This article was originally published by Campus Progress and is re-posted here with permission.
Poor me-me-me. Because I am a Millennial, according to Time magazine’s Joel Stein, I am a stunted, shallow narcissist who needs to have statistics mansplained to me by a Gen-Xer:
“Millennials consist, depending on whom you ask, of people born from 1980 to 2000. To put it more simply for them, since they grew up not having to do a lot of math in their heads, thanks to computers, the group is made up mostly of teens and 20-somethings.”
LOL, Joel! Sorry, you didn’t grow up with computers. In that case, let me carefully explain another Internet term that we Millennials learn while checking our phones every hour for eighty-eight daily text messages:
A troll is somebody who deliberately goads others on “Internet message boards” (you might remember these from GeoCities) just to get a reaction. And you, Joel Stein, are the perfect example of an offline troll: a journalist who riles up readers by smearing an entire generation as lazy—only to turn around and completely undermine his own half-baked shock-bait with the latter half of his article. I’m loath to feed a troll, but this particular troll, who admitted to “cozying up to the editor of the magazine” in his early career, has too wide and too credulous an audience.
“I have studies! I have statistics!” Stein crows. Actually, he has about two paragraphs of cherry-picked data! He has hand-waving generalizations! He has quotes from twenty people over age 32, and only two under age 30! (Thanks to fellow Millennial and Campus Progress alum Tyler Kingkade for the latter observation.)
Some of Stein’s mistakes may be simple carelessness. Maybe, when he wrote that Millennials “have less civic engagement and voter participation than any previous group,” he just hadn’t read that Millennials are most interested in civil service careers and volunteerism, had record levels of voter participation last year and care far more about family than fame.
Maybe it didn’t occur to him, when citing a survey of middle schoolers who want to grow up assisting famous people, that early adolescence isn’t the best time to evaluate most people’s career paths. And maybe he just hadn’t heard that the National Institutes of Health survey about Millennials’ narcissism has been called into serious question under peer review.
But too many of Stein’s blunders are internal contradictions that if not he, then his editors, should have known better than to print.
He says young people are stunted because they spend more time socializing with peers than adults, then says Millennials don’t rebel as much because they have friendlier relationships and more in common with their parents. He snarks about middle-class families displaying far more photos of themselves than in the ’50s, but those are the houses Millennials grew up in, not the ones they head—and then he says vacation-slide-showing baby boomers, given the same technology, would have been just as obnoxious as Facebook-oversharers. He debunks his own claims about the self-esteem-hyping, over-trophying culture of the 1970s by writing that “millenials’ perceived entitlement isn’t a result of overprotection but an adaptation to a world of abundance.”
Maybe that “perceived” entitlement is just “how rich kids have always behaved,” but Stein’s most glaring omission is failing to acknowledge just how not-rich this generation is becoming, and just how badly the baby-boomer-created system has failed them.
It’s hard to fathom how Stein can call Millennials lazy when too many of them slave for sixty-hour weeks working multiple jobs to take unpaid internships, all so that they can see no wage gains from all that extra work.
It’s outrageous to connect Millennials’ supposedly “stunted” intellectual growth with the popularity of keeping them on their parents’ insurance until age 26, when the reality is that “good jobs” with benefits are getting harder to find.
And it’s jaw-droppingly insulting that Stein’s only discussion of low-income youth is a flippant reference to “ghetto-fabulous” lifestyles.
The “how Millennials will save the world” part of the piece has some decent points.
Millennials have positive attitudes. They are shaped by, and shape, the technology and environment they are presented with. Their egalitarian, decentralized understanding of the world will change and benefit both them and the world.
But Millennials and their world won’t benefit from confused, stereotype-driven understandings of who they are and what they care about. While we keep building bridges to the future, let’s keep the trolls tucked away underneath them.
New York City fast food workers rally at a one-day strike on April 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
An update, with comment from the New York Attorney General’s office, appears below.
At an 11 am press conference outside a Brooklyn KFC restaurant, fast food workers and activists will release a new report alleging rampant wage theft in their industry, one of the fastest-growing in the United States. The report includes results from an Anzalone Liszt Grove research survey of 500 of the city’s fast food workers, in which 84 percent reported that their employer had committed some form of wage theft over the previous year.
Today’s press conference follows strikes by fast food workers in five major cities within six weeks, all demanding raises to $15 an hour and the chance to form unions without intimidation. The report, “New York’s Hidden Crime Wave: Wage Theft and NYC’s Fast Food Workers,” is being published by Fast Food Forward, the campaign behind the strikes in New York. It lands on the same day as a New York Times article reporting that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman “is investigating whether the owners of several fast-food restaurants and a fast-food parent corporation have cheated their workers out of wages, according to a person familiar with the cases.”
Reached by e-mail, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association told The Nation, “We fully support compliance with all state and federal wage and employment laws.” The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Wage theft” is a term popularized by activists and advocates over the past decade to describe a wide range of ways in which companies fail to pay employees the wages they’re legally owed. The Fast Food Forward report identifies several types of violations as prevalent in the city’s fast food industry: employees working, without pay, before or after their shift; employees working overtime without being paid time-and-a-half; employees working during their breaks or not receiving breaks; and delivery employees not being reimbursed for expenses like gasoline or safety equipment.
The report quotes McDonald’s worker Elizabeth Rene, who says she loses up to $75 a month because she isn’t paid for the time she spends counting the register before and after her shift: “I feel cheated and used and like I’m not appreciated for my hard work.”A 2008 study by the National Employment Law Project estimated that the average low-wage worker loses 15 percent of his or her annual income to wage theft.
Asked about wage theft allegations, a Domino’s spokesperson told The New York Times’s Julie Turkewitz, “If anybody is paying below minimum wage or using the tipped wage credit, that would probably be independent franchisees in our system. And I can’t really speak to that.” The authors of today’s report reject such arguments. “Because the corporations design, maintain, monitor and profit from the fast food delivery system,” they write, “they should be the focus of regulatory and political action to eradicate wage theft up and down the fast food chain.”
As I’ve reported, recent years have seen a rise in labor activism around wage theft, often backed by unions or “alt-labor” groups organizing non-union workers in the workplace and in local politics. In 2010, New York passed a statewide anti–wage theft law that the Progressive States Network described as the strongest in the country. In January, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that threatens offending companies with the loss of their business licenses. In other cases, forcing unwanted legal, political or media scrutiny on alleged wage theft by a company has proven a potent weapon in labor groups’ “comprehensive campaigns” to force concessions from management. The release of today’s report could represent an additional front in campaigns by Fast Food Forward, and parallel groups elsewhere, to transform jobs that are increasingly representative of work in the modern United States.
Update (12:15 pm Thursday): The New York Attorney General’s office has confirmed to The Nation that it issued subpoenas to a fast food parent corporation, and is investigating several New York State franchisees (the AG’s office declined to name the corporation). Schneiderman’s office is exploring potential legal violations including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid work, false payroll records, overtime without time-and-a-half pay, work expenses that weren’t fully reimbursed and paychecks that bounced.
In an e-mailed statement, Schneiderman spokesperson Damien LaVera called the Fast Food Forward report’s findings “deeply troubling,” and said they “shed light on potentially broad labor violations by the fast food industry.” “We take the allegations seriously,” said LaVera, “which is why our office is investigating fast food franchisees. New Yorkers expect companies doing business in our state to follow laws set up to protect working families.” LaVera urged workers who have experienced wage theft by fast food companies to contact the attorney general’s office.
Across the country, domestic workers are left unprotected from labor law. Read what you can do to help.
Richard Nixon says goodbye to staff after resigning on August 9, 1974. (AP Photo.)
I have my issues with Obama—often expressed here—but come on. Judging from the wild references online and on the TV to Obama being “as bad as Nixon”—maybe “worse”—and behaving in a very “Nixonian” manner in regard to the IRS tax-exempt probing and DOJ seizure of AP phone records, most hosts and guests and pundits have very little knowledge of Richard Nixon’s actual acts (or have forgotten them).
So here, as public service, just for starters—there was so much more (e.g. approving a break-in at Brookings, the secret bombing and then invasion of Cambodia, ovethrowing Allende, bombing Hanoi and continuing Vietnam War for four years etc. )—are the first two of the three articles of impeachment approved by the House in 1974.
The third related to his rejection of subpoenas and other requests for evidence.
Yes, I’ve written a fairly well-known book about Nixon, although not Watergate-related (it covers his dirty-tricks 1950 campaign for Senate). Not to mention growing up in a Nixon-loving household during the 1950s.
Musical soundtrack here, courtesy of Phil Ochs.
Read Greg Mitchell on the DOJ seizure of AP staff’s phone records.
Many of the groups who helped Scott Walker win the Wisconsin recall were 501(c)(4) Tea Party groups that worked in close tandem with his campaign despite their non-political tax designation. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File.)
My pixels have been absent from these precincts while I report a feature story for The Nation, and I’ll have more to say about the ersatz Scandalpalooza being ginned up by Republicans this week, but for now I wanted to drop a quick word about just how overblown the outrage is about the Internal Revenue Service flagging groups with “Tea Party” in their name for extra scrutiny when they apply for 501(c)(4) status. Jeffrey Toobin, in a New Yorker post called “The Real I.R.S. Scandal,” succinctly explains the legal background:
It’s important to review why the Tea Party groups were petitioning the I.R.S. anyway. They were seeking approval to operate under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. This would require them to be “social welfare,” not political, operations. There are significant advantages to being a 501(c)(4). These groups don’t pay taxes; they don’t have to disclose their donors—unlike traditional political organizations, such as political-action committees. In return for the tax advantage and the secrecy, the 501(c)(4) organizations must refrain from traditional partisan political activity, like endorsing candidates….
Particularly leading up to the 2012 elections, many conservative organizations, nominally 501(c)(4)s, were all but explicitly political in their work. In every meaningful sense, groups like Americans for Prosperity were operating as units of the Republican Party. Democrats organized similar operations, but on a much smaller scale. (They undoubtedly would have done more, but they lacked the Republican base for funding such efforts.)
So the scandal—the real scandal—is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way.
Just how sustained and open a way? Well, in June of last year I reported from the closing weekend of the recall campaign against Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin:
I drive to a microscopic town next to Racine, where a giant open field was a stop on the bus tour in which Americans for Prosperity, the fake grassroots group that fronts for the Koch Brothers, was shipping supporters from, among other places, Illinois, to these here rallies around the state. Not, they claim, to support the Walker campaign—that would violate election law—which they had nothing to do with, but just in the interest of “educating folks in the importance of the reforms.”
The three hundred or so (though National Review counts differently than me) white people—and one black, who stood precisely in the center of the front row and wore an AFP staff T-shirt—heard an AFP staffer hosanna “economic freedom, limited government, and lower taxes.” And that “even Barack Obama’s Bureau of Labor Statistics” said “we’ve created jobs in Wisconsin.” Then he introduced as an “honorary Wisconsinite,” the head of Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, Tim Phillips—a Southerner who made a joke about frigid weather. Apparently reverse carpet-bagging is a signal feature of this “grassroots” movement.
Then a third speaker, but I had already wandered off, bored by the conspicuous lack of energy, past a sign reading “Republican’s Are Makers Democrats Are Takers” [sic, of course], and tables featuring free DVDs on both the glories of Scott Walker and the United Nation’s plan to enslave the United States, in the direction of a second, entirely separate, stage across the field put up by the Racine Tea Party. A few minutes later, the rest of the crowd followed me there. For, yes, an entirely separate rally, which had “nothing” to do with the nonpartisan one two hundred yards away that had just ended [wink wink, nudge nudge]. There they heard Walker’s running mate Rebecca Kleefisch rant about the “big union bosses from out of state,” and how the unions were just like Goliath, and her boss was exactly like David.
Me, I fingered my slick Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin flier, which I later noticed contained the most revealing typo in the history of politics. “The forces of BIG GOVERNMENT would like nothing more than for you to DO NOTHING,” it warned, but promised, “We are gathering citizens together from across Michigan to make phone calls, knock on doors and educate their friends, family and neighbors.”
As Toobin points out, this is the real scandal: the nakedly transparent flouting of the tax laws by groups claiming to be nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Count on the media in Washington to entirely miss that obvious point.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the leak that prompted the Justice Department’s seizure of the phone records of almost 100 reporters and editors at the Associated Press needs to be investigated because it “put the American people at risk.”
Appearing on Democracy Now!, Nation Institute fellow Chris Hedges said that Holder presented no evidence of the leak, which is believed to be related to a terrorist plot foiled by the CIA, was dangerous. Moreover, even if the seizure doesn’t frighten journalists, it will have a chilling effect on their sources, he said.
“It is one more assault in a long series of assaults against freedom of information and freedom of the press,” Hedges said.
Read more about whistleblower Bradley Manning and how his persecution has also touched the LGBTQ community.
In a 2012 survey by the Center for Urban Economic Development, 23 percent of domestic workers and 67 percent of live-in domestic workers interviewed earned less than minimum wage. On top of the paltry pay, though the workers reported regular abuse and violations, a full 91 percent admitted that they didn’t complain about poor working conditions for fear of losing their job. In recognition of this grim state of affairs for many low-wage workers, Hawaii recently followed New York’s lead and became the second state to pass a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, a historic law guaranteeing core rights previously denied to workers in some of the fastest growing, and most poorly-paid, occupations in the country.
Both the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Domestic Workers United are campaigning for legislation protecting domestic workers in each state nationwide. Implore your state representatives to fight for a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in your state. (If you live in New York City or Hawaii, tell your reps that you appreciate living in a state that takes care of its own.)
The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work, the first national survey of domestic workers in the US, breaks ground by providing an empirically based and representative picture of domestic employment in 21st century America.
This video, featuring domestic workers discussing their work and lives, makes clear why the human stakes are so high in this fight.
Driving with my father through Chevy Chase, Maryland, when I was young, I once asked him, “What do people in a country club do?”
My Dad, never having been a member, evoked F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.
"From what I’m told, they play polo and are 'rich together.'"
A decade later, I finally understand what he meant. Some of these intermingling rich people drink scotch together, play a few leisurely rounds of golf every Sunday, and otherwise revel in their common membership in an elite institution.
But I know about another club.
As a twelfth grader living in the shadows of numerous prestigious high schools, I encounter peers who are not only smart but actively smart together, basking in the glory of their exclusive intellectual status.
The qualifications for admission to this club are neither money nor social connections (although these certainly don’t hurt). You’re a full member of the club, endowed with unrestricted privileges to boast freely and judge smugly, only if you have a high SAT score.
Members of the club take as gospel the premise of the SAT: that real, valuable intelligence is reducible to a few objectively measurable skills. They brag about their grades and swoon over J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein and Richard Dawkins—not for their contributions to humanity but for their high IQ scores. The problem is that whatever academic attributes the SAT assesses, nobody claims that it measures our morality or our commitment to others, qualities for which Kaplan offers no preparation. It distinguishes neither the sociopaths from the do-gooders, nor the apathetic from the culturally engaged.
Even if the SAT is an accurate prognosis of academic capabilities (which, as we know, is a highly contested view), it is merely an indicator of how advanced our literary essays or mathematical analyses could be, if only we ever choose to create them. For the same reason that having the ability to compose a symphony isn’t praiseworthy if you don’t actually produce and perform a musical number for eager listeners, your high SAT score means nothing if you never make creative use of your mind and heart.
When I did well on my SAT as an eleventh grader, I tried not to take pride in my score, feeling that accomplishment must precede pride. The commonplace message that “you should be proud of your high SAT score” broadcasts a false notion of success, conflating academic possibilities with real achievements.
When all of the propaganda about test-taking is circulated, too many bright students inhale. Believing that they’ve actually done something valuable by scoring big, they start mingling among themselves and themselves alone, sealing their specialness with the experience of “being smart together.” It may be an understandably defensive response to the exclusivity of rich kids or the anti-intellectual thrust of high-school hierarchies, but it can be hurtful to everyone else.
Students like me should be asked to use what are perceived as our gifts for society’s betterment. When Dr. King preached, “everybody can be great,” he didn’t mean that we’re all destined to get high test scores or that greatness only belongs to those who score highest. Whatever our aptitudes are, “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
I saw the truth in this claim while tutoring a struggling tenth grader who was unfairly berated by his teacher for “being a menace.” When one of his peers rose to the boy’s defense, standing up to ask the teacher to “please treat us politely,” the adults in the room were clearly taken aback. To think—a non-Honors student who actually practiced and expected civility! It was one of my best moments in high school.
I recently overheard one of the “high achievers” call all the “ghetto kids” at our school “retarded.” He got a near-perfect SAT score, but never participated in any of our school-wide community work projects. In my mind, his comment illustrated the moral vacuity of test-obsessive culture and the absurdity of deifying kids who are too selfish to share their gifts with people around them. Instead, we should encourage our “brainiacs,” as well as our talented artists, athletes, thespians, programmers and musicians, to elevate their communities—and themselves— by helping struggling students.
I am only 18, but have already seen too much snobbery, if not abject meanness, from some of Charles Murray’s “cognitive elites” to believe that the world would be a better place if only they were running it. If students today must emulate an elite body, let it be the anti-elitist moral elite, the folks who refuse to crassly “pull rank” with their various gifts and instead use them to improve society for everyone.
According to New York’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, some 120 co-op buildings, with 13,000 apartments, and 368 condominiums, with 7,000 units, sustained flooding and damage after Hurricane Sandy blew through town.
Many now need extensive repairs, but people who live in housing co-ops are considered small businesses under federal law and, as such, they’re ineligible for federal hurricane relief. Instead of relief, they’re being advised to apply for a “small business” loan even though they are essentially nonprofit entities set up by property owners.
That’s what many New Yorkers have been discovering to their surprise, as they’ve been turned down for FEMA aid. Even though assistance is finally coming through, people who live in co-ops just can’t get it. And according to the executive director of an organization that helps low-income New Yorkers turn distressed city properties into cooperatively owned and operated homes, that hits low income co-op households especially hard.
“Co-op owners aren’t considered homeowners,” explains Andy Reicher of Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB).
Maybe it’s time we overhaul our notion of ownership and “home” just as we’re updating our notion of “family.”
Area lawmakers are trying to change the law. This is certainly no time to be discouraging cooperative home-owning, says Reicher. It’s the one sort of home ownership that came out of the mortgage crisis mostly unscathed. Having weathered the financial storm thanks to low rates of foreclosure and arrears, it would be a shame if storm Sandy hurt co-ops now.
This week, climate activists are taking direct action off-shore. Read Wen Stephenson’s report on the Henry David T. versus big coal.
(Credit: Jay O’Hara)
An update on the day's outcome appears below.
It seems fitting that this would be my first post here, given the subject of my first piece for The Nation, on the cover of the current issue. Near the end of that essay, I write that it’s time for climate activists “to say and do ‘crazy’ and ‘radical’ things,” such as “put their bodies in the way of coal shipments.” I didn’t know I’d be writing this post when I wrote those words, but this morning, that is precisely what’s happened.
At around 9:30 am, two climate activists I know through 350 Massachusetts anchored an old wooden lobster boat, the Henry David T. (I like the name), in the path of a coal tanker—putting their bodies in the way of a shipment to the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, the largest fossil-fueled plant and largest source of carbon emissions in the Northeast.
They’re calling for the plant to be shut down—immediately—for the sake of the climate and all of us.
One of them, 31-year-old Jay O’Hara, captain of the HDT, is a devout Quaker. The other, Ken Ward, 57, was deputy director of GreenpeaceUSA in the 1990s and is a longtime environmental insider. He’s also a pointed critic of what he argues is the big green groups’ collective failure to grapple seriously with the climate crisis. (Read their bios here.)
Of course there’s already an effort underway, led by the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition, to close Brayton Point—by 2020. But Ken and Jay are saying that if we actually take the threat of catastrophic climate change seriously, based on the science, 2020 isn’t anywhere near soon enough. We’ve run out of time. We should have closed it down long ago.
To lose the world on our watch is a miserable prospect. To lose the world when a solution is available is perverse. Denying outright that climate change exists is the most extreme response, but considering climate change to be anything other than the single most important matter facing humanity has the same effect.
What we need to do is relatively simple. Whether there is time to avoid the tipping point, we don’t know, but that shouldn’t prevent us from making the best possible effort.
First thing: stop burning coal.
We are doing exactly the opposite….
Brayton Point’s owner, Dominion Resources, has announced that it is selling the plant, and the proposed new owner, who apparently sees a future for the plant, will likely not be in the mood to shut it down anytime soon. They write:
If Dominion Resources sells Brayton Point—the single largest source of coal emissions in the Northeast—to Energy Capital Partners, the likelihood that this plant will continue operation is substantially strengthened….
Nowhere in the decision-making process is there any means or mechanism by which the lunatic aspect of choosing to burn coal can even be raised, let alone factored into the decision. Not one of the measures taken (such as the Regional Green House Gas Initiative) and none of the measures contemplated (such as a carbon tax), has or would have any significant impact on the decision to keep coal plants like Brayton Point in operation. Nothing even remotely approaching the true costs of burning coal is included in the business calculus.
Yet Brayton Point should be shut down immediately—and by “immediately,” we mean today—for more than one reason. First, every day of additional emissions is a terrible, immoral imposition on our children and, in ways we do not fully understand, on the other living things of God’s creation. Second, we do not need this power plant—efficiency measures alone can reduce demand by far more than the 6% of Massachusetts electricity generation supplied by the plant. Third, in order for the US to exert global leadership on climate, we must take decisive and difficult steps in the right direction for our own nation. The closure of all US coal plants, coupled with the sort of vigorous advancement of efficiencies and renewables that is much talked about but little acted upon, would create the political and moral basis for effective global leadership by the US, without which no global solution is possible.
We are faced with an imperative like none confronted by any previous generation; we are living in a society that is disavows responsibility for this greatest of crises, and lacks any process or means by which decisions, like that to extend the life of Brayton Point, might be affected. It is our choice to take direct, non-violent action—putting our bodies between the Brayton Point coal plant and its water-borne coal supply—in an attempt to achieve the outcome necessary for planetary survival; the immediate closure of Brayton Point Power Station.
This morning, Ken and Jay, with the help of friends from 350 New Jersey, delivered a letter to Dominion and its proposed buyer, Energy Capital Partners, cc’d to Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, explaining why the sale should not be allowed and the plant should be closed.
At a little before noon, Ken and Jay were taken into Coast Guard custody. The fate of the Henry David T. remained unknown.
Here’s to Ken and Jay: “crazy,” “radical”—and right.
* * *
Update (7:40pm ET Wednesday): Ken Ward called me from Fall River, where he stood outside a restaurant awaiting an order of cod. Ken had the following to report: He and Jay were not arrested, nor even detained, by the Coast Guard or other authorities (local and state) who responded, and after some difficulty hauling up the Henry David T.'s anchor, they were allowed to leave. Ken and Jay are not aware of any charges to be brought against them, though Ken said they were told by the Coast Guard that they were vulnerable to a federal fine of $40,000 (per day) for blocking a waterway, and that they would be responsible for the cost of their removal (it was unclear what that cost might be, if any). They stayed onboard the HDT the entire time they were at anchor. The Coast Guard personnel boarded the boat, conducted a routine safety inspection, and issued a warning: the Henry David T. was apparently one foghorn short.
But the lobster boat and its crew succeeded in stopping the tanker's shipment of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station, at least for one day.
Full disclosure: Wen Stephenson helped launch the grassroots network 350 Massachusetts and serves on the board of Better Future Project.
While Congress dallies on immigration reform, deportations rage on. Read Aura Bogado’s take.
John McCain confers with Charles Schumer. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File.)
John McCain, who seems never to have met a country he didn’t want to bomb, now appears never to have seen a peace conference he didn’t want to wreck.
Speaking about the current plans to convene a conference on Syria involving both the government of President Assad and the rebels, and co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, McCain had this comment:
It’s fine with me to have meeting or gathering or conference or whatever it is. But the only way that the Russians are going to be cooperative on this effort is if they believe that Assad is losing. That’s why we should act before any conference takes place…. That means a no-fly zone, that means [giving] heavy weapons to the resistance.
Leave aside the snarky comment “or whatever it is.” (It’s a peace conference, and it’s a desperate, last-ditch effort to prevent catastrophic bloodshed and a regional crisis, Senator McCain.) By proposing to provide heavy weapons to the “resistance,” which includes Islamists of all stripes, some of whom are allied to Al Qaeda, McCain is essentially suggesting to sabotage the conference itself.
In a hopeful sign, Assad has provided Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a list of attendees for the conference. So far, at least, the rebels have not done the same, but Secretary of State Kerry is diligently working on the Syrian Free Army and the other Syrian groups to attend. Kerry warned Assad that if his side doesn’t take part in the conference, to be held sometime in the next few weeks, the United States will increase its aid to the rebel side and “unfortunately the violence will not end.” But that seems like a needless threat when, thus far, it’s the rebel side that hasn’t agreed to negotiate.
Let’s not underestimate the huge difficulties that stand in the way, with extremists and sectarian killers on both sides of the fight and a path to a settlement that is far from clear. It would probably start with a cease-fire, a suspension of arms deliveries to both sides, the provision of humanitarian aid across Syria, and a decision to negotiate indefinitely on what a transitional government might look like. That, at least, is what I see as the right way to go.
At least one rebel video shows a commander cutting open the body of a victim and eating what appears to be his heart. In the video, the monstrous fighter says: “You slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them.” That’s not an act calculated to encourage comity on either side. But, of course, there are terrible atrocities on both sides.
The Alawites, who belong to an offshoot of Shiism, are fearful that the rebels—who are led by fanatical Sunni extremists and Al Qaeda types—will exterminate them if they are victorious. By the same token, widespread atrocities against Sunnis in Syria are being carried out by government forces.
Here’s more from what Kerry said yesterday:
I have talked with almost all of the foreign ministers in the core group who will be meeting next week together in order to lay plans for this negotiation. The members of the opposition have been in touch.… It’s only been five days since this was announced and a huge amount of work is already under way. When we announced it, we said towards the end of the month (of May) or early June. We expect it to be exactly that, somewhere in early June, I would hope, and that’s our current expectation.
We believe the … best way to settle Syria is through a negotiated settlement.
One key issue is whether or not Iran will be asked to attend. In 2001-2002, of course, Iran was powerfully helpful in stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan, though that cooperation dried up when President Bush decalred Iran to be part of his “axis of evil” weeks later. Because Iran is a leading backer of Assad, it would be very useful to involve Iran over Syria. Here’s a brief exchange from the State Department briefing yesterday with Jen Psaki, the spokeswoman:
QUESTION: Jen, can you rule out the Iranians participating? Were they invited?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of the participants, that’s being discussed now. I can’t tell you who is—who will be and who won’t be participating at this stage.
QUESTION: Do you have any problem if the Iranians attend the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to parse that. We’re discussing this with the possible participants, with a number of people as we lead up to the planning for the conference.
So at least the Obama administration isn’t ruling out a role for Iran.
Read Robert Dreyfuss on the Moscow spy flap and why Ambassador Michael McFaul should be fired.