Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
What are Republicans for? We know they are against healthcare reform. They voted en masse against it, shut down the government to stop it and have voted nearly fifty times to defund it. We know they are against government spending. They’ve voted for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s draconian budgets, which would slash spending so deeply that even some Republicans are in increasingly open revolt. But those budgets don’t go anywhere. So what do Republicans propose that actually addresses the challenges facing the nation or its people?
Republican leaders are clearly concerned that their policy house is largely vacant. In his dissection of the lost 2012 campaign, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus noted that Republicans suffer a “major deficiency”—the “perception that the GOP does not care about people.” He urged a renewed effort to become “the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder.”
All that advice was lost in the anti-Obama venom that unifies Republicans. But after the government shutdown sent Republican poll numbers plummeting to new depths, a new effort—or at least a new public relations push—has been launched. The early reports make the administration’s botched health-care takeoff look smooth by comparison.
Politico noted that Republicans trooping into House majority leader Eric Cantor’s office received a paper titled “Agenda 2014.” The paper was blank. As of now, Politico reported, details are scant, but Republicans seem to be focused more on identifying the problems than the solutions. “The beginning should always be what are the problems we’re trying to fix,” said Republican policy chair James Lankford (Okla.). Or as a GOP aide involved in the planning sessions was quoted: “Cantor wants to take us in a new direction, which is good. The problem is that we don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
President Obama yesterday rightly slammed opposition to the US-Iran deal that was reached over the weekend. The critics, unfortunately given far too much time by the media, are in a frenzy to stop the deal. They’re using extreme and overblown rhetoric and throwing everything that they can into the mix. It’s Munich! Iranian suitcase bombs will be blowing up in New York! We can’t negotiate with terrorists! What about human rights?! And so on.
But the accord is a done deal, and its effects are already being felt. The Iranian currency, the rial, is strengthening, and oil prices are falling. The Europeans are already talking about meeting in January to ease sanctions on Iran further. And for the rest of the world it’s sinking in: for the first time in thirty-four years, there’s a chance that the United States and Iran might do more than strike a limited deal to wind down Iran’s nuclear program. It’s possible that the two countries could reach a détente, and work together on problems from Syria and Afghanistan to terrorism, world energy problems, and—believe it not!—even Palestine.
Of course, it’s early—but there’s no going back now. The US-Iran accord has the potential to be a transformational event. Let’s count the ways.
First, it can vastly change the world oil market, and that’s a big part of the reason why Saudi Arabia is so worried. Iran’s oil output, at about 1 million barrels a day now, could almost instantly rise to 2.5 million b/d, and from there it could go up significantly, to as much as 4 million b/d or more. Already, world oil companies are quietly jockeying to take advantage of an opening in Iran, which needs hundreds of billions of dollars in investments to rebuild its production facilities, pipelines, export facilities and refineries. That’ll be good news for China, India, Japan and other consumers in East Asia, and along with rising output in recovering Iraq and Libya, it’ll add a lot to world production. Prices will fall, and among OPEC countries it’s Saudi Arabia that will have to absorb the shock. Saudi Arabia will be faced with the choice of getting far less for its exports, per barrel, or cutting back on its own production to keep prices stable. So, if you thought that Saudi opposition to the Iran deal was only about the Sunni-Shiite struggle for power in the Middle East, well, there’s more to it.
The accord is transformational in other ways, too. It changes the ground rules of the whole region. If Iran winds down its nuclear program, it will reap vast rewards in terms of expanded trade, investment and business with the rest of the world. That will help moderates in Iran—including the business class, led nominally by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the billionaire mullah and former president—to gain momentum over the remaining ideological radicals who seek confrontation and who are still animated by the extreme-Shiite ideology that was put forward by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Every dollar, mark and yen that flows into Iran will bolster Iranian moderation and help Iran back away from its less-than-reasoned confrontational stance. So in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Bahrain, Afghanistan and elsewhere, where Iran has a role to play, Tehran could become a force for a peaceful, negotiated solution in partnership with the United States and the rest of the world. It’s already partially evident in Syria, where Iran could play an important role in the upcoming peace conference in January.
The elimination of Iran as a regional bogeyman could kick the props out from under the huge American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean and the eastern Mediterranean. Why ships tens of billions of dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf kleptocrats and maintain bases in Bahrain, Qatar and elsewhere when there’s no regional military threat? It will be harder for the US military-industrial complex to justify those sales, and for the Pentagon to justify its bases, when Iran is a cooperating actor.
Despite the bluster in Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nervous breakdown over the accord, eventually the normalization of Iran’s role in the region will make it a lot harder for future Israeli voters to justify their own armed-camp approach to the region. It will be much easier for Israel to think about a just settlement of the Palestinian issue if and when Iran is no longer a threat.
As for Russia, well, the US-Iran deal will be a concern, too. For decades, Moscow has taken advantage of the breakdown in US-Iran relations by building economic and military ties to Iran and using the churning regional crisis to its advantage. Now Russia will have to recalculate. And not just on political and military issues: if Iran re-enters the world community, it will compete with Russian gas sales worldwide, directly challenging Russia for the in the European and Asian gas markets. One way Russia can use the accord for its advantage, though, has already emerged: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that now that Iran won’t be a nuclear threat, the United States and NATO can forget about putting an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, since the last remaining, thin rationale for that was to deal with supposed missile threat from Iran.
This only begins to cover the possible transformation stemming from the accord. It has huge implications for domestic politics, too, since American neoconservatives have puffed up Iran into a global bogeyman to justify all sorts of shenanigans, and they are about to lose that “big time,” as Dick Cheney might say. Watch for neocons to make their own “pivot” to Asia, warning about the rise of China and the need for the United States to confront the Chinese worldwide.
Katrina vanden Heuvel says the Republicans are waging war on the poor.
There is an argument that a reason to oppose Native American mascots is not only because they are racist. It is not only because they are an act of minstrelsy opposed by Native American groups for decades. It is not only because they celebrate the savage, warlike nature of the Native American people, which for decades has been done—in books, theater, movies, and sports,— as a way to justify the bravery and necessity of European conquest. There’s an argument that it collectively just makes us all stupider.
This was on display last night when Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins and under fire for profiting off a dictionary-defined racist name, used the national television cameras of ESPN to honor the Navajo Code Talkers. These were Navajo soldiers during World War II who used their language to create coded messages to be used over radio that could not be cracked by the Axis Powers. Their presence last night allowed Mike Tirico to bring up the entire “name controversy” on a terrain that made Dan Snyder look like he was honoring their heritage. Tirico also said that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had met with Native American leaders, which was not true. There was a meeting between the NFL and Native American leaders but Goodell did not show. Tirico also made no mention of Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo woman who is currently leading a legal trademark challenge to get the name changed. Tirico also made no mention of the fact that the original “code talkers” were the Choctaw Nation in World War I, which for a decade has had a formal position voted upon by the tribal council to get the name changed. Instead, we were treated to the spectacle, three days before Thanksgiving, of Dan Snyder saying to America, “some of my best friends are Navajo Code Talkers!”
Make no mistake about it: wrapping yourself in World War II veterans is the last refuge of scoundrels. Just as the Republican Party during the government shutdown chose to make the World War II Memorial the great symbol of Barack Obama’s lack of patriotism and the true horrors of the government shutdown (forget about those kids not getting the cancer treatments at NIH), Dan Snyder was rushing for cover behind “the greatest generation.”
This was Dan Snyder trolling and lifting a big middle finger to the Oneida Nation, the American Indian Movement, the Choctaw Nation, the San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, USA Today’s Christine Brennan, The Washington Post’s Mike Wise, the Capital News Service located at the University of Maryland, his alma mater, Charles Krauthammer, Republican Congressman from Oklahoma Tom Cole (one of two Native Americans in Congress), the DC City Council, the thousand people who marched outside the Redskins last nationally televised game against Minnesota chanting “Little Red Sambo Has Got to Go” and everyone who is said the name is racist and belongs nowhere but the dust bin of history.
Don’t say that Dan Snyder reveres Native Americans and his honoring of the Navajo Code Talkers was a show of that respect. Seventy-eight percent of Washington football fans, according to a Survey USA poll, believe that Dan Snyder should actually sit down with the Oneida Nation and others who are protesting the name. He refuses to do so. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has asked him or someone from his organization to speak about the issue on numerous occasions. He refuses to return their calls. His unmistakable disrespect for Native Americans and their feelings about this issue emanate from his mouth every time he opens it.
Last night was Dan Snyder’s Thanksgiving gift to America. He told ESPN’s Adam Schefter before the game the name would never change and then hid behind World War II veterans, a profile in cowardice. It does not take a code talker to crack this particular code. Dan Snyder is on the wrong side of history, and his legacy will be more than just year after year of the lousy-to-mediocre football his stewardship has brought. His legacy will be to stand with George Preston Marshall, Tom Yawkey and Kenesaw Mountain Landis on the Mount Rushmore on sports leaders who looked at the idea of racial progress and just said no.
Dave Zirin looks at how San Jose State is resting on its laurels while racism stalks campus.
In a recent study, Freakonomics guest writers John List and Uri Gneezy set out to prove what they posit is a big reason women are still paid just seventy-seven cents, on average, for every dollar a man makes. “Personally,” they write, “we think that much of it boils down to this: men and women have different preferences for competitiveness, and at least part of the wage gaps we see are a result of men and women responding differently to incentives.” To demonstrate this, they posted ads for a job opening on Craigslist, and when people applied, they told half of them that the job would be paid a flat rate of $15 an hour but the other half that they would get $12 an hour and then have to compete with a coworker for a $6 per hour bonus. The authors write that “both ads would pay workers and average of $15 per hour,” neglecting to explain what would happen if a worker were to lose out to the other every time and miss that bonus.
The two report that women were 70 percent less likely to want the job with a “competitive pay scale”—and conclude that women just don’t have the same desire to chase reward. But what they would call “competitive” I would call risky: one job offered steady pay, while the other varied depending on a variety of factors. One of those factors may have been how the boss viewed female workers. Women have every reason to be averse to a situation that might pit them against a man, knowing that there is still lots of implicit bias against them. Employees would have been putting part of their paychecks at risk, and women—logically—declined to take that risk.
Setting aside the myriad other causes of the gender wage gap that List and Gneezy don’t address, it’s worth asking: Why don’t women take risks? One half of the answer is that they are socialized not to. It starts very early. Girls are rewarded with higher grades at school for their better ability to follow the rules and not act out. Other research has shown that girls learn to give up on a challenge that stumps them while boys are taught to redouble their efforts and keep trying. Boys, who have a more difficult time paying attention and sitting still, are told that they just need to put in more effort to get it right. Girls, who are better at following instructions, are told they are smart, good, clever—innate, unchangeable traits that don’t improve with trying harder. Girls are given less room to make mistakes.
Room to try things over and over, for forgiveness for behaving badly, has ripples throughout boys’ lives. A study of those who start their own high-risk, high-reward businesses found that they were more likely to engage in “aggressive, illicit, and risky activities” as young people than others. Entrepreneurs are twice as likely as salaried workers to say they took something by force when they were young and 44 percent more likely to have been stopped by the police. They also end up earning about 30 to 50 percent more than others.
Women, on the other hand, aren’t rewarded for being risk-takers in the workplace. The other half of the answer to the question of why women might not go in for risk is that they don’t see the same returns. A study by the research organization Catalyst found that female MBA graduates employed many of the aggressive and ambitious strategies to get ahead in their careers as men did, including asking for higher pay while getting hired and a higher position later, both risky demands. But they still didn’t reap the rewards. “[W]hen women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less,” it noted.
It seems men get paid more for taking bigger risks. But companies may want to rethink rewarding this behavior. Women’s ingrained nature to be risk-averse is proving to make them a boon for the bottom line.
A new study finds that the presence of women on corporate boards leads companies to pay less for buying other businesses and make fewer acquisitions overall, something that may create more value. Each woman added to a board reduces the final price for acquiring a company by 15.4 percent and lowers the chance that it will make a buy in the first place by 7.6 percent. The researchers posit that this shows that women have less appetite for risky deals and are focused instead on higher returns on investment. In another study that took place over seven years, female investors were found to outperform male ones thanks to the fact that they were more level-headed and avoided making a lot of trades, which lowers returns. They are also more loss-averse and let go of losing stocks more quickly. These line up with a host of other studies that show that having more women on corporate boards improves firm performance.
If women were rewarded for going off-script as children, it’s highly possible that they would have similar appetites for risk as men do. But they are discouraged from disobeying the rules and given less room to screw up than boys, and when they take risks later in life they don’t get the glory. Blaming the gender wage gap on this difference blames girls for the way society has shaped them.
But we also may not want to turn women into daredevils. Instead, we could reward an eye for the long term and a more even head the same way that we currently reward impulsive and risky behavior in men. Stealing as a teen may correlate well with starting a new business later in life, but playing it safe can get you a better return.
Could there be irony greater than that of a career politician appearing before a gathering of political donors in a city far from his home state to declare that he is an outsider and a “reformer”?
Indeed, it would take a mighty tone-deaf politician to miss the surreal moment in which he found himself.
Meet Scott Walker.
The Wisconsin governor has spent much of the month of November scrambling around the television studios, luxury hotel suites and corporate-funded “think tanks” of Washington and New York, desperately attempting to position himself as a Republican presidential prospect. And he has done so without any sense of irony.
And an expectation that the national media will be gullible enough to believe that the most divisive governor in the modern history of Wisconsin—polls show that his classic swing state is almost evenly divided between those who approve and disapprove of the governor—can somehow run for the presidency as a consensus builder. Walker is now being pitched by the co-writer of the governor’s 2016 campaign book—Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge—as the ideal GOP candidate for the presidency.
Of all the “compelling potential standard-bearers” for the party, argues Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, “none is better positioned to energize the conservative grassroots while winning the center than Scott Walker.”
Thiessen imagines Walker “as an across-the-board, unflinching, full-spectrum conservative” with an ability to appeal “to persuadable, reform-minded, results-oriented independents.”
That may be what Walker says. But that’s not the assessment of state Senator Dale Schultz, a Republican who has worked with Walker for two decades and who enthusiastically backed Walker in 2010.
This year, Schultz opposed Walker’s approach to a state budget process that the senator said veered—on everything from school funding to academic freedom to tax policy to local control—into territory that was “way too extreme.”
Schultz, a veteran legislator from rural western Wisconsin, criticized Walker for “passing up an opportunity to show independent leadership.”
“No amount of rhetoric or sloganeering will cover up the influence of an out of state billionaire funded and driven agenda,” declared Schultz. “This is not the Wisconsin agenda I’ve fought for over 30 years, and it’s not the Wisconsin agenda I hear from people as I travel around my district and across the state.”
Walker and his allies are doing everything they can to foster the fantasy that the governor as an outsider, a reformer, the antithesis of poilitics as usual. That was certainly the agenda last week, when Walker appeared in New York City before a November 18 gathering of top check writers for Republican candidates, Walker ripped the Democrat he hopes to run against in 2016—Hillary Clinton—for her long record of public service. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t just secretary of state, wasn’t just a U.S. senator, wasn’t just the first lady. She’s been a product of Washington for decades.”
Always at the ready for some self-promotion, Walker told the Republican crowd in New York that “if we’re going to beat somebody like Hillary Clinton, we’ve got to have somebody from outside of Washington, who’s got a proven record of reform.”
So, let’s review: Clinton’s the insider and Walker’s the outsider, right?
Not so fast.
Though she spent many years in Arkansas, Clinton has certainly done her time in Washington. And she is certainly no innocent when it comes to the maneuverings and manipulations that take place in the capitals of states and nations. So even if she is not a “product” of Washington, she is certainly no newcomer to the political game.
And what of Walker?
The governor conveniently forgot to mention that he began his own political career at age 22 and has, since then, run twenty-three years primary and general election campaigns in twenty-three years—making him one of the most determined careerists in American politics. And even before he finishes his first term as one of the nation’s most embattled governors, Walker is bidding for the presidency—so much so that he did not bother to correct a questioner in New York who began: “Since you’re clearly running for president…”
The problem with careerists is that they are often more interested in their careers than in challenging power.
In a word, they are: intimidated.
But Walker says that’s not him.
The governor’s new book seeks to portray this would-be presidential contender as an fearless political warrior, ever at the ready to advance his ideals.
That, like Walker’s suggestion that his austerity agenda has been successful, is a fantasy grounded in his ambition rather than reality.
In fact, Walker is one of the most intimidated politicians in America.
When Walker ran for governor in 2006, he framed a reform message that talked about ending crony capitalism and addressing the influence of special-interest campaign money and lobbying on the state budget process. In meetings with the state’s newspaper editorial boards, he pitched himself as a different kind of Republican who would not play insider political games. Walker earned some high marks when he “vowed to run as an underdog battling party insiders”—except from party insiders, who were unimpressed with his campaign.
In March 2006, just days after Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman visited Wisconsin, and barely a week after a visit to the state by Vice President Dick Cheney, Walker folded his gubernatorial campaign.
No “unintimidated” stand against the Washington power brokers. No fight to the end on behalf of his ideals. No faith that a grass-roots campaign could beat the money power.
Four years later Walker was back, with a better fundraising operation. This time, he had all the right connections. National donors, like Charles and David Koch, made maximum contributions to his campaign, and then gave even more money to groups making “independent” expenditures on Walker’s behalf.
He won, and in February 2011, when he got a call from someone he thought was David Koch, Walker played along with the caller’s talk about “planting some troublemakers” to disrupt peaceful protests against the governor’s anti-labor policies. Walker writes in his book that “we never—never—considered putting ‘troublemakers’ in the crowd to discredit the protesters.” Yet, when he was talking to someone he thought was a billionaire campaign donor, the governor said: “We thought about that.” If we take Walker at his word—that he never considered using agents provocateurs—then why didn’t he say so at the time? Was he intimidated by someone he thought was a major campaign donor?
The same question arises regarding Walker’s conversation with Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who gave $500,000 to his 2012 campaign. Walker has said he has “no interest in pursuing right-to-work legislation” to weaken private-sector unions. Yet, when Hendricks asked him about right-to-work legislation, Walker did not say, “We’re not going to do that.” Rather, he told Hendricks his “first step” would be to attack public-sector unions as part of a “divide-and-conquer” strategy.
Walker wants a frequently obtuse national media and grassroots Republicans to imagine that he is “unintimidated.” And perhaps that is the case when he is picking on teachers and nurses and anyone who might dare to join a public-employee union. But when the party bosses and billionaire donors come calling, he’s just another politician telling the money power what it wants to hear.
John Nichols catalogues how Scott Walker’s memories of his years as governor diverge from reality.
It was a Bill Murray punchline in Tootsie, the title of a play, meant to draw laughs, “Return to Love Canal.” But now The New York Times has literally done it with a video report on what happened more than three decades ago at the most famous US toxic dump disaster ever, with brief updates to recent years.
This literally hits me close to home. I hail from Niagara Falls (site of the middle-class Love Canal neighborhood), wrote one of the first major magazine pieces on the subject in early 1979 and then featured it in my 1981 book on whistleblowers, Truth and Consequences. Dumping of chemicals by huge local factories in the abandoned canal, then covering it up in the 1950s, led to seepage into the basements and backyards of dozens of families, who claimed widespread health defects.
Lois Gibbs, the fiery leader of the homeowners’ group and featured in the video, was one of the stars of that book, along with Hugh Kaufman—who is still around causing trouble (by exposing such tragedies) at the EPA. I covered Hugh not long ago here at this blog because of his work and media appearances around the explosion at the Texas fertilizer plant.
Last month Linda Tirado, a 31-year-old from Cedar City, Utah, was reading Gawker comment threads when she came across some of her online friends grousing about poor people’s self-defeating behavior. “They didn’t understand why poor people just kept doing these things that were counterproductive over and over instead of tightening the belt,” she says. And so Tirado, a mother of two with two low-paying jobs and a full college course load, tried to explain, writing under her commenter handle, KillerMartinis.
“You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired,” she wrote in an essay titled “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts.” “We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them…. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.”
Tirado was trying to put flesh on the sort of ideas that Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir popularized in their much-discussed new book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Among other things, that book flipped the conventional wisdom about bad decisions leading to poverty, arguing instead that poverty impedes good decision-making. This was something Tirado understood intimately, and she wanted to communicate what it feels like to live that way.
Initially, her piece, like most Internet comments, floated echoless in the ether. But a week and a half ago, it started going viral. After a few thousand people had read it, Tirado e-mailed Jessica Coen, the editor of Gawker’s sister site Jezebel, and suggested that she highlight it on that site’s front page, which she did. Then the piece appeared on the front page of The Huffington Post. The Atlantic blogged about it. A literary agent got in touch, and after a few readers emailed offers to contribute to a book project, Tirado started a GoFundMe page. Her initial goal was $10,500. As of this writing, she’s raised more than $60,000, well over twice what she typically earns in a year.
This crowd-sourced munificence has left Tirado less giddy than simply stunned. “I’ve never thought about the practicalities of what I would do and what my responsibilities would be if the Internet magically said, ‘Here’s $50,000,’ ” she says.
We spoke on Sunday while her 10-month-old napped, a few hours before her night shift as a cook at a cheap chain restaurant. At that point, she’d raised a little more than $54,000. She also had a new job offer. When her sudden fame hit, she’d just started a part-time contract with a disability-rights nonprofit, and the boss, impressed with her evident fundraising abilities, invited her to come aboard full-time.
I was surprised that she hadn’t quit the restaurant job yet, especially since she had to drive an hour there and back. “I can’t screw over my bosses and my friends that hard just because something good happened to me,” she says. She’d told them to start finding other people to cover her shifts, but she’s still going to work on Thanksgiving, cooking for the Black Friday shoppers getting an early start at the nearby Wal-Mart.
Partly, this is the result of a work ethic that belies her description of herself as chronically shortsighted. But she also can’t quite get her head around the idea that her circumstances have suddenly, drastically changed. “I don’t trust that any of this is necessarily real for longer than ten minutes,” she says. The chronic anxiety born of scarcity doesn’t disappear overnight.
Meanwhile, there’s a backlash brewing against her, and not just on the Internet. Angry people keep calling her on the phone, accusing her of exaggerating her desperation. And it’s true that her story seems, on the surface, to have certain inconsistencies. She depicts herself as hopeless—“We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken,” she writes—but also sketches a life of rather staggering discipline, saying she sometimes sleeps only three hours a night as she rushes from her restaurant job to her morning classes. Then there is the seeming discrepancy between Tirado’s eloquent, self-reflective voice and the punishing, thought-killing life she says she’s leading. It’s hard to believe that someone so poor she’s losing her teeth speaks in the same savvy idiom as Gawker readers.
But according to Ryan Clayton, one of Tirado’s former employers, that’s exactly the point—in this economy, intelligence won’t save you from desperation. “Linda’s a good person and she’s a great worker, and any employer would be lucky to have her,” he says. “I think she’s a great writer. We need to figure out why so many people like Linda are falling through the cracks in our economy and our society.”
As Tirado describes it, she’s spent much of her life slipping in and out of the lowest tier of the middle class. Her mother, now dead, was an addict of some sort, and Tirado was raised by her paternal grandparents, who she calls Mom and Dad. When she was young, the family lived in Michigan, where her grandmother ran a daycare. Then came the Satanic sex abuse hysteria of the early 1990s. An accusation was made, baseless but still devastating. The family moved to Utah, and Tirado’s grandparents converted to Mormonism. “I was a teenager, but one dealing with parents who were barely holding themselves together,” she wrote in a follow-up post to her viral essay. “It was hell for everybody involved.” She was rebellious and miserable but also smart; she graduated at 16 and went to community college.
There, she wrote, “I promptly made the sorts of decisions you would expect out of a kid that age with low self-esteem and no social skills and access to what I saw as the cool kids who saw me as an intelligent kid sister and were willing to include me in things. I didn’t make it long.” During vacation, she volunteered on a political campaign and loved it. She took time off from school and began bouncing around the country, canvassing in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, Iowa and elsewhere. She was poor, but it was an insouciant, youthful poverty, the sort of poverty that doesn’t weigh you down because it seems temporary. “ I was 22,” she says. “Who cares if you live in a crappy apartment and have two crazy roommates? It was an adventure.”
Her teeth held her back. They were damaged when, at 19, she was hit by a car, and without treatment they kept deteriorating. “Having messed-up teeth is not something that normally gets you a professional job, even though she’s really smart, capable and competent,” says Clayton, the field director for an Ohio Democratic congressional campaign she worked on. “It’s probably why she wasn’t more successful long-term in the business.”
In 2007, Tirado married her boyfriend, an Iraq veteran, right before he was recalled to serve in Fallujah. He returned in 2008, she got pregnant, and they moved to Cincinnati so he could go to college. But an administrative screw-up delayed the veterans benefits they were counting on, and with nothing to live on, they took jobs at Burger King and moved into a cheap basement apartment, figuring they’d find something better when the money arrived. That, she says, is when “we realized what it really is like to be impoverished instead of playing at poverty.”
Things got worse. The money still didn’t come, and the apartment flooded, destroying everything they owned, including the things they’d bought for the baby. Soon they found themselves living in a squalid motel.
Her grandparents came to Ohio for the birth, and seeing how she was living, they convinced her to return to Utah for the baby’s sake, setting up the young family in a trailer. Eventually they were able to move into a house, and they settled into the lives they’re living now. “I’m comfortably working-class, which is to say I’m exhausted and tired and cannot cover my bills,” Tirado says. “It’s frustrating to know you could do better if only you could focus, and life never lets you stop long enough to do it.”
And then, suddenly, it did. But Tirado doesn’t trust her new windfall enough to just focus on writing, so she’s planning on keeping her day job. “The thing that you learn is don’t chase a dream,” she says. “ I have learned that stability is illusory. You can have it for a little while if you work very hard and you’re very lucky. The thing you have to do is make sure you are always keeping an eye on the next pay period.”
At the same time, the money, which a lot of writers would consider a respectable but not phenomenal advance, is more than she can imagine keeping; she’s talking about starting a nonprofit or giving some of it away. “Can I live with myself for taking this specifically because I spoke about what it is to not have chances?” she asks. “I don’t think I can take the whole amount and keep it for myself.”
It’s generous impulse, and, at the same time, a sign of how far she still is from thinking like a person with privilege. After all, artists and writers crowd-fund creative projects all the time, and have no compunction about investing the money they raise in their own work. “It shouldn’t be on the whim of the Internet that people can get themselves out of poverty,” says Tirado. “It is so completely arbitrary.” Perhaps. But if she’s really going to have a middle-class life, she’s going to have to learn a bit of entitlement.
Zoë Carpenter reports on the adverse health effects of poverty.
The tomato pickers of the farms in Florida have raised the torch of accountability for over a decade now, successfully challenging behemoth food conglomerates in a self-determining struggle for their own welfare.
Where there were once rampant human rights abuses, economic exploitation and a culture of fear peddled by infectious ignorance, there is now the legally binding Fair Food Program, “an initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by…corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct.” Designed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—a vanguard group representing the voices of Florida’s tomato pickers—the FFP establishes ongoing audits by an independent council to ensure that the farms supplying tomatoes to the FFP’s corporate signees are upholding these labor standards.
So far, every fast-food corporation that sources its tomatoes from Florida’s farms has signed onto the plan except for Wendy’s.
The international purveyor of square beef patties has steadfastly refused to sign the FFP, a lone maverick among its industry peers like Burger King and Taco Bell. When confronted with letters, phone calls and public rallies over the last two years from farm worker unions, students and activists demanding the company justify its refusal, Wendy’s executives have insisted the company already purchases tomatoes from suppliers operating under the FFP. Advocates argue that such assurances are basically meaningless without any legal mechanism to corroborate the claims, and are demanding a real, written commitment.
To this end, students, farmworkers and food justice activists all over the country poured into the streets the week of November 15—the date Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas launched the franchise—to demand the franchise’s owners sign the FFP. Leading organization efforts has been the Student Farmworker Alliance, which has allied itself with the cause of the Florida farm workers and is using student engagement to force Wendy’s to joining the FFP.
“This is the biggest action we’ve done so far,” says Sarah Vázquez, who serves on the national committee of the Student Farmworker Alliance. “[The action] provides a fine pressure point to engage student populations and engage with Wendy’s on campus, leveraging our power and voices.”
On November 16 in eighteen cities from New York to Miami to the Bay Area, high school and college students joined community activists and farmworkers in demanding Wendy’s agree to the accountability measures outlined in the FFP. In Columbus, Ohio, near the company’s headquarters, more than 200 people gathered by Ohio State University before marching to a Wendy’s restaurant about a mile and a half away.
“Students and residents in Wendy’s home town will not stop until Wendy’s makes a verifiable commitment to the Fair Food Program and does its part to end farm worker exploitation in its supply chain,” said Cruz Bonlarron Martinez of the Student-Farmworker Alliance, as reported in the Examiner.
More than 130 student activists converged on Washington, DC, from a number of regional universities, including American, Georgetown, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania. The group rallied loudly in front of the White House before marching to a nearby Wendy’s restaurant where a delegation of four students handed the manager a letter outlining the protesters’ demands.
Patricia Cipollitti of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee worked in the weeks before the march to bring together students from various socially minded campus organizations. “It’s up to us as student allies to continue to push Wendy’s until it can no longer deny farmworkers the just and dignified working conditions they deserve,” she said, adding, “we can start reverting that trend and building a more dignified and more sustainable food system that pays its farmworkers a living wage.”
At the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Student Labor Student Action Project (SLAP) has been working with Philly Fair Foods, the wider coalition of Philadelphia residents engaged in food justice issues, to carry out a week of action leading up to the November 16 protests.
“Penn SLAP will not stop demonstrating and organizing actions until Wendy’s does the right thing and signs on to the Fair Food Program,” said Daniel Cooper, a spokesperson for SLAP. “We are equally committed to [removing Wendy’s] from our universities unless Wendy’s becomes the fifth of the top five fast food restaurants to sign the Fair Food Program.
The action taken by students across the nation mirrors that of their counterparts a decade ago, when students at 300 universities and fifty high schools “organiz[ed] educational events and direct actions, participat[ed] in cross-country tours” to force Taco Bell’s hand in signing the newly drafted Fair Food Program. At the time, youth activists went as far as running off Taco Bell franchises from twenty-five campuses during a four-year boycott before the chain finally capitulated in 2005 and became the first corporate participant in the FFP. Ironically, the man who served as Taco Bell’s president at the time—Emil Brolick—is now the current president and CEO of Wendy’s.
Then as now, students are demonstrating that they stand in solidarity with the farmworkers of Florida. Wendy’s ability to shirk accountability largely rests on the cynical hope that consumers will remain indifferent and ignorant toward its human factors of production. They are mistaken; students are engaged and informed, and if history serves as an example, they will only grow more confrontational until Wendy’s formally joins the Fair Food Program.
Susan Collins is supposed to be the last reasonable Republican in the Senate.
The pair of New England Republicans with whom she had aligned in something of a regional caucus—fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown of Massachusetts—are gone. So, elite media outlets frequently remind us, it’s up to Collins.
But on a fundamental question of democratic governance—accounting for civilians killed by US drone strikes—Collins does not appear to be up for it.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which Collins sits, voted this month to require the government to report on the number of civilians who have been being killed by drone strikes, as part of a broader effort to bring the Congress into a proper advise-and-consent role when it comes to killings that are committed in the name of the American people but without their informed consent.
The legislation is a big deal: “Because the U.S. government number is secret, we can’t have a normal democratic debate about the policy,” explains the group Just Foreign Policy. “Government officials anonymously tell the press that civilian deaths from drone strikes have been rare. Independent reporting says otherwise. Government officials anonymously tell the press that the independent reporting isn’t accurate, but they won’t say why it isn’t accurate and they won’t say what is accurate. So the broad public is left with ‘he said, she said.’ Media that reach the broad public won’t challenge the government’s claims about civilian casualties until we can force the government onto the public record to defend its claims.”
Unfortunately, notes Robert Naiman, the policy director for Just Foriegn Policy, Collins voted “no.”
“Because of the way the Senate works, Susan Collins’s opposition could keep this crucial reform of the drone strike policy from becoming law,” Naiman and his Just Foreign Policy colleagues argue.
This is how Collins fits into the equation: “Senator Collins’s support for this provision is crucial because it’s not likely that the Senate will pass it into law unless it attracts some Republican support. Republicans outside the committee tend to defer to Republicans on the committee. But no Republican supported the amendment in committee. Susan Collins is the Republican member of the committee considered most likely to change her position.”
Which takes this debate out of the Intelligence Committee, out of the Capitol and out of Washington.
Drone policy is unlikely to change unless Collins changes her position. But that is not likely to happen, Naiman suggests, “unless there’s some public agitation for it.”
To get that, there has to be a real debate about drone policy—nationally, but especially in Maine.
Nationally, there’s a MoveOn petition campaign urging Collins “to reverse her opposition to telling the public about civilian deaths from US drone strikes.” It has already attracted roughly 15,000 signatures, with thousands of new names being added daily.
But what about Maine?
The longtime executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, recently announced that she would challenge Collins in 2014 as a “Democrat. Libertarian. Progressive.”
Bellows is serious about all three words. And she has a record of taking on both parties on issues ranging from the Patriot Act to freedom of information to drone policy. In fact, she has been a national leader on the final issue, having organized a left-right coalition that got the Maine legislature to pass legislation requiring police agencies to obtain a probable cause warrant before using drones for surveillance. (Governor Paul LePage vetoed the bill but then issued an executive order directing the state’s commissioner of public safety to issue a policy governing law enforcement use and operation of drones.
We need to repeal the Patriot Act and REAL ID.
We need to stop the NSA and the FBI from wasting their time and taxpayer dollars spying on ordinary Americans through our cell phones and email.
We need to place limits on drones.
Bellows argues that Congress has created a constitutional crisis by failing to defend basic liberties, and by failing to serve as a check and balance on executive overreach.
She is right.
And her candidacy highlights a vital constitutional question—that of the right of Congress and the people to information about military missions—on which Collins is wrong.
Political campaigns, by their nature, are competitions for power. But they are also competitions of ideas. They can put issues into play. And they can force entrenched politicians to think anew about stances they have taken. Even those who might not back Shenna Bellows must recognize the value of a candidacy that demands Collins think more deeply about the essential role of the legislative branch in checking and balancing the executive.
Robert Greewald’s film Unmanned adds fuel to the drone debate.