The Nation

ISIS: The Spoils of the ‘Great Loot’ in the Middle East

ISIS Guard

ISIS fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul in 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) 

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

“So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy.”    – T.E. Lawrence, February 1915

It was a curious comment by the oddball but unarguably brilliant British agent and scholar, Thomas Edward Lawrence. The time was World War I, and England and France were locked in a death match with the Triple Alliance, of which Ottoman Turkey was a prominent member. But it was nonetheless true, and no less now than then. In the Middle East, to paraphrase William Faulkner, history is not the past; it is the present.

In his 1915 letter, Lawrence was describing French machinations over Syria, but he could just as well have been commenting on England’s designs in the region, which Allied leaders in World War I came to call the “Great Loot”—the imperial vivisection of the Middle East.

As Iraq tumbles into yet another civil war, it is important to remember how all this came about, and why adding yet more warfare to the current crisis will perpetuate exactly what the “Great Loot” set out to do: tear an entire region of the world asunder.

Divide and Conquer

There is a scorecard here filled with names, but they are not just George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—though the latter helped mightily to fuel the latest explosion.

They are names most people have never heard of, like Sixth Baronet of Sledmere Mark Sykes and French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot. In 1915, these two mid-level diplomats created a secret plan to divvy up the Middle East. Almost a century later that imperial map not only defines the region and most of the players, but continues to spin out tragedy after tragedy, like some grotesque, historical Groundhog Day.

In 1915, the imperial powers’ major goal in the Middle East was to smother any expression of Arab nationalism and prevent any unified resistance to the designs of Paris and London. France wanted Greater Syria, Britain control of the land bridges to India. The competition was so intense that even while hundreds of thousands of French and British troops were dying on the Western Front, their secret services were blackguarding one another from Samarra to Medina, maneuvering for position for when the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was the compromise aimed at ending the internecine warfare. France would get Greater Syria (which it would divide to create Lebanon), plus zones of influence in northern Iraq. Britain would get the rest of Iraq and Jordan and establish the Palestine Mandate. All of this, however, had to be kept secret from the locals, whom the British and French incited to rebel against imperial Ottoman rule even as they plotted to impose their own.

The Arabs thought they were fighting for independence, but London and Paris had other designs. Instead of the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and access to the Mediterranean the Arabs had been promised, they would get the sun-blasted deserts of Arabia and the rule of monarchs, who were easy to buy or bully.

However, to run such a vast enterprise through the use of direct force was beyond the power of even London and Paris. So both empires transplanted their strategies of exploiting religion, sect, tribe and ethnicity—which had worked so well in Indochina, India, Ireland and Africa—to divide and conquer, adding to it a dash of chaos.

The French put the minority Christians in charge of Lebanon to keep down the majority Sunnis and Shiites. They recruited the minority Alawite Shiites in Syria to head up the army that ruled over the majority Sunnis, while the British installed a Sunni king in Iraq to rule over the country’s majority Shiites. In Palestine the British used Zionism much as they were using Protestantism in Northern Ireland to keep down the native Catholic Irish and keep both communities divided. Communities ended up fighting one another rather than their imperial masters, which, of course, was the whole point of the matter.

Now those demons are on the loose.

Names on the Ledger

There are new players in the Middle East since Sykes and Picot drew up their agreement. Washington and Israel were latecomers, but eventually replaced both imperial powers as the major military forces in the region.

The enemy of the “Great Loot” was secular nationalism, and the United States, France and Britain have been trying to overthrow, isolate, or co-opt secular regimes in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya since they first appeared. The rationale for the hostility is that secular regimes were run by dictators. Many have been, but they’re arguably no worse than the Wahhabi fanatics in Saudi Arabia or the monsters the Gulf monarchies have nurtured in Syria and northern Iraq.

Why is Syria called a dictatorship when Saudi Arabia is not? This past February, the kingdom passed a law equating anything that offends “the nation’s reputation or its position”—including dissent, the exposure of corruption and campaigns for reform—with “terrorism.”

The list of names on the ledger of those who nurture terrorism in the Middle East is long. Yes, it certainly includes the Bush administration, which smashed up one of the most developed countries in the region, dismantled the Iraqi state, and stoked the division between Sunnis and Shiites. But also the Clinton administration, whose brutal sanctions impoverished Iraq and eviscerated its middle class. And further back, during the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush pounded southern Iraq with toxic depleted uranium, inflicting a massive cancer epidemic on places like Basra. It was Jimmy Carter and the CIA who backed Saddam Hussein’s rise to power, because the Baathist dictator was particularly efficient at torturing and killing trade unionists and members of the Iraqi left.

Not to mention members of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, along with associated states Morocco and Jordan—that fund the Islamic insurgency in Syria. Some of those countries may decry the excesses of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, but it was they who stoked the fires in which ISIL was forged.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also on that list. It is through Turkey’s borders that most fighters and supplies pass into Syria. So is the Obama administration, which farmed the insurgency out to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and is now horrified by the creatures that those Wahhabist feudal monarchies produced.

France’s Imperial Grudge

And don’t forget T.E. Lawrence’s French.

Paris has never forgiven the Syrians for tossing them out in 1946, nor for Damascus’s role in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, which dethroned the French-favored Christian minority who had dominated the country since its formation in 1943.

The French have been enthusiastic supporters of the insurgency in the Syrian civil war and, along with the British, successfully lobbied the European Union to drop its ban on supplying the rebels with military hardware. Paris has also earned favor from Saudi Arabia by trying to derail efforts to find a solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. France is a member of the group of powers known as the P5+1—France, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and Germany—involved in talks with Tehran.

The Gulf Council praised France’s attempted sabotage, and Paris promptly landed a $6 billion contract to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s air defense system. It is negotiating to sell $8 billion worth of fighter-bombers to the Emirates and almost $10 billion worth to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia recently donated $3 billion in aid to the Lebanese Army on the condition that it be used to buy French weapons and ammunition. It is a somewhat ironic gift, since the major foe of the Lebanese Army lately has been Saudi-supported Wahhabists in the country’s northern city of Tripoli.

And that’s not all. Apparently French President François Hollande met with the foreign ministers of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates last September to discuss a plan for Pakistan to train a 50,000-man Sunni army to overthrow the Syrian government and defeat Al Qaeda–affiliated jihadist groups.

Members of that army may already be on their way to Europe, much as the mujahedeen from Afghanistan did a generation ago. According to Western intelligence services, more than 3,000 European Union citizens have gone to fight in Syria—ten times the number who went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The gunman who killed four people on May 24 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a veteran jihadist from the Syrian civil war.

Sowing Chaos

For now, the Gulf monarchies see themselves as pulling the strings, but they have virtually no control over what they have wrought. Those Wahhabi fanatics in Syria and northern Iraq may do what Osama bin Laden did and target the corruption of the monarchies next.

The gulf countries are rich but fragile. Youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia is between 30 and 40 percent, and half the country’s 28 million people are under 25 years of age. In other Gulf nations a tiny strata of superrich rule over a huge and exploited foreign workforce. When the monarchies begin to unravel, the current chaos will look like the Pax Romana.

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But chaos has always been an ally of imperialism. “The agenda has always been about imposing division and chaos on the Arab world,” wrote longtime peace activist Tom Hayden. “In 1992, Bernard Lewis, a major Middle East expert, wrote that if the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common identity…. the state then disintegrates into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions, and parties.” And that is just the kind of disintegration that foreign powers have sought to exploit.

Military intervention by the United States and its allies will accelerate the divisions in the Middle East. If the White House is serious about stemming the chaos, it should stop fueling the Syrian civil war, lean on the Gulf monarchies to end their sectarian jihad against Shiites, pressure the Israelis to settle with the Palestinians and end the campaign to isolate Iran.

And tell the French to butt out.


Read next: John Nichols on how to express patriotism with restraint abroad

Is Obama Throwing Immigrant Children Under the Bus?

US Border Patrol

Undocumented immigrants wait in a holding facility at the US Border Patrol detention center in Nogales, Arizona (Reuters/Jeff Topping)

On Monday, President Obama ripped into the GOP for turning its back on the country’s immigration crisis, and announced that he was preparing to take unilateral action by the end of the summer to change the country’s enforcement policies. The announcement stirred up bluster from the usual suspects about executive overreach—never mind that it was John Boehner himself who, in a meeting on June 24, reportedly informed Obama that reform legislation is dead in the House, at least for the rest of the year.

Despite mounting pressure from immigrant rights groups, Obama has refrained from revising heavy-handed enforcement policies for months, ostensibly to create political space for Republicans to move their own legislation forward, something they claimed—and continue to claim—they want to do. Now that the charade is over there’s no reason for the president not to act. Republicans have never explained what else he could do to earn the “trust” they say is lacking; Obama has already presided over a record-breaking 2 million deportations, and Senate Democrats even offered to change their legislation so that it wouldn’t go into effect until a new administration takes over in 2017.

If Obama has given up trying to appease the GOP and wants to shift away from a policy that emphasizes deportations, it’s hard to explain why he is considering weakening a law intended to ensure that children aren’t removed to violent situations and to protect victims of child trafficking, in order to more quickly remove the unaccompanied minors flooding over the borders.

“It’s an utter devastation of due process for our most vulnerable community members,” Ruthie Epstein of the ACLU said in response to the administration’s acknowledgement that it is considering changes to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. That law shields children from countries who do not share a border with the United States from immediate deportation. It mandates that they must instead be handed over to Health and Human Services, which helps them access legal counsel to advise them on the process of applying for asylum, and in some cases releases them to US relatives. The new proposal would let Border Patrol agents make the decision to deport the children they arrest after only a brief screening interview, denying the children access to legal counsel.

Obama said on Monday that speeding up the deportation of children was intended to send “a clear message to the parents in these countries not to put these kids through this. The problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are.” According to the White House, “a deliberate misinformation campaign” led by “criminal syndicates in Central America” is responsible for encouraging children to travel to the United States. But there’s ample evidence that those kids aren’t chasing misleading rumors in hopes of catching the American dream. They’re fleeing violence and extreme poverty.

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The Department of Homeland Security itself cited these underlying causes in a document obtained by the Pew Research Center. Five percent of all of the children arrested at the border since October are from a single city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula; both the city and the country have the highest murder rate in the world. The bulk of the children arriving in the recent surge are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where homicide rates have risen by 99 percent in the last decade, according to one recent study. Those three countries are also among the poorest in Latin America.

In other words, what’s happening at the US-Mexico border looks more like a refugee crisis than the invasion the right wing describes. It’s true that the arrival of tens of thousands of children has overwhelmed Border Patrol stations and Health and Human Services’ shelter system. Accordingly, the administration says that moves to “streamline” the deportation process are being made out of humanitarian concerns, a claim that might hold up if streamlining referred to increasing the resources available to those children so that they could more quickly access legal counsel and get a fair hearing in court. The desire for an expedient solution, however, should not undercut their right to due process.

Obama is sending a convoluted message about his position on enforcement. Immigrant rights groups have long awaited the shift in policy he prefaced on Monday by announcing his intention to move unilaterally to “make the immigration system work better.” Now it’s becoming less and less clear what he mean by “better.” Having conceded that the GOP will block legislation for the foreseeable future no matter what he does, the president no longer has a political excuse for prioritizing a tough stance over humane policy. And yet, when it comes to kids at the border, Obama is advocating for weaker legal protections and a building-up of the country’s deportation machinery—a clear win for immigration opponents and the private companies running detention centers, but a bleak development for immigrants themselves.

Read Next: Mychal Denzel Smith, Americans insist on being delusional about racism

Deadly World Cup Legacy Continues as Overpass Collapses in Brazilian Host City

Brazil overpass collapse

Rescue workers try to reach vehicles trapped underneath collapsed bridge in Belo Horizonte. July 3, 2014. (Reuters/Carlos Creco) 

At least two people are dead and nineteen have been injured in the World Cup host city of Belo Horizonte after the sudden collapse of an unfinished highway overpass. The overpass had been constructed to handle the bus lines to and from the World Cup games being held at Mineirão soccer stadium, less than three miles away. Instead, unfinished, it fell upon two construction trucks, a commuter bus and an automobile.

This tragedy now casts a shadow over the remainder of the tournament. It is a tragedy not only because it happened but because it did not need to happen. Brazil’s politicians and assumedly FIFA as well, had been warned as early as January that this was a possibility according to ESPN’s Leonardo Bertozzi. Make no mistake about it: this blood is on the hands of the international soccer governing body FIFA and Brazil’s ruling Workers Party. To conclude otherwise would be an act of willing blindness, but not only because of the early warning. It would be an act of blindness to the ways in which infrastructure projects were rushed with little regard for commuter safety or workers rights.

In the lead-up to the World Cup, FIFA went on a public relations blitz against Brazil’s lack of readiness for the tournament. This is a tried and true FIFA tactic that I saw firsthand in South Africa in 2010. Using a combination of threats, insults and public shaming, they bring their whip-hand down upon a host country, demanding that the promised infrastructure, security and stadiums be built on time and on schedule.

It started in January with reptilian FIFA chief Sepp Blatter’s saying that Brazil “is the country which is the furthest behind since I’ve been at FIFA.” This was only the beginning. In what was described as a “stark warning” by NBC sports in a headline that blared, ‘FIFA warns host cities in Brazil, as rush to finish venues continues’, FIFA’s secretary general Jerome Valcke said in February that “none of the twelve cities can afford to sit back and relax.” One host city, Curitaba, was told that its games would be pulled if it did not step up the pace and that it would be “monitored on a daily basis.” In March, Valcke said specifically that Brazil’s transport infrastructure needed “a kick up the backside.” In May, Valcke said, “We’ve been through hell” in Brazil. With thirteen days before the start of the cup, Valcke described the country as being in a “race against time.” Most egregiously, in April, Valcke seemed to pine for Brazil’s old dictatorship remarking, “Working with democratically elected governments can complicate organizing tournaments.”

FIFA was whipping the Brazilian government to crack down on strikes and safety regulations to get the massive construction projects done, as if laborers were just undermotivated to finish. Workers endured eighty-four-hour work weeks, and rotating twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week shifts. This was not implemented without resistance. There were a series of strikes in response to the speedups and unsafe conditions. According to workers I spoke with, they also struck against overflowing toilets and cafeteria food described to me as “infested with vermin.” As Antônio de Souza Ramalho, president of the Sintracon-SP civil construction workers union of São Paulo, said to Al Jazeera earlier this week, “The construction workers are among the poorest in Brazil and are often not aware of their rights. And the world soccer body FIFA has never shown any concern about the workers.”

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True to form, rather than address these conditions, the government’s response was either to summarily fire the complainers or promise bonuses for the extra work. They were using either the carrot or stick, with the goal of getting these projects done by any means necessary. These were the orders from Zurich to Brasilia, and President Dilma Rousseff committed to making this a reality.

The pressure on the Workers Party came not only from FIFA but Brazil’s all-powerful, politically connected construction industry. The almighty Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht employed their own private security force to make sure that news cameras were kept at bay and workers kept their heads down. We have already seen the bitter fruits of these priorities in previous months as nine workers died in construction accidents in the rush to provide “FIFA quality infrastructure.”

I reached out to Christopher Gaffney, a Rio-based activist and journalist who has been monitoring the planning for the World Cup. Gaffney said to me, “The repercussions of the collapse will reveal the extent to which Brazilian authorities can be held accountable for the projects associated with the World Cup. These hastily conceived, quickly built projects have dubious benefits for the long term and when the basics fail, it is even more difficult to have confidence in the so called legacy.”

The unfinished overpass had been lauded as yet another of the World Cup infrastructure legacy projects that would benefit all Brazilians. That is clearly not the case. Like the favela children living under military occupation, killed or injured by police since the start of the World Cup, today’s tragedy in Belo Horizonte did not need to happen. They are what results when breakneck neoliberalism arrives with a soccer ball in one hand and a gun in the other.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on Exporting Gaza to Brazil

The Media Are Suffering From ‘Hillary Fatigue’

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The same media that are obsessed with Hillary—asking nonstop will she or won’t she, when will she, what’s that pause in her voice mean, is she likable enough—that same media have decided they are experiencing “Hillary fatigue.”

And Hillary, they say, should be worried about it. “I think that the thing she has to fear is fatigue among the media,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said on Morning Joe earlier this week. “The media is going to have Clinton fatigue before the country. I don’t think the country has Clinton fatigue. I think the media has Clinton fatigue. You can sort of feel it sometimes in the way the coverage—"

Then, in the next beat and without a glimmer of self-awareness, MJ co-host Willie Geist asked Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller, “Let’s play the parlor game…. who would be the strongest challenger” to Hillary Clinton? (Lewis obliged, suggesting Rubio and Christie, two nonstarters, but if they somehow luck out, they could rise to ranks of fatigue-makers, too.)

The fatigue galloped on. On yesterday’s MJ, Mike Barnacle asked, as if he were stuck in the political junkie’s version of 50 First Dates: “Chuck, it’s obviously July 2014, but do you sense, within the media, already, right now, Clinton exhaustion, just from covering the early stages of not even a campaign yet?” Chuck spent another chunk of segment explaining that he sure does sense that.

Of course, it’s not just Morning Joe that’s exhausting itself over Hillary. All of the MSM’s endless, repetitive, obsessive speculation about Hillary (or, really, about anyone or anything that stimulates their mass fantasy) is little more than media masturbation—getting themselves excited in the easiest way possible, without actual reporting, excited enough to fill the required twenty-four hours of “news” and to do it all again the next day.

“Hillary fatigue” isn’t just a media ailment. It’s also a GOP talking point. It’s been around, on and off, for years. But Tom Kludt at Talking Points Memo says the meme got a huge boost recently, when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared on last Sunday’s Meet the Press, “There’s Hillary fatigue already out there. It’s setting in. People are tired of this story. And I just happen to believe that this early run for the White House is going to come back and bite them. And it already is.”

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From there, Kludt traced “Hillary fatigue” to U.S. News & World Report, as well as to Morning Joe. But “[in] fairness,” he adds, “this storyline bubbled on the left two days before Priebus appeared on Meet the Press. Liberal comedian Bill Maher urged Clinton on Friday to ‘just go away’ before her 2016 run. Otherwise, he warned Clinton, ‘you’re going to blow this.’”

None of this is to say that Hillary fatigue isn’t a real, palpable thing. A lot of people, in and out of the media, are tired of Hillary—of her politics, aspects of her personality and/or of the incessant coverage of her.

But like any catchy term, “Clinton fatigue” can be overused and misleading. “A Clear Case of Clinton Fatigue,” the New York Times headlined a story, in 1999. There was a spate of such headlines then, most asking whether Al Gore should keep his distance from Bill Clinton for his 2000 presidential run.

Now, the rearview wisdom is that Gore would have done better by ignoring the fatigue warnings and basking instead in the Clinton good-economic-times aura. 


Read Next: Will the Democratic Party deliver for working women?

Northwestern Reshapes Its Sexual Assault Policy

End Rape

(Chase Carter / Flickr)

This post originally appeared in The Daily Northwestern and is reposted here with permission.

Northwestern officials say they are prepared to comply with a new rule proposed by the White House under the Violence Against Women Act that would require colleges to compile statistics for incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.

The proposed rule falls under amendments to the Violence Against Women Act that went into effect in March. University officials said they have been working to comply with the amendments.

“Northwestern has been making good faith efforts to comply with the VAWA amendments since they were enacted,” said Joan Slavin, director of Northerwestern University’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office and Title IX coordinator, in an e-mail to The Daily. “We are currently working on making revisions to our complaint resolution procedures to make sure they comply with best practices under VAWA and Title IX.”

Slavin also said the university is investigating adding new prevention-related training for students, staff and faculty regarding sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence.

Tara Sullivan, assistant dean of students and Director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, said in an e-mail to The Daily that the University has been expecting a requirement for schools to report these statistics for “quite some time.”

“I share the hope that reporting this information will provide students with a better understanding of what is happening on campus and allow them to make choices that are best for them regarding their individual safety and security.”

Sullivan said before the proposed rule, the university had a “gold standard policy” regarding how it handles sexual misconduct, stalking and dating and domestic violence. She said the current policy is being reviewed, but that she anticipates any changes to be minor.

“We are in the process of developing a new student conduct process,” Sullivan said. “The new process has already been written with much of this in mind, but we will certainly review it to ensure that everything is incorporated before it is launched in the fall.”

In addition, Slavin said updates to the university’s policy will be included in its upcoming annual security report, which will be available in the fall.

The proposed rule would require universities to not only compile these statistics but also make other policy changes as well.

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Changes under the proposed rule include expanding the definition of hate crimes under the Clery Act to include gender identity and national origin as categories of bias; adopting a more inclusive definition of rape; requiring universities to guarantee their proceedings regarding these incidents are “prompt, fair, and impartial;” strengthening policies to protect victim confidentiality; and “specifying requirements for programs to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

Slavin said she feels there has been heightened awareness about sexual violence and assault on all campuses, including Northwestern. She said campus groups, such as the Title IX Coordinating Committee and the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence have been key in bringing together other interested groups to discuss these issues and possible solutions.

“I have really appreciated the activism we have seen here on our campus,” Sullivan said. “I am encouraged by the community’s interest in ensuring that Northwestern is not only in compliance, but also doing what is best for our community.”


Read Next: Jude Paul Dizon on DREAMers in grad school

Americans Insist on Being Delusional About Racism

trayvon rally

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

The headline to this ThinkProgress story reads “A Black College Student Has The Same Chances Of Getting A Job As A White High School Dropout.” At the same time, this Pew Research Center study shows that 63 percent of Americans believe “Blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for own condition.”

How do these two things square with each other?

They don’t. But that doesn’t actually matter. Americans aren’t swayed by facts or statistics but by narratives. The narrative we have internalized with regards to racism is one of unimpeached progress. We’ve gone from slavery to Jim Crow to civil rights to a black president without a hitch.

Meanwhile, the thing that black parents across the country have told their children for generations about having to work twice as hard to get the same things that are handed to white people, remains true. Yet 63 percent of Americans choose to believe black people are unambitious, or lazy or incompetent. Racism, the kind that limited opportunities for black Americans, is a thing of the past, we would like to believe.

This was the entire point of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s June cover story for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” He built his argument not around the injustice of slavery but the injury suffered from redlining and housing discrimination, racist public policies with roots in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. He illustrates that we don’t have to reach so far back in American history to see the treatment of black people as second-class citizens. Truly, we don’t have to look beyond today’s headlines.

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In his essay “The Little Man at Chehaw Station,” Ralph Ellison wrote: “Perhaps we are able to see only that which we are prepared to see, and in our culture the cost of insight is an uncertainty that threatens our already unstable sense of order and requires a constant questioning of accepted assumptions.”

The United States isn’t prepared to see its racist past or present, as it would upset the narrative that has become a source of national pride. We aren’t yet brave enough to forge a new identity.


Read Next: Mychal Denzel Smith on how America is still trying to ‘do the right thing.’

States of Play

Around Independence Day, an American cryptic puzzler’s fancy naturally turns to thoughts of the US. It isn’t always easy: the crossword puzzle is a home-grown American invention, but the cryptic—or, ahem, “British-style” puzzle—is an import from across the Atlantic.

But one slice of Americana that does recur throughout cryptic puzzledom—both in The Nation and elsewhere—is the roster of the fifty state names. With its wide range of etymological flavors (English, Spanish, Native American and more) and variety of lengths and letter patterns, these constitute a little gold mine of cryptic resources for puzzlers.

We’ve made good use of them, too. A quick survey of our files shows that only twelve states have yet to put in an appearance (and one or two are waiting in the wings, in puzzles that are written but haven’t appeared yet).

Not surprisingly, the main use for state names is as the shortest path to their two-letter postal abbreviations; in fact, practiced solvers have learned to try those first on seeing the name of a US state. For instance:
   SCYLLA  South Carolina partner brought back a terrifying monster (6)
   FLOUNCE  Ribbon in Florida with little weight (7)
   CLOSET  Secrecy concerning sexual orientation to face defeat in Connecticut (6)
   MARTIAN  Alien in Massachusetts train wreck (7)

Sometimes, though, a state name can appear in a clue just as itself, since it’s the easiest way to specify an American city or town, either in the definition:
   CHICO  Marx in a California city (5)
   SAGINAW  Detected a trap inside Michigan city (7)
…or the wordplay:
   ANTIPODES  Hiking mineshaft in Arizona town leads to the other side of the world (9)
   BILLINGSGATE  Abusive language in Montana scandal? (12)

And once in a while, the postal abbreviation can combine with a direct reference, as in this &lit. clue:
   NASHUA  It’s, like, in New Hampshire, near the edges of USA! (6)

Here’s another combination strategy:
   A LA MODE  Fashionable mission in Texas and Delaware (1,2,4)

State names also make good grid entries:
   INDIANA  Gary’s place is at home with a goddess (7)
   UTAH  Hesitation to bear thanks where Mormons are plentiful (4)

And so do their derivative forms:
   CONNECTICUTER  Associate with one better-looking New England resident (13)
   IOWAN One that hurts an American from the Midwest (5)
   OKLAHOMAN  Sooner or later, boy chases after perverse LA hook (9)

Probably the apotheosis of state-naming in our puzzles so far was this pair of entries from Puzzle #3308, based on a bit of wordplay we borrowed the puzzler Mark Oshin (a k a Mr. E):
   VIRGINIA SLIMS  State: “Video-game family getting last of menthol cigarettes” (8,5)
   MINNESOTA FATS  State: “Workers mostly returning for pool hustler” (9,4)

Happy Y to all our friends and solvers! (That’s Fourth of July, of course.)

This week’s clueing challenge: WYOMING

To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

What are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 07/04/14?

Hobby Lobby

(Nicholas Eckhart/CC 2.0)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

"Cecily McMillan's Statement of Release." JusticeforCecily.com, July 2, 2014.

Following a biased mistrial (one among too many recent miscarriages of justice), Cecily McMillan was released on Wednesday after fifty-nine days in jail. Her statement of release reminds us of the pressing injustices that plague current Rikers inmates—stories that are so little mentioned because they come from the most disenfranchised segments of society. This statement bridges the gap that separates prisoners' daily concerns from theoretical discussions of mass incarceration by revealing those demands, which local movements will hopefully pick up. As of now, the lack of visibility of those who disappear into jails or prisons permits the worse excesses. Cecily's mention of the solidarity and the sisterhood at Rikers is inspiring, revealing issues that we should lend our ears and voices to.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

"Social and Economic Benefits of Reliable Contraception," by Jacoba Urist. The Atlantic, July 2, 2014.

In light of the Supreme Court's controversial decision to side with Hobby Lobby, the fight for women's rights still has a ways to go. Jacoba Urist of The Atlantic argues that the benefits of providing reliable access to contraception empowers women regardless of socioeconomic status and even extends to the well being of society. Urist's argument touches on how the debate surrounding contraception relates to income inequality, health issues and the opportunities made available to younger generations.

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

Migrant Women Documenting Their Experiences Crossing the Border,” by Verónica Bayetti Flores. Feministing, June 12, 2014. 

In this piece, Verónica discusses part of what’s missing from the discourse of crossing the border, and that’s the stories of women. Bayetti Flores points to the work of freelance photographer Encarni Pindado, known as MigraZoom, which provides disposable cameras to migrants so that they can document their own journeys. One of the themes from the women migrants’ photos, which Bayetti Flores focuses on, is sexual violence and strategies to avoid violence, but also “harm reduction practices such as taking contraceptives before crossing the border to avoid pregnancy should they get raped along the way.” What I found most important about this project is that it is a reminder that these individuals are people, often brutally dehumanized, who, as one immigrant woman explains, “deserve respect…deserve a chance to work, and to live well and to study.”

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

"Three Reasons the Hobby Lobby Decision Is Worse for Women of Color," by Miriam Zoila Pérez. Colorlines, July 1, 2014.

How does Monday's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision affect women of color? This article succinctly illuminates three major ulcers that will be irritated in women's health policy with this monumental restriction: the cost of contraception, the risk of unplanned pregnancy, and America's history of sterilization and reproductive control over black and brown women.

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

"Moaning Moguls," by James Surowiecki. The New Yorker, July 7, 2014.

In the infancy of Obama's presidency, I remember the president letting bankers know, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." That statement might have been premature—sure, there was outrage in the wake of bailouts and the outrage over executives' compensation, but it was well before Occupy, before rising numbers of Americans of all kinds identified as lower class, before the words "income inequality" were on everyone's lips and even people like Rick Santorum were suddenly talking about social mobility. In “Moaning Moguls,” James Surowiecki notes the plight of the beleaguered rich—those CEOs who feel besieged by the prospect of (marginally) higher taxes and the (relative) scorn of the public. They cope with a disdainful public by making obscene comparisons of their tax burdens to life in Nazi Germany, with one even arguing that the wealthier you are, the more votes you should be entitled to have. Before a sharp rightward turn in corporate America over the past three decades or so, corporations regularly saw their interests and those of their employees and customers as the same. Globalization and the boom in financial services has changed all that, Surowiecki writes, because their customers are no longer only Americans or the wealthy. This reminds me of an essay in Politico that's been gaining traction this week by Nick Hanauser, a Seattle entrepreneur worth billions who warns his comrades in affluence that if workers’ pay isn’t raised the way Seattle’s was—their minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour—they will, eventually, risk open rebellion. He tackled trickle down economics, seeing its reasoning rooted in ideas little different than antiquated notions like divine right. Hanauser lifts the veil a bit on the perspectives of plenty of people in business—"We love our customers rich and our employees poor"—and how it has been consistently proven that raising the minimum wage has not harmed business, nor has the prohibition of child labor or the actual establishment of the minimum wage. He proves how these fights for progress often repeat themselves, always face resistance but are always necessary.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

The Supreme Court Should See What I See As an Abortion Clinic Escort,” by Lauren Rankin. RH Reality Check, June 30, 2014.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a 35-foot buffer zone to protect patients from protestors outside abortion clinics is unconstitutional; that it impedes free speech. But according to Lauren Rankin, who volunteers at an abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey, the Supreme Court is in effect protecting the right of anti-choice protestors to not only speak to abortion patients, but also to physically block them from entering clinics and film them against their will. Rankin describes the difference a buffer zone at the clinic where she works made for patients, whom she saw "reduced to tears and shaking, just for trying to access the health care to which they are constitutionally entitled," before the zone was installed.

—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

Hobby Lobby Ruling Proves Men of Law Can't Abide 'Immoral' Women Having Sex,” by Jessica Valenti. The Guardian via AlterNet, July 1, 2014.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby on Monday, which gives corporations the right to deny coverage of certain kinds of contraception to their employees based on religious freedom. Now, Hobby Lobby may indeed have religious objections to contraception, but let's be frank, as Jessica Valenti was in her Guardian piece on Tuesday: Hobby Lobby sued because the company believes pre-martial or non-procreative sex is a big no-no for women. Essentially, we can view the initial case and the Supreme Court's eventual (and predominantly male-decided) ruling as yet another attempt to make sure women cannot have sex as freely as men. What's sad is that this is not the first time women's reproductive autonomy will be affected by governmental policy and institutions (forget about the history; this week alone five states passed policies that make it significantly harder to get an abortion). And surprise, surprise (like a lot of things) women of color will likely be facing the brunt of this (predominantly white male-decided) ruling. It's just another case to add to the long list of forced contraception, sterilization, abortion and unsafe birthing practices our government has normalized for women of color. (Sigh.)

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—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.

Protesters in Murrieta block detainees' buses in tense standoff,” byMatt Hansen and Mark Boster. The Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2014.

Hatred and violence directed toward undocumented immigrants in the United States is at an all-time high. Proof can be found in Murrieta, California, where residents blocked busloads of refugee children and undocumented immigrants from entering their city. In downtown Murrieta, 200-300 protestors relayed their dedication to keeping California "American" by forcing the buses to turn back prior to entering the border patrol station in the community. Murrieta Mayor Alan Long allegedly prompted the protest, stating that “Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities”. The buses were met with chants of "USA" and signs that read "return to sender." Many connect the influx of migrants, specifically children, to the increasing violence and poverty found in some Central American communities. I firmly believe that the fabric of the United States is woven by the desperate and oftentimes undocumented risks of immigrant communities. But the United States does not have an "immigrant problem"—it's in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. With border patrol agents detaining more that 52,000 unaccompanied minors in the southwest, many communities have been slow to act with compassion. It is perplexing that a nation that celebrates the struggling immigrant narrative—although an oftentimes-Eurocentric retelling of the exploitation Native and enslaved communities—would deny this same access to opportunity to those crossing another type of border. But Americanness has become more about nine-digits on a card than liberty and justice for all. And as it always does, history will remember our intolerance.

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

A City of Convicts: The statistical sleight of hand that makes the U.S. crime rate seem lower than it really is,” by Josh Voorhees. Slate, June 30, 2014.

When recording crime in the US, writer Josh Voorhees takes one group into account that is often overlooked: the prison population. Without including this population of 2.2 million people, today’s violent crime rate is nearly half of what it was in the early 90s. In 2012, 1.2 million crimes were reported to the FBI, and a little more than 5.8 million were self-reported by inmates according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. Voorhees argues: “The brutality occurring behind bars deserves a fuller accounting—particularly given that we know there are innocent men and women serving sentences they don’t deserve.” He notes that the numbers suggest that violence itself hasn't disappeared, but has nearly been relegated to a place the public barely sees.


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How to Turn a Grueling, Thankless Job Into a Movement

Andolan protest

(Screenshot courtesy: Claiming Our Voice)

Over the past decade, a group of workers has stepped slowly from New York City’s middle-class kitchens and living rooms into the forefront of the country’s labor rights movements. Domestic workers—the nannies, health aides, housekeepers and other household service workers—have organized, petitioned lawmakers, and championed Domestic Workers Bill of Rights legislation, which has been passed in four states so far. But the rise of the labor movement has come with some growing pains. The journey of Andolan, one of the first domestic workers’ groups to emerge in New York, attests to the power of grassroots labor activism, along with the hurdles that often crop up with each movement milestone.

Andolan began organizing in Queens the late 1990s with just a handful of domestic workers from South Asia. They evolved into a fierce crop of community leaders who knew the vernacular of their ethnic communities as well as the language of political struggle. Departing from the traditional union model, they meshed social work with advocacy, helping women take legal action against abusive bosses, and connecting them to services ranging from counseling to self-defense classes. They made history with a lawsuit brought by an Indian worker against her former employer, claiming grueling work hours and massive wage theft, which led to a $94,000 settlement—an unprecedented sum for a domestic worker case, the group noted. Together with the local labor network Domestic Workers United, the group campaigned for stronger labor protections and shepherded the first-ever Domestic Workers Bill of Rights through Albany in 2010. In recent years, justice for household workers has become a hot cause, with campaign endorsements from Hollywood celebrities and official initiatives for global domestic worker protections through the International Labour Organization.

A new documentary, Claiming Our Voice, traces Andolan members as they learn to grapple with their own history. Centered on a homemade theater production—a show developed by the women under the guidance of South Asian-American artist YaliniDreamthe film, directed by Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel, follows the women as they seek self-expression beyond the simple survivor narrative. They reconstruct their stories as individuals and as a collective, with a pastiche of dialogue, song and dance, merging folk traditions with contemporary politics and radical performance art.

As a kind of Pins and Needles for the South Asian diaspora, the performance is a seemingly simple act of storytelling—the women are essentially playing themselves. The dialogue and choreography depict memories of economic hardship in their homeland and after migration, facing exploitation and degradation as laborers, and marching together with fists in the air. Between the staged scenes, women speak in interviews about their fears and hopes on their own terms, outside the tight format of the media interviews and tragic testimonials that they were often asked to give.

Mursheda Begum, a worker who came from Bangladesh in 1997, said in the film, “My country’s people are always ashamed to say their own story. I can tell my own story and somebody can learn from me…. We are all together fighting for our rights. Everybody has a story…. You say [something], and then you have a problem solved. You don’t say anything, the world doesn’t know your problem. I’m not scared now. We are powerful because we are Andolan members.… I have power inside me.”

But there’s a bittersweet epilogue to the narrative. In 2010, about two years after they were applauded on stage, Andolan closed its office space and gave up its incorporated status, and after many years struggling as a staffed, funding-dependent nonprofit service agency, went back to being a volunteer-led organization. Andolan has continued to function in its pared-down form, but has shifted back to more intimate roots, with informal meetings and a focus on supporting individual members—not necessarily legal intakes or grant writing. This trajectory, which many successful nonprofits encounter at some point, touches on deeper questions about the sustainability of worker-based grassroots organizing over the long term, as long as they depend on fiscal sponsors subject to volatile government budgets and the whims of elite foundations.

The worker centers of the so-called “alt labor” movement have reshaped the political landscape for marginalized sectors like day laborers and immigrant guestworkers. Representing highly segregated sectors, the groups have reenergized dialogue on immigration policy and racial and economic justice within mainstream organized-labor circles. Activists have developed creative tactics like viral media campaigns and community education programs to complement the standard activist arsenal of strikes and pickets.

Yet paying the bills remains a challenge, particularly when your membership is poor, you don’t collect dues, and foundations and government agencies require complex application processes and extensive reporting of “deliverables.” The recession hit workers on both ends, too, gutting jobs and wages for individual workers and destabilizing the already tenuous financial bases of young community-based groups.

One 2011 study found that nearly 90 percent of nonprofits were still impacted by the recession, struggling with depleted government and foundation funding streams.

The bottom line that has bedeviled Andolan and so many other groups is the paradox of sustaining grassroots activism: the vitality of any movement is by nature fast-changing and spontaneous, while building a sustainable organization requires stability and the ability to plan for the long term, which the poor by definition tend to lack. Genuine low-wage worker advocacy is hard to do without dedicated volunteers who represent the workforce, yet no poor people’s movement can run on voluntarism alone.

Now as a volunteer group, Andolan is consulting with members and ally groups on how they might restructure. “People cannot even think about giving up this organization…. This organization is needed,” says founding member Nahar Alam, who now works at New York University. “But how [to sustain it]… we have to rethink that.”

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Still, Andolan has come farther than most. As the film rolls out the nonprofit’s legacy, Alam has been reflecting on the other groups inspired by Andolan’s organizing model (work is underway to create an archive to document the group’s history and accomplishments). Many young activists cut their teeth working with Andolan years ago and have since gone on to build established campaign groups like the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

“I’m thinking that this is from us, we started it,” Alam says. “And this campaign is now big enough [to reach] not only nationwide, it’s like worldwide.… Those people came out from Andolan. And this is our asset.”

At the end of the day, Andolan won’t be remembered for how long they stuck around, but how they changed one of the most thankless jobs in the world into the vanguard of a new labor struggle.

Claiming Our Voice is produced by Fine Grain Films, with Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel and Chitra Aiyar (disclosure: Aiyar is also a former member of the Asia Pacific Forum Collective, of which the author is a current member).

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