Senator Elizabeth Warren added her name to the growing list of legislators who want to expand—not cut—Social Security benefits during a Monday afternoon speech on the Senate floor.
Warren began by outlining the increasing financial strain faced by elderly Americans, and built towards a call for expanded benefits:
Among working families on the verge of retirement, about a third have no retirement savings of any kind, and another third have total savings that are less than their annual income. Many seniors have seen their housing wealth shrink as well. According to AARP, in 2012, one out of every seven older homeowners was paying down a mortgage that was higher than the value of their house.
And just as they need to rely more than ever on pensions, employers are withdrawing from their traditional role in helping provide a secure retirement. Two decades ago, more than a third of all private sector workers—35 percent—had traditional, defined benefit pensions—pensions that guaranteed a certain monthly payment that retirees knew they could depend on. Today, that number has been cut in half—only 18 percent of private sector workers have defined benefit pensions. Employers have replaced guaranteed retirement income with savings plans, like 401(k) plans, that leave the retiree at the mercy of a market that rises and falls, and, sometimes, at the mercy of dangerous investment products. These plans often fall short of what retirees need, and nearly half of all American workers don’t even have access to those limited plans. This leaves more than 44 million workers without any retirement assistance from their employer.
Add all of this up—the dramatic decline in individual savings and the dramatic decline of guaranteed retirement benefits and employer support in return for a lifetime of work—and we’re left with a retirement crisis—a crisis that is as real and as frightening as any policy problem facing the United States today.
I hold deep values, and I look at basic facts. Today, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus. If we do nothing, Social Security will be safe for the next twenty years and even after that will continue to pay most benefits. With some modest adjustments, we can keep the system solvent for many more years—and could even increase benefits. The tools to help us build a future are available to us now. We don’t start the debate by deciding who gets kicked to the curb. We are Americans.
The context of Warren’s remarks is crucial Social Security benefits are under unique threat, given dramatic and seemingly endless crisis negotiating over the federal budget and a Democratic president is prepared (and some might say eager) to enact Chained-CPI, which would, even under the most generous formula, take $15,615 in cumulative benefits from the average senior who lived to 95.
Warren not only rebuffed that idea in her speech but provided a critical boost to the emerging campaign to expand Social Security. Almost everything Warren has done in recent weeks has been closely watched by 2016 hobbyists (not a trivial constituency among Beltway journalists), and she used that attention to juice the emerging pro-expansion movement. The Washington Post published an editorial Monday morning criticizing the campaign to expand Social Security—as sure a sign as any that it has arrived on the Washington scene—and Warren mentioned the editorial in her remarks and pushed back on the writers for, among other things, putting scare quotes around “retirement crisis.”
While naturally there will be many people left unpersuaded by Warren’s pitch, the point is that she’s thrusting the debate forward and helping to entrench the pro-expansion movement deeper into the political conversation. It was a significant moment.
Zoë Carpenter reports on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign to end ‘too big to fail.’
The Brower Youth Awards annually highlight the top environmental youth leaders from across North America. Award recipients undergo a rigorous application review process and represent the best, most creative, young environmental leaders of today.
Chloe Maxmin, 21, of Nobleboro, Maine, a regular writer for StudentNation and an undergraduate at Harvard University, was one of this year’s Brower Youth Award winners for her long history of environmental activism. Maxmin has a history of starting movements—she founded the first environmental club at her high school and built a student sustainability movement that continues to this day. At Harvard, she’s keeping up the momentum as co-founder and coordinator of Divest Harvard. She researched Harvard’s endowment and past divestment campaigns, and led the first campus vote on fossil fuel divestment in the world. She is also the founder and sole contributor of the online youth environmental network, First Here, Then Everywhere, which she hopes to build into a thriving hub of discussion and support for young environmentalists.
Maxmin sent us her acceptance speech, given in San Francisco on October 18 in which she outlined three new institutional responses to climate change and divestment.
Combating Climate Change
On October 1, another Divest Harvard activist and I sat in the office of Harvard’s President, Drew Faust. It had been over a year since we launched our movement. We had the support of over 3,000 students, over 170 faculty, almost 600 alumni and countless community members.
The frustration in the room was palpable. As I continued to press our arguments, President Faust interrupted me and asked: “Chloe, if you were president, what would you do?”
Two days later, I checked my e-mail and learned that President Faust had released a statement opposing fossil fuel divestment. I wasn’t surprised. It repeated the same arguments that we had been hearing for a year. It reiterated the notion that Harvard is an academic, not a political, actor—which is to say that it somehow stands outside the realm of action.
My aim tonight is not to repeat these discussions. Instead, I want to take seriously President Faust’s question…Chloe, what would you do?
I’d like to suggest the first three principles of a new institutional response to divestment and the climate crisis.
Vaclav Havel, poet, playwright, dissident and former president of Czechoslovakia,was a man whose life combined scholarship, art and politics because he knew that that all derive from the same source: a love of the world. He insisted that we need to reawaken in ourselves what was once known and then forgotten: that the only real hope for us lies in “a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth…”
The farm in Maine where I grew up, the meadows, lake, and trees…these are the roots that have filled me with an inexpressible love for this world, my family, my home, my community, friends, the people I will never know, the people I have yet to know.
Not all of us have grown up in Maine, but we all have places and people that we love.
The climate movement often seems like it’s fighting “against something”—against indifference and political gridlock. But this is a struggle “for everything” that we care about.
This is the first principle of a new response: That our actions as individuals and institutions can be re-founded on love for one another, for all that is alive, and especially for the systems and creatures of this earth who have no voice.
Two years ago, I learned that tar sands could come through Maine and that Exxon owns 76 percent of the pipeline.
Citizens in South Portland Maine recently campaigned to block the flow of tar sands through Maine by passing the Waterfront Protection Ordinance. The ordinance failed to pass by 200 votes. The opposition (pro–tar sands interests) were out in full force. But I didn’t anticipate the audaciousness of their effort. While the Protect South Portland coalition put $42,000 into the election, the Maine Energy Marketers Association poured almost $600,000 into stopping the ordinance.
This is exactly why I am involved with the fossil fuel divestment movement. The only way to diminish the hegemony and influence of this industry is to draw a moral line in the sand that rebrands it as anti-social.
This is the second principle of my response: Freedom depends on politics. It is up to us to take back “the political” and re-establish it as it was meant to be: a commitment to freedom through action.
So when President Faust says that Harvard is not a “political actor,” I say: By supporting an industry that corrupts elections and coerces society, are you not being political?
But instead of this politics of silence, we seek the politics of courage.
Our society’s institutions and leaders have been complacent in the face of climate change. We have stood by as our government has failed to act, as the fossil fuel industry has lobbied its way to riches, as the Arctic melts, sea levels rise, fires spread, droughts consume and floods erase.
Divestment says: enough is enough. Take a stand. Recognize that our system is broken, and take a step to fix it.
This is my third principle of a new response: People can summon the courage to work miracles.
When we take the first steps towards a better world, we don’t know what will happen. But we can’t be too scared to find out, and we can never be too scared to fight for what we love.
Hannah Arendt, a great philosopher who knew that politics could never be separated from life, wrote that every time an action disrupts the status quo, it’s a miracle.
People can author such miracles because we have the freedom and courage to establish a reality of our own.
With these three principles—love, politics and courage—I say that we are the miracle workers. And we are the miracles.
To echo the words of, Bruce Springsteen, “It takes a leap of faith to get things going. In your heart, baby, you must trust.”
The break-out success of GasLand and GasLand 2, documentaries by Josh Fox about the dangers of largely unregulated hydraulic fracturing, has prompted the natural gas and drilling industry to adopt an aggressive public relations strategy to combat critics. Last year, at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, a group of high-profile lobbyists and communications staffers celebrated the development of a pro-fracking movie designed to rebut Fox's documentaries called TruthLand, which premiered in January.
Recently filed tax documents show the link between industry and TruthLand is much stronger than previously reported. The movie was funded with a $1 million grant from a DC-based trade group called America's Natural Gas Alliance, a consortium of fracking firms including Devon Energy, Apache, Noble Energy, Range Resources, XTO Energy, Southwestern Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources, among others.
Notably, the tax form shows the million-dollar grant for the film was given to Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an ANGA member company and prominent fracking corporation. TruthLand has gone to some lengths to conceal its ties to business interests. As Ben Nelson of LittleSis reported, the TruthLand website domain was briefly registered to a Chesapeake's Oklahoma office. Shortly after, TruthLand changed the website address to hide it behind a proxy. Nelson also obtained documents relating to the production of the film, which was led by Republican advertising consultant Fred Davis.
The TruthLand movie has been panned by environmentalists for downplaying the risks of methane leaks and groundwater pollution. But it has been widely distributed thanks to the promotional efforts of several oil companies and Americans for Prosperity, whose founders, David and Charles Koch, are deeply entwined with the fracking industry.
The America's Natural Gas Alliance 990 form also shows the industry has increased spending on media and public relations efforts. Other grants include:
§ $864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas;
§ $25,000 to ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod;
§ $25,000 to Environmental Media Association, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of the entertainment industry and the media to educate the global public on environmental issues and motivate sustainable lifestyles";
§ $25,000 to Third Way, a centrist Democratic research think tank;
§ $8,500 to America's Promise Alliance, an education nonprofit founded by Colin Powell;
§ $250,000 to IHS Global, a research company that produced a report last year claiming that the fracking industry will support 1.7 million new jobs.
Another interesting discovery from the disclosure relates to how much America's Natural Gas Alliance has contracted with Democratic political consulting firms to build support for their policies. The 990 shows that ANGA paid the Glover Park Group over $2.9 million for "research/advertising" and Dewey Square Group $738,957 for "grassroots communications." Both firms are run by mostly former Clinton administration officials. Though Glover Park Group is well-known as a lobbying firm, the company did not register for its work for ANGA last year.
Michelle Goldberg on why Alec Baldwin is a national embarrassment.
Activists have long criticized Walmart for failing to pay its employees living wages, and instead relying on the state to step in and pay for the healthcare and food of workers. In Canton, Ohio, another Walmart recently demonstrated this kind of corporate welfare by holding a food drive—for its own employees.
“Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner,” reads a sign accompanied by several plastic bins.
Understandably, the food drive has sparked outrage in the area.
“That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers—to me, it is a moral outrage,” Norma Mills, a customer at the store, told the Plain Dealer.
A company spokesman defended the drive, telling the Plain Dealer it is evidence that employees care about each other. And it’s a good thing they care about their fellow workers because Walmart certainly doesn’t care about its employees.
In the wake of the Ohio Walmart food drive story, Strike Debt, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, raised on interesting question on Twitter: “Why not just pay a living wage?”
Stephen Gandel, a senior editor at Fortune, recently penned an op-ed in which he argued Walmart could afford to give its employees a 50 percent raise without negatively affecting shareholders.
I called a couple of really smart economists to get it “peer”-reviewed. Sendhil Mullainathan, who teaches at MIT and received a MacArthur genius grant for his work in behavioral economics a few years ago, said he basically came to a similar conclusion as mine a few years ago. He says companies have more discretion in setting wages then they let on. “Really the question is not whether this is possible but why some companies don’t do it [this way],” says Mullainathan.
Wal-Mart didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Workers have already announced plans for “widespread, massive strikes and protests” on Black Friday at Walmarts this year, but smaller, isolated protests have continued to erupt all across the country even before the holiday shopping season.
Randall Lewis, 24, has been working at a Chicago Walmart for about a year. Lewis participated in last week’s strike that involved three Chicago store locations.
“Sometimes I have to borrow money. Sometimes, if I don’t have money for deodorant, I have to ask my grandmother for some money. Going to the doctor is expensive because I have to go to a clinic, and if I go to the dentist, it’s expensive,” he says.
Lewis expressed disillusionment with Walmart, a company he once saw as a reliable way to make a living.
“They sell you a bill of dreams, telling you you can be promoted, but if you’re not kissing up to the right person, to the right manager, they will walk right past you like you don’t exist.”
He also suspects the company has nefarious motives for reducing employee hours.
“I worked forty hours [a week], and they reduced me to thirty-two hours a week. I think they reduce the hours to avoid paying us health benefits.”
In 2011, Walmart substantially rolled back coverage for part-time workers and significantly raised premiums for many full-time staff, citing “rising costs.” The decision had an immediate, and detrimental, effect on Walmart stores. By largely using part-time staff, the company was unable to keep its shelves stocked, and began to lose customers, so they decided to add more full-time workers for the holiday shopping season this year.
Walmart workers continue to demonstrate extraordinary bravery by striking all across the country, even though the company has demonstrated a habit of retaliating against staff’s attempts at collective organizing.
For his part, Lewis says he is willing to take that risk:
“I was afraid that they might retaliate, but the one thing I’ve learned is, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, nothing will be done. I’m doing something that could help me and my co-workers get a liveable wage, healthcare, the respect that we deserve.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Walmart was in Cleveland, Ohio.
Nation contributor John Nichols appears on the Ed Show to discuss public support for raising the minimum wage.
November 19 marks what would have been the fiftieth birthday of Len Bias, the University of Maryland’s galactically talented power forward who died at the age of 22 of a heart arrhythmia related to the ingesting of cocaine. His death came two days after being picked second by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA draft. Never in the history of sports has so much potential been extinguished with such swift cruelty.
Athletes and other cultural figures in the prime of life have died before and since. But the memory of Len Bias still has the power to make grown adults feel numb like it’s happening all over again: a moment where the world as we knew it changed and something we did not even identify as innocence died in an instant.
Understanding the impact of Bias’s death starts by understanding Bias on the court. His abilities were magnetic. Bias was the genetic splicing of Doctor J and Charles Oakley: a high flying, muscle bound, talent who made you feel like you were watching a sneak preview into the game’s future. During his time in the ACC, it was common to refer to Bias as the most physically gifted player in the conference: the second, being that kid from North Carolina, Michael Jordan. Take a moment, watch these highlights and just notice where Les Bias’s head resides, relative to the rim. This was simply something we had not yet seen.
For basketball lovers, his death was the asphyxiation of a limitless potential, and to quote Bethlehem Shoals’ words on Lebron James, “an American Dream that most of us are too bashful to even dream of.” Now that I live fifteen minutes from where Len Bias went to college at UMD and ten minutes from his High School, Northwestern, I have also learned that his death crushed the heart of an entire community. Len Bias was the kid from Landover who never left Prince George’s County, one of the most vital majority African-American regions in the country. PG County is the only municipality in the United States that went from majority white to majority black while rising in per capita income and education. Len Bias was not only going to rep that to the world, he told everyone that he would be bringing them along for the ride.
The shock of Len Bias’s death is the only way to understand how, after one tragic night, he became a one person “shock doctrine”, and inexorably changed the conversation of how the United States dealt with illegal drugs. “The shock doctrine” is Naomi Klein’s theory about how “shocks” like tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes open the door for radical right-wing reforms that people would reject if they were not in a state of mental disarray over the destruction of their lives. Len Bias’s death had a similar effect.
When Bias died, as longtime Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon wrote in 2009, “I never again mocked Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug efforts, not when even a Len Bias could be struck dead.”
Masses of people were inclined to agree. The problem was that Nancy Reagan’s “anti-drug efforts” involved a shift toward criminalizing the poorest sections of our cities. Instead of speaking about drug addiction as a medical issue, it became a criminal justice issue. Instead of selling drugs being seen as an economic survival imperative of communities left behind by the “Reagan Revolution”, it became seen as an act that demanded a military response with those on street corners seen as enemy combatants. And no one wanted to talk about how the drugs came into the communities in the first place.
It might be hard for people under 25 to even understand our ignorance and fear, but we really thought that there would be graveyards of people, from little kids to star athletes, dying after their first snort of cocaine or their first puff of crack, and there was federally approved school curriculum carrying that very message. In 1988, the US Congress even passed the bi-partisan Anti-Drug Act, known as “The Len Bias Law.” It created more mandatory minimums for drug offenders, expanded police arresting powers, and poured more money into the DARE program at schools. I remember DARE and being told about my duty to turn in my parents if I ever saw them with “illegal drugs.” Fortunately for them, I never caught them because at age 11, with Len Bias’s death on my mind, I think I was ready to do it.
We seem to be waking up from this nightmare, at least rhetorically, but even with more people recognizing that the expansion of the prison system to swallow non-violent drug offenders has created a “New Jim Crow” and even with more states adopting more sane approaches to marijuana, the war on drugs plods along. Today in the DC area that Len Bias called home, black men are eight times more likely than whites to get stopped and arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession. Len Bias’s death was an unspeakable tragedy. What people in power have done with his memory has metastasized that tragedy beyond comprehension.
Liliana Segura asks why non-violent offenders should face life in prison.
One of the byproducts of recent events in the Middle East is the return of Russia to a prominent role across the region. Not that Russia ever left, but it has been a principal goal of successive US administrations to push first the Soviet Union and then Russia back. In the 1950s and 1960s that took the form of a series of political and military alliances, including NATO (which included Turkey) and the Baghdad Pact and CENTO (including variously Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan). More recently, the United States has tried to expand NATO eastward along Russia’s southwest flank, including Ukraine and Georgia. And the invasion of Iraq and the bombing of Libya deprived Russia of important partners, in fields as varied as energy and arms sales.
Not so much anymore. Russia has come roaring back. However, although hawks and neoconservatives will make noises about President Obama’s inability to block Russia’s Middle East resurgence, it could be a good thing if it leads to greater US-Russian cooperation in conflicts such as the civil war in Syria, the Iran nuclear standoff, Afghanistan, and the war against Al Qaeda.
The latest news on the Russia–Middle East front is the visit last week of Russia’s foreign minister and defense minister to Egypt. According to AFP:
Russia is offering to sell Egypt modern helicopters and air defense systems in a landmark deal reportedly worth $2 billion that would mark a revival of large-scale military cooperation, a Russian official said Friday.
In the same visit, there were reports that Russia and Egypt spoke about setting up a Russian naval base in the Mediterranean. The Russians say that Saudi Arabia is willing to finance the sale, which would be a stunning shift by Egypt, which has long depended on the United States and the West for its military. But the successive coups against former President Hosni Mubarak and then against President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood by Egypt’s generals has irked Washington and made Egypt resistant to both American carrots and sticks. The new turn toward Russia recalls the dramatic shift by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the mid-1950s, who turned to Eastern Europe and the USSR for arms when London and Washington sought to isolate him and topple his government.
That follows a brilliant diplomatic maneuver in August, when Russia got Syria’s commitment to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons and then invited the United States to co-sponsor the effort, thwarting Obama’s ill-conceived plan to bomb Syria in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s use of poison gas in the war against Syrian rebels. As a result, Russia—which is Assad’s chief ally, along with Iran—is back at the center of the Syrian issue, pushing for a diplomatic solution. And all of a sudden, the military forces of the Syrian government look formidable, making major gains on the ground since May, when they recaptured a strategic town on the Syria-Lebanon border and began pushing back rebels around Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. Assad and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone, and a Syrian delegation traveled to Moscow to discuss diplomacy involving the civil war and a planned peace conference in Syria. Russia has also invited the chief representative of the Syrian rebels to Moscow, too.
And Russia is at the center of the talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, including the United States, which are on track later this week to create an interim accord of so-called “confidence-building measures” (CBMs) toward a final agreement in six months or so.
Russia’s increased role can be seen in its efforts to build closer ties to Israel and its efforts to sell weapons to Iraq and the Persian Gulf states, too. Last year, says the BBC, “Baghdad has signed major deals for Russian air defence systems and combat helicopters, beating off European competitors.” And, while plans to sell arms to Saudi Arabia haven’t materialized yet, on Sunday King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Putin spoke by phone. The BBC adds that the United Arab Emirates, another Arab oil kleptocracy, is improving its Russia ties:
Over the last two decades there has been an enormous influx of Russian visitors and residents to the UAE and one very senior member of the ruling family has such a close working relationship with President Putin they go shooting together in the Russian woods.
None of this ought to be alarming, but it does mean that Obama ought to redouble efforts to work with Russia on regional problems.
Bob Dreyfuss looks into the disruptive role the French are playing in negotiations with Iran.
Sorry, US Senator Marco Rubio and US Senator Rand Paul and US Senator Ted Cruz.
Sorry, US Representative Paul Ryan, the former favorite son of Wisconsin Republicans.
But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says the next Republican nominee for president “should either be a former or current governor.” After all that shutdown trouble, the party’s candidate is going to have to be “somebody who’s viewed as being exceptionally remote from Washington.”
And sorry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Scott Walker may have a kind word for you, but he says the GOP’s 2016 candidate must be someone who has “taken on big reforms.”
Indeed, sorry, any Republican who is not named “Scott Walker,” but Scott Walker thinks the Republicans are going to need to turn to someone like, um, Scott Walker.
That was the takeaway from Walker’s interviews as he launched the book that is supposed to launch his presidential run, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge.
Walker did not actually announce his candidacy on Sunday’s edition of ABC’s This Week. But as ABC’s Jonathan Karl explained: “When Walker talks about the kind of candidate Republicans should nominate in 2016, it sounds more than a little like he is talking about himself.”
The Wisconsin governor did nothing to stifle speculation.
Despite repeated prompting from ABC’s Karl, Walker refused to commit to serve out the second gubernatorial term that he is expected to seek in 2014—presumably on the bold assumption that said term could interfere with a move to the White House in 2017.
Even as he stumbled around inevitable questions, Walker was sounding like a presidential prospect.
Unfortunately for the most ambitious Republican in a very ambitious Republican field, Walker’s book does not exactly make him sound presidential.
It is not merely that the book—like the ABC interview—is absurdly self-promotional. After all, books issued by potential bidders for the presidency are campaign documents.
It is not that the book’s recounting of events in Wisconsin has been called into question by the people who were there. Or that the chronicling of discrepancies in the book has provided Wisconsin journalists with steady work.
What most undermines Unintimidated—and, with it, Walker’s presidential bid—is the governor’s failure to bring a seriousness to the task of addressing his most troubling, and potentially damaging, missteps. He admits to making mistakes. However, instead of dealing forthrightly with unsettling aspects of his record, Walker tries to write around them—often in the clumsiest of ways.
Take, for instance, the governor’s recollection on the February 2011 telephone conversation in which he was recorded casually discussing the idea of using agents provocateurs to stir up trouble at peaceful mass demonstrations to protest his assault on labor rights for public employees.
By most measures, it was a embarrassing episode.
But the governor makes the episode all the more embarrassing by writing in 2013 that he never considered what in 2011 he certainly seemed to say that he had considered.
In the book he hopes will make him a competitor for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Walker claims that “we never—never—considered putting ‘troublemakers’ in the crowd to discredit the protesters.”
That is what Walker must write if he wants to make a play on the national political stage. It is difficult to imagine that someone who toyed with the ideas employing deliberate provocations as a political tool— in order to create a false impression of citizens who are exercising First Amendment rights to assembly and petition for the redress of grievances— would be taken seriously as a potential commander in chief.
The problem, of course, is that what Walker is now saying conflicts with what he was saying in private and public two and a half years ago.
The issue first arose in February of 2011, several days after mass demonstrations began at the state Capitol. The demonstrations were nonviolent and well organized. Top law enforcement officers for the region—Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Madison Police Chief Noble Wray—praised the protesters for keeping things civil, despite the intensity of the issues that had been raised by Walker’s proposal to eliminate essential workplace protections and collective-bargaining rights for public employees and public school teachers.
The Madison Police Department even went so far as to issue a formal statement that concluded: “Crowd behavior has been exemplary, and thousands of Wisconsin citizens are to be commended for the peaceful ways in which they have expressed First Amendment rights.”
Yet, when Walker thought he was talking to billionaire conservative campaign donor David Koch, the caller (actually blogger Ian Murphy) said: “What we were thinking about the crowds was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.”
Walker replied: “We thought about that.”
The trouble with the strategy, the governor explained, was that it might not play well politically. “My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems,” he explained during the course of the call.
“I think there’s a serious issue there,” she said back in 2011. “That’s a public safety issue. And I think that is really troublesome: a governor with an obligation to maintain public safety says he’s going to plant people to make trouble. That screams out to me. For a governor even to consider a strategy that could unnecessarily threaten the safety of peaceful demonstrators—which the governor acknowledged he did—is something that simply amazes me.”
Walker repeatedly acknowledged after the “Koch call” was made public that he considered employing agents provocateurs to stir up trouble and discredit the demonstrators. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a newspaper that backed Walker for governor in 2010 and refused to support his recall in 2012, pointed out after reviewing the book that “in a news conference held the day the prank call was released, Walker said the idea had been debated, adding, ‘We dismissed that and said that wasn’t a good idea.’”
The Journal Sentinel noted with regard to the governor’s current claim: “His book does not explain why he spoke about it that way with reporters if such a plan had never been entertained.”
As it happens, the governor was even more explicit in discussing his political calculations when he went on Fox News on February 23, 2011, to discuss the prank call.
When Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren pressed Walker on the question of whether he and his aides had considered employing agent provocateurs to play “dirty tricks in the crowd,” he openly discussed the matter— going so far as to explain: “I even had lawmakers and others suggesting riling things up.”
The governor said that, ultimately, he rejected the idea. But instead of expressing moral outrage at the prospect that “riling things up” might create a dangerous circumstance for crowds that included children, elderly folks and people with disabilities, the governor again appeared to make a political calculation. Stirring up trouble, Walker told the Fox host, “adds no value.”
As some point, someone must have explained to Walker that his acknowledgment of the discussions about employing troublemakers, and of his political calculations regarding the strategy, would not play well nationally.
So now he’s claiming that he “never—never—considered” what in 2011 he said he and his aides “thought about.”
The governor’s apologists will surely continue to cut him slack on this one. But if and when Walker mounts his presidential run, this is an issue he will eventually find himself revisiting.
It is not just the matter of the conflicting claims and statements. There is also the question of what the governor really thinks about using agents provocateurs to “rile things up” at otherwise peaceful protests.
After the transcript of the prank call was made public in 2011, then Madison Police Chief Wray said: “I would like to hear more of an explanation from Governor Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his Cabinet members. I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers.”
Scott Walker may think he is the ideal candidate for president.
But ideal candidates don’t talk about “planting some troublemakers” to try and besmirch peaceful protests against their policies.
Ideal candidates simply say it is wrong to speak of such things—even when prodded to do so by someone they think is a billionaire campaign donor.
John Nichols makes the case for an Elizabeth Warren 2016 presidential run.
Searching for more information on a New York–based journalist named “Albert Canus”—who the State Department had singled out to the FBI as a habitual filer of “inaccurate reports which are unfavorable to the public interest of this country”—J. Edgar Hoover closely studied Hannah Arendt’s essay “French Existentialism” in the February 23, 1946, issue of The Nation—one of the first descriptions in the American press of the philosophical phenomenon then sweeping through Europe. It would be interesting to know what Hoover made of such passages as the one where Arendt explained the existentialists’ objections to bourgeois notions of “respectability”:
The “serious” man is one who thinks of himself as president of his business, as a member of the Legion of Honor, as a member of the faculty, but also as father, as husband, or as any other half-natural, half-social function. For by doing so he agrees to the identification of himself with an arbitrary function which society has bestowed. L’esprit sérieux is the very negation of freedom, because it leads man to agree to and accept the necessary deformation which every human being must undergo when he is fitted into society.
“Deformation,” Hoover may have whispered to himself, gazing out the window. “Deformation.”
On the next page he would have read Arendt’s description of the existentialists’ “insistence upon the basic homelessness of man in the world.”
For Camus man is essentially the stranger because the world in general and man as man are not fitted for each other; that they are together in existence makes the human condition an absurdity. Man is the only “thing” in the world which obviously does not belong in it, for only man does not exist simply as a man among men in the way animals exist among animals and trees among trees—all of which necessarily exist, so to speak, in the plural. Man is basically alone with his “revolt” and his “clairvoyance,” that is, with his reasoning, which makes him ridiculous because the gift of reason was bestowed upon him in a world “where everything is given and nothing ever explained.”
“Alone with his clairvoyance” may have tossed around the Hoover mind for some time to come.
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In next week’s issue, essayist, journalist and Nation contributor of several decades David Rieff reviews Margarethe von Trotta’s recent biopic, Hannah Arendt, which focuses on the events surrounding the publication of her controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963). In that book, Arendt introduced the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the defendant as a go-along-to-get-along functionary whose monstrous crimes were largely the result of unthinking conformity rather than diabolic anti-Semitism. But loyal readers of this magazine and of Arendt, as well as viewers of von Trotta’s film, are probably unaware that during her years in New York City during and immediately after World War II, Arendt contributed a series of essays to The Nation, including the one on “French Existentialism,” many of which telegraphed the themes of her later, more controversial work.
Randall Jarrell, who briefly served as interim literary editor of The Nation in 1946, was one of Arendt’s closest friends during those New York years, when she worked as an editor for Schocken Books. According to the late Arendt biographer Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Jarrell was translating German poetry at the time, which Arendt helped him with and tried, but failed, to convince Schocken to publish. Jarrell, in turn, commissioned from Arendt a series of short book reviews on topics ranging from the songs of Robert Gilbert to her new friend Hermann Broch’s novel The Death of Virgil to the collected essays of the philosopher John Dewey. It is striking to see Arendt discuss in that last article the connection between “scientific planning” and the Holocaust—one of the major themes of Eichmann in Jerusalem—with the same kind of empathy for its victims in which she was later charged with being deficient:
Dewey earnestly holds that the source of all the social and political evils of our time is laissez faire…but a glance at today’s or yesterday’s newspaper invariably teaches us that hell can be properly established only through the very opposite of laissez faire, through scientific planning. (This, of course, does not say anything against science as such.) Even more out of tune with reality are Dewey’s complacent judgments on those evil times of the past in which men were still slaves and serfs; only a great scholar living in the ivory tower of common sense could be so completely unaware of the fact that certain categories of men today are far worse off than any slave or serf ever was. Nor do we need to evoke the extremities of the death factories. Concentration camps have outlived the downfall of the Nazi regime and are accepted as a matter of course; their inmates belong to a new class of human beings who have lost even the elementary human usefulness for society as a whole of which slaves and serfs were never deprived.
Arendt went on to take issue with the fundamental premises of Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy: namely, that the conceptual tools of science could be usefully applied to studying and improving human affairs.
The intention of this approach is certainly humanistic in essence; it tries sincerely to humanize science, to make scientific results usable for the human community. The trouble is only that, at the same time, science, and not man, takes the lead in the argument, with the result that man is degraded into a puppet which through education—through “formation of attitudes,” through “techniques for dealing with human nature”—has to be fitted into a scientifically controlled world. As though it was not man who invented science but some superhuman ghost who prepared this world of ours and only, through some incomprehensible obliviousness, forgot to change man into a scientific animal; as though man’s problem were to conform and to adjust himself to some abstract niceties. As though science could ever be more than man; and, consequently, as though such a gap between scientific and social knowledge could ever be more than wishful thinking.
Though Arendt did not again contribute to The Nation after 1946, our Books and the Arts section covered her career almost every step of the way—almost, because the controversy that raged around her “banality of evil” thesis in Eichmann in Jerusalem somehow received no notice in our pages until 1969, when in a review of another Arendt book, the late political theorist and historian Paul Roazen said Eichmann “remains a shocker—for the terrible historical tale it tells, for the trial it records, and for the viewpoint it presents.”
As with Rieff’s essay, Nation writers have always had a strikingly mixed reaction to Arendt’s books. In 1951, the historian H. Stuart Hughes—grandson of the eleventh Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—praised The Origins of Totalitarianism as “the product of a rigorously trained and scrupulously honest mind, impatient with easy explanations and verbal fluency.” A later Nation writer, Jonathan Rée, called that “a very tactful way of putting it.” Hughes continued:
It reflects the high intellectual level of the German emigration of the 1930’s, which has done American thinking an inestimable service by setting a standard that the native-born have rarely been able to match. To a reader surfeited with the vacuous rhetoric that is currently doing service as the discussion of public affairs, Dr. Arendt’s book comes as a salutary mental shock.
While Hughes went on to complain that the author’s “unitary view of the totalitarian phenomenon causes Dr. Arendt to slur over the differences” between communism and fascism, he also called Origins an “unconventional history, but…a magnificent effort of creative imagination.”
Subsequent Nation reviews, however, identified the same faults in Arendt’s writing which, as Rieff notes in his essay, invited controversy after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem. Reviewing 1958’s The Human Condition, British philosopher Richard Peters called Arendt’s distinction between labor and work “coarse and confused,” while the prolific Canadian historian D.J. Goodspeed took issue with “not quite faultless” logic, “mistakes in history,” and “a lack of clarity only partly attributable to her subject” in On Revolution (1963). “Not all obscurity is the result of profundity,” Goodspeed cautioned. “All too often in Miss Arendt’s book, the sluggish flow between subject and verb is diverted and the reader is left to trace as best he can a thin trickle of assertion through a flooded swampland of redundancies, appositional phrases, pronouns of indefinite antecedent and unnecessary relative clauses.”
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More recent Nation articles on Arendt have focused on biographies and collections of letters published since her 1975 death. In contrast to von Trotta’s film, which Rieff says fails “to convey any sense of [Mary] McCarthy’s enormously cultivated sensibility and breadth of knowledge,” the philosopher Seyla Benhabib, in a 1995 review of Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, wrote:
Through their writing and lecturing, public participation and involvements, Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy earn their place among the few women of our tradition who have discovered, in Arendt’s words, “the joys of public life” of acting and speaking in common in a shared public sphere.
Unsurprisingly, another constant preoccupation of Nation writers regarding Arendt is her complicated lifelong relationship with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose willful collaboration with the Nazis was known at the time but the astonishing extent of which has only come to light in recent decades. Reviewing Elzbieta Ettinger’s landmark 1995 study, Hannah Arendt / Martin Heidegger, the first book on the subject which used the long-secret correspondence between Arendt and her former lover and teacher, the critic Carlin Romano employed some amusing Heideggerian and Arendtian puns in talking about their relationship. Heidegger, Romano wrote, “made clear through a couple of notes that he had Daseins on her.” In Ettinger’s “somewhat Cosmo-ish view,” he said,
Heidegger may not have been able to put his finger on Being, but he could always make Time for Hannah. As for Arendt’s all-too-human condition of eternal loyalty, it’s simply the banality of romantic obsession.
More seriously, Romano exonerated Arendt of Ettinger’s most scathing allegation: that Arendt, motivated by lingering romantic attachments to Heidegger, willingly acted as an apologist for her mentor’s fascist sympathies as he tried to salvage his reputation after the war.
Given that she famously detested self-protecting intellectuals as a class by the time she fled Germany for Paris [in 1933], Arendt, if she was to forgive Heidegger after the war, must have seen him as different from the street-smart intellectual careerists she loathed. It is certainly possible, as Ettinger believes, that love blinded Arendt to decency when it came to Heidegger. In light of everything we know about Arendt and her work—her “genius for friendship,” her concrete acts of kindness over the years, her refugee shrewdness about people’s characters, her no-nonsense recognition of man’s weakness before temptation, her belief that one must act politically and communicate with others to solve social problems—it’s far more likely that decency, and a unique understanding of Heidegger’s flaws as a man, made it possible for her to continue to love a part of him while regretting the rest.
Ettinger’s book implies that, knowing what we know now, we should respect Arendt less. This reader, for one, respects Arendt more.
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In the nearly seventy years since her own essays in our pages, the life and work of Hannah Arendt has been discussed and debated in The Nation possibly more than those of any other twentieth-century philosopher. (Exceptions might be Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, both of whom were also occasional Nation contributors.) One reason Arendt’s writing has so interested this magazine is her reflections on the relationship between philosophy and politics, which the British philosopher (and author of a book on Heidegger) Jonathan Rée discussed in a fascinating 2006 review of three posthumously published essay collections:
Arendt had a distinctly high-minded conception of politics, seeing it not as the bureaucratic administration of collective concerns or a burdensome public duty, still less as a self-interested continuation of warfare by other means. Politics for her was a precious cultural achievement rather than a regrettable social necessity, and it involved the careful maintenance of institutions that enable people to converse freely and respectfully about the world as they see it and as they would like it to be. It was essentially concerned with problems of a kind that will never have perfect solutions, and that therefore require improvisation, invention and endless critical discussion. Politics required us to set aside all sentiments of pride, indignation, shame or resentment, as well as any pretensions to superior expertise, in order to become responsive, intelligent citizens willing to negotiate all our differences on a basis of complete equality. Politics, in short, was the opposite of totalitarianism, and it depended on an open-hearted love for “human equality”—for people not in the mass or in the abstract but in the distinctness and idiosyncrasy of their lives and the infinite variety of their perceptions. It was more like a serene philosophical seminar than a self-interested struggle for power, and it was not so much a means to human happiness as the pith and substance of it.
Rée argued that was a somewhat naïve conception of politics, and that this naiveté helped explain some of Arendt’s more controversial writings, like 1959’s “Reflections on Little Rock,” which described federal attempts at desegregation of public schools as, in Rée’s words, “a fateful step…toward totalitarianism.” It does not take much to extrapolate from the last paragraph of his essay an explanation of Arendt’s problematic conclusions about Eichmann and defense of the unrepentant Heidegger:
It never seems to have occurred to Arendt that if she sniffed Platonic condescension toward politics wherever she looked, it might be because it emanated from her. If she was as keen on the purity of politics as Plato was on the purity of philosophy, it was perhaps because politics as she conceived it was little more than philosophy by another name: a gracious art of respectful, self-critical listening that must always be allowed to take its time. But politics is also about emergencies, catastrophes and deadlines, and if it embodies a set of high republican principles of the kind that Arendt championed, it also contains much else: on the one hand a mass of more or less efficient administrative routines, and on the other elements of compulsion, folly and delusion, or—as Marx would put it—of tragedy and farce. She may have been right to defend the “promise of politics” against our reckless hopes and fears; but she should also have remembered that promises are often broken.
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Bill Moyers, for his national public TV show this weekend (just posted online), explores the amazing political and cultural influence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and his “Ode to Joy” around the world, past and present. It was inspired by the new film that I’ve co-produced, directed by Kerry Candaele, Following the Ninth, and the book we wrote, Journeys With Beethoven.
Remarkably, Moyers presents almost the entire seven-minute trailer for the film, which takes you from China (and Tiananmen Square) to Chile (under Pinochet) to England to Japan and elsewhere, with a special guest appearance by Billy Bragg. Before and after the trailer, Bill offers context and some very moving words of wisdom on the meaning of the Ninth, and Beethoven’s hope-despite-struggles, for our “dark” time.
His site also includes links to one of my articles reprinted from The Nation (on China) and a collection of “Ode to Joy” flash mobs from around the globe. In other Moyers news: He announced today that his show would not end in January but continue in a half-hour version.
For much more on the film, where it's showing, reviews, and the book go here. Here’s the full segment from Moyers on The Ninth: