Capital Games | The Nation


Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Summer Interns’ Recommended Reading


(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Hélène Barthélemy, New York, New York

Willing Slaves of Capital, by Frédéric Lordon

It was initially a bit tedious to plow through the heavily theoretical language of Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital, but I did it because I had no choice: I was working at the publishing house that had published it. Yet, now six months later, I find myself constantly going back to the book’s ideas, notably the question of why we work. Not only do we work to gain sustenance, we eventually become so enlisted and dedicated to our employer that we find pleasure in work. Company culture, faces, marketing, team-building all contribute to enlist us to the cause of our work (now our cause!), concealing the negative reason why we do it (to be able to live) with more pleasurable ends. It convinces us that it is, for instance, our vocation.

A lot has been written about the problem of conceiving of someone’s work as pleasurable (which often serves as a justification for decreasing wages or problematic gender roles). Lordon just says that the way your desires are formed has to be taken into account when imagining an alternative society. And, as long as you remain aware of the obligation, perhaps happy enslavement doesn’t sound too bad. There are not that many other viable options… till we abolish wage-labor, of course! For the lucky few, it is also intellectually fulfilling: to prove the point, this is about a book that I read… at work!

Summer Concepcion, Los Angeles, California

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

Given that being an intern has provided me the opportunity to work and live in New York City for the first time, it was only appropriate that a dear friend of mine from Chicago gave me Patti Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir as a gift. Smith, the fortieth anniversary of whose debut album Horses will be celebrated next year, effortlessly weaves stories of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe together with life in NYC during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The couple’s dedication to art was their own version of the “American dream”—a dream many New Yorkers can relate to and come to the city for. Despite the struggles the couple faced between their relationship and keeping their artistic ambitions alive, Smith’s innately poetic voice makes Just Kids an homage to the many worlds that come together when one lives in NYC. It is no wonder why Smith has remained an icon decades later—her art continues to resonate to this day.

Erin Corbett, Chicago, Illinois

On Female Body Experience: Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays, by Iris Marion Young

I picked up this book after reading Young’s “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State” for a spring course, wanting to read more on feminist philosophy. I started my reading with the essay “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality,” in which Young takes us beyond the biological differences between men and women, discussing the female body’s comportment and movement in relation to the surrounding space. This collection of essays uses a feminist framework to locate the subjectivity of the feminine body in its social surroundings.

Victoria Ford, Greenville, South Carolina

Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, by Salamishah Tillet

This book, both academic and personal, critical and generous, traces the ways in which contemporary artists from Bill T. Jones to Kara Walker to Carrie Mae Weems resurrect and reimagine American slavery. Each artist, while revisiting historical and literary characters, as well as the ghost homes of slave forts, argues not for legal recognition in a post–civil rights society but for a fully realized and empathetic civic membership. By unpacking these pieces of photography, dance and visual art, Professor Tillet teaches readers to reconcile with our deeply broken vision of American democracy—one that exists in the belly and bedlam of our current Americana refusal to remember the original sin upon which this nation was born.

Douglas Grant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, by Rick Perlstein

I admit a certain bias in mentioning Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, due out in August, because I am doing research for his third work on the history of American conservatism. It’s the best read on the seventies’ zeitgeist (it follows his other engrossing tome, Nixonland, which is the best read on the sixties and its intertwining chaoses). It’s not exactly the kind of book that lets you sprawl out on a beach towel with your toes digging in the sand, but it’s the kind of book that doesn’t let you go.

Hannah Harris Green, Madison, Wisconsin

Every Day is for the Thief, by Teju Cole

Every Day is for the Thief is Teju Cole’s fictional adaption of a blog he wrote while visiting Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up, for the first time in thirteen years. Cole told Interview that this blog is “still the most intense writing I’ve ever done. For 30 days it was like I almost didn’t exist as a person.”

Alana de Hinojosa, Davis, California

At the Bottom of the River, by Jamaica Kincaid

At the Bottom of the River is a collection of ten short stories told through the point of view of a girl-woman as she plunges into the memories of her childhood in the Caribbean. Short and sweet, spooky and enchanting, these stories speak to the mysteries of her Caribbean home—the monkeys in the trees, the river too large to cross, the father she loves, the mother she will always trust, the way blackness comes to her in the night, on her skin and in her blood and the way a growing girl-woman must learn to see and navigate her postcolonial Caribbean world. Quick to read, though complex and deep, At the Bottom of the River is the perfect read for your lunch break or as you commute to work on the subway.

Crystal Kayiza, Jenks, Oklahoma

Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag

For over half of my twenty-one years of life, this nation has been at war. Living in a society so entrenched in its militarism and obsession with violence, it is easy to forget that war is physical and not just images between headlines. “How in your opinion do we prevent war?” are the jarring lines on the first page of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Drawing these words from Virgina Woolf’s Three Guineas, Sontag critiques our “diet of horrors.” Her insight delves deep into compassion and critiques our consumption of atrocities. While visual culture depicts what humankind is capable of, it simultaneously exposes our distance from suffering—because, as Sontag eloquently outlines, no matter how far away, war will be waged and suffering will soon follow.

Agnes Radomski, Los Angeles, California

The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope, by Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan

This collection of short articles touches on everything from war and capital punishment to climate change and dirty energy—all topics reported in depth on the daily news hour Democracy Now! It provides a critical commentary on the most important social justice issues shaping our society and is a must-read for any independent news junkie!


Read Next: What are Nation interns reading the week of 06/27/14?

Top Ten July 4th Songs

American Flag

(Timo Kohlenberg/CC 2.0)

Not enough Americans are aware that much of what the country considers our patriotic culture, especially our iconic music, was created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing sympathies. Three years ago, I posted a list of what I called the Top Twelve Most Patriotic Songs Ever. I’ve rethought those selections, consulted with experts and can now present my heavily revised and highly debatable list of Top Ten July 4th Songs, presented in random order. To me, these songs, taken together, help distill the American experience and make clear both what’s great about the US and what still needs critical attention.

Top Ten July 4 Songs

1. Los Lobos with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir performing This Land is Your Land
This rambling version of the iconic Woody Guthrie song was performed in July 1989 backstage at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin between sets on that summer’s Los Lobos/Grateful Dead tour.


2. Bruce Springsteen performing Chimes of Freedom
Sony Music has made it impossible to watch Bob Dylan performing his classic ode to “the refugees on their unarmed road of flight.” Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen acquits himself well in this live 1988 cover.


3. Paul Robeson performing The House I Live In
Written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol under the pen name Lewis Allen and the blacklisted Earl Robinson, this tune became a patriotic anthem during World War II with its populist evocation of everyday American life.


4. Phil Ochs performing The Power and Glory
One of the songs that established Ochs’s reputation, he saw it as a patriotic hymn combining the American dream with selfless faith-based ideals.


5. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in 1961 by abolitionist, social activist and poet Julia Ward Howe, set to a tune written several years before by William Steffe.


6. Loretta Lynn performing Dear Uncle Sam
This Vietnam-era plea on behalf of soldier-husbands everywhere resonated far beyond the traditional, antiwar crowd when it was first released in 1968.


7. John Mellencamp performing Pink Houses
This 1985 song distills the essence of Mellencamp’s popularity as the bard of the Midwest giving voice to the dreams and disappointments of small communities coast to coast.


8. Rosanne Cash performing 500 Miles
This song, originally written by Hedy West, became popular in the US and Europe during the 1960s folk revival and was part of a list of 100 essential American songs that Johnny Cash famously gave his daughter Rosanne in 1973. In 2009, she produced a brilliant album featuring her versions of 12 of the 100.


9. Leontyne Price performing America the Beautiful
Written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, this song not only speaks to the natural beauty of America but also expresses Bates’s view that US imperialism undermined the nation’s core values of freedom and liberty. In this version, opera star Leontyne Price sings it at a 1992 benefit.


10. Gil Scott-Heron performing Winter in America
One of Scott-Heron’s most well-received compositions, this bluesy lament mouns America’s lost promise: “And ain’t nobody fighting, Cause nobody knows what to save.”


Bonus Track: Sarah Ogan Gunning performing Come All Ye Coal Miners
Giving voice to the frequently forgotten workers who built the foundation of America, this song makes clear the trials of the mining life.

How John Maynard Keynes Can Save the Arab Spring

Syrian rebel

A Syrian Rebel. (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)

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

At first glance, the Arab region appears to have entered a new period of crisis—perhaps the greatest in its modern history. The Arab revolts of 2011 seem to have given way to a “Jihadi Spring,” with the civil war in Syria providing a haven for radical extremist groups from across the globe. As the crisis in Syria spills over into neighboring Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, the world is confronting a frightening revival of the Al Qaeda franchise.

In 2011, North Africa witnessed the dramatic downfall of three dictators: Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. But in much of the region, “deep state” security apparatuses have proven more resilient than any one political leader. Cabals of military officers managed to frustrate democratic transition in Egypt and hold onto power in Algeria, with Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently claiming landslide victories in sham elections that were largely boycotted by the progressive left. The oil-rich sheikdoms of the Middle East, meanwhile, have brutally suppressed any form of domestic opposition, while leveraging their huge cache of petrodollars to appease their restive citizens through a combination of expanded welfare and new employment opportunities.

More worryingly, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a uniquely vicious offshoot of Al Qaeda, has upended the twentieth-century map of the Middle East. The shocking brutality of ISIS—and the overweening ambition of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—prompted the Al Qaeda “general command” led by Ayman al-Zawahiri to disown the group. After pulling off a lightning defeat of the Iraqi armed forces across much of the country’s western and northern regions, ISIS announced the formation of an “Islamic caliphate,” a new political entity at the heart of the Middle East that connects various Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq and Syria.

Just as the British Philosopher Edmund Burke decried the French Revolution for replacing monarchical stability with republican terror, many modern-day pundits have lamented, in varying forms, how the Arab Spring has supposedly paved the way for a renewed era of instability in an ever-combustible region. This mistaken narrative has allowed autocratic regimes across the world to use the slogan “stability” to smash and delegitimize any organized call for democratic freedom.

On closer inspection, however, German philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel may provide a better framework to understand the likely trajectory of the Arab uprisings. Although cognizant of the immediate and terrifying outcome of the French Revolution, Hegel maintained that a true break with the past inevitably requires a violent rupture with the ancien régime—part of a dialectical transition toward a new historical epoch.

After decades of centralized, autocratic leadership, the advent of popular revolutions has naturally created new power vacuums, which have been temporarily filled by well-organized reactionary groups and extremist terrorist groups. But none of the above groups is likely to provide any lasting solution to the agonies of the Arab street, from massive youth unemployment to economic stagnation and political repression. Although the Wahhabi-Salafist ideology of the Al Qaeda franchise, and particularly the extremist version embraced by ISIS, appeals only to a small minority of people, the secular autocracies in places such as Algeria and Egypt, in turn, are recycled versions of long discredited post-colonial Arab regimes.

This lack of appealing alternatives is precisely where progressive forces can build on the democratic gains of the 2011 uprisings.

Perils of Revolutionary Transition

Strongmen in Algeria and Egypt may have managed to frustrate any meaningful democratic transition in the short-to-medium term, but neither Bouteflika nor Sisi has proposed any remedy to the myriad political and economic problems that afflict their nations.

The aging Algerian leader is struggling with health issues and has been barely visible to the public. There are serious concerns over the prospect of violent intra-regime jostling once Bouteflika passes away. In Egypt, Sisi’s popularity could melt away as soon as the majority of people realize how he and his colleagues in the military have little understanding of how to run the Arab world’s largest country. By violently crushing the Islamist opposition, the Algerian and Egyptian regimes have opened up the space for the liberal-democratic opposition to take the initiative.

As for ISIS, its emergence as a potent force for mayhem has had the unintended effect of unifying historic rivals such as Washington and Tehran, as both powers scramble to support the government in Baghdad. A warming in the relationship between the two countries could significantly strengthen the domestic position of pragmatists in both capitals, especially the Rouhani administration in Iran, which has tirelessly sought to repair Tehran’s broken ties with the West.

The rise of ISIS has also undermined the largely sectarian rule of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has come under local and international pressure to step down in favor of an “inclusive” government. Alarmed by the frightening ramifications of an extremist resurgence in their own backyard, Arab sheikdoms in the region have also cracked down on local supporters, including top-level officials, of jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere. In short, both the patrons of “counterrevolution” and the forces of “jihadi revolution” are by no means secure, as pragmatists and progressive actors unify against a common threat.

But what of the Arab Spring? Today’s gloomy reading of it tends to overlook a fundamental factor, which not only explains the regrettable turn of the recent revolutionary upheavals, but also holds the key to resuscitating the democratic aspirations of the Arab street. And it is here that the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, arguably history’s greatest economist, could be of greatest help.

The Keynesian State

Reflecting on the roots of the Great Depression , Keynes analyzed the immanent instability of capitalism in the absence of proactive state intervention. Unlike Marx, however, he didn’t call for the abolition of capitalism. Instead he proposed a set of macro-economic policies to empower the state to manage the excesses of the markets for the benefit of the greater population.

His direct participation in the establishment of the Bretton Woods system paved the way for a measure of stability and openness in international trade, which in turn facilitated the rapid industrialization and recovery of economies across the world. Many developing and industrialized economies used Keynesian theories to strike an optimal balance between capitalist expansion and sustained national development. The result was the emergence of welfare states in the West and developmental states across Asia. This marked the “golden age” of capitalism.

But as Richard Posner intelligently observed, the heirs of Keynes failed to appreciate the necessity of preventing government “from exceeding the limits of optimal intervention.” It was this particular mistake, coupled with the devastating impact of the Vietnam War and the multiple oil crises in the Middle East, that allowed neoclassical economists to eventually marginalize Keynesian thinking, advocate “pro-market” policies and call for the retrenchment of the state in recent decades.

The 2007–08 Great Recession, however, served as a wake-up call by violently interrupting almost three decades of neoliberal economic stupor. The economic crisis undermined the naïve belief in orthodox economic models, which stubbornly defended the supposed rationality and self-correcting dynamism of impersonal markets.

Consequently, a growing number of policymakers and academics have come to realize the wisdom of Keynesian thought, which elegantly articulates the inherent necessity of judicious public management of economic cycles. No wonder that recent years have seen a huge push to both re-inject more Keynesian principles into the curricula of the world’s leading economic departments and espouse robust state participation in, and regulation of, both the national and global economy.

An Arab Economic Revolution

As I argue in How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Arab Uprisings, the 2010–11 Arab uprisings were fundamentally a reflection of the failure of the post-independence Arab states to internalize Keynesian economic thinking. There was neither a sober appreciation of the benefits of capitalism nor any effort to establish an autonomous, developmental state.

Many Arab states witnessed the emergence of quasi-socialist regimes, which were undemocratic, heavily militarized and dependent on strategic or hydrocarbon rents. These personalistic Arab regimes failed to institute genuine land reform, blocked the emergence of a vibrant entrepreneurial class and squandered their national resources in pursuit of autocratic consolidation—all at the expense of sustained industrialization and economic diversification. The result was an economic crisis in the 1980s, which forced much of the Arab world, especially non-oil-exporting countries, to undertake aggressive pro-market reforms over the succeeding decades.

Instead of transforming Arab economies into dynamic emerging markets, however, the economic liberalization of the 1990s allowed many autocratic regimes to outsource welfare responsibilities, transfer the ownership of state-owned companies to favored clients and abolish support mechanisms for strategic agricultural and industrial sectors. Although the pro-market reforms allowed Arab states to establish a modicum of macro-economic stability, the result was double-digit unemployment, widespread poverty, high dependence on food and commodity imports, and heavy reliance on speculative and service-oriented economic sectors such as tourism and real estate.

It is no surprise, then, that the 2007–08 Great Recession had a devastating impact on the Arab street, precipitating massive food insecurity and a macro-economic downturn across the Middle East. With minimal assets, fiscal resources and policy space for intervention, many Arab regimes had limited capacity to cope with the impact of the crises. In the absence of genuine democratic mechanisms to express their economic discontent, it was arguably just a matter of time before the middle and working classes would unite against the autocratic regimes—and spark a revolution.

Today, however, the Arab Transition Countries (ATCs) have failed to adequately appreciate the structural economic roots of the Arab Spring. None of the major post-revolutionary contenders for leadership has provided a coherent policy agenda to address systemic economic vulnerabilities. Instead, much of the public discussion has boiled down to questioning the democratic credentials and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots across the Arab world.

A cursory look at the ATCs reveals how post-revolutionary governments have largely pursued the macro-economic policies of the previous regimes. And this is precisely why there has been a wobbly march toward genuine democratic transition. Unless the ATCs establish a new economic paradigm, focusing on public welfare, inclusive growth, macroeconomic resilience and industrial and agricultural revival, there will be no genuine democratic transition.

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After all, beyond freedom of expression and ritualized electoral exercises, democracy is about establishing an egalitarian economic system that empowers the greater citizenry to fully participate in the shaping of the political order. Keynes’s ideas are the greatest guide to achieving an optimal balance between democracy and economic development, serving as the blueprint for the progressive-democratic forces that hold the promise of resuscitating the spirit of the 2011 revolutions.

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, moderate Islamists (especially the dominant Ennahda Party) and progressive liberals have managed to negotiate, albeit painstakingly, the foundations of perhaps the first truly democratic country in the Arab world. Having established a modicum of democratic political consensus, the next step for Tunisia is to embrace an egalitarian economic policy, which will translate rising discursive freedom and political openness into social justice for the majority of the people. The Arab spring is far from over.


Read Next: Juan Cole on the resilience of Arab Millenials

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Right, and We Already Have Proof

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Among the many questions raised by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is how sweeping its legacy will be. Supporters of the decision have insisted that the ruling is “narrow,” as it explicitly addresses “closely held” corporations objecting to four specific types of birth control—including IUDs and Plan B—because the business’ owners consider them (inaccurately) to cause abortion. Besides, the Court argued, the government can just fill any coverage gaps itself, and it’s only women whom corporations are now permitted to discriminate against. “Our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” claimed Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employers’ religious beliefs.”

Bullshit, is essentially what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to say about the majority’s claim to have issued a limited ruling. In her dissent, Ginsburg deemed it “a decision of startling breadth.” She noted that “‘closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small’,” citing corporations like Cargill, which employs 140,000 workers. Even more alarming is the majority’s endorsement of the idea that corporations can hold religious beliefs that warrant protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In fact, it only took a day for the Court’s “narrow” decision to start to crack open. On Tuesday, the Court indicated that its ruling applies to for-profit employers who object to all twenty forms of birth control included in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, not just the four methods at issue in the two cases decided on Monday.

In light of its ruling on Hobby Lobby and a related suit, the Supreme Court ordered three appeals courts to reconsider cases in which they had rejected challenges from corporations that object to providing insurance that covers any contraceptive services at all. The plaintiffs in all three cases are Catholics who own businesses in the Midwest, including Michigan-based organic food company Eden Foods. Meanwhile, the High Court declined to review petitions from the government seeking to overturn lower court rulings that upheld religiously based challenges to all preventative services under the mandate.

It’s bad enough that the Court privileged the belief that IUDs and emergency contraceptives induce abortion over the scientific evidence that clearly says otherwise. With Tuesday’s orders, the conservative majority has effectively endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit. This development is not surprising, as it’s the logical extension of the premise that the intangible legal entities we call corporations have religious rights. That’s a ridiculous idea, certainly, but not a narrow one—no matter Alito’s assurance that he intends it to be used only to justify discrimination against women.

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The cases that must now be reopened aren’t even based on junk science, just general pious resistance to women’s health services. And at least one of those cases is only tenuously about religious freedom. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control,” Michael Potter, the founder of Eden Foods told Irin Carmon. “What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” As one judge wrote, “Potter’s ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed.”

The hole that the Supreme Court tore in the contraceptive mandate can be repaired with a tailored fix, most likely by the Obama administration extending the same accommodation it offered nonprofit religious groups to women working for the closely held for-profit corporations implicated in the Hobby Lobby ruling. Under that work-around, insurance companies themselves—or, in some cases, the federal government—will pick up the tab for female employees’ contraception coverage when their employer opts out.

More vexing is the extension of the RFRA to corporations. Business owners now have a new basis for trying to evade anti-discrimination laws and their responsibilities to their employees. Religious liberty is already the rallying cry for conservatives looking for a legal way to discriminate against LGBT Americans; other business owners have tried to use religion to justify opposition to minimum-wage laws and Social Security taxes. Faith groups are already trying to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby decision out of court; on Wednesday, a group of religious leaders asked the Obama administration for an exemption from a forthcoming federal order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Alito, courts have no authority to “tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed.” Where, then, are the boundaries? How will courts decide which beliefs are “sincerely held?” Alito asserts that the majority opinion provides “no such shield” for other forms of discrimination, but we have to take his word on it. The language of the ruling may be limited to contraception, but there are no explicit constraints on its underlying logic.


Read Next: Katha Pollitt asks, Where Will the Slippery Slope of ‘Hobby Lobby’ End?

Is the Fog of Pre-War Again Descending on ‘The New York Times’?

nytimes building

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

If you suspect that The New York Times still hasn’t learned all it should from its hawkish coverage in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, you’re right.

Back then, the Times, led by the self-admitted “testosterone”-drugged Bill Keller, tilted heavily toward publishing pro-war op-eds as well as misleading front-page pieces, most notably and disastrously by Judith Miller, now of Fox News.

Surely now, as we decide what to do about the current Iraq crisis, the Times would check its reflex to again hand valuable real estate over to the neocons. You know, fool me once…

But no. As the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Sunday, readers on “high alert” about the fog of pre-war again descending on the paper are right to worry.

Readers, she writes, have been complaining “that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.”

Sullivan cites documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who tweeted: “Another day, another NYT article about a neocon and Iraq! Where are the articles about hundreds of thousands against escalation?”

So she counted:

I went back with the help of my assistant, Jonah Bromwich, and reread the Iraq coverage and commentary from the past few weeks to see if these complaints were valid. The readers have a point worth considering. On the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now.

But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.

She found that today’s anti-interventionist arguments are largely in-house, from Times editorials and columnists, some of whom have changed their minds since 2003. For instance, Sullivan says, Thomas Friedman “was a leading voice for intervention last time, and has since said that he was wrong. He wrote recently: ‘For now, I’d say stay out of this fight…’” (I’d watch out for that “for now.”)

Sullivan ends on the hope that “the editors—on both the news and opinion sides—will think hard about whose voices and views will get the amplification that comes with being in The Times.”

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Only days later, however, the Times ran a front-page story on Ahmad Chalabi that, as Eric Boehlert writes, indicates the paper is still struggling with its own history:

Here’s what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here’s what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq’s supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove [the] Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war.

While the Times published “something of a mea culpa about its war coverage” in 2004, acknowledging “its flawed reliance on Chalabi as an ‘occasional source’ for its stories,” Boehlert writes, it “never mentioned Miller by name…”

Read Next: Wilbert Rideau and Linda LaBranche on dominatn presence of prison newspapers in the US.

Surging Violence Against Women in Iraq

Hurt woman Iraq

Iraqi Woman and Seucrity Control Forces in Dalli Abbas, Iraq. (Reuters/Stringer)

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

Shortly after their conquest of Mosul, young men armed with assault rifles went door to door in Iraq’s second-largest city, taking “women who are not owned” for jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad.

From June 9-12, women’s rights activists documented thirteen cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or DAIISH, the Arabic shorthand for the group’s name. Of the thirteen women, four committed suicide because they couldn’t stand the shame. One woman’s brother committed suicide because he could not bear the fact that he was unable to protect his sister.

The dispatches from Mosul are just one account of the extreme violence that has plagued Iraq since Sunni ISIS militants seized control over large portions of the country. Being a woman in Iraq was difficult before the current conflict. But the latest wave of militarization threatens to make life even worse.

“Women are being taken in broad daylight,” said Yanar Mohammad, co-founder and president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “Men have the weapons to do whatever they want and [ISIS’s] way of dealing with things is to kill.”

Now military leaders are handing guns to young, untrained, undereducated and unemployed Shia men. These men are promised big salaries if they leave their homes to fight, according to an anonymous Global Fund ally in Baghdad.

“When we [women] commute to our office, walk in the street or take the bus, we experience harassment,” added the Global Fund ally, who remains anonymous due to security concerns. “But now, all of the men have weapons. I think maybe he will kidnap or shoot me if I don’t do what he wants. They will shoot and do anything, and because of the fatwa [urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists] no one asks questions.”

Sectarian Violence Slows Women’s Progress

With a death toll of 1,000 and rising since the beginning of June, the sectarian conflict has forced most women’s rights organizations to scale back their programs.

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq was in the middle of a campaign against Article Seventy-Nine of the Jaafari Personal Status Law—which, among other women’s rights violations, would grant custody over any child two years or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and fifteen for boys, and even open the door for girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval. Now it takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.

“We cannot speak of women’s rights now unless we are speaking of the livelihood of those who are totally jeopardized, such as women who lost families and young girls who are vulnerable to corrupt officials or clerics,” said Yanar Mohammad. “We went from legal work and improving the rights of women to working in a state of emergency and trying to find the lowest chain in society and get them to safety.”

The Tangled Web the US Wove

Such extreme sectarian violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Iraq, said Mohammad, who is “sick and tired” of Western pundits saying there is no hope for Iraq.

“The mainstream media trashing Iraqi people is unbearable and is a total manipulation of the facts of America’s role in dividing the Iraqi people,” she said. “The political process that the US government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.”

The damage comes in the form of, among other things, a generation that didn’t have access to education.

“This generation listens to whatever the clerics and politicians say,” said Mohammad. “They are ready to throw themselves in the fire and they do it in the name of their imam.… Both politicians and religious heads are pushing the country into a very sectarian divide, and it’s frightening.”

Refugees Flee to Kurdish Region

As the fighting intensifies in northern and western Iraq, more than 300,000 people have already fled to the Kurdish region for safety, where the United Nations and relief organizations have set up a refugee camp in the arid region of Khazer.

“It is very hot and there is no water; we were not prepared for this influx of refugees,” said a Global Fund ally in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The situation is by no means sustainable. The majority has nowhere to go and is staying in parks. Entire families are left without the most basic of shelter, food and clothes.”

While these waves of displacement to Kurdistan include Shia, Sunni and Christian families, the pressure on Iraqi Christians has been strongest due to the infamous brutality of ISIS.

“Christian women in the areas controlled by ISIS are forced to wear hijab or face death,” said a Global Fund ally who lives in Baghdad. “They must pay a protection tax, or jizyah, to ISIS to stay safe.”

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If the violence is not seriously addressed, our ally in Erbil says, Iraqi women know exactly what is going to happen next because they have endured it repeatedly since the US invasion in 2003, and during the Iran-Iraq War and Persian Gulf War before it.

“We know what has happened to women in Iraq—a lot of murders and violations—and we have already suffered to an unbearable extent,” said the Global Fund ally in Erbil. “There is nothing they haven’t done to us, which is why panic spreads among women as soon as we hear of another crisis. Women are used as a weapon for retaliation.”

Read Next: Aaron Ross on Sex Trafficking in the Middle East

DREAMers in Grad School

DREAM activists

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

This piece originally appeared in Generation Progress and is reposted here with permission.

Amidst calls for Obama to end deportations and for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, college access remains a prominent issue among immigrant rights activists. In the last six months, New Jersey, Washington, Florida and Virginia have granted in-state tuition to undocumented students.

The focus of these wins have focused on DREAMers seeking an undergraduate education. In addition to access into colleges and universities, student affairs professionals are proactively providing retention resources to support DREAMers through to graduation. Programs at Arizona State University and UC, Berkeley, for instance, address the needs of current undocumented students through direct service and broader campus education.

The higher education pipeline for undocumented students continues to be plagued with leaks. Approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, and face severely limited opportunities to pursue a college degree.

Currently, there are estimated to be about 13,000 undocumented students attending college. Hence, the movement for in-state tuition, financial aid and increased retention services is key for the success of those who are able to attend a college or university.

However, missing from the mainstream analysis on educational equity for DREAMers are the stories of those attending graduate school.

Recent stories of success include Sergio Garcia and Jirayut Lattivongskorn.

Garcia attends law school, but was initially denied admission to the California bar. After a six-year legal struggle, the California Supreme Court ruling in 2014 finally made it possible for Garcia to fully access the benefits of his degree.

Lattivongskorn will be the first undocumented student to attend the University of California, San Francisco for medical school. Graduate school offers opportunities for career advancement and greater financial earning over the lifetime. For many DREAMers who pursue higher education, empowering their communities is a key motivator.

For Sofia Campos, a UCLA alumna and currently a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her motivation to pursue a master’s in urban planning stems from her community.

As an undergraduate, Campos, unable to drive, rode a bus two hours each way to and from class. This gave her the “opportunity to really and directly see the differences between my own neighborhood, which is a mostly Latino neighborhood, a low-income neighborhood, and neighborhoods that UCLA is surrounded by, like Bel Air and Melrose, which are really nice places. To just seeing the differences in resources and the community that lives there and the physical environment that surrounds them was really drastic. It just made me question, ‘Why is that?’ and ‘Why do these inequalities exist?’”

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Fortunately for Campos, she had access to mentors and other undocumented students who had successfully navigated the graduate school application process. However, given the challenges that exist at the undergraduate level, graduate school may appear to be completely out of reach.

“Education is always a viable option,” Kaegy Pabulos said, former financial aid advisor at UC, Berkeley. “The main challenge lies in the fact that there are federal and state policies that limit student aid eligibility for undocumented students.”

“Some of the challenges for an undocumented student applying to graduate school, include the criteria that requires some students to have professional experience before and after the program,” Pabulos said. “However, there has also been a movement to challenge these requirements. For example, UC Irvine and UC, San Diego medical schools recently welcomed undocumented / DACA students to apply.”

Structural and resources issues lie at both the point of access, and within the university once undocumented students enter.


Read Next: From Pride to Freedom Summer to ‘Aycock’ Hall, students mass for racial justice.

Is Obama on a Slippery Slope Toward Mission Creep in Iraq?

President Obama

President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Let’s parse, if you will, Rear Adm. John Kirby’s press briefing at the Pentagon, which focused heavily on Iraq and the American actions so far is trying to stem the tide of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) nee the Islamic State-cum-Caliphate. His comments, especially in response to questions from a fairly skeptical media corps—thankfully, more skeptical than the 2002–03 media on Iraq—reveal a potentially slippery slope toward escalation in Iraq, in which President Obama has already ordered an incremental series of military deployments there.

As Admiral Kirby laid it out, to begin with:

So the first order was the on the 16th of June for 270—actually, it was up to 275, is what the War Powers Resolution letter said, but roughly 270 is what we ordered up inside the military channels. A hundred and seventy of them got on the ground that same day—actually, as you know, they kind of flowed in a little bit before the war powers letter went to Congress. So back then, we had a total of 270 authorized, 170 in country.…

The second order, the second War Powers Resolution letter went on the 26th of June. That authorized up to 300 advise and assess troops, advisers. And on the 27th of June, 180 had been in country. That’s—so you have 90 supporting the joint operations center in Baghdad and another 90 that comprised our assessment and advise teams. That brought the total to 570 authorized, but 350 actually on the ground.…

The third order came on the 30th of June yesterday. That was for an additional 200 in the security assistance mission, separate and distinct from the assessment mission, an additional 200, and all 200 of them are now in and around Baghdad.

So in total the president sent troops to Iraq three times, on June 16, June 27 and June 30. As Kirby put it: “And then so all that comes down to the bottom there, a total of 770 authorized, 650 on the ground. And that’s where we are right now.”

The first question involved the weaponry that the troops are bringing with them, including helicopters, drones and so on. Kirby said that the aircraft include “a mix of helicopters and UAVs [drones],” adding, “The helicopters are attack helicopters, Apaches.” And, he said, they’ll be flown by American crews, not Iraqis.

Kirby was asked about whether the stepped-up deployment is a sign that things are getting worse in Iraq, and if that means that more deployments might follow, and he didn’t quite answer, saying only that “our assessment teams are, are just getting, well, not just now starting, they’ve been working. We need to give them time to get out and about and to come back with their findings, so I’m not going to get ahead of that work or what they’ll report back.” Which led to this exchange:

QUESTION: So you can’t say now if the situation is getting worse or not?

ADM. KIRBY: I’m not—I’m not—I certainly wouldn’t—I would be in no position to declare, you know, the meter today one way or the other. It continues to be very dangerous. The threat continues to be very real.

When a reporter asked if there is “ceiling that the Pentagon won’t go beyond that when it comes to number of troops,” Kirby said only that the president as commander in chief “makes these decisions.”

Still, the media pushed him, asking, “Should we expect additional deployments in the near term?” Kirby didn’t answer that one. So the press tried again:

QUESTION Nonetheless, the president has added three times in the last two weeks additional troops, and you have just acknowledged that, in your words, there is no grand total limit on this at this point. So my question is, with all respect, how is this not escalation? How is this not mission creep?… What is the exit strategy?

ADM. KIRBY: …There’s—there’s no mission creep, because the missions have been clearly defined from almost the outset.

Since first getting back in, the United States has now moved to protect the airport in Baghdad and the access road linking the capital to the airport, which during the 2003–11 war was a major point of contention between the United States and the insurgency. A reporter asked a bout the airport deployment, and about why the Iraqis can’t protect their own airport, but Kirby made it clear that the United States doesn’t trust Iraq in regard to the safety of US troops who will be flying into the airport. And then this:

QUESTION: I don’t mean to take too much time here, but one more time. Two weeks ago, there was no discussion of needing to have U.S. troops at the Baghdad airport. For whatever reason now.…

ADM. KIRBY: No, that’s not true.… Two weeks ago, when—on the 16th of June when we ordered those 100 airport security personnel into the region—now, we kept them outside of Iraq, but we ordered them into the region because we had even back on the 16th of June reason to be concerned about the security of our facilities and our people at the airport.

Since the ISIS offensive began, Iraq has gotten help from both Iran and Russia. Iran, a close ally of Iraq, will defend Baghdad as it’s defended Damascus in Syria’s civil war (also against ISIS), and recently Russia has sent fighter jets, technicians and pilots to Iraq, amid broad hints from Iraqi officials that they’ll turn to Moscow if Washington doesn’t step up:

QUESTION: Can you confirm a report that the Russian pilots are going to fly these fighter jets that Iraq has purchased? And if they are, does this building have concerns about Russian forces operating aircraft over top of U.S. forces operating on the ground?

ADM. KIRBY: No, I can’t confirm—you know, the Russian Ministry of Defense should talk about what they’re doing with their pilots. I can’t do that. It’s my understanding that these aircraft were purchased for the use—for use by Iraqi pilots, but you’d have to talk to Moscow about what they’re doing with their planes and their pilots.… There are no active discussions with the Russian military now about what they are or are not doing in Iraq. These are—Iraq is a sovereign nation.

And this follow-up:

QUESTION: How concerned are you—the Iraqi ambassador this morning was talking about if Iraq doesn’t get what it needs from the U.S., again requesting air strikes, says they may turn to Iran for those types of capabilities. To what extent, as you put more and more forces on the ground, does it concern you that Iraq is saying “not enough and you’re not doing the job, so we’ll turn to the Iranians.”

ADM. KIRBY: Again, it’s a sovereign state, sovereign government. They have the right to speak to whoever they wish to in terms of security discussions. I would just go back to what I said before, that we continue to urge all nations involved and interested in this to whatever actions they take, whatever decisions they make, that it doesn’t further inflame the sectarian tension on the ground there.
And we’ve had that message consistently from the beginning, particularly that’s been our message to Tehran and it doesn’t change. But we can neither control nor can we dictate the discussions that one head of state has with another.

Asked if the involvement of Iran might make the United States role “untenable,” Kirby said that, in fact, the United States might be able to work alongside Iran, as least in parallel if not in direct cooperation.

Then, answering a follow-up on drones, Kirby said that the drones now in Iraq are not either Predators or Reapers, the deadly drones used in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but apparently smaller ones. He said that the United States will be sending Iraq additional F-16s soon, and more Hellfire missiles for Iraqi aircraft. “There’s hundreds of other Hellfires that I know are being expedited to go to Iraq,” he said.

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The press followed up on Iran:

QUESTION Do you see any possible cooperation with Iran to counter ISIS in Iraq? As you may know, Chairman [of the Joint Chief General Martin] Dempsey last Friday didn’t rule out the possibility to—to cooperate with—with Iran. So what’s your reaction on that?

ADM. KIRBY: I would say what I’ve said before, alright. There are no plans right now to collaborate or communicate about military activities between the United States military and either the Quds Force or the Iranian military, no plans to—coordinate military activities at all.

As I’ve written before, the United States is backing Maliki in Baghdad and battling Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran supports both Maliki and Assad. And ISIS is fighting both. So the American policy is clearly schizophrenic. If the United States were to end its support for the anti-Assad forces, they would free Assad’s troops to crush ISIS in Syria’s northern and eastern areas, and that would ease the pressure on Baghdad. As Leslie Gelb wrote in a New York Times op-ed on July 1:

But instead of capitalizing on Mr. Assad’s anti-jihadi instincts, the Obama team now proposes to do what it has resisted doing for almost three years—to send hundreds of millions of dollars in arms aid for the Sunni rebels battling the Assad government. This move has American priorities backward. It will turn Mr. Assad away from the jihadis in Iraq, and back to fighting American-backed rebels in Syria.

The greatest threat to American interests in the region is ISIS, not Mr. Assad. To fight this enemy, Mr. Obama needs to call on others similarly threatened: Iran, Russia, Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, Jordan, Turkey—and above all, the political leader with the best-armed forces in the region, Mr. Assad. Part of the deal would need to be that the Syrian regime and the rebels largely leave each other alone.


Read Next: Syria’s chemical weapons removed in major success for US-Russia-Iran cooperation

Half a Century After Freedom Summer, It’s Time for America to ‘Earn Our Insurgencies’

Freedom Democratic Party

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington, September 17, 1965. (AP Photo/ William J. Smith)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Shortly after 11 pm on June 24, the media declared six-term Republican Senator Thad Cochran the winner of Mississippi’s hard-fought Republican runoff primary. The reason, the pundits quickly concluded, was an unprecedented surge in black Democrats—some 13,000 or more—crossing over to support Cochran over his virulently anti-government Tea Party opponent, Chris McDaniel. “It should send a message,” retired school principal Ned Tolliver said. “It shows that we have the power to elect who we want to elect when the time is right.”

Around the time the polls closed, a very different view of Mississippi was playing out on PBS, in the form of a documentary called Freedom Summer. Grippingly recounting the 1964 effort that brought more than 700 college students—primarily white Northerners—to register black voters in Mississippi, the film is part of a flood of fiftieth-anniversary commemorations, from conferences to children’s books. In grim and grainy black-and-white footage, interspersed with interviews from the heroic Americans who risked beatings and firebombings and even death, these tributes remind us of the long road to African-Americans having the power to elect who they want to elect and celebrate those who made it possible.

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And there is much to celebrate. Mississippi—where only 28,000 blacks were registered to vote in 1963—now boasts more black elected officials than any other state, including the recently reelected first black mayor of Philadelphia, the site of the brutal murders of three civil rights workers. The “WHITES” and “COLORED” signs have long since come down. A black man sits in the Oval Office.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.


Read Next: Why the Mississippi Republican winner should thank Freedom Summer fifty years later.

The Saga of Christie, Samson and the American Dream Megamall: Part II

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The following is Part II of a Christie Watch investigation into the American Dream mega-complex at New Jersey Meadowlands. In Part I, published yesterday, Christie Watch reported how Christie’s mentor, David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority and founder of the powerful Wolff & Samson law firm, was involved with several Christie aides on nearly every side of the project. In Part II we continue the story, including how Wolff & Samson and its allies found the cash to restart American Dream.

Conveniently, when Lori Grifa, the Wolff & Samson attorney and former Christie appointee at the Department of Community affairs, left the DCA at the end of 2011 to return to Wolff & Samson, she brought Triple Five, the builder of the American Dream complex, with her as a client. Triple Five clearly expected the firm to get them the funding they needed to make the project a reality—and, so far, they haven’t been disappointed. Although construction has not restarted, an April agreement between the firm and labor unions appears to be one of the last remaining obstacles. Triple Five agreed to pour $1 billion more into the project—but only if the state came up with money from the public coffers. Perhaps they counted on the fact that, ever since taking office, Christie has supported huge corporate tax breaks to get companies to stay in New Jersey, and Wolff & Samson’s lobbyists worked hard to persuade state legislators to pass bills favoring those tax breaks. Many of Wolff & Samson’s clients ended up as recipients, and the largest tax break went to Wolff & Samson’s client, Triple Five and the Meadowlands Xanadu project, newly renamed as the American Dream.

Now, enter Michele Brown, yet another of Christie’s former assistant US attorneys. Brown is exceedingly close to Christie, who once improperly helped provide her with a personal loan. In 2009, Brown worked alongside Marra during the Big Rig III sweep that burnished Christie’s reputation as a tough prosecutor. Back then, Brown was suspected by some of secretly providing help to candidate Christie from her position at the US Attorney’s office, according to The Jersey Sting, a book by Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin, two reporters then with the Newark Star-Ledger. After he was elected governor, Christie appointed Brown to head New Jersey’s powerful Economic Development Authority (EDA). And it was Brown’s EDA that, in 2013, arranged the tax break for Triple Five. In November 2013, EDA backed a $390 million development grant for the project, telling the EDA board that the agency had coordinated closely with Marra’s NJSEA, the state treasurer and county officials to work out the financing package for the developer.

The EDA grant is part of the financing package arranged by Triple Five. It involves an incredibly convoluted and risky set of arrangements, according to which as much as $500 million in bonds issued by the tiny town of East Rutherford, New Jersey (population: 8,000), in turn will be sold to the Bergen County Improvement Authority, and then sold again. The BCIA is a quasi-autonomous body that helps its parent, Bergen County, and county towns access funding for projects.

At a meeting in March, 2013, advisers told the BCIA Commissioners, with some understatement, that the bond deal was “very large, very unique, very complicated.” The bonds from the EDA, which are to be paid by sales tax revenue derived at the project, and the BCIA-East Rutherford bonds, which are linked to property taxes from the developer, are tied together in a number of ways.

Jeff Tittel, director of NJ Sierra Club, told Christie Watch the whole financing scheme, with each part dependent on the other, “sure looks like a Bernie Madoff house of cards.”

There are two real dangers for taxpayers in all this. One is that the county will lose much needed tax revenues, as former Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney warns. Triple Five and its supporters argue that the mega-complex is so unique and has so many activities that people will travel many miles to come there and spend money they otherwise would not. Thus the county will have a net gain of tax revenues. But opponents say that the project will simply divert money that would have otherwise been spent elsewhere in overbuilt North Jersey’s web of shopping malls and entertainment facilities.

Second, there is significant concern about how much the county, town and state are on the hook if the whole project goes bust. Who pays the legal fees if bondholders sue, and will insurers back the bonds if the company defaults? The company has assured East Rutherford and the BCIA that they won’t be on the hook. But, as the Bergen Record noted:

If issued, the bonds would be tax-free, which means investors would pay no taxes on the bond payments they receive. They also would be non-recourse bonds, which means investors must agree in advance that they understand the risks associated with the bonds and have no recourse to sue the borough or Bergen County should anything go wrong. Of course, labeling the bonds “non-recourse” doesn’t mean that if the bonds somehow lose tax-exempt status—thereby costing investors millions of dollars—those investors won’t try to sue anyway.

Like an arms dealer that sells weapons to all sides in a many-sided conflict, Wolff & Samson has been intimately involved with the financial operations of all these government agencies and private entities. While the law firm may not have officially advised either the county, the town of East Rutherford, the Bergen County Improvement Authority or the EDA on these specific bonds, it has done extensive bond and legal work for all of them. In fact, it is the top bond counsel in the state, advising on over 30 percent of all public financings in the first half of 2013.

Consider Wolff & Samson’s record: Since 1982, Wolff & Samson is one of a select group of law firms that serve as bond counsel to the EDA. The firm is bond counsel to Bergen County on tens of millions of dollars of school, hospital and general obligation bonds. Wolff & Samson has acted as bond counsel to the BCIA on a number of cases, including one involving the area’s major medical center. Wolff & Samson has also acted as special legal counsel for the authority, defending it in sex and employment discrimination cases. Wolff & Samson has acted as the lawyer for Bergen County. And a Wolff & Samson lawyer, Arthur Goldstein, was counsel to the transition team of Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, a Republican, after her 2010 election.

Also involved is Alan Marcus, a major power broker and real estate mogul in Bergen County and North Jersey. Putting the icing on the Meadowlands cake, Marcus ran Donovan’s election campaign and headed her transition team. He is the spokesman for Triple Five.

Perhaps Wolff & Samson can find weasel-worded legal justifications for its many-sided involvement in the American Dream boondoggle. But to most outsiders, it looks like a conflict-of-interest web, especially by coming before the BCIA and East Rutherford representing Triple Five, a company that is seeking millions of dollars in funding?

In January the Bergen County freeholders urged the county executive not to award any more contracts to Wolff & Samson. In early March, they called on Samson to resign from the Port Authority chairmanship. (He did, of course, resign.) A week later Wolff & Samson gave up its lucrative role as lawyer for both the county and the BCIA.

Jim Tedesco, a Democratic Bergen County Freeholder, now the Democratic candidate for county executive, pressed for Samson’s resignation. In an interview with Christie Watch, Tedesco said:

David Samson failed New Jersey and Bergen County as Chairman of the Port Authority. He fostered a culture that put politics above the public good and ultimately compromised the safety and well-being of Bergen County residents. Mr. Samson’s first priority should have been to seek out the facts—not help seek retribution against the one person with the courage to stand up and reopen the lanes. The ethical cloud surrounding Samson also called into question ties his law firm had to Bergen County government. How could anyone vote to award Wolff & Samson legal work that is funded by taxpayers after he showed such disregard and contempt for Bergen County residents? Mr. Samson does not represent the values and ideals of Bergen County and as such the Freeholder Board voted to no longer accept any resolutions from County Executive Kathe Donovan that awarded work to his firm.

Triple Five also has to find equity investors for the project. They enlisted Macquarie Group Ltd. as adviser on that quest, and they will be putting as much as $100 million of their own money into it, too. David Samson is very familiar with the company, a huge multinational firm that provides banking, financial and advisory services on a host of industries including real estate, energy and infrastructure, since Wolff & Samson is the lawyer for a Macquarie company that owns oil storage tanks at the Bayonne Bridge. And when Samson chaired the Port Authority, a Macquarie-led consortium won a $1.5 billion contract to design, build, finance and maintain a replacement of the Goethals Bridge. US Attorney Paul Fishman, who is investigating Bridgegate, has already subpoenaed Port Authority documents relating to David Samson and the Macquarie contract.

Beyond the conflict of interest issues related to Wolff & Samson is the very real question of whether public funds and resources should be used for yet another New Jersey mega-mall.

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Jon Whiten, deputy director of the think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective told Christie Watch:

The use of public dollars to back private investment that might not occur on its own is not a bad thing on the face of it. There are any number of important projects undertaken by private entities that could truly benefit an area and may be worth public financial support: housing projects that would help people find affordable homes, supermarkets and other shopping amenities that would reach people in underserved areas or smart-growth commercial projects that would help get more people onto mass transit, just to name a few. The difference between those kinds of projects and the American Dream project is pretty clear. While the former offer a clear benefit to society and the residents of New Jersey, we’ve yet to figure out what real benefit—beyond a few thousand construction jobs and thousands of permanent low-wage jobs—that this megamall will bring to the Garden State.

But this past April Christie, Triple Five executives and labor unions held a splashy press conference at the complex to announce that, with labor agreements now in place, the project was about to move forward and would be ready to open in the fall of 2016, when of course Christie hopes to be in the White House, far away from ugly mess sitting beside the NJ Turnpike.


Read Next: The Saga of Christie, Samson and the American dream megamall, Part I

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