This article was originally published in the student-run Daily Cal.
The hours burned by as Anuraag Kumar scurried around California Memorial Stadium with hot summer rays beating on his back. But instead of a football, the UC Berkeley sophomore was carrying medical supplies.For about thirty hours every week during the summer 2013 football training camp, Kumar set up equipment and assisted physicians as a Cal Athletics intern. It’s an invaluable experience for a premedical student, he said, but there was one catch: it was unpaid. “It’s pretty exhausting,” Kumar said. “It’s difficult to work so many hours a week unpaid and still find time for a paid opportunity.”
Combating competition and economic decline, college students are increasingly struggling to find work and take on unpaid internships. The ubiquity of the latter follows the economy’s shift in the past few decades toward more casual employment, said Katie Quan, the associate chair of UC Berkeley Labor Center.
“It’s very hard to find a paid internship that will also give you experience for med school,” Kumar said. “Not doing them puts you at a disadvantage.”
Despite their prevalence, unpaid interns are not protected in the same way as paid employees are, leaving room for potential exploitation. California State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced a bill in January that would give unpaid interns the same protections from discrimination and sexual harassment as paid employees. The bill, currently in committee, came in response to a New York federal judge’s ruling last fall that a Syracuse University student could not sue the company where she was an unpaid intern for sexual harassment because she did not count as an employee. “The recession has forced young people to rely on these unpaid positions to build resumes and contacts,” Skinner said in a statement. “Employers owe them a safe and fair workplace.”
Unpaid internships dominated headlines last summer after unpaid interns sued a number of high-profile companies including NBC Universal, Sony and Condé Nast, claiming they suffered minimum wage violations from not being assigned different jobs than paid employees and not receiving training in an educational environment—two of the requirements for unpaid workers set by the US Department of Labor. The wave of suits provoked discussion not only about the lack of legal protection for interns but, more importantly, the value of unpaid internships.
Many students still see unpaid internships as necessary to break into certain industries, particularly nontechnical fields such as government and media, where paid opportunities can be scarce. Anna Shen, a UC Berkeley senior majoring in political science, started interning—unpaid—for a Berkeley City Council member last fall, bolstering her interest in working in the public sector. “Even in freshman year, everyone was getting internships,” Shen said. “The expectation was if you don’t get an internship by junior year, you have nothing to show when you graduate, and you won’t get hired.”
Nationwide, about 48 percent of internships taken by seniors graduating in 2013 were unpaid, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But as no system exists at the state or federal level to specifically regulate unpaid internships, some students learn practical skills at their internship while others perform less meaningful labor.
“The purpose of unpaid internships should be to give young people a chance to sample certain kinds of work,” said Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley public policy professor and former US secretary of labor. “All too often, employers view unpaid interns as free help to do menial tasks.”
Unpaid internships are often infeasible for students who lack the luxury to forgo a paid opportunity to pursue an internship in their field of interest. “An unpaid internship can take away from time [students] need for studying, working and paying their expenses here at Cal,” said Julian Ledesma, interim director of the campus Educational Opportunity Program, citing the myriad challenges low-income and first-generation college students face. Still, Ledesma said while internships are important, students often gain professional skills through other activities such as research.
A 2013 NACE survey found that 37 percent of college seniors with unpaid internship experience received at least one job offer—only 1 percent higher than those with no experience. Students with no experience also had a higher median starting salary than those who took unpaid internships. In contrast, the study found that the percent of surveyed students who had taken paid internships and received at least one job offer was about 63 percent and their median starting salary was significantly higher, although the research did not take into account factors such as the types of jobs to which students applied.
To legitimize unpaid internships, many companies require students to receive academic credit for participating. At UC Berkeley, there is no campus-wide oversight of academic internships, although many departments follow Career Center guidelines. The center also recently said that it will approve a new option to receive internship credit through an online summer course via ISF 187. Typically, students can receive credit from their department if the internship directly relates to their major and they complete a project pertaining to it. “[Internships] allow students to explore a particular career option,” said Tyler Stovall, the dean of the undergraduate division at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science.
For international students, the internship process is even tougher. To work legally, they must be authorized by special federal work permission—but only if their degree requires an internship, or if they’re taking a course or a project based on an internship. From last summer to this spring, UC Berkeley’s English and media studies departments each gave twenty-four undergraduate students academic credit for internships. Political science gave seven. In that period, 408 international students were authorized to take internships. The campus does not keep track of whether internships are paid or unpaid. In contrast, the majority of internships in electrical engineering and computer science are paid, said Christopher Hunn, an academic counselor for computer science.
Still working his unpaid internship on the field between classes, Kumar also has a paid job as a part-time tutor. It’s a balancing act, he says, to juggle an internship, a job and a full course load. But Kumar sees his internship as an investment towards his future. “I’d love to get a paid internship, but to gain that I need the right experience,” Kumar said. “I’m lucky my parents are willing to help out [financially]—a lot of people aren’t that fortunate.”
Read Next: check out this week’s Nation intern article picks.
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, the Western media and political elites continue to debate the role that America should play. So what are America’s options? According to Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen, they are absolutely “zero, unless we want to go to war.” Appearing on PBS NewsHour with Hari Sreenivasan, Cohen insisted that Putin’s mission is to restore Russian security and greatness at home. Because of the economic, political and military realities on the ground in Ukraine, “Putin holds all the cards, for better or worse.” All eyes are now on Putin as the specter of civil war looms over an ethnically, linguistically and politically divided Ukraine.
The crowds that marched on the White House Sunday in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline project arrayed themselves behind a banner that read, “We did NOT vote for KXL.”
That was the most vital political message of a day that saw almost 400 Americans—the overwhelming majority of them young people—arrested as part of a dramatic protest against the oil pipeline project that has drawn outspoken opposition from environmental groups.
A lot of Washington politicians, pundits and professional strategists miss the political dynamic that goes with the pipeline debate. Polling shows that young people “get” the climate change issue, and that they see it as a high political and personal priority.
Indeed, they care about it so much that they marched on the White House to urge the Obama administration not to approve the Keystone proposal. Hundreds were willing to be arrested. They recognize, as notes Smith College student Aly Johnson-Kurts, an organizer of Sunday’s protest, that “the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient…so we needed to escalate.”
This notion that traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient is significant, especially for Obama and his party.
The Democrats have relied in recent presidential election years on overwhelming support from voters under the age of 30. And they have suffered as enthusiasm among young voters has declined in off-year congressional elections.
In 2008, exit polls suggested, voters aged 18–29 accounted for 18 percent of the 131,313,820 Americans who turned out. Obama won their votes by a striking 66-31 margin over Republican John McCain. Obama’s winning margin was roughly 10 million votes, of which more than 7 million came from young people.
In 2012, according to exit polling, younger voters increased as a percentage of the overall electorate, with 18–29-year-olds making up 19 percent of the 129,085,403 who turned out. They favored Obama by a 60-36 margin. That translates to an advantage of more than 5 million votes for Obama. Notably, Obama won the national popular vote by 4,982,296 votes.
There are analyses that suggest an even more significant youth-vote benefit for Obama and the Democrats in battleground states. But the national numbers should establish the importance of the youth vote.
Unfortunately, turnout among young people tends to slide in off-year congressional elections—like the critical one that the US faces in 2014. In 2010, when Democrats suffered serious setbacks at the federal and state levels, voters under 30 made up just 11 percent of the overall electorate. They still backed Democrats—indeed, they were the only age demographic to do so—but their ability to influence election results was reduced by the sharp reduction in numbers.
The Obama administration must make its call regarding Keystone based on science and sound long-term thinking regarding energy, environmental and agricultural policy.
But those who talk about the political ramifications of this decision should keep in mind that sign that read “We did NOT vote for KXL.”
A 2013 poll found that more than 60 percent of young Americans felt that, were the administration to approve the pipeline, Obama would be breaking a campaign promise. And a significant percentage of those surveyed said they would feel betrayed by a decision to let the Keystone project go forward.
If young voters get a signal that they are not being heard, if they feel disappointed and disenfranchised, there is every reason to believe it will be harder for Democrats to mobilize them in 2014.
That does not mean that all young voters will stay home. Younger voters are not single-issue voters. Millions will still go to the polls in 2014, including, undoubtedly, the vast majority of those who marched on Washington Sunday. But if their percentage of the overall electorate is low, and if a portion of those who do turn out opt out of frustration or hope for a Green alternative, an already tough election season could get dramatically tougher for the Democrats.
Read Next: Keystone XL might be making you sick, literally.
As others at The Nation and elsewhere have observed over the past two weeks, the Ukraine political conflict (not to mention history) is complex, and one should be wary of black and white portrayals in the American media and via US officials and members of Congress. This applies as well to RT (formerly Russia Today) television and RT.com, which have a following among some on the US left and many others.
RT, of course, is funded by the federal budget of Russia through the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. According to its Wikipedia page, it currently reaches the homes of 85 million in the United States, making it the foreign channel with the second-highest penetration here (after the BBC). It also goes out to over 600 million in 100 other countries, they say.
Just for fun, here are all of the Ukraine-related headlines on their site at present:
And, on the op-ed page:
The West organized the coup in Ukraine and they can make this very ugly, but there is no chance of Russia being able to back down, Danny Welch, blogger and anti-war activist, told RT.
Read Next: Nicolai N. Petro’s take on the situation in Ukraine.
There’s an old joke about presidential primary politics involving Mo Udall, a Democratic member of Congress from Arizona back in the 1970’s, who tried and failed to make it as a candidate for president. It goes like this:
Shortly after I announced my candidacy in New Hampshire, I walked into a local barbershop and began introducing myself:
“Hi, I’m Mo Udall and I’m running for President.”
“Yeah, we know,” says one of the hangers-on. “We were laughing about that yesterday.”
Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, might not be laughing if he heard that joke. With Chris Christie in deep and growing trouble over the set of scandals that surround him, there’s increasing talk that one of the other governors waiting in the wings might step in to take over the front-runner’s position—and Jindal, a very, very conservative Republican whose platform is centered on slicing and dicing “entitlements,” including Medicare and Social Security, wants to be that governor. For the past two years, he’s been assembling the rudiments of a presidential campaign team. There’s only one problem: in poll after poll of Republican voters, Jindal comes in dead last—or the pollsters don’t even bother including his name among the choices.
But don’t tell Jindal. He’s building a campaign machine, and he’s out to grab headlines. Last month, during a meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, Jindal easily eclipsed Christie, who stayed in the background, and it was Jindal who appeared as the Republican spokesman on Face the Nation on February 23 and who went to the White House for a dinner with President Obama. Christie skipped that dinner, and coming out of the White House Jindal took the microphone to denounce Obama is no uncertain terms, breaking the polite protocol that usually marks such events.
And on March 14, the New Hampshire Republican party is hosting “An Evening with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.”
His campaign is already taking shape. Last year, Jindal founded what looks like a pre-presidential organizing committee called America Next. In its mission statement, Jindal says:
There is a great sense in this country that the leftwing Obama experiment has been a failure…. A rebellion is brewing outside the Washington Beltway.
According to The Weekly Standard, Jindal is putting together seasoned political operatives for America Next:
Jindal will serve as America Next’s honorary chairman, while the day-to-day operations will be run by Jill Neunaber, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign… Curt Anderson, a spokesman for America Next, says the group will have “experts all over the country, including Governor Jindal, working on policy plans.”
Curt Anderson helps run On Message Inc., a high-powered (and Louisiana-connected) political strategy and media firm. Anderson has worked for Steve Forbes and for the Bush/Cheney election team, and he helped elect Jindal governor. According to his On Message bio, “In 2010 Curt co-authored Governor Jindal’s new book, Leadership and Crisis.” Other professionals at On Message include Wes Anderson, Jindal’s pollster, and Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s top political strategist. His On Message bio says:
[Teepell] served as Chief Strategist on Governor Jindal’s re-election campaign and won it by a historic margin. Teepell directed Governor Jindal’s transition successfully and later advised multiple new Governors on their transitions. In his job as Jindal’s Chief of Staff, Teepell helped implement historic reforms that have turned his home state of Louisiana around. In recent years, Teepell served as a campaign consultant to the Republican Governors Association assisting in winning multiple races around the country.
The governor’s longtime political adviser Curt Anderson, of OnMessage Inc., confirmed Monday that Chris Jacobs is joining the nonprofit’s staff as a policy director…. Jacobs worked for Jim DeMint, a U.S. senator from South Carolina who now runs The Heritage Foundation.
And National Review says that Jindal has tapped Spencer Zwick, a top fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, “for an assist with introductions to some of the Romney campaign’s top givers.”
Is Jindal running? It sure sounds like it. To Politico, he gave the usual demurral:
Of course, there’s no satisfying the press’s appetite for all this 2016 speculation, and that’s fine—none of it matters in real life. The whole thing is ridiculous and we are getting way ahead of ourselves.
Of course, by any standard measure, Jindal is indeed way ahead of himself. Still, the New Orleans Times-Picayune put his chances this way:
Jindal’s move may have been savvy. Among the probable Republican presidential candidates, Jindal is often ignored or dismissed. In the wake of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s downfall, a stunt at the White House, well timed and expertly executed, could expose him to conservative primary voters who might find much to admire in a politician with the courage to confront Obama.
Based on his record in Louisiana, his past as a politician and Washington policy geek, and his hiring of folks from outfits such as the Heritage Foundation, is seems clear that Jindal will present himself as an authentic far-right governor who’s committed to dismantling the social safety net. He has experience in Washington trying to do exactly that. Back in the late 1990s, in a little-known part of his career but one that gets a mention on his official Republican Governors Association bio, Jindal was the executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. As such, Jindal was part of the group that laid the plans, only partially successful, to privatize and voucherize Medicare.
In Louisiana, he tried and failed to enact a sweeping tax reform plan that would have eliminated the state’s income tax and replaced it with a far more regressive sales tax. The idea was intensely unpopular in Louisiana, and the governor’s popularity went into a steep dive as a result. As The New York Times, reporting on Jindal’s defeat on the issue, said:
Then he announced he was shelving it. “Governor, you’re moving too fast, and we aren’t sure that your plan is the best way to do it,” Mr. Jindal said, describing what he had heard from legislators and citizens alike. “Here is my response,” he said. “O.K., I hear you.”
The plan, to get rid of the state income and corporate taxes and replace the lost revenue with higher and broader sales taxes, was not dropped altogether. Mr. Jindal emphasized that he was still committed to losing the income tax, but that he would defer to the Legislature to suggest how exactly to make that work.
But Jindal isn’t giving up on the idea. Said Teepell, “You go through temporary rough patches. But that’s not going to slow him down.”
Like Christie, Jindal supports charter schools and vouchers and getting rid of teacher tenure. Unlike Christie, Jindal refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Down in Lousiana, everyone knows he’s running. Said Bob Mann, a former aide to the state’s Democrats and a professor at Louisiana State University:
You don’t get any argument from anybody down here that Jindal’s running for president—it’s just an accepted fact, like the sun rising in the East. There’s an overriding sense among insiders here…that most of the higher-profile initiatives that he’s embarking on here are all with the national audience in mind. He’s totally devoted to building relationships outside of Louisiana. Louisiana is no longer in his focus—he’s looking way beyond us.”
As for whether or not Jindal’s tax initiative was really meant to pass or whether it was designed to win favor among national Republicans, Mann says: “I question whether he really wants to do something or if he just wants the headline that he tried to do it, worked really hard and these nasty tax-raising Democrats foiled him.”
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on electoral nihilism
In a story that ran in Saturday’s edition headlined “De Blasio Picks More Liberal Activists Than Managers for City Posts,” The New York Times declares that “In Bill de Blasio’s City Hall, it seems more and more, there is only a left wing.” It points to recent appointments of Steven Banks, “a longtime critic of city policies affecting low-income residents” to be HRA commissioner as evidence that the mayor “has built a team filled with former activists—figures more accustomed to picketing administrations or taking potshots from the outside than working from within.” The list of lefties reads as follows:
Carmen Fariña, his schools chancellor, had quit the Bloomberg administration in protest over its emphasis on standardized test scores. The mayor’s top political strategist, Emma Wolfe, rose from campus activist to organizer for the advocacy group Acorn, the health care union 1199 SEIU and the Working Families Party before helping Mr. de Blasio get elected public advocate in 2009. His wife’s new chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, was the longtime gatekeeper for the Rev. Al Sharpton. And his new counsel, Maya Wiley, was most recently in the running to lead the N.A.A.C.P. Laura Santucci, his chief of staff, is a former acting executive director of the Democratic National Committee and a former political aide at 1199 SEIU. Zachary W. Carter, his corporation counsel, was an appointee of President Bill Clinton as the United States attorney in Brooklyn and led the prosecution of police officers in the beating of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant.
The article goes on to say that “at least a few appointees have been less ideological and more managerial,” naming Deputy Mayor Anthony E. Shorris and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
Oddly, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton—one of de Blasio’s first and most important appointments and the one that earned him raised eyebrows from some leftists and street protests from others—is not mentioned. Maybe that’s because Bratton was an outspoken critic of his predecessor Ray Kelly and therefore, while no left-wing nut, not sufficiently managerial.
Indeed, you could enter into evidence many names that run counter to the idea that de Blasio has stacked his administration with progressive activists. His deputy mayor for human services, Economic Development Corporation head, NYCHA general manager, homeless services commissioner and youth services commissioner all come directly from the Bloomberg administration. His deputy mayor for economic development comes from Goldman Sachs, and his deputy mayor for strategic initiatives comes from an organization that gave Mayor Bloomberg an award for his anti-poverty crusade. The planning chief has deep roots in the midtown business community, the budget boss is a career adviser to the state legislature and the child welfare chief is moving from the Cuomo administration. A developer heads the Housing Development Corporation. I could go on. You can bet your favorite pair of Sansabelt slacks that none of these people have The Anarchist’s Cookbook on their bookshelves.
Now, it is true that some of de Blasio’s more recent appointments, namely Banks and Wiley, are very vocal advocates for a very different way of governing than Bloomberg practiced. And, yes, some appointments are more important and influential than others, so lefties could be outnumbered in de Blasio’s cabinet without being outgunned. I’ll also admit that some lefty handwringing about the composition of the de Blasio team—in which I have been a sweaty-palmed participant—missed the forest for the trees. And the questions about de Blasio’s ability to communicate and to manage the city (as long as they are questions and not, two months into his term, conclusions) are fair game.
But what is definitely off-target is the notion, which the Times repeated Saturday but certainly didn’t invent, that “more managerial” appointees are somehow ideologically neutral.
This misconception underlay a lot of the skewed analysis of the Bloomberg administration, which was seen as apolitical, as merely interested in unimpeachable goals like efficiency and transparency. Observers were apparently thrown by the fact that Bloomberg combined liberal social beliefs with a devotion to market forces, and wed a comfort with activist policy to a $26 billion-wide blind-spot to the perils of plutocracy. It was a complex ideology—and hard to categorize because we have so few classic liberal Republicans these days—but it was an ideology nonetheless. Calling it otherwise gave many of Bloomberg’s ideas a nonpartisan sheen they didn’t deserve. (“What’s wrong, man: Are you against efficiency?”) Ideology is not like a beard, that some people have and some people don’t. It’s like skin color: even white guys have it.
This misconception threatens to get de Blasio compared to Bloomberg not as a progressive taking over from a centrist but as an ideologue seizing power from a technocrat. And that means that de Blasio’s policies could be debated not on their merits or the critique behind them but merely on the fact that they reflect a strong belief. That’s something de Blasio’s cabinet will have to resist, even if “working from within” is new to some of them.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on de Blasio’s latest appointment—a liberal veteran of the Legal Aid Society.
So it’s beginning already.
It was probably inevitable, given widespread left-wing disappointment with Obama and longstanding reservations about Hillary Clinton, that we’d see another outbreak of electoral nihilism: the conviction that it doesn’t really matter which of the two parties holds the presidency. This myth has tempted radicals for a long time. In 1960, back when Commentary was still a liberal magazine, Dwight McDonald took to its pages to declare the outcome of the Nixon/Kennedy election a matter of indifference, as “the effect of one as against another built-up-torn-down candidate is in the realm of metaphysics and so of little interest to sensible people.” Fourteen years ago, this belief led otherwise smart people to declare that there was no meaningful difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
The shock of the Bush presidency cured this delusion, for a while—there was remarkable acceptance of John Kerry in 2004, despite his nakedly militaristic convention, and progressives twice mobilized for Obama. Yet here, with the 2016 primaries not yet begun, comes an essay on the cover of Harper’s Magazine arguing that liberals are too focused on winning elections for Democrats.
“Each election now becomes a moment of life-or-death urgency that precludes dissent or even reflection,” writes Adolph Reed, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist, in “Nothing Left: The long, slow surrender of American liberals.” He continues, “For liberals, there is only one option in an election year, and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running…. True, the last Democrat was really unsatisfying, but this one is better; true, the last Republican didn’t bring destruction on the universe, but this one certainly will. And, of course, each of the ‘pivotal’ Supreme Court justices is four years older than he or she was last time.”
Reed has been making a version of this argument for many years in many different elections. In 2000, he voted for Nader and dismissed the importance of the Bush vs. Gore election. During the primary in 2007, he wrote a column titled “Sitting This One Out,” saying, “This time, I’m not going to acquiesce in the fiction that the Presidential charade has any credibility whatsoever.” But the placement of this essay on the cover of Harper’s, and the enthusiastic reception it’s been given by people like Bill Moyers, suggests that the case has renewed resonance.
There are a number of things to argue with in Reed’s piece, among them the strange idea that Bush wasn’t really that bad. (He may not have destroyed the universe, but he presided over the destruction of Iraq, New Orleans, the American economy and a Supreme Court remotely sympathetic to organized labor, among other things.) Other people, I’m sure, will take on his argument that Obama has continued Bill Clinton’s work of moving the Democratic Party rightward. (Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it,” while Obama enacted the biggest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ.) What I want to highlight is an internal contradiction in the case Reed makes against what he calls “electoralitis.”
“Nothing Left” has some very incisive things to say about the broad collapse of the left as a political force. He’s right about how the absence of a positive, fully articulated vision of the future has been paralyzing; as Slavoj Žižek has said numerous times, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Without a clear program, writes Reed, “the left careens from this oppressed group or crisis moment to that one, from one magical or morally pristine constituency or source of political agency…to another. It lacks focus and stability; its métier is bearing witness, demonstrating solidarity, and the event or the gesture. Its reflex is to ‘send messages’ to those in power, to make statements, and to stand with or for the oppressed.”
Reed argues, persuasively, that a vibrant left can only be grounded in a rebuilt labor movement: “Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless…. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass.”
But here’s the thing: arguments for ignoring electoral realities, for backing some quixotic third-party candidate or imagining that leftists can sway the system through ultimatums, are based on precisely this fantasy. Movements lead politicians, not the other way around, and simply deciding that the politicians we have aren’t good enough won’t will a movement into being. A left that absented itself from the dirty work of electing a president would be indulging in the very reflex Reed decries: trying to send a message to those in power rather than contending for power itself.
The right understands this; it has simultaneously, over decades, systematically taken over the GOP from the bottom up, built a huge network of interlocking intellectual, legal and political institutions and mobilized every four years to try to elect a Republican president.
Occasionally, over the years, conservatives disgusted by the inevitable compromises of electoral politics have threatened to turn their backs on Republican presidential candidates. When Reagan was in office, the right complained about him in language strikingly similar to left-wing denunciations of Obama. In 1983, Richard Viguerie even suggested that Reagan shouldn’t run for re-election. Think of how much better off we’d all be if right-wingers had refused to support what they saw as the lesser of two evils. Instead, they spent decades organizing within the party until it had no choice but to do their bidding.
And despite Reed’s pessimism, similar work is finally happening in the Democratic Party. Consider the new left-leaning mayors in New York, Seattle, Boston and Minneapolis, and the major initiatives to raise wages in metropolitan areas across the country. A new New York Times story is headlined, “De Blasio Picks More Liberal Activists Than Managers for City Posts.” Some of these people will, with enough work, become tomorrow’s national leaders. This is a bizarre moment to assert that there’s no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans.
So yes, for liberals, there is only one option in an election year, and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running. The rest of the time, those who find the current choices intolerable should join in the long, slow groundwork that would allow for better ones.
Read Next: Can the GOP win back big-money donors before 2016?
UPDATE I: As predicted, President Obama is under heavy pressure from the right and from members of Congress to take strong action immediately to confront Russia. The New York Times summarizes the pressure, but it’s coming from many directions: Senator Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.), Senator Marco Rubio, who’s trying to build his thin foreign policy credentials, from John McCain, the NATO expansion advocate, and many other hawks and neoconservatives. The way it’s being posed is: Obama has supported diplomacy with Iran and Syria, he’s cut the military budget, and he’s generally weak in regard to Russia and China, so he’s reaping what he’s sowed. That’s ludicrous – but, when the pressure starts to include Kerry, other administration officials, and perhaps (let’s see) Hillary Clinton, then Obama might, against his better judgment, opt for a more confrontational stance. The statement from the Foreign Policy Initiative goes so far as to advocatean “emergency NATO meeting” and “forward deployment of NATO forces in the former Warsaw Pact countries.”
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee today, McCain accused Obama of having a “feckless” foreign policy – feckless meaning, in this case, not invading other countries. The crisis in Ukraine, he said, “is the ultimate result of feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America's strength anymore.”
ORIGINAL POST Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocratic president and would-be reviver of Russian greatness, must back down.
Unfortunately, Russia’s jingoistic media is hyping the threat to “Russians” and “Russian-speaking” Ukrainians, they’re playing up pro-military demonstrations by “patriotic youth” and other Russians—even as security forces in Russia arrest antiwar protesters—and they’re reporting on the happy “tea and sandwich brigades” helping out in now-occupied Crimea. In one absurd passage, RT reports:
Russia’s biggest bikers’ club, the Night Wolves, has staged a major motorbike rally in the capital in support of Russian speakers in Ukraine. Despite the fact that the motorcycle season hasn’t yet kicked off, over 100 bikes participated in the rally.
It’s outright war propaganda. A statement from Moscow described Putin’s call with President Obama thus:
In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia’s armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kiev…. The Russian President underlined that there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that if violence spread further in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers living there.
The trick for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry is to create a face-saving way for Putin to accept the fact that Ukraine, including the disputed Crimea, isn’t Russia’s any longer, and neither the Russian empire nor the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics exists any longer. And the venue has to shift to the United Nations.
Russia’s actions, so far, indeed amount to acts of war. Its troops have invaded Ukrainian territory, and Putin—sounding like George W. Bush vis-à-vis Iraq—has asked Russia’s legislature for permission to use Russian troops throughout all of Ukraine. Memo to Putin: like Iraq, Ukraine is a sovereign nation, whose territory is inviolable. And Crimea, though Russia has legitimate interests there—its Black Sea fleet, after all, is based there according to a lease arrangement with Kiev—is part of Ukraine.
It may not be possible, at this stage, to resolve the crisis peacefully at all. It may be that nothing the United States can do, whether threatening Russia with economic sanctions and expulsion from the G-8, can change Putin’s mind regarding Ukraine. In that case, Russia will seize and consolidate control of Crimea, build support for broader Russian intervention in Ukraine’s pro-Russian east—the country’s industrial heartland—and back the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, or some other pro-Russian proxy as a vehicle for expanding Russian involvement into Ukraine’s west. In the Russian argument, the accord that was negotiated last month, which would have allowed Yanukovych to remain in power until new presidential elections were held, is still valid—which is utter nonsense. The change in Kiev is permanent, and the fact that it was so violent and chaotic is a testament to Russia’s overplaying its hand.
The fact that the United States has few, if any, real options to stop Russia doesn’t make Russia’s aggression any less ominous. Fact is, the fragile US-Russian relationship, which has been spiraling downwards for years, is critical to resolving several world crises: the civil war in Syria, the nuclear talks with Iran and the stabilization of Afghanistan after 2014, just for starters. If Russia expands its invasion of Ukraine, beyond what it’s already done, all that is at risk. And not just at risk: Russia’s actions in Ukraine could tip the balance in Washington sharply against President Obama’s recent, more pronounced shift toward diplomacy rather than conflict. With the president already under fire from hardliners and neoconservatives, as well as hawks within his own administration, Obama’s very inability to halt the Russian action in Ukraine could lead him to accede to the demands of those who, for instance, want to take military action in Syria.
It’s true that Russia has profound strategic and economic interests in Ukraine, and it’s also true that the United States, really, has none whatsoever. But that’s an argument for both Russian patience and American forbearance, since eventually the turmoil in Ukraine will settle into some sort of stability, and Russia’s overwhelming presence in the region will allow an accommodation in which Moscow, Washington and especially the European Union—and not NATO!—all can have relations with whatever government emerges in Kiev.
So far, Obama and Putin have had a least two tense and unproductive telephone discussions in recent days. Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Kerry issued the starkest warnings yet about consequences if Russia doesn’t hold off. He said—and there was some question about this—that all of Europe’s major powers will join the United States is taking economic measures to isolate Russia unless the invasion is halted. And Kerry said:
He is not going to have a Sochi G-8. He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back. There may be a further tumble of the ruble. There’s a huge price to pay.
Threats and promises of punishment to come are one thing, but if the crisis is to be resolved without catastrophic consequences in international affairs, then the United States and Europe have to offer some sweeteners to Moscow, too, at least in private. Incredibly, though, in his Meet the Press appearance, Kerry refused to rule out a military response to Russia’s actions, even though there is no credible American action to take and, if the United States did engage militarily, it would undoubtedly be the most serious event since the 1962 Cuban missile showdown. Still, Kerry said: “The last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation,” and then added, “But.”
President Obama has made a series of statements on Ukraine, including the March 1 White House statement after speaking with Putin and his February 28 remarks on the crisis in Ukraine.
Obama’s remarks, in his February 28 statement, did in fact acknowledge Russia’s substantial interest in Ukraine:
I also spoke several days ago with President Putin, and my administration has been in daily communication with Russian officials, and we’ve made clear that they can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.
However, we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea, but any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.
But the president needs to go further to outline how the crisis might be resolved, to Russia’s advantage and in the interests of the Ukrainians and world affairs, if and when Russia halts its military actions.
Read Next: Nicolai N. Petro on the growing threat of military confrontation in Ukraine.
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, media commentators and members of Congress are returing to Cold War rhetoric on nuclear weapons, calling for a halt to already-negotiated cutbacks in the massive U.S. arsenal and/or extending the reach of our nuclear umbrella to Kiev. Sen. Marco Rubio on 'Meet the Press" called for expanding our so-called "missile shield" defense.
Still, it's worth remembering that it could be much worse. No nukes is good news, in Ukraine.
Remember that when the Soviet Union broke up, several of the breakaway republics took with them some of Mother Russia’s nukes. Ukraine had many of them, the biggest budget and a lot of animosity toward Russia. But somehow, with our help, they gave them up. Bill Maher even shoved this fact down the throat of Bill Kristol last night on his HBO show when Kristol disparaged diplomacy.
The terrific Amy Davidson of The New Yorker reviews the history here.
It was not obvious where all these missiles would end up, particularly not in the case of Ukraine, which was stronger than the others and more sharply at odds with Russia; it thought it might find better friends. (Steven Pifer, of the Brookings Institution, has a useful review.) The new Ukrainian government also thought that Russia was not negotiating in good faith (from a certain perspective, it had absconded with Ukraine’s tactical warheads). Russia, meanwhile, suggested that the Ukrainians were not decent stewards of the weapons: they didn’t know how to take care of them, and they would deteriorate and turn into public hazards—“much worse than Chernobyl,” the Russian Foreign Minister said at the time. The disaster at Chernobyl had given the Ukrainians a look at a nuclear accident; it had also underscored a sense that Moscow was neglectful and mendacious. They also knew that I.C.B.M.s, even if they had no use for them, contained highly enriched uranium that was extremely valuable. And Ukraine needed money. In September, 1993, the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine fell apart.
The United States could have approached this in any number of ways. One might have been heedlessly, without a full understanding of the danger—gleeful about the spectacle, and glad to see the inheritors of the Soviet Union dispossessed of a few more bombs. We could have helped keep Ukraine a nuclear power, thinking that it would make the country, in some way, ours. Or we could have been excessively fearful, and supported Moscow’s contention that the Ukrainians had no right to these things, anyway, encouraging them to just go in and take them. This might have made the dissolution of the Soviet Union look a lot more like a civil war, in which our position was ambiguous. We could have postured, and lost the Cold War peace.
Instead, we offered two things…
Read on to see what happened. And see a full report by a Brookings expert here.
Then Davidson concludes:
What are the lessons for the current crisis, other than to be abjectly relieved that we don’t live in a world where nuclear weapons are even more loosely held than they are? One is to not disparage diplomacy, or treat it as a lesser form of foreign policy, or to think that there is no place for a calm middle. Another is to remember how human and fallible the actors are, and how much listening and getting a sense of their interests can help.
Read Next: Nation in the News: Stephen Cohen: The US Should Promote a Stable and United Ukraine.
Next week’s issue of The Nation will feature a report by Stanford Professor Cécile Alduy about the alarming rise of Marine Le Pen and the French far right. In recent years, Le Pen has skillfully, if disingenuously, attempted to scrub her National Front party of the most odious manifestations of the anti-Semitism, racism and outright xenophobia in which her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, specialized during his forty-year leadership of the party. At the same time, Alduy writes, the French mainstream—mistakenly scapegoating immigrants for the country’s economic malaise—has moved further to the right. Whatever the results of local elections slated for later this month and European Parliament elections in May, there is a serious risk that the toxic ideology of the National Front will become further enshrined and legitimized as a driving force in the public conversation—not only in France, but across Europe as a whole.
Although Le Pen “has managed to put a modern gloss on an old political brand,” Alduy writes, the underlying philosophy of the National Front remains almost exactly the same as it was under Jean-Marie Le Pen. It is perhaps useful, then, to re-examine the behavior of the wolf before it donned sheep’s clothing—and for such a mission there is no better guide than Daniel Singer, The Nation’s longtime European correspondent before his death in 2000. His numerous dispatches on Le Pen père—“the man whose name is synonymous with the recent revival of overt racism in French politics and society,” Singer wrote in 1985—show how mutable and dangerous remains the threat emanating from what Singer, in a recurring assortment of related metaphors, called France’s plague, poison and disease.
In “The Resistible Rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen” (September 7, 1985), Singer wrote of Le Pen:
Smiling, smartly dressed, he now seems—particularly on television, where he is on his best behavior—a frank and reasonable fellow saying aloud “what everybody really believes,” telling people “what they already know,” a man who merely echoes the basic precept of that great American Ronald Reagan: namely, that communism is the root of all evil. A red-faced, rather fat man who warns the “silent majority” against muggers, drug addicts, gays and crypto-pinkos, Le Pen might be described as a sort of French Spiro Agnew preaching law and order, except that he is not of Greek or any other foreign extraction. That is an important difference, because the man and the movement he leads, the National Front, trumpet the slogan “Frenchmen First” and spread the fairy tale that everything would be fine in the streets and hospitals, in the schools and even the factories were it not for the foreign hordes invading France, particularly those crossing the Mediterranean. France would be just marvelous without Marxists, Arabs and other aliens.…
The entry of avowed racists into the French Parliament is not in itself the worst prospect. As the old saying goes, you don’t bring the temperature down by breaking the thermometer…. More worrisome is the underlying ideological shift to the right, the radical metamorphosis of the substance and form of political debate, of which this plague is only a symptom.
Three years later, after the National Front had secured a new level of legitimacy when Le Pen won more than 14 percent of the vote in the 1988 presidential election, Singer wrote “In the Heart of Le Pen Country,” about a visit to Marseille:
Serious trouble does not begin when the men with jackboots or with cloven hoofs opt for fascism. It begins when the tinker and tailor, your neighbor and your cousin, are driven sufficiently mad by circumstances to vote for an admirer of Pinochet, a preacher of apartheid, a man for whom the gas chambers are a mere “detail.” As I looked down from the steps of the station, on departing this outwardly still-warm and attractive town, I could not help feeling that moral pollution is not so easily perceived. All the more reason to probe below the surface, to sound the alarm and, above all, to seek a cure—unless we want to wake up one day, too late, in a fully contaminated city or country.
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Singer continued to track Le Pen’s rise throughout the 1990s. His dispatches from the time show an increasing concern about Le Pen’s staying power, and even foreshadows the more recent attempts by his youngest daughter, Marine Le Pen, to conceal the party’s underlying fascism by projecting a more smiling, human face:
“The Ghosts of Nationalism” (March 23, 1992):
Although unemployment in Western Europe is now roughly three times higher than it was twenty years ago, it has not reached the proportions of the prewar Depression, nor is the fate of its victims comparable. Although discontent is high, workers are not flocking en masse to Le Pen and his equivalents. The danger for Western Europe is not an immediate takeover by various National Fronts. The threat lies in the gradual extension of the disease: the spread of racism and the weakening of class solidarity, sapping society’s capacity for resistance should a really catastrophic slump bring back another bout of the deadly epidemic.
“Hate in a Warm Climate” (April 20, 1992):
Le Pen has been told that to win votes he must keep his tongue in check, so he’s on his best behavior. He makes no openly racist or anti-Semitic remarks. Yet, listening carefully, you can still judge the man. His reference to Jean-Claude Gaudin as “the bearded woman”—a not so gentle hint about the incumbent’s alleged homosexuality—gives an idea of his moral tone. The contempt he puts into the words “of every race and religion,” describing demonstrators he saw in London, is also revealing. So is his scorn for those who stir up unpleasant memories of World War II: “They only want to talk about Pétain and Touvier” (a wartime torturer, hidden for years by the clergy and only recently arrested). “Whatever the subject, it reminds them of Hitler and Vichy.”
“Liberté, Egalité, Racisme” (October 21, 1996):
In its new posture the National Front is increasingly reminiscent of the prewar fascist movements. Equally worrying is the fact that the phenomenon is not simply French. From Antwerp to Vienna, passing through northern and southern Italy, in the absence of rational prospects, all sorts of forces of unreason are gaining ground. Naturally, the situation should not be overdramatized. The economic crisis is not yet deep enough for a Le Pen to be voted into power in any Western European country. But the poison is spreading. It will not be halted by pandering to prejudices, making compromises, sticking to an increasingly conservative consensus. It won’t be stopped by decree, either. The counteroffensive will require relentless daily battles on the political, social and cultural fronts. If the respectable right is more to blame as the carrier of the disease, the main responsibility, nevertheless, belongs to the left: The rise of Le Pen will not be really resisted until the people, offered the prospect of a radically different society, start struggling for genuine solutions instead of seeking scapegoats. This French lesson, now read throughout Europe, does not lose its validity on crossing the ocean.
“Supping with the French Devil” (April 20, 1998):
Much having been written here about the resistible rise of Le Pen, we can sum up the spread of the disease in shorthand. When François Mitterrand was elected president in 1981 the front was insignificant. Deprived of office, the right invented the myth that growing unemployment was due to immigrant labor, forgetting that however low it would stoop, Le Pen could get lower still. Thus he acquired his stock in trade, imposing a phony debate on the nation. But he was able to consolidate his position only because the left failed to offer a radical alternative. With France experiencing a vague consensus on economic policy combined with rising social misery, Le Pen could appear to be the only outsider, gaining support notably among workers and the unemployed. His queer mixture of Reaganomics at home and opposition to globalization is incoherent, so whenever the social movement is active (as in the 1995 winter of discontent) the front is cast aside. But it recovers, feeding on the economic failure of the other protagonists.
Thus the fate of the National Front is really in the hands of the left. If it listens to the international financial establishment, opting for a deflationary policy and the dismantling of the welfare state, it will encourage the spread of the disease, which no changing of the electoral thermometer will cure. Only if it tackles unemployment head-on, radically reshaping French society, will the left be able to contain a cancerous growth that is already serious, although not yet fatal. The responsibility is historical because…the corpses of the past are still unburied. Pace Hegel and Marx, history may repeat itself not as farce but as tragicomedy.
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