The Nation

New Surge in Death and Violence in Iraq—Eleven Years After We Took Baghdad

Baqouba, Iraq

Security forces inspect the scene of one of three suicide bombings in Baqouba, Iraq, March 3, 2010. (AP Photo)

In the wake of George W. Bush’s gaining serious treatment as an artist over the weekend, and being greeted warmly at NCAA basketball finals last night—even as we mark eleven years since the US took Baghdad (based on his lies)—there’s this today from Agence France-Presse:

Attacks in Iraq left 15 people dead Tuesday while security forces said they killed 25 militants near Baghdad amid worries insurgents are encroaching on the capital weeks ahead of elections.

The latest violence is part of a protracted surge in nationwide bloodshed that has left more than 2,400 people dead since the start of the year and sparked fears Iraq is slipping back into the all-out sectarian fighting that plagued it in 2006 and 2007.

The unrest has been driven principally by anger in the Sunni Arab community over alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government and security forces, as well as spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

In Tuesday’s bloodiest incident, soldiers killed 25 militants in an ambush southwest of Baghdad, the capital’s security spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said. Elsewhere in Iraq on Tuesday, attacks north of the capital killed 15 people overall, security and medical officials said, including six members of the same family shot dead inside their home on the outskirts of the restive city of Mosul.

Near-daily bloodshed is part of a long list of voter concerns that also include lengthy power cuts, poor wastewater treatment, rampant corruption and high unemployment.

Looking through an article in The New York Times eleven years ago today (Baghdad would fall on April 9, 2003), one is struck by how many were already noting that we were not being greeted as liberators and that tough times were ahead, though none recognized the true scope of the problem (and the crime of the invasion to start with). “Chaos” and “looting” were also beginning, amid false US reports that “barrels” of chemical agents had been found, a possible “smoking gun,” as one official put it.

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Thomas Friedman, later rightly mocked for his prediction, over and over, for years, that things would be turning around there within six months, was pretty clear-eyed in a column titled ‘Hold Your Applause,” which closed with:

America broke Iraq; now America owns Iraq, and it owns the primary responsibility for normalizing it. If the water doesn’t flow, if the food doesn’t arrive, if the rains don’t come and if the sun doesn’t shine, it’s now America’s fault. We’d better get used to it, we’d better make things right, we’d better do it soon, and we’d better get all the help we can get.

Greg Mitchell’s new book on Iraq and media malpractice is So Wrong for So Long.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion.”

Poll Finds Jury Still Out on de Blasio

Bil de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

About half of New Yorkers approve of Bill de Blasio's performance so far in City Hall, but the new mayor has yet to prove his leadership in several areas, says a New York Times/Sienna College poll released today.

The poll found 49 percent approved of the mayor's work to date, while 31 percent disapproved and 19 percent said they didn't know. When it comes to his personal favorability, the numbers break 47/23/29 percent. Most believe he's focusing on issues that matter to people like them, and most feel he cares about their needs and problems “some” or “a lot.” Asked if they think voters made the right choice or a mistake in electing de Blasio, 59 percent said it's too early to say; among those who did weigh in, 26 percent thought they'd made a good choice and 13 percent thought the city made a mistake.

On housing, jobs, income inequality and the quality of public schools, more New Yorkers disapprove or de Blasio's work so far than approve. But when it comes to keeping New Yorkers safe, 70 percent say they approve of the job he's doing.

The glass-half-empty take on the numbers is that de Blasio's huge electoral mandate—he won 73 percent of the vote in November—has either vanished or was never there in the first place. But after the charter-school blow-up and the minor scandals of the first three months, it's not bad news that more New Yorkers like the job de Blasio's doing, like him personally, think his heart's in the right place and believe he's got crime (which was, in Joe Lhota's dark vision of the future, going to be his undoing) under control. The high numbers of undecideds are people the mayor still has a chance to convert. The city certainly hasn't turned against him.

The very fact that he has yet to measure up to people's expectations when it comes to the handling of income inequality indicates just how significant a vein of sentiment de Blasio's mayoral campaign tapped. There's always been the question of whether he raised expectations unrealistically high. But, 98 days in, he's got time to reach closer to that bar, and most New Yorkers are either on his side or withholding judgment.

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Of course, if de Blasio doesn't get better at closing the book on little scandals, doubt among some voters may harden into dissent. Yesterday the mayor—who made access to government documents a cause during his stint as public advocate—was asked about City Hall's delay in responding to a freedom of information law (FOIL) request for documents related to his contact with the police department after a prominent supporter was arrested. De Blasio's answer:

You know, the FOIL process – I am not a lawyer – but you know, the FOIL process is delineated and is pursued whenever a request comes in. You know, what we have said to our team is we’re going to process those, get the answer back. Obviously, if at any point a journalist or any other organization isn’t comfortable with the outcome of the FOIL request, there is an appeals process. So I’m not familiar with the details of it, but that’s the way it works.

The jury may be out on de Blasio in general, but when it comes to that answer, I'm going to render a bench verdict of “lame!"


Read Next: Michelle Goldberg tracks the "Rise of the Progressive City"

An Important Lesson From Right-Wing Science Dude

Tom Tomorrow

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Writing, Prestige and Other Things That Don’t Pay the Rent


(Reuters/Mark Blinch)

“Does journalism fit into capitalism?” That is “the question of the hour,” according to Manjula Martin, a freelance writer and editor, whom I interviewed last week. Martin has carved out a space for discussing the economic landscape for writers through her online database, Who Pays Writers?, and the digital magazine, Scratch, that she co-founded with Jane Friedman.

Who Pays Writers was born out of an online conversation between Martin and other writers who were commenting on publications that ask for donations or run advertisements, but don’t pay contributors. Martin herself had been frustrated recently by an experience in which she had gone through all the work of pitching an article, only to find out that the publication expected writers to work for free. “I was being very flippant, but I said, do we need a list?” she recalls.

The response was positive, and Martin set up a Tumblr, providing freelancers a space to self-report the rates they’ve received from publications ranging from The New Yorker and USA Today to Marie Clare and Pet Business. The site now contains thousands of reports, most depressingly meager, each a snapshot of the state of the industry from the point of view of freelancers. Over all, Martin says, writers can expect to earn about $100–250 for online articles at the big publications (The Atlantic, Salon, The Nation). The rates are higher for print, where many publications still pay by the word, and lower for book reviews and literary journals. (Martin emphasized that the data she collects is self-reported by writers and is not verified by publications. Salon declined to comment for this article. I reached out to The Atlantic for comment, but did not hear back before publication.)

Scratch came next. “Everyone really loved Who Pays Writers,” Martin says, “but people wanted more context.” The magazine provides that context, going deeper into the publishing economy with round-table discussions between editors, advice on negotiation techniques and contracts language, and first-person accounts of the freelancing life from successful writers. In the spirit of Martin’s commitment to transparency, each issue concludes with an accounting of the relationships between the writers and editors, the demographics of the writers and the amount of money each contributor was paid. (Full disclosure: Martin has commissioned me to write an essay for the next issue of Scratch for $200.)

For Martin, transparency is the first step to improving the situation of freelance writers. Fifteen dollars per hour has become a rallying cry for service workers, but what is a fair standard for writers? “We don’t even have a basic sort of understanding of what standards would be like for a freelance workforce, let alone what pay rates would be like,” she says. “I think we need that base first.” She points to a need for her freelance “co-workers” to be more educated: “Not understanding how the finances of our industry work—who is that bad for? It’s probably not as bad for the people cutting the checks as it is for the people receiving the checks.”

And it is bad for the people receiving the checks. The answer to Martin’s question about journalism existing in capitalism is, of course, that journalism does exist in capitalism, and capitalism is kicking journalists’ asses. The same goes for editors, and for many publications.

Last week, the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project released its annual report on the state of the news media, which examines the continuing struggles of news outlets to hit upon a sustainable (let alone profitable) model for generating revenue. Pew’s report quantified the rapid growth of jobs in digital reporting, but also noted the continuing decline of jobs in print media. While job growth is good news for writers, the new hiring does not replace all the jobs that have been lost in the massive layoffs that have been occurring for a decade in print. Many print publications are also unionized, and very few of the writers at born-digital outlets are organized (the staff of Truthout is one of the few exceptions to this rule).  This translates into less job security, and individual instead of collective contracts for writers, making it harder to prevent the kind of downward competition that drives standards lower.

In another sign of capitalism’s effect on journalism, Digiday reported last week that Entertainment Weekly, which is owned by Time Inc., will be establishing a “contributor network” where bloggers will be “compensated in the form of prestige, access to the brand’s editors and a huge potential readership audience.” Presitge, of course, is worth even less than dogecoin when it comes to paying rent, and just one week later, Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Entertainment Weekly is laying off longtime critics and writers Owen Gleiberan, Nick Catucci and Annie Barret. If you don’t see the connection between these two moves, you’re not paying attention.

Meanwhile, media observer and journalist Jim Romenesko reported last week that the Northeast Ohio Media Group, which operates Cleveland.com, is instituting a “zero–tolerance policy for typos,” and its content chief has suggested that reporters enlist their spouses in helping them avoid mistakes. A frustrated reporter wrote to Romenesko that such a move was predictable because there are no copy editors on the digital side of the news operation, and “an entire layer of editors” has been laid off. As labor historian Jacob Remes put it on Twitter, what’s really happening here could be headlined, “Publisher demands labor that used to be done by paid copy editors be done by unpaid wives.”

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Earlier this month, writer Yasmin Nair shook up leftist academic circles in an essay arguing that “those who write for free or very little simply because they can afford to are scabs.” Nair’s statement provoked much debate among writers who are trying to navigate an industry that increasingly demands unpaid work and has been successful in getting its way. Many objected to Nair’s definition of “scab,” which seems to me both beside the point and unresolvable. (I worked for a labor union for four years and witnessed many discussions between organizers and workers with far more experience about the true definition of a scab. Some of us called anyone who crossed a picket line—worker or customer—a scab. Others reserved it for replacement workers during a strike. Some contend that it really applies only to union members who work during strikes. When in doubt, don’t cross a picket line.)

For Martin, the debate hits home. “I worry about that on a very personal level,” she says. “Every time I write something for free, somebody else gets paid less or offered less. I think that’s true, and I don’t think anyone is disputing that in this argument.” But she understands why people do it, and instead of having writers focus on one another, she wants to point the conversation back to understanding the economic system and arming writers with information. “To me the data is just the first step,” she says. “It’s always interesting to me when people really just want the numbers. But the numbers have stories around them and the stories around them are the important thing. Hopefully a group of workers who are at heart story tellers can figure out a way to talk about it.”


Read Next: Michelle Chen outlines the problems with the tipped minimum wage.

Chris Hayes on Paternity Leave: ‘Take Some Time With Your Frickin’ Kid’

Chris Hayes

New York Mets second baseman David Murphy was harshly criticized in the sports media this week. His crime? Murphy missed two games for the birth of his first child. The issue was humorously addresed on All in With Chris Hayes by guest host Joy Reid, joined via telephone by Hayes, who was himself on paternity leave. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. "There's actually a nice, tight analogy here between cable news and baseball," he said. "They play 162 games, OK? He's going to miss three games, which is, by the way, in the collective bargaining agreement that the union negotiated." Hayes had no sympathy for the "neanderthalish" views of sportscasters like Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. "Take some time with your frickin’ kid and take some time with the partner in your life who brought the kid into the world" he said. "That actually is part of being a man."
Dustin Christensen

Brown Students and Workers Unite to Convince the University to Boycott an Exploitative Hotel

Renaissance protest

Santa Brito and her coworkers picket outside the Providence Renaissance Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Unite Here Local 217)

Santa Brito, a housekeeper at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, was cleaning rooms the day her water broke. “I was afraid,” she said. “I kept working throughout my pregnancy because people said the company was very aggressive.” Raquel Cruz, also a housekeeper, told The Nation that managers at the Renaissance refused to give her and other pregnant women light duty, even when their doctors ordered it. “At thirty to thirty-five weeks, they still want you to do the same job, the same number of rooms. And you have to keep working because otherwise you lose your job.” A week after giving birth, Brito called the hotel. “They told me they didn’t know when I could come back to work.… They told me they couldn’t guarantee my job.” A week later she was fired.

In 2011, the Renaissance gained some unwanted notoriety when Joey DeFrancesco quit his job at the hotel with the help of his bandmates in the What Cheer? Brigade. A video of Joey’s raucous exit has 4.3 million views on YouTube. “They were stealing our tip money, paying us poverty wages, making us work double or triple shifts,” DeFrancesco told The Nation. “When I quit, I didn’t want to go quietly.” Last March, in response to this ongoing cycle of abuse, 75 percent of Renaissance workers signed a petition demanding a fair process to join a union. Since then, they’ve held informational pickets outside the hotel almost every Wednesday. The Renaissance—owned by the Procaccianti Group—has responded with an intense anti-union campaign. Raquel’s husband, Marino Cruz, who also works at the Renaissance, says that as soon as the workers went public with their demands, the managers “started attacking the leaders. Giving them more work. And looking for excuses to fire them.”

On December 4, the workers escalated their campaign by declaring a boycott. “Our bodies suffer from the work yet we live on the edge of poverty,” the workers’ statement read. “We ask all people of good conscience not to patronize the Renaissance Hotel until we are able to work and live with dignity.” The Unitarian Universalist Association, which had intended to have its convention at the Renaissance, canceled 847 reservations. Local politicians voiced their support. And last week, thanks to the combined efforts of students and hotel workers, the Brown University Community Council (BUCC) voted to discourage the Brown community from patronizing the Renaissance.

Since the fall, members of Brown’s Student Labor Alliance (SLA) had been marching with Renaissance workers on the picket lines, providing a welcome burst of energy to the weekly demonstrations. But when the boycott started, students hatched a plan to use Brown’s clout in the Providence hospitality industry—the university brings thousands of parents, alumni and visiting scholars to the city each year—to support the workers’ effort. “We have certain leverage at Brown to transform the everyday lives of working people in our community,” says Mariela Martinez, a senior SLA member who goes by the name Mar, “We have to use it.”

Moving fast, SLA members drafted a resolution in support of the boycott and secured a spot for the issue on the agenda at the next BUCC meeting in February. They invited workers from the Renaissance to attend and share their stories. It’s part of SLA’s job, Martinez says, to force the administration to confront the lived experiences of people who they might otherwise see as nothing more than the service they provide. “It’s really easy to be stuck in an office on College Hill, and not be touched by these stories,” she told The Nation. “What student labor alliance does is bring the human aspect of the workers’ lives and stories to the forefront.”

Since Procaccianti bought the hotel in late 2012, those stories have only gotten worse. For months, workers complained to managers that new cleaning chemicals were burning and irritating their hands and faces. Nothing was done. Then an OSHA investigation revealed that the hotel had been using faulty spray bottles with mismatched tops and providing poor hand protection. Noxious chemicals were spilling all over workers’ skin. When I spoke with Raquel Cruz, she showed me burn marks still visible on her hands. Her husband Marino said coworkers exposed to the chemicals were still getting rashes and nosebleeds. The hotel was fined $8000 for the OSHA violations.

At the meeting in February, the students presented their case for a resolution in support of the boycott—citing a similar measure passed in 2011 during a labor dispute at a unionized hotel. Santa Brito, who has become one of the fiercest leaders in the hotel since getting her job back (with the help of the Department of Labor), told her story. She lifted her sleeves to show the burn marks on her forearms. She talked about her child. But either because the students had gotten on the agenda too late and had already used up their time; or because the councilmembers, unable to understand Brito’s rapid Dominican Spanish, couldn’t adequately gauge the gravity of what she was saying; or because of something else, more tragic and obvious than either of those, the facilitator of the meeting—President Christina Paxson herself—interrupted Brito and said they would have to table the matter for another time. The meeting ended without a vote.

Many SLA members were outraged. They felt as though the council had deliberately marginalized Brito and her story. But they were also galvanized. “You have to go through the official channels,” Martinez explained, “Not because you believe they will work, but because when they don’t work, it shows how corrupt the system is.” That moment “when Santa was cut off,” Martinez said, “was a concrete demonstration of how workers’ stories are brushed to the side at Brown.” Over the course of the next month, SLA went outside the “official channels,” passing out hundreds of leaflets at Brown’s extravagant 250th Anniversary events, getting media coverage on campus and raising awareness. They collected hundreds of petition signatures and met with individual members of the BUCC to win their support.

In early March, there was another BUCC meeting. SLA packed the room with supporters. Once again, workers came and shared their stories, adding to the ever-growing list of grievances against the Procaccianti Group. (A pending NLRB complaint contends that the hotel’s anti-union tactics violate the NLRA.) And this time, after some nitpicking over the language, the council voted almost unanimously in support of the resolution, which “encourages the Brown community to take all appropriate measures to avoid holding any events at the Renaissance during the current labor dispute.”

The resolution does not use the words “union” or “boycott.” Marisa Quinn, Brown’s vice president for public affairs, told The Nation that the resolution merely requires the university to “provide information” so that “visitors can make individual choices regarding hotel options.” She affirmed, however, that Brown’s events services and purchasing department “will refrain from using the hotel” until the dispute is resolved. Quinn, the only person on the council who did not support the resolution, says she “would have preferred to wait until after the NLRB review” to take action.

Still, the resolution is a victory. And the workers are grateful. “The students have supported us an incredible mount,” said Marino Cruz. “They’ve really had our backs, and we’re ready to support them in whatever fight comes.” This idea of reciprocity, of fighting each other’s fights was something I heard again and again from workers at the Renaissance. It’s a labor movement thing (an injury to one…), but it has a different resonance when applied to the relationship of solidarity between low-wage service industry workers and students at an Ivy League college.

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Martinez, who comes from a working-class family in South-Central Los Angeles, was sheepish when I told her about all the gratitude expressed by Marino and Raquel Cruz. “Whenever they say stuff like that, we say, ‘No it’s actually all of you that inspire us, we’re doing the little bits that we can, but the reason we do this is that we’re already so astonished by the work that you are doing.’” Martinez feels this especially strongly about the Renaissance workers. “They are facing real intimidation on a daily basis.… We’re just going to class and going to meetings. We’re not in any real danger.”

But Marino Cruz doesn’t see it that way, “They may go to a wealthy university and live different lives than us, but they have noble hearts, they have pure hearts. They are fighters, just like us.”

For his part, DeFrancesco has sought to use his erstwhile YouTube fame to amplify the message of the Renaissance workers, maintaining a website where service workers across the country can share their stories of abuse and resistance. “The organizing my co-workers continue to do is obviously way braver and far more important than the viral stunt I pulled,” he told The Nation, “Fighting—not quitting—is what actually wins better working conditions.”


Read Next: {Young}ist reclaims the millennial narrative.

Gore Vidal: At 10, I Wanted to be Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney in Beverly Hills, California, in 2012. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Mickey Rooney, who died April 6, had many fans, including 10-year-old Gore Vidal. “What I really wanted to be,” Vidal wrote in his memoir Point to Point Navigation, “was a movie star: specifically, I wanted to be Mickey Rooney.” The inspiration? Not the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” musicals Rooney made for MGM with Judy Garland—it was his role as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Max Reinhardt and released in 1935, when Rooney was 14. “I wanted to play Puck, as he had,” Vidal recalled.

Gore took his first step toward becoming a movie star in a 1936 newsreel, when he took off and landed a plane—under the supervision of his father, the director of Air Commerce for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The idea was to show that anybody could fly a plane, even a kid. So Gore took off and landed for the cameras—and then faced the newsreel interviewer. But he had trouble speaking; “I resembled not Mickey Rooney but Peter Lorre in M,” he recalled. “My screen test had failed.”

Nevertheless Mickey Rooney’s Puck changed Gore Vidal’s life. “Bewitched” by the performance, he recalled, “I read the play, guessing at half the words; then, addicted to this strange new language, I managed to read most of Shakespeare before I was sixteen.” Vidal became a writer instead of a movie star, and the rest is history.

Even today Rooney’s Puck remains striking. David Thomson wrote in his Biographical Dictionary of Film that the performance remains “one of cinema’s most arresting pieces of magic.”

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I ran into Mickey Rooney on a LA–New York flight shortly after Gore Vidal’s memoir was published. He looked old and tired. I asked him if he had seen what Gore Vidal wrote about him in his new memoir. He said “no,” and made it clear that he was irritated at the unwanted interruption. I told him how inspired the young Gore had been by Mickey’s Puck. Rooney paused, and then smiled his famous smile. “Gore Vidal—wow!” he said.

He thanked me, and I went back to my seat.


Read Next: Jon Wiener commemorates the life and work of Gore Vidal.

Is America Uncomfortable With Black Rage?

Mychal Denzel Smith

“How do we express a rage about the lack of progress while also acknowledging that our circumstances are not that of our forebearers?” asks MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry of a panel that includes Nation.com blogger and Nation Institute fellow Mychal Denzel Smith. Smith, whose recent Nation.com post, “The Function of Black Rage” is used as a focal point for the segment, responds, “We do just that.” While it is a good thing black people in America are no longer slaves, says Smith, “we have so much more to do,” pointing to issues like mass incarceration and food insecurity that often go unacknowledged as “racism, that are the products of white supremacy.”
—Corinne Grinapol

An Appreciative Goodbye

Jessica Valenti

The Nation has always been special to me—when I was growing up, my parents always had a copy on the coffee table, and Katha’s column was some of the first feminist writing I ever read. Being exposed to The Nation from a young age had a real impact on my politics and worldview, and it’s continued to be a place where I’ve learned and grown.

It’s been an honor to write for The Nation, and its incredible editors and writers have been smart, supportive and inspiring. So it’s with a lot of sadness that I say goodbye. Starting April 21, I’ll be writing a daily column at The Guardian.

I am so proud of the work that I’ve done while here—my pieces on topics from rape and domestic violence to abortion politics and pop culture. I’m especially grateful that my editors Emily Douglas and Richard Kim helped me to hone my arguments and strengthen my writing. I’m leaving here a much better writer than I came in, and that’s thanks to them. I am also grateful to The Nation community, online and off, for their passion and support—thank you for reading my work, and for challenging me to be better.

I hope you’ll both follow my writing at its new home and continue to support the wonderful and important work that The Nation does. I know I’ll always have a copy on my coffee table for my daughter to see as she gets older.

Thanks for everything—and goodbye!