Over the summer, the Chicago Board of Education held a vote whether to shut fifty-four schools. Ultimately, the board voted to close fifty schools, a controversial decision that drew criticism from the city’s teachers union, parents, and students. Of the students affected by the closures, 88 percent are black, 10 percent Hispanic, and 94 percent come form low income households.
The city, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismissed concerns that the closures are a form of racial discrimination by promising students would have access to better facilities in what are called “welcoming schools.” Though some students and parents expressed concern that children would have to walk longer distances, oftentimes through dangerous parts of the city in order to reach their new schools, officials promised all the hassle would be worth it because the old, “bad” schools would be gone.
President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Karen Lewis was skeptical from the beginning:
“Closing 50 of our neighborhood schools is outrageous and no society that claims to care about its children can sit back and allow this to happen to them. There is no way people of conscience will stand by and allow these people to shut down nearly a third of our school district without putting up a fight. Most of these campuses are in the Black community. Since 2001 88% of students impacted by CPS School Actions are African-American. And this is by design.”
Lewis added, “These actions unnecessarily expose our students to gang violence, turf wars and peer-to-peer conflict. Some of our students have been seriously injured as a result of school closings. One died. Putting thousands of small children in harm’s way is not laudatory.”
But while the solution was tough, Emanuel insisted it was necessary:
“If we don’t make these changes, we haven’t lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago. And I did not run for office to shirk my responsibility,” he said.
Emanuel was out of town when schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett made the closures announcement.
Now, Chicago students and parents are beginning to fully comprehend the consequences of the closures and “welcoming schools,” and unsurprisingly, their real-life experiences are vastly different to city officials’ claims. Some Chicago families complain of overcrowding and an overall lack of support during the transition.
Devion Allen, an eighth grader, used to attend Lafayette Elementary, a school Allen describes as being “like a family.” In an interview with the AP, Allen said, “It’s not fair” in response to the city’s plans to turn the empty building into an arts high school operated as a contract school, publicly funded but privately run.
Allen now attends a “welcoming school,” The Choplin School, which is so overcrowded that the staff has been forced to give up on promised transitional provisions like a computer lab, the library, and art and music rooms. The AP also reports that the school’s psychologist, occupational therapist, and speech pathologist are working in windowless, unvented spaces that were formerly storage closets.
Sometimes, students are tested in these spaces.
The environment in the “welcoming schools” mirror the very complaints officials made of the original “bad schools” that they argued needed to be closed. Classrooms are still overcrowded and resources are scarce.
Special education students also have suffered, say teachers and student advocates. At least one school that has dozens of new special ed students, the Courtenay Language Arts Center, has yet to set up a behavioral health team to assess those children’s needs in a faster, more organized way, staff members say.
And teacher Michael Flynn says his school is using a room not much larger than one of those closets as a special education room for 13 children because there’s simply no other option.
“There’s not enough space. There’s not enough resources,” said Flynn, a longtime seventh-grade literature and social studies teacher at the James Otis World Language Academy, a welcoming school northwest of downtown Chicago. Despite the school’s name, the world languages teacher was among those who lost a classroom because of the space constraints and, instead, travels from room to room.
These kinds of findings aren’t new. University of Chicago research published in 2009 (pdf) found that previous closures in Chicago also didn’t do anything to better students’ education. In fact, the closures didn’t boost reading and math scores unless students transferred to higher-achieving schools, but a very small percentage of them actually ended up at those schools.
“Only 6 percent of displaced students enrolled in academically strong schools, while 42 percent of displaced students continued to attend schools with very low levels of academic achievement,” the report read.
The opposition to the education reformers in Chicago, and all across the country, continues. Students and teachers from more than sixty cities are slated to participate in a day of protest Monday that is being billed as the largest unified opposition to educational reforms that organizers say have devastated families and communities.
From Baltimore to Philadelphia to New Orleans to Chicago, parents, students and teachers will protest against mass school closings, the growing practice of turning over management of public schools to private companies and other measures that disproportionately hurt low-income students of color, organizers say. The day, which will feature dozens of coordinated events, is being organized by a coalition of labor, civic and civil rights organizations.
“The Day of Action is important because young people are under attack when it comes to public education,” Murphy, a high school senior who hopes to attend Howard University or Bowie State University next year, told The Root. “We have found that the educational decision-makers do not value the thoughts and opinions of young people. That creates a critical gap when it comes to making decisions about our future.”
This article was originally pubished in the student-run NYU Local.
Members of the NYU Student Labor Action Movement gathered on the 12th floor of Bobst Library on Friday December 6 to sing carols about workers’ rights. Likewise, they delivered a letter to John Sexton urging implementation of an updated code of conduct to protect the rights of workers in unsafe factories in Bangladesh that produce NYU apparel. The University Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday submitted by SLAM, specifically requiring NYU’s licensees to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh across the 28 factories that produce NYU apparel in the country. Only one licensee, Adidas, has signed the accord to date.
In the letter that SLAM members left with Sexton’s office today, the student activists cite the Rana Plaza disaster in April, where 1,132 workers died in a factory collapse, as well as the more recent Aswad textile factory fire in October. “While garment factory workers are fighting for their lives, our university, as a consumer of these products, has a moral obligation to ensure that those who produce our collegiate apparel can do so in a safe environment, without fear of dying at the workplace,” the letter said.
For today’s event, part of SLAM’s ongoing End Deathtraps campaign, the carolers rewrote popular Christmas tunes. To the tune of “Jingle Bells,” students sang: “N-Y-U, N-Y-U, safety is a right / Oh what fun it is to stand with workers in their fight!” They also presented “Joy to the Workers” and “Workers’ Rights Are Coming To Town” before finishing with “Twelve Days of Workers’ Rights.” (“On the first day of Christmas, John Sexton gave to me workers’ rights solidarity!”)
Robert Ascherman, a sophomore in the Gallatin program and one of SLAM’s carol writers, celebrated the University Senate’s decision. “We’re really excited that NYU is finally standing up for workers’ rights,” Ascherman said, but the campaign to establish workers’ rights is not yet complete. “All decisions at NYU go through John Sexton himself. The [Senate's] decision was really just an advising decision on updating the code of conduct, so we went caroling to encourage him to do what’s right.”
SLAM had also previously discussed the recommendation with university senators, faced off against Sexton at this semester’s town halls, held a “die-in” at the University Senate, and written to Sexton about the issues at stake.
“It’s one thing to update our code of conduct,” Ascherman said. “What’s really going to be a test of NYU’s morality is whether or not it boycotts these companies. We’ll continue to fight this campaign through to the end.”
David Simon, former newspaper reporter and creator/writer/showrunner of Homicide, The Corner, The Wire and Treme, is known for his often angry denunciations of modern-day captialist America and the staggering gap between the well-off and the struggling. Last month he appeared at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia, where he spoke at length on these themes.
It took a month, but on Sunday The Guardian published a highly edited version on its site—under the title, “There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show”—which drew wide attention. As far as I can see, no one posted the video of his entire talk, however, along with questions from a host and the audience. So here’s one excerpt from the edited piece and then the full video.
Societies are exactly what they sound like. If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have “some”, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to get the same amount. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It’s not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don’t get left behind. And there isn’t a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.
And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.
We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, supports another potentially disastrous cut to food stamps, writes Greg Kaufmann.
It’s one of the most frequent questions people ask me about conservatives: “When they say X, do they really mean it?” Does, for example, Rick Santorum really mean it when he says about Nelson Mandela, as he did in a recent interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, “He was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and increasing people’s lives—and Obamacare is front and center in that.” And I have to answer that largely, as astonishing as it may seem, they do.
Never mind that the size of government is not “ever-increasing” (see here). Empirical debunking cannot reach the deepest fear of the reactionary mind, which is that the state—that devouring leviathan—will soon swallow up all traces of human volition and dignity. The conclusion is based on conservative moral convictions that reason can’t shake.
Recently the outstanding political reporter Brian Beutler, now writing for Salon, wrote in a piece headlined “Right-Wing Extremists Face New Moral Conundrum” that as long as Healthcare.gov isn't working like it is supposed to, Republicans could “ignore the moral imperative they face” to help their constituents get healthcare. “A working site that can service a million people a day destroys that excuse. Some conservative groups have been craven and reckless enough to actively discourage people from enrolling in Affordable Care Act coverage.” I guarantee, though, that few or no conservative politicians are losing sleep over this. Instead, they judge themselves heroes. Waylaying their constituents’ ability to avail themselves of federally subsidized healthcare is not a “moral conundrum” for them. It is a deeply moral project. The immorality, as they see it, would be to allow people to become dependent on the state for their health.
I’ve been repeating myself, but clarity is very important here: know thine enemy. (OK, we’re liberals; we don’t have enemies. Know thine adversary.) Theirs is a morality entirely incommensurate with liberalism—but it is a morality.
One of its theorists was the Christian reconstructionist theologian Dr. Rousas J. Rushdoony. He wrote in his 1972 book The Messianic Character of American Education that since “the nuclear family is the basic unit of God’s covenant,” undermining the vaulting ambitions of the secular state was a godly duty. But you don’t have to be a Christian Reconstructionist or advocate, as Rushdoony did and his followers do, returning to biblical punishments like stoning to share the same intuition. Even mild-mannered Gerald Ford, usually not judged a frothing right-winger, used to love the nostrum “A government big enough to give everything to you is big enough to take everything away.”
Relying on government is slavery: it’s a consistent trope within modern conservatism. We see it today from the extremist doctors who refuse to “submit” to being reimbursed for their services by Medicaid, or even the government-tainted private insurance companies. They’re organized in a 4,000-member group called the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons. Senator Rand Paul is a member; its website features him asserting that if you believe in a “right to health care,” then “you believe in slavery.” And what kind of moral person believes in slavery?
Then there’s the old saw that the deal the Democrats supposedly offer African-Americans—you vote for us; we give you free stuff—returns them to “slavery.” The first use of that metaphor I’ve identified was by Ronald Reagan in 1968. A black reporter asked him why there were so few blacks at Republican events. The California governor politely but forcefully replied that it wasn’t Republicans who were racist but the supposedly liberal Democrats who “had betrayed them…. The Negro has has delivered himself to those who have no other intention than to create a federal plantation and ignore him.” The New York Times reported, “Reagan handled the situation so smoothly that some of the newsmen aboard his chartered 727 suggested, half-seriously, that the Reagan organization had set up the incident.”
What does this insight—that conservatives are immune to charges of “immorality” when it comes to denying citizens government services because they believe “hooking” people on government services is profoundly immoral—mean in terms of practical politics? For one thing, that Democrats will never get political credit from conservatives for downsizing or “reinventing” government. Just to speak of the state as something other than the source of all evil is enough to send chills down right-wing spines. Had JFK lived to give the speech he was scheduled to give at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963, he intended to set conservatives straight: “At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.” But I don’t think Texans were going to turn in their John Birch Society membership cards, the scales falling from their eyes, when they learned of the facts.
And given the rank anti-empirical irrationalism that undergirds such convictions, it’s not like the White House can now avoid brickbats by somehow “submerging” progressive action by the state. Which, unfortunately, is what the Obama Administration has habitually tried to do. "Design of the Affordable Care Act,” as The Washington Post reported in a major investigation last month, “was hampered by the White House’s political sensitivity to Republican hatred of the law—sensitivity so intense that the president’s aides ordered that some work be slowed down or remain secret for fear of feeding the opposition. Inside the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the main agency responsible for the exchanges, there was no single administrator whose full-time job was to manage the project.”
But it’s not like their overabundance of caution earned a single Republican vote in Congress, or kept Republican attorney generals from suing to end its implementation, or four conservative Supreme Court justices from seeking to strike down the entire act (and a fifth, John Roberts, from ruling on its legality in away that set a precedent that might make future major government initiatives harder to constitutionally defend). It couldn’t have. Conservatives’ deepest moral convictions determined their reaction in advance. Anything liberals do to use the government to help people will be judged by genuine conservatives as an abomination; always have, always will. But genuine conservatives are in the American minority, as I wrote here last month. Isn’t it better to simply sin boldly and let our conservatives devils have the hindmost? Use the state to make people’s lives better. Do it without apology. That’s our moral imperative that should be beyond compromise.
In Part Five of this series, Rick Perlstein discusses conservatives' complicated relationship to the truth.
“The mere dimensions” of À la recherche du temps perdu, the critic Ernest Boyd wrote in The Nation in 1924, “are sufficient to inspire respect, and to arouse curiosity in that section of the public which likes to talk about books rather than read them…. The result is that there has been much more enthusiasm displayed over Marcel Proust than knowledge of his work.”
Almost ninety years on, that has never been truer than it is now, as some of the writing occasioned by last month’s centenary of the publication of Swann’s Way, the first volume in Proust’s magnum opus, showed. It is nearly impossible to find an article on the anniversary not containing the word “madeleine.”
From our first notice of Proust to our most recent—the first-ever publication in English, in 1971, of excerpts from Proust’s prefaces to the writings of art critic John Ruskin—The Nation has always displayed both enthusiasm for his work and knowledge of it, consistently marveling over “Proust’s conviction that we recapture the past, with its emotions, not by any effort of the intelligence but through the accidental stimulus of an odor, a musical phrase, an involuntary movement, a flavor upon the tongue” (Dorothy Brewster in 1926), or “his power to communicate an egotistical absorption in the poignancy of a cherished pain” (Joseph Wood Krutch in 1930).
Even our first review of his work, in the December 7, 1921, issue, recognized the permanent impact the Recherche would have upon world literature.
“Of all that has been written of Marcel Proust,” Ellen FitzGerald wrote, “little has been said of what he is contributing to the novel in this growing landmark.”
Some critics dismiss it as a novel of manners; others appreciate it as a product of style. No one has pointed out that this “Recherche du temps perdu” is a reviving and even recreating of old matter and old method into new effects, is what every novel should be—a discovery of something new both in life and art.
This novel has no hero, no dominant character whose destiny is the reader’s concern. Yet unless the reader of these volumes sees that the anonymous, negative, impersonal character of the child, boy, and youth who successively has the place of hero is a triumph of creative skill, all the more powerful because his unobtrusiveness is the very vantage point from which he observes, analyses, projects, paints whole groups, he misses the first marvel of M. Proust’s skill…The prologue, an exquisite bit of reverie, establishes the poetical mood of the hero, how he is to see his world. Memory has perhaps never been so demonstrated to be what Plato called it—the mother of the Muses. The pain, the sensitiveness, the inexplicable suffering of a child have never been distilled into more wistful poetry. Child psychology has something precious in these pages, just as it has in James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist.” M. Proust’s method is of the two the more rational…
Poetry deepens as memory penetrates unafraid into the sanctuary of emotion, passion, beauty of every kind. A temperamental, intellectual youth and his world live for us again, a world where the pale cast of thought admits little gaiety but touches instead to new issues a whole epoch where mood gives perspective to all the scenes. How everything expands and deepens because the mental reliving quickens consciousness to an almost wizard power!
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Timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of Swann’s Way last month, Yale University Press published Proust biographer William Carter’s “new, more accurate, and illuminating” revision of the first volume of C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s classic translation, itself published from 1922 (the year of Proust’s death) through 1930 (the year of Moncrieff’s death), which “corrects previous translating missteps to bring readers closer to Proust’s intentions.”
As early as 1924, The Nation’s Ernest Boyd—a signer of the famous Greenwich Village Bookshop Door—recognized the need for such a revision, arguing in his review of the second Moncrieff volume that he didn’t see it as “anything more than an ordinarily competent piece of translation…an exercise in the manner of Henry James.” Moreover, Boyd wrote, “Mr. Scott Moncrieff is guilty of actual blunders, which are rather elementary in many cases, and indicate, at best, an unfamiliarity with the fine shades of French, which is a serious defect in the translator of a work which rests upon a perfect feeling for the nuances of French speech and manners.” He then went on to skewer a few glaring mistakes—“Mr. Scott Moncrieff’s misfortunes with ‘barbante,’ ‘barbifant,’ and ‘raseurs’ are worthy of a place in a collection of schoolboys’ ‘howlers’ ”—and to declare his work “not the greatest translation,” but adding, “nor is Proust himself, for that matter, the greatest French prose writer of the age.”
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Beginning with The Cities of the Plain, or in the more recent style, Sodom and Gomorrah, in 1928, The Nation’s longtime drama critic (and resident Proustian) Joseph Wood Krutch reviewed each new Moncrieff translation as it was published. (The last, Time Regained, was completed by Frederick A. Blossom after Moncrieff’s 1930 death.) Perhaps the most telling feature of the series of reviews, excerpted below, is that almost every single one calls each successive book under review at least as good, if not better, than its predecessors. One “yields to none of the previous volumes in interest or beauty”; another “is at least an example as striking as any other of the nature of that sensibility peculiar to him”; and another, the last, is “more essential than any of the other single volumes to an understanding of Proust.” Reading Krutch’s (uncollected) reviews of Proust now, one is reawakened not only to the power of Proust’s writing and of the best writing on Proust, but also to the thrill it must have been to read his work, as Krutch wrote, “as they have appeared one by one” rather than “at a single gulp.” Perhaps the closest contemporary readers will get to retrieving that irretrievable experience is in the publication of William Carter’s revised Moncrieff translations, scheduled to be released annually for the next several years. Krutch’s commentaries from the pages of The Nation will be an invaluable aid for newcomers and veteran Proustians alike.
Volume 4: The Cities of the Plain (1928): “One of the earliest English commentators upon the work of Marcel Proust was disturbed by what he regarded as a moral obtuseness on the part of the author…. but he who cannot accept…our author’s willingness to sink the gentleman as well as the man when his curiosity is aroused had best make up his mind once and for all that Proust is not for him, because Proust would not be Proust had he not renounced all the obligations of life at the same time that he renounced life itself…
“When, burying himself in his chamber, [Proust] brought his life as a human being to an end the result was not at all to detach himself from it in the sense of freeing the logical faculties from the bondage of the senses, since his consciousness remained, what it had always been, primarily a realm of finely discriminated sensations, and since he turned not from perceptions to thoughts, but merely from perceptions to the memory of perceptions. But the fact that he was dead in the sense that he no longer planned to take any part in life, that he no longer felt any desires capable of eventuating in an act, not only made it possible for him to live passionately in memory and to approach more nearly than, perhaps, any other man ever did to that ‘total recall’ which is a psychological impossibility, but also made inevitable that disappearance of all ethical or conventional standards which distressed the English commentator.”
Volume 5: The Captive (1929): “Proust was doubtless led to his all but obsessive interest in the contrast between the absolute value of our desires while they last and the rapidity with which they can, nevertheless, utterly disappear, by his own experience with the complexities of the sexual passion. Though assigning a wholly romantic value to this last he nevertheless completely dissociated the idea of love from the idea of permanence, and his realization of the fact that a change in his dominant desire made, in effect, a new person of him led him to notice how many similar if less striking examples of the same phenomenon are to be observed when we consider the interests, opinions, and even manners of a man. And at last it came to seem to him that it was folly to speak of himself, of Albertine, or of Charlus as though any one of them were an entity maintaining its identity while time flowed past, and that a novel could be significant only if it were everywhere dominated by the sense that even the personalities for which the constantly recurring names stand are as fluid as the medium through which they float…. Others have struggled to rescue something from the flood; they have cherished at least the delusion that there are certain rocks around which the waves break. But his is a universe in which every molecule is fluid.”
Volume 6: The Sweet Cheat Gone (1932): “Disillusioned enough he was with many things, with morals for example, and he had neither any code nor any standards besides those which his tastes supplied. Yet there were capacities and faiths which he still retained. He still believed, for example, in the sufficiency of the senses and in the value of art. He never, like so many moderns, found himself in a world limited and debased by the impossibility of escape from psychology, anthropology, and Freudianism. The world was still absorbingly, still amazingly, interesting. Women, most women, were to him magical and mysterious. Conversations were witty, salons were thrilling, and artists—even contemporary artists—incalculably great. In a word, he respected his desires, his tastes, and his amusements, and hence, though experience might be predominantly painful, it was neither meaningless nor mean. And that perhaps is the secret of the individual charm of his world. It is one viewed with the critical freedom of modern thought and one in which skepticism rules. Yet it is somehow glamorous as well.”
Volume 7: The Past Recaptured (1932): “Once [the Recherche] has been read, it is literally unforgettable. The experiences which it affords become never-to-be-lost parts of one’s own experience. Half a dozen of the individual characters, as well as the conception as a whole, are solid, unescapable, and like some event of history they are always there whether one approves or disapproves, admires or despises. No student of literature, whatever his opinions or his tastes, can forget its existence, and it could no more be done away with in response to an aesthetic whim than a pyramid or a cathedral could be done away with by some advocate of an exclusively “modern” world. Of how many other books written during the last thirty years can that be said?
Krutch’s status as one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Proust in his time—and perhaps any time—was affirmed in 1934, when he provided the introduction to the four-volume Random House edition of Moncrieff’s translation—described by Random House publisher Bennett Cerf as “one of the typographical masterpieces of 1934” and “one of the most successful publishing projects in the history of Random House”—which was reviewed in The Nation by Krutch’s close friend (and former literary editor of the magazine) Mark Van Doren. Though he dutifully complimented a “compact and beautiful introduction,” Van Doren wrote that Proust’s work itself would probably not survive the advance of his novel’s great subject, Time. Van Doren’s self-described “minority report” argued that Proust—the hero of whose books “spends most of his time in bed with three women—his mother, his grandmother, and [his housekeeper] Francois—always there to caress him and indulge him, to kiss him goodnight, to draw his curtains in the morning, to roast him a delicious fowl when he is hungry, and to tiptoe out of hearing when he wants to think”—was “preposterously, insufferably, spoiled,” and therefore condemned to supply his readers with an incomplete world stocked with incomplete characters.” The Recherche, Van Doren concluded, would not be popular forever, and seemed upon reflection “both wonderful and trivial, both mammoth and minor.”
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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Researched by and written with Richard Kreitner.
There’s a lot of news this week on the American Legislative Exchange Council and the related network of state-based think tanks, the State Policy Network.
Almost a year ago, when I was at a small upstart blog called Republic Report, we first sent a letter to corporations involved with ALEC, asking them to leave the organization, given its role in crafting the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. The Guardian unveiled a trove of documents revealing that ALEC has suffered tremendously from the negative press around those efforts, which involved a group of left-of-center organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy and Color of Change. Many businesses actually did leave ALEC.
While ALEC seems down, they’re not out. According to the documents obtained by The Guardian, ALEC and its allied organization, SPN, have redoubled their efforts to expand and find new funding streams. The documents suggest fundraising off of gambling efforts, efforts to push worker retirement accounts into dubious 401(k)-style plans, and other corporate giveaways that ALEC and SPN can spin into legislative templates and advocacy. Specific corporations and lobbying organizations are listed as prospective donors. The money just never stops.
This is the inherent difference between right-leaning organizations and their counterparts on the left. Large corporations view their right-wing giving as a strong return on investment. For almost every major conservative issue campaign, at least on economic policy, the wealthy and powerful ultimately benefit, meaning their donations to groups like ALEC and their cohorts are well-served. If corporate donors give to the left, as they sometimes do, they risk higher taxes, more empowered workers and less influence over elections. So it should be no surprise the the vast majority of corporate wealth in politics flows to the right and far right.
This pattern has repeated itself for many decades, though it has accelerated in recent years. During the course of my research on how the conservative movement rebuilt itself in the aftermath of the 2008 elections, I found myself digging through many historical files that show this dynamic repeating itself like an endless feedback loop.
On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s passing this week, it is worth remembering that many American conservative organizations opposed his struggle by fighting against sanctions and divestment from the apartheid regime that oppressed him.
For ALEC, that meant partnering with corporations that faced calls for South African divestment and creating template legislation to block the pro-Mandela movement.
Below is a camera phone picture of one Legislative Update from ALEC describing its campaign in the 1980s to block South African divestment. During this period, ALEC’s corporate membership included a number of businesses with interests in South Africa, including IBM:
For more on how the recent history of the conservative movement, including the role of ALEC and SPN, my book The Machine: A Field Guide the Resurgent Right delves much deeper. Also, The Nation has a thorough investigation of SPN/ALEC in the April 15 edition, which you can find here.
Allison Kilkenny takes a closer look at the effects of Chicago school closures.
Miami. Baton Rouge. Jacksonville. Columbia, South Carolina: these are not the places that immediately come to mind when considering America’s HIV epidemic. But in the ranking of US cities with the highest HIV rates, they are numbers one, two, three and six, respectively.
On Thursday The New York Times ran an important story by Donald McNeil Jr. about the “new face” of HIV— young, poor black and Hispanic men who have sex with men. One thing not mentioned in the article—which focuses on New York City—is the geography of the epidemic, which is now concentrated and most deadly in the Southern states. While only 37 percent of Americans live in the South, half of new HIV infections originate there. Eight of the ten states with the highest rate of infection are in the South, as are nine of the ten states with the highest AIDS fatalities rates.
McNeil focuses mostly on the scarcity of resources available to fund targeted messaging in black and Hispanic communities, and that’s certainly a problem. But the regional dynamics of HIV, and the fact that young men of color who have sex with men actually engage in less high-risk behavior than their white cohorts suggest that messaging isn’t the only thing needed. McNeil’s conclusion is that when it comes the spread of HIV among young men of color, “the prospects for change look grim” because “the national response is fragmented and hesitant.”
There are two policies on the table that could have a profound effect on the rate of new infections in the United States, which has hovered near 50,000 new cases a year for a decade: the expansion of Medicaid, and comprehensive immigration reform. The implications of these policies for HIV are magnified by the fact that their impact would be particularly strong in the South.
Medicaid and immigration reform won’t change the social conservatism of the Bible Belt, which expresses itself in a lack of comprehensive sex education, stigma, absence of needle exchange programs and a general “sweeping under the rug” of conversations about sexual health and risk reduction, explained Susan Reif, a researcher at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research. But those policies can change some of the material circumstances that have made the Deep South the locus of the HIV epidemic, namely the higher rates of poverty, higher proportions of uninsured people and more limited access to care.
“Right now, Medicaid expansion is really one of the most important things that we need,” said Rainey Copps, executive director of the Southern Aids Coalition. Eligibility criteria are more stringent in Southern states than in other regions, leaving many of the people who are at highest risk for HIV uninsured, limiting their access to preventive care, testing and treatment. The Affordable Care Act was designed to close this coverage gap by expanding eligibility to all adults with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Every state in the Deep South except Arkansas has opted out of the expansion.
Because of the South’s stringent eligibility requirements, Medicaid programs in those states cover far fewer HIV-positive individuals than others do. Nationally, Medicaid is the primary form of insurance coverage for people with HIV/AIDs, and still a quarter of HIV-positive Americans are uninsured. In the Deep South, HIV-positive patients below the poverty line have to be so sick with AIDS that they reach disability status before they qualify for coverage.
“With the Medicaid expansion we could have included a lot more people who are HIV-positive in Medicaid, and therefore they would more readily be able to access medication and medical care. It’s very disappointing that that’s not going to happen,” said Reif. She noted that increasing access to treatment isn’t important only for people who are already sick. It also helps to slow transmission of the virus.
Because of the significant economic benefits that the expansion offers states, it’s likely that Southern lawmakers will eventually come around on Medicaid. But that will still leave out one group at high risk for HIV: undocumented immigrants, who don’t qualify for any coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Without legal protections, undocumented immigrants are less likely to seek out testing and treatment, and they’re harder to reach with public health campaigns. Accordingly, immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship, as well as access to care for people in the process of legalization, should be a priority.
“The nationwide, government-led effort to increase HIV testing and awareness and to incorporate HIV-positive individuals into the care system as quickly as possible will flounder [sic] if any sectors of the population are excluded due to a short-sighted reluctance to extend benefits based on immigration status,” warns the Deep South Project and the Latino Commission on AIDS.
It may not be a coincidence that the region with the worst HIV rates also has the fastest-growing Hispanic population, one increasingly subject to discrimination. “We have an area where the epidemic is high, an area where we know that there is a community that has lived in the shadows for years, and where access to information, care, prevention, testing and treatment is limited,” said Robin Lewy, director of education at the Florida-based Rural Women’s Health Center. She doesn’t believe that lack of awareness or stigma within Hispanic communities necessarily accounts for their vulnerability to HIV. The problem, Lewy said, is that “immigrants in general cannot prioritize HIV. Their priorities are survival, economic realties, problems of acculturation and xenophobia.”
Of course, not all Hispanics are immigrants, and Lewy believes that demographic research that goes beyond race is needed in order to understand how HIV really plays out between groups. “You have to distinguish a Mexican-American third generation man from a Guatemalan man who crossed the border three months ago,” she said. “We have to respond to great inequalities within the epidemic, and one of the ways to do that is to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of our different communities.”
Why is a Senate Democrat agreeing to $8 billion in food stamp cuts?
Nelson Mandela was a union man.
Long aligned with the Congress of South African Trade Unionists, Mandela framed his presidency with a declaration that: “The kind of democracy that we all seek to build demands that we deepen and broaden the rights of all citizens. This includes a culture of workers’ rights.”
In South Africa, as a young campaigner for racial justice, Mandela was profoundly influenced by the 1946 African Mine Workers Union strike. He learned organizing skills from AMWU activists and would become a champion of the miners, telling workers, “It is your sweat and blood that has created the vast wealth that white South Africa enjoys.”
Mandela, the African National Congress leader, Nobel Prize winner and first president of the new South Africa, who died Thursday at age 95, recognized the organization of workers as a part of the freedom struggle and of the formation of a just society.
Unlike so many leaders who rise of power with the support of organized labor but then distance themselves from the movement, Mandela never broke the bond. He proudly served to the end of his days as the honorary president of South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers. He declared himself to be “fully committed to the protection of the integrity of the collective bargaining system.” And he spoke movingly about how the “international solidarity of workers of the world enables us to learn from each other, to support each other and strengthen our ties in the face of multinational strategies for profit maximization and exploitation.”
For generations to come, there will wide-ranging and appropriate discussion of Mandela’s remarkable contributions to our understanding of freedom, democracy, tolerance and basic human relations.
Yet, it is that understanding of international solidarity that comes to mind when people ask me about the years when I covered Mandela in South Africa and on his global travels. I saw it most powerfully during his remarkable twelve-day visit to the United States in 1990, which came just four months after his release from the Victor Verster Prison. Mandela addressed the Congress and the United Nations and visited with the president of the New York Stock Exchange. And he went to Detroit, where he was determined to thank members of United Auto Workers Local 600 for their early and militant opposition to apartheid.
The machines stopped at the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn in June 1990. Workers held aloft unfurled “Local 600” banners to welcome the South African leader on what was dubbed his “Freedom Tour.” When Mandela finally appeared, he was greeted by United Auto Workers president Owen Bieber and vice president Ernie Lofton. Mandela recalled the struggle to organize the plant in the 1930s and told the assembled workers: “It is you who have made the United States of America a superpower, a leader of the world.”
Bieber produced a UAW lifetime membership card and Mandela held it aloft, displaying it to the cheering crowd of autoworkers. Then, wearing a UAW jacket and hat, a beaming Mandela stepped to the microphone and declared, “Sisters and brothers, friends and comrades, the man who is speaking is not a stranger here. The man who is speaking is a member of the UAW. I am your flesh and blood.”
Douglas Foster discusses the meaning of Mandela.
The anti-choice movement is up in arms over my play, MOM BABY GOD, and I have a simple message for them: Bring it on. We’re not backing down.
Based on two years of immersive undercover research on the anti-choice movement, MOM BABY GOD explores the resurgent attack on reproductive rights and, especially, the student arm of the anti-choice movement. As firm believers that live theater can be an important tool for social change, the MOM BABY GOD team (myself, director Emma Weinstein and designer and production manager Allison Smartt), decided to take the show on tour across the country this fall to engage audiences in urgent conversations about the escalating attack on reproductive freedoms.
Little did we know, while we were on tour performing for enthusiastic crowds, Students for Life of America was busy plotting a smear campaign against the show. In an article in National Review attacking the show, Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins admitted that she sent a male Students for Life representative undercover to our sold-out New York City premiere, wearing state-of-the-art spy glasses to illegally film the show. Hawkins now claims that Students for Life won’t release the footage because it is “too vulgar to release to the general public.”
The show follows Jessica Beth Giffords, a 15-year-old girl who is equal parts Justin Bieber superfan and aspiring pro-life celebrity, as she attends the Students for Life of America Conference. Throughout the hour-long solo performance, Jessica interacts with six other characters based on real-life pro-life activists, from crisis pregnancy center directors to ministers to self-described “pro-life feminists”. We follow her as she absorbs the misinformation in an abstinence-only “sexual purity” workshop and struggles to contain her crush on a popular and flirtatious Christian boy who sports a purity ring. This sexual struggle and the notion that girls and women can embody sexual desire outside of the context of heterosexual marriage is precisely what Students for Life finds so vulgar.
I would argue that the only “vulgarity” in MOM BABY GOD is the very right-wing politics that Students for Life champions. And far from being an embellished send-up of the right-wing, I found no need in MOM BABY GOD to exaggerate the tactics and rhetoric I encountered within the anti-choice movement.
Since the 2011 congressional attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, I have been immersing myself in the anti-choice movement. Inspired by the NARAL investigations of crisis pregnancy centers and by theater that puts real people’s voices and stories onstage, I began to craft a solo show that asked the questions, “How, forty years after Roe v. Wade, have we lost so much ground?” And, of perhaps more importance, “What are we going to do to fight back?”
Going undercover in the anti-choice movement was the acting challenge of a lifetime. While I never assumed a fake identity, I bit my tongue too many times to count. At the Students for Life of America Conference, I interviewed a group of teenage boys who told me how hard it is to remain “sexually pure,” especially with so many cute, like-minded pro-life girls around. I got beers with “pro-life feminists” who assured me that sex is “way better” when you wait for your hot Christian husband. And I listened patiently, if with difficulty, as a young man earnestly explained the “science” behind why, in his words, “sex between two women doesn’t work.”
At a crisis pregnancy center fundraiser, I participated in a painful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to the babies “saved” by the CPC. And I had to contain my rage when, at the Youth Rally for Life, a prominent anti-choice activist referred to the crowd as “survivors” of a “Holocaust against the unborn,” co-opting the language of anti-rape activists and equating abortion clinics with Nazi death camps in the same breath.
This may be why Kristan Hawkins and anti-choice activists like her seem so afraid of MOM BABY GOD: It holds a mirror up to the anti-choice movement and exposes the sexist and sexually repressive nature of their politics. Even more threatening, MOM BABY GOD inspires audiences to fight back.
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In every city, audience members—from young women to my partner’s 52-year-old dad—signed up to become clinic escorts at area clinics. In our post-show discussions, clinic staff spoke about the scare tactics anti-choice activists use to harass women and staff members alike. Young queer people talked about how homophobic abstinence-only education prevented them from coming out.
Most significantly, people wanted to know what we could do to build a movement to counter anti-choice politics and fight for reproductive justice. In every discussion, I’ve made the same point: the first lesson we can learn from the anti-choice movement is that they have gained so much ground because they are the ones in the streets shaping public opinion. Just like the abortion rights activists of the 1970s who held public speak-outs to break the silence around abortion, we need to be in the streets today, shaping the conversation and changing hearts and minds.
The day after the National Review article was published, MOM BABY GOD opened booking for our West Coast Spring 2014 tour. Come see what the right-wing is so afraid of. Bring us to your campus and community. And join us as we take the anti-choice movement head-on and fight for reproductive justice for all.
Jessica Valenti explains why some companies are refusing to include birth control coverage in their insurance plans.
When I was senior editor at Crawdaddy—for most of the 1970s—I convinced Gil Scott-Heron to become an occasional columnist. He was well-known, in certain circles, for his “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and for a later cult hit “The Bottle” and excellent album Winter in America, but he was hardly a commercial superstar. Crawdaddy never cared about that and was always eager to promote any kind of lefty musician. Gil’s antinuclear epic “We Almost Lost Detroit” remains relevant to this day (I linked to it here after the Fukushima disaster).
And who can forget “Whitey on the Moon”?
I only met Gil a couple of times, including once backstage at a Central Park concert where I picked up a column (it seemed the only way I’d ever get it). But we chatted on the phone a few times and corresponded. He was a bright and engaging guy, and about to go a little more mainstream with his semi-hit song “Johannesburg.” Before its release, he wrote about it for me at Crawdaddy. It was based on his mid-1970s trip there, with Nelson Mandela a long way from being freed, and gave us the lyrics before the single came out.
“Hey brother have you heard the word—Johannesburg!” Brothers were “defying the man” and Gil hated “when the blood starts flowing” but he was “glad to see resistance growing.” And hey, weren’t some aspects of US ciites, such as Detroit, “like Johannesburg”? One of the great songs of the 1970s. R.I.P. Mandela—and Gil.
Douglas Foster eulogizes Nelson Mandela.