More

In a recent post we discussed the question of consistency in puzzle themes. This is closely related to two other issues that arise in connection with crossword themes: symmetry, and what might be termed economy. There is a de facto convention in US cryptics that theme entries should be placed symmetrically in the diagram, and moreover that carefully choosing a limited number of theme entries is preferable to piling more of them indiscriminately into the diagram.

For solvers who pay attention to that sort of thing, symmetry is of course a help in solving. Moreover, symmetrically placed theme entries mesh nicely with the symmetry of the black squares to create an aesthetically pleasing whole. In fact, even putting aside aesthetics, there is another good argument for symmetry of theme entries. Theme entries reduce the constructor's choices, and they may drastically reduce the options for crossing words. The choices are even fewer if the theme entries are close together, so you can end up with less satisfying entries running in the perpendicular direction. Symmetry prevents those potential jams from congregating in one area of the grid. In short, symmetry helps spread out both the good and the bad of a themed puzzle.

As for the economy in the number of theme entries, it is similarly justified. Too many theme entries means less flexibility for the constructor, and thus a risk of too many undesirable entries. Putting together symmetry, economy, and consistency in themed puzzles results in a certain elegance. In a standard black square cryptic, four symmetrically placed long theme entries, for example, makes for a streamlined and satisfying puzzle, with a decent set of non-thematic entries. We have often done just that for our themes.

And yet!

And yet, there are other ways to have fun with themes. Instead of heeding the symmetry-economy-consistency triad, one can rely on the anarchic fun of packing as many thematic elements as possible into the diagram and/or the clues, and let elegance be damned. For example, Puzzle #3292 had a "notes" theme, where many entries had musical notes in them (SOLar flaRE, mulTILAne, and so on). In order to support our violation of the economy standard, we had to let go of symmetry as well, so as to stuff more theme words into the diagram. Throwing caution to the wind, we also violated the consistency standard, and included STONE (an anagram of "notes") and TRANSCRIPT (a synonym of "notes"). In all, this added up to 14 theme entries—a challenge for us to construct, and (we hope) more fun for our solvers. More recently, Puzzle #3316 included the word "number" in the clues 15 times, and again, we favored sheer quantity over supposed elegance.

Sometimes, as is our wont, we split the difference. At the time of the Arab spring, we created a puzzle in which the name of every one of the 24 members of the Arab League appeared in one clue or another. We ditched parsimony and symmetry, but preserved consistency. In a puzzle for a Nation issue about Amazon, every single clue had a river in it—a victory for consistency and symmetry, but definitely a defeat for economy.

In fact, we often aim for symmetry, even when at first it seems unattainable given our greedy penchant for more of a good thing. In one recent puzzle, we managed to squeeze the names of 11 magazines, plus the word MAGAZINES in a symmetrical arrangement. Of course, that was facilitated by the fact we had many magazines to choose among. In contrast, when we tried to include JANE AUSTEN, PERSUASION, MANSFIELD, PARK, PRIDE, PREJUDICE, SENSE, SENSIBILITY and EMMA in a single diagram, there was little in the way of flexibility, but we still aimed for symmetry.

In other words, we like to mix it up, and we do not stick to a single aesthetic when it comes to themes. 

Today's cluing challenge: how would you clue AESTHETICS? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers' comments), please click on this post's title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And here are 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.