The New York Times recently took an in-depth look at one of the country’s poorest regions, Appalachia, specifically McDowell County, in the piece “50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back.” McDowell County, a rural area in southern West Virginia, is home to a shrinking population of poor, mostly white, residents who rely heavily on government assistance programs for survival. The best jobs that used to be available here, coal mining, have all but disappeared—reflected in the poverty rate. But the county did attempt to find salvation:
Today, fewer than one in three McDowell County residents are in the labor force. The chief effort to diversify the economy has been building prisons. The most impressive structure on Route 52, the twisting highway into Welch, is a state prison that occupies a former hospital. There is also a new federal prison on a mountaintop.
Yes, prison, that tried and true engine of economic progress.
This isn’t specific to McDowell County or West Virginia. Prison economies are prevalent across the country, especially in rural areas that have space for massive buildings. It’s called the “prison-industrial complex” not just because of the low-wage work that’s extracted from prisoners but also because of the industry that springs up around the prison system. First, someone will be contracted to build the prison. Then you’ll need a staff for maintenance. Next comes the restaurants and hotels in the nearby town that feed and house relatives coming to visit the incarcerated in these far off places. When you’re finished, you have an entire local economy dependent on the existence of a prison. If you can’t continue to stuff those prisons full of bodies, the people in these rural communities who have to rely on these jobs for survival will suffer.
Unfortunately for residents of McDowell County, many don’t even qualify for jobs at the prison, as they can’t pass a drug test. They are ravaged by poverty and all that accompanies it, including rampant drug use (which this piece treats as cause of poverty rather than a result). They’re more likely to be incarcerated than employed by their local prison.
Coal mining will never come roaring back as generator of living wage jobs—and good riddance. It’s detrimental to the health of people and the environment. But so is basing your economy around prison. Yet that’s what has been made available to some of our poorest citizens. There’s an intimate relationship between poverty and the carceral state. Our addiction to incarceration doesn’t only make certain poverty’s continuance, but it gives hope to some that their poverty will be alleviated. It’s a sick cycle that’s only fixed by building a more equitable society.
Read Next: We built this country on inequality.
The Obama administration is planning to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands,” of nonviolent drug offenders before the president leaves office, Yahoo News reports.
The effort represents a big shift for Obama, who has used his pardon powers less frequently than any modern US president. Of more than 10,000 clemency applications during his two terms, Obama has granted just fifty-two pardons and two sentence commutations. The most recent commutation reduced the sentence of Ceasar Huerta Cantu, who was set to serve an extra three and a half years in prison over an administrative typo.
According to Yahoo, the Obama administration also plans to reform the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney to prepare for the clemency push, which could include significant personnel changes. US pardon attorney Ronald Rodgers, who has been criticized for a stingy approach towards clemency, will likely step down as part of the effort.
“We’re thrilled that the administration is contemplating a very robust overhaul of the clemency process and also contemplating opening the process for many more deserving prisoners than its been available to in the past,” said Mary Price, general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). “But mercy is not a substitute for reform.”
About half of all federal prisoners, disproportionately African-American, are locked up for nonviolent drug crimes, according to FAMM. A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that more than 2,500 of those offenders are serving life sentences.
The clemency overhaul is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to scale back on harsh and disproportionate sentencing, dubbed the “Smart on Crime” initiative. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors to stop seeking mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level drug offenders. The administration also endorses a bipartisan plan in Congress to reduce some mandatory minimums and grant prosecutors more discretion in sentencing nonviolent drug offenders.
As Christie Watch has been chronicling for some time now, Governor Chris Christie continues to tiptoe his way back into the 2016 presidential conversation, though it’s clearly an uphill climb. Tomorrow night, Christie will appear as the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual Walk to Washington, and Christie Watch will be there to file a complete report on the event. But the governor is also planning to make some news in June when he attends Mitt Romney’s own annual event, a “policy summit” to be held in Park City, Utah. It’ll be another cattle call for would-be 2016 GOP standard-bearers, and also in attendance will be Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee.
Let’s unpack this a bit. Romney, the failed candidate of 2012, is re-emerging in 2014—not as a candidate, it appears, but as a possible kingmaker, and one whose feet are firmly planted in the non–Tea Party, Establishment wing of the Republican party—where Christie and a possible rival in 2016, Jeb Bush, also reside. Even after the scandals that emerged to weigh Christie down last fall, Romney has consistently had nice things to say about Christie—even though some former Romney aides hold grudges about Christie’s embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey—and in February 2014 the two men appeared together at a Boston fundraiser that pulled in $1 million for the Republican Governors Association (RGA). As Christie Watch has been reporting, the New Jersey governor continues to raise millions of dollars for the RGA. According to the RGA’s latest release, the group broke all previous records in the first quarter of 2014, raising $23.5 million between January and March.
The significance of the Romney policy summit in June is that, aside from some star power, it will also be attended by a large number of bundlers and high-dollar donors who were part of Romney’s 2012 money machine. As The Washington Post reports, among “Romney’s financiers” at the event will be “Spencer Zwick, former national finance chairman for Romney’s campaign, Bob White, Romney’s former business partner, plus dozens of former bundlers for Romney’s campaign.” And the Post notes, in an earlier piece, that Romney made a special point in Boston in February of making sure that Christie would be there:
Romney also exchanges e-mails with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). In late February, when the two appeared at a Republican Governors Association fundraiser at the Lenox Hotel in Boston, Romney pulled Christie aside to remind him to attend his June summit in Utah. The conclave in Park City, where Romney purchased a sprawling ski chalet last year, will be a reunion for Romney’s major donors and top aides, as well as a sales session for Solamere Capital, the private equity firm run by Zwick and Romney’s eldest son, Tagg.
The Post adds that Romney is quietly reemerging now as a fundraiser and cheerleader for GOP candidates in 2014:
After retreating from public view following his crushing loss to President Obama in the 2012 election, Romney has returned to the political stage, emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most coveted stars, especially on the fundraising circuit, in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
Notably absent, so far, from the Romney conclave is Jeb Bush, who’s still toying with the idea of running in 2016. (Bush did attend the “Adelson primary,” the Las Vegas bash at which Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who backed Newt Gingrich in 2012, met separately with 2016 hopefuls, including Christie, Bush and others.) But today’s New York Times has a devastating piece on Bush’s financial and corporate entanglements, including his involvement with a number of crooked and questionable firms. The Times also notes Bush’s involvement in 2007–08 with the about-to-collapse Lehman Brothers, something that Christie Watch reported on earlier this month. The article mentions that Bush went begging to a Mexican billionaire in a failed effort to bail out Lehman—but it doesn’t mention, as Christie Watch did, that Florida’s own state Board of Administration lost hundreds of millions that it had invested in Lehman Brothers during the time Bush, a former governor of Florida, had been brought on board.
The scuttlebutt among GOP watchers is that if Christie can’t recover from his New Jersey troubles, it’s Bush who’s most likely to step in and try to pick up Christie’s support among Wall Street, hedge funds, big corporate players and the Establishment generally. But it’s clear now that if he runs, Bush will have his own problems. Given that that Establishment is likely to unite against a Tea Party candidate such as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, that doesn’t leave many options beyond Christie and Bush. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, is one possibility—though he needs to win re-election in 2014 first, and he’s made a lot of bitter enemies though his union-busting in Wisconsin.
Read Next: Chris Christie is gaining traction in the 2016 race.
Joe Biden arrived in Ukraine today, and to frame the moment Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is issuing blustery threats that seem intended not to advance diplomacy to calm the Ukraine crisis but to inflame it. Indeed, there are hawks on both sides who could foil diplomacy, but so far the Obama administration seems committed to a diplomatic solution. Still, responding to violence over the weekend in eastern Ukraine, where a Russian covert operation is underway to rile up pro-Russian elements there in defiance of the fledgling regime in Kiev, Lavrov noted that the violence—which, it appears, Russian agents have deliberately courted—could be a pretext for wider Russian military action. Here’s the quote from Lavrov:
There has been a surge in appeals to Russia to save them from this outrage. We are being put into an extremely complex position…. Those who are deliberately pursuing a civil war, in a possible attempt to start a big, serious bloody conflict, are pursuing a criminal policy. And we will not only condemn this policy but will also stop it.
Of course, Lavrov’s comments fit Vladimir Putin’s theme of late, namely, that Russia must act as the guarantor of ethnic Russians left outside Russia’s borders when the USSR collapsed. Reports Reuters:
The senior European mediator in eastern Ukraine held his first talks on Monday with the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the city of Slaviansk, a flashpoint of the crisis. Mark Etherington told reporters he met the self-declared, separatist mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, for two hours. He had asked whether Ponomaryov and his group would comply with last week’s Geneva accord under which Russia and Ukraine agreed that militants should disarm and vacate occupied public buildings. Etherington did not say how the separatist leader responded or give further details. He said he also asked about people who had been detained in Slaviansk, including the previous mayor, about reports of maltreatment of the Roma minority and about a gunfight on Sunday in which at least three men were killed.
The mayor and his cohorts have so far resisted compliance with the Geneva agreement, and it isn’t clear whether or not Russia is pressing them to stand down.
Biden has emerged as Obama’s point man on Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and earlier he visited Poland and Lithuania. He’s mostly avoided provocative rhetoric, although the United States has apparently agreed to send symbolic military units to rotate in and out of NATO countries in Eastern Europe. If such deployments remain symbolic—i.e., very small numbers of troops, as it appears, and only temporary—then they’re not likely to worsen the crisis. But if Obama and Biden go along with the ideas of various hawks to dispatch significant forces eastward, then Putin will almost certainly respond in kind.
So what is Obama doing? A troubling piece by Peter Baker in The New York Times on April 19 is headlined “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin.” In it, he writes:
Mr. Obama has concluded that even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides said. As a result, Mr. Obama will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin in favor of other foreign policy areas where progress remains possible.
But there’s more going on. It appears that hawks inside the administration, as well as John McCain and other hawks outside, are putting a lot of pressure on Obama to take a tougher stand. According to the Times, the hawks are frustrated with the Obama-Biden decision to hold off:
The more hawkish faction in the State and Defense Departments has grown increasingly frustrated, privately worrying that Mr. Obama has come across as weak and unintentionally sent the message that he has written off Crimea after Russia’s annexation. They have pressed for faster and more expansive sanctions, only to wait while memos sit in the White House without action.
The Times adds:
The prevailing view in the West Wing, though, is that while Mr. Putin seems for now to be enjoying the glow of success, he will eventually discover how much economic harm he has brought on his country. Mr. Obama’s aides noted the fall of the Russian stock market and the ruble, capital flight from the country and the increasing reluctance of foreign investors to expand dealings in Russia.
So far, Obama and Biden seem committed to diplomacy, and they’ve secured the accord with Russia that includes the OSCE monitoring mission. But they have to resist the hawks both inside and outside. Meanwhile, what about the hawks on the other side—and what if, among those hawks, is Putin himself?
Read Next: William Greider on how under Putin, Russia is acting a lot like the US.
When someone dies of decidedly unnatural causes, two words come immediately to mind: “closure” and “accountability.” The idea is that by holding the perpetrators of a crime accountable, we can both provide a measure of closure for the family and friends of the deceased as well as limit the possibility of such a fate befalling our own loved ones too.
It is difficult to imagine a death more “unnatural” than that of NFL player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, shot down in Afghanistan by his fellow troops in an incident classified as “friendly fire” ten years ago. Yet, despite the high-profile nature of his demise, those two words, “closure” and “accountability,” have been in incredibly short supply for the Tillman family. This is not just a tragedy for the Tillmans; it is a tragedy for anyone who thinks that government should not exist above the law.
The questions surrounding both the death of Pat Tillman, as well the response by the United States government to the news, has simply never been answered. This is not about conjuring conspiracy theories or raising the bizarre timing of Tillman’s being shot during a time when he was outspoken to fellow soldiers about his belief that the war in Iraq was “illegal.” This is not about Gen. Wesley Clark’s saying he believed it was “very possible” that Tillman was murdered. This is about extremely basic questions that the George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. John Abizaid and Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal have simply not been compelled to answer. Let’s go through them:
1) Why did the US Congressional Oversight Committee, after coming to the conclusion in April 2007 that the circumstances surrounding Tillman’s death demanded investigation, stop investigating? Why did it accept, in its own words, that “the investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall”? Why, instead of pursuing the matter, did it move on to investigating steroids in baseball?
2) Why were Tillman’s uniform, his military notebook and his effects burned on the scene immediately after his shooting? In the words of a source of mine close to the events that day, “Every military protocol was ignored regarding the handling of Pat’s body and his equipment.”
3) Why did the coroner refuse for months to sign off on Pat’s autopsy?
4) Why were soldiers on the scene ordered not to tell the truth about the circumstances of the shooting?
5) Why has General John Abizaid never had to answer for the devastating San Francisco Chronicle investigation that shows he repeatedly misrepresented what he knew—and where he was—after Tillman’s death? He said he was in Iraq, which makes sense given that April 2004 was the bloodiest, most chaotic month of the war. Yet records show he was in Afghanistan talking to Tillman’s platoon leader. Why? And why lie about it?
6) Why does Lt. Gen McChrystal get to skate by with saying that there were “mistakes, missteps and errors” that occurred after Tillman was killed? Pat’s father described McChrystal’s actions as a “falsified homicide investigation.” If McChrystal did falsify the investigation, he belongs behind bars.
7) How do we understand the actions of Senator John McCain? By all accounts, McCain was furious that, because of the Bush administration, he eulogized Pat Tillman at his nationally televised funeral as if he had died at the hands of the Taliban. He pledged to the Tillmans that he would get to the truth. For a while, McCain was their ally. Then he ran for president in 2008 and stopped helping them. As Mary Tillman said to me, “The investigation that he helped us get actually caused us to have more questions and at that point he started backing off. I think he thought that we were becoming sort of a political encumbrance to him, or could be.” John McCain should have to explain why he stopped helping the Tillman family.
These are only some of the questions. Peter King of Sports Illustrated, perhaps the most-read football writer in the United States, wrote on Monday, “The circumstances around the death [of Tillman], which took place in a firefight with enemy forces near the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan, remain a mystery.”
They shouldn’t have to “remain a mystery.” The family is entitled to answers, and we collectively are entitled to the truth. The family has the right to closure, and we have the right to see those who broke the law held accountable. Our need to demand the truth is rooted less in solidarity with the Tillman family, and more in our desire to not have a government that believes covering up a killing is a part of its constitutional duties. We all suffer as long as the truth of Pat Tillman’s death remains hidden. This should be a criminal investigation. It is past time to pull George W. Bush away from his paintbrushes, to tell Stanley McChrystal to stop hawking his book, and to get their hands on some Bibles to swear to tell, at long last, the damnable truth.
Read Next: On the death and life’s work of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.
I’ve never thought of myself of a pioneer in warning about climate change, but maybe, just a little.
Back in 1984, Viking published a book I wrote with Pascal J. Imperato, titled Acceptable Risks, which examined how regulators, and individuals, choose to ignore certain hazards—such as smoking or living in earthquake-prone California—while taking action against others, often in a highly irrational way. The penultimate chapter explored an emerging danger we called “The Ultimate Risk: The Greenhouse Effect.”
This is what it was called before it was referred to as “global warming” and then more accurately and broadly, “climate change.” Back in the good old days we figured we still had plenty of time to address it. In that period, the nuclear threat was the prime concern.
On the eve of another Earth Day, I decided to check back on that chapter, which I penned myself, for the first time in a few years. What I found: there’s not much new under the ever-hotter sun. The “inconvenient truth” of global warming has been told for decades—Dr. James Hansen was even featured in our chapter—to little avail. Ironically, I had interviewed the young congressman Al Gore for my previous book on whistleblowers, related to toxic dump sites.
In fact, the chapter in Acceptable Risks opens with a warning about the Antarctic ice sheet melting, and a rising of the sea level likely to “submerge” coastal cities. The paragraph that followed could have come directly from the famous Al Gore film (without the slide show) twenty years on: “There have been warming trends before, but never one so rapid as this—virtually overnight on the geological clock. Rather than having several hundreds years to cope with the changes it may bring, humankind will have to adjust in little more than half a century.”
Of course, we are now thirty years into that half-century.
“More than a severe disruption of the world economy is at stake,” I wrote. “The very survival of Earth’s highest forms of life may be on the line.” But, I advised, “Something can be done to prevent—or at least mitigate—this threat. On a global basis, humankind can cut down its burning of fossil fuels, stabilizing the excessive accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere that creates the hazard known as the Greenhouse Effect.
“There is no sign, however, that we have the slightest interest in doing this.”
Back then, scientists felt sure the warming would soon come—they accurately projected a one degree global rise in twenty years—but that normal temperature cycles were probably masking the trend, and “the lack of clear-cut evidence for a major warming effect may have terrible consequences, for it has already undermined efforts at getting governments of the world’s nationals to deal with the threat of such an effect.”
So what was our own Congress doing about it then? About as much as it is now. But there was sort of an excuse. Climate change, as noted, was still somewhat speculative. One top scientist told me, “To really know anything you'll have to wait another thirty years, so we won’t be able to convince Congress of anything until 2010.”
As it turned out, we came to know a lot long before thirty years passed. As Leonard Cohen once put it, “We asked for signs/and signs were sent.” But about that 2010 deadline…
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: ‘New York Times’ Admits It Agreed to ‘Gag Orders’ in Israel.
“They can incarcerate my body but never my mind” —Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
For a man who spent nearly four decades of his seventy-six years under the restrictive eye of the US correctional system, few have ever touched as many lives as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. The world-class boxer turned wrongfully accused prisoner, turned advocate for the rights of the unjustly incarcerated, has succumbed to cancer, but his memory and work will endure as long as there are people outside and inside the prisons of the world fighting for justice.
It is difficult to think of more than a handful of prisoners in history who have had their story memorialized in popular culture quite like Rubin Carter. After his own infamous homicide conviction, Carter’s case inspired an international human rights movement. There were rallies, marches and all-star musical concerts in his name. He was even the subject of a Bob Dylan Top 40 hit, the frenzied fiddle anthem Hurricane. Carter also wrote, while behind bars, the bestselling book The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472. Finally after his release, he was the subject of the Oscar-nominated Denzel Washington film The Hurricane.
Yet despite the overturning of his murder conviction as well as a Hollywood canonization, Rubin Carter never rested. After decades behind bars, no one would have blinked if he had coasted on his celebrity for the remainder of his days. Instead, Mr. Carter started a nonprofit organization in his adopted home of Toronto in 2004 called Innocence International, aimed at shedding light on the cases of the wrongly convicted. Rubin Carter believed that the only thing exceptional about his conviction was the fact that people were aware and outraged that it had happened. In a country with the highest prison rate on the planet, where quality legal representation is more privilege than right, Rubin Carter knew that he had left an untold number of sisters and brothers behind. He had lived the racism of the criminal justice system and he had lived among the poor and mentally ill behind bars. Following his release, he was determined to be their advocate. Carter wrote in February, as he lay dying, that he “lived in hell for the first forty-nine years, and have been in heaven for the past twenty-eight years.” For him, heaven was doing this kind of work and struggle was the secret of joy.
I had many an interaction with Rubin Carter, never revolving around boxing or his near-miss in 1964 to win the middleweight championship. Our shared work existed in the context of campaigns for prisoners' rights. Rubin Carter never refused any of my requests, no matter how obscure the case, to lend his name to a campaign. Like Denzel Washington said when he took Rubin Carter on stage with him when accepting the Golden Globe for best actor for The Hurricane, “He’s all love.”
Sure enough, during the last days of his life and in terrible pain, Rubin Carter was attempting to bring light to yet another prisoner he believed was being denied justice. On February 21, 2014, Carter published “Hurricane Carter’s Dying Wish,” in the New York Daily News. It detailed the case of David McCallum, who has been jailed for murder for almost thirty years, convicted at the age of 16. As Carter wrote, “McCallum was incarcerated two weeks after I was released, reborn into the miracle of this world. Now I’m looking death straight in the eye; he’s got me on the ropes, but I won’t back down…. My aim in helping this fine man is to pay it forward, to give the help that I received as a wrongly convicted man to another who needs such help now.”
The best possible tribute to Rubin Carter would not be to listen to some Bob Dylan or read a few obits. It would be to contact new Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson—his “action line” phone number is 718-250-2340—and ask him to fulfill Hurricane’s request to reopen the case of David McCallum. After all, this was the dying wish of the Hurricane.
Read Next: We built this country on inequality.
“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
So wrote Pope Francis in his first apostolic exhortation. Released last fall, the pope’s Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), is a nuanced yet urgent document. And it makes for good reading at a point when Americans are wrestling with the social, political and practical implications of income inequality, poverty and the failed austerity agenda of the trickle-down fabulists.
As Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby, explains it, the pope’s exhortation is rooted in an understanding “that reality—read, real people’s lives—is more important than any theoretical construct.”
To that end, Network, the group that sent Nuns on the Bus to congressional districts across the country in 2012, has launched a year-long project that used the pope’s message to encourage new thinking and new organizing to address inequality and injustice.
The key is the thinking. The United States is a secular nation, founded with respect for a diversity of religious belief and disbelief, and regard for Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church & State.”
Sister Simone and her allies understand that, just as Jefferson took counsel from the texts and teachings of the various religious traditions, contemporary Americans can be encouraged to consider the moral implications of poverty amid plenty. And to consider the reality of what inequality means for those who former Vice President Hubert Humphrey referred to as “those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
Sister Simone argues that this consideration can, in turn, “cause us to grow in a way that a federal budget battle or a Congressional Budget Office report never will.”
What Network is inviting is a rethink that could discomfort elected officials who have spent their careers neglecting a duty to the poor.
The exhortation from Pope Francis does not mince words in order to comfort those who are ill at ease with an economic-justice gospel. Nor does he dodge questions regarding the fundamental responsibility of those in power: from President Obama to Paul Ryan.
“It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society,” writes the pope. “Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all.”
The pope, as a spiritual leader, a Jesuit scholar and an increasingly influential voice in global economic debates, rejects the notion that government cannot, or should not, play a vital role in addressing the inequality that translates as poverty amid plenty.
“I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots—and not simply the appearances—of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.”
The pope is a good deal more specific with regard to the definition of “the common good” than most American politicians—be they Republicans or Democrats. “We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a ‘dignified sustenance’ for all people, but also their ‘general temporal welfare and prosperity,’” he writes. “This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”
The translation of a common-good agenda into reality—getting beyond dialogue to action, as the pope suggests—will not, for the most part, be done by the politicians. Americans, religious and secular, motivated by morality and practicality, will have to do most of the work.
That is why Network, in much the same way that it did with the Nuns on the Bus project, is focusing on popular education and organizing.
Against the pressures of a money-drenched politics and a money-driven governance, Network is asking people to think and to feel and to act on behalf of the common good. It is probably fair to call the project a leap of faith. But in an age on damaging inequality, surely, this is a necessary leap.
Read Next: We built this country on inequality.
The Onion News Network was always the best place to look for an honest review of George W. Bush’s post-presidential painting hobby, and here it is at last—including an analysis of the “ghost of an Iraqi child that follows him everywhere” that should be in every painting but, sadly, is usually replaced by a puppy dog or an impersonal caricature of some foreign leader’s Google photo.
It’s hard to tell which is funnier: the paintings themselves (the Onion artist who copied Bush’s primitive style captures his flat planes and between-the-lines coloring practice), or the upbeat chit-chat of the Onion News host and correspondent, who perfectly mimic the mainstream media’s happy-talk accounts of Bush’s surprising hobby.
Showing one morbid painting after another, the host says, “You can see that Bush’s art is improving over time. At first he could barely draw the Iraqi child’s transparent hands, but now they look much more realistic!” George and Laura are shown smiling in one work, and seem not to notice that W is holding the bleeding, dead Iraqi child in his arms.
This is, of course, the opposite of what Bush’s paintings really do, as they tend to hide things about the ex-POTUS rather than reveal them. Just as his self-portraits in the shower cover up his private parts, Bush would rather paint Putin or a Saudi noble than one of his own controversial lieutenants, like Cheney or Rumsfeld. That would be getting too close to home.
The Onion paintings get grislier and grislier. One depicts Bush’s bedroom at the Crawford ranch splattered in blood with Manson-like zeal. “Laura Bush says he’s more focused than ever, locks himself away for hours at a time and won’t talk to anyone while he’s painting,” the host says.
It’s more or less what many of us have imagined: that George Bush is going quietly bonkers after years of repressing the reality of what he’s done. In real life, however, Bush paints to forget, not to expose.
Watch the Onion video below (and a similarly themed video from cartoonist Mark Fiore here):
Read Next: Florida wants to drug-test all its government employees.
Forty years after breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing record of 714 career home runs, Hank Aaron is still receiving racist hate mail—and he keeps it all. After some of Aaron’s comments in an interview with USA Today, he received a whole new batch of derogatory mail. In the interview, Aaron defended President Obama, who he said “is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated.” “The bigger difference,” he went on to say, “is back then [racists] had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.” Appearing on Al Jazeera America’s Consider This with host Antonio Mora, Nation sports editor Dave Zirin came to Aaron’s defense, saying that, “For someone like Henry Aaron, who’s 80 years old and has already endured so much, I imagine he has far less patience” for the “tidal wave of vitriol” that was inevitably unleashed on the first president of color in the United States.