An anti-government protester raises her fist during a demonstration in central Ankara June 3, 2013. Reuters/Umit Bektas
There ought to be a word for the kind of irony that attends a culture convulsing over the massacre on the latest episode of Game of Thrones just as a blossom of real-life political dissent is appearing in Turkey, don’t you think? (Which isn’t even to mention that yesterday and today are the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.) One doesn’t want to scold people for paying attention to pop culture—as a person who writes about it, I would be a giant hypocrite if I did. But the way these two things have met in time at the very least raises the question: Why don’t we care, in quite the same way? I somehow doubt it’s because Americans haven’t the heart for real political conflict. Nor do I think the whole explanation is that Americans feel powerless. It’s not like any of us could have stepped in front of the sword that ran through Robb’s gullet on Sunday night.
Rather, I suspect it’s mostly the power of narrative that’s missing here. The truth is that most people have no idea what the story of Turkey is, and only the vaguest sense of Erdogan’s failings. This seems to go for the leftist friends we all have posting links to Occupy Gezi on Facebook; they see the word Occupy and know they support it, but called upon to articulate the precise problem, they refer to the link. By contrast, the ten or twelve episodes a year of Game of Thrones make Robb and Catelyn Stark practically our next-door neighbors. They get the advantage of names and faces and histories. It’s more affecting than the aerial shorts we get of crowds of protesters, who lack much impact other than their large, anonymous character.
Narrative reporting on foreign affairs—i.e., the kind of long-form piece that identifies characters and histories in the crowd—is awful slim in the US at the best of times. Instead we have the citizen journalism of Twitter and Facebook, which has its advantages in volume, and in the slightly more democratic makeup of the people who are bringing the news to us. But what it seems to lack is anyone drawing it together in a coherent whole, making it clear what all the human costs are.
Perhaps it’s never possible to do this at the same time that the “revolution” is ongoing. Elif Batuman, at The New Yorker, points out that even within Turkey itself, the television is ignoring the matter. And yet: In Tiananmen, we had that iconic photo of the man in front of the tank to do it. It said: watch and learn. At the moment, I’d be happy if I could better accomplish the “watch” part.
Fuck the high road, Jessica Valenti writes. Sometimes, you’ve got to feed the trolls.
It has been three years since US Private Bradley Manning was arrested—and today is the first day of his court-martial in which, in addition to the charges he has already plead guilty to which will result in as much as twenty years in prison, he will be faced with other charges that could result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
Chase Madar, a civil rights attorney and recent author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower , who will be blogging the trial for The Nation, joined Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman to discuss the significance of the case and seeking justice for Bradley Manning.
A woman fills in her ballot for the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. (REUTERS/Caren Firouz)
With ten days to go before Iran’s presidential election, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and US neoconservatives are on opposite sides of the regime-change question, as one might expect.
Here’s the reality of Iran’s presidential vote: there isn’t going to be any regime change, despite Khamenei’s fears and the hopes of right-wingers such as Robert Joseph, a former George W. Bush official. The next president of Iran, whoever he is, will settle into a working relationship with Khamenei, and President Obama will have to deal with the actual Iranian government, do business with it, and seek an accord over Iran’s nuclear program. And, because President Ahmadinejad of Iran has been so belligerent and thus so demonized in the United States, Obama will find it a lot easier to sell a deal to the American public that he makes with a president whose name isn’t Ahmadinejad.
Khamenei, widely vilified by outside critics for endorsing the Guardian Council’s decision to ban an Ahmadinejad aide and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from running for president, gave an important speech yesterday—with both Rafsanjani and the Ahmadinejad aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, sitting on the stage with him! Apparently, neither man was so miffed by Guardian Council’s decision that he’d refuse to sit with Khamenei, yet another signal that the Islamic Republic’s political system is staying intact.
In his speech, according to The Washington Post:
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused foreign and domestic critics Tuesday of attempting to undermine the country’s June 14 presidential election…. Khamenei dismissed these criticisms as misguided plots to undermine Iran’s political system.
And he added:
“A vote for any of these eight candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence in the system and our electoral process.”
So it is. That hasn’t stopped the neoconservatives from demanding that Obama abandon his policy of engagement with Iran and, instead, seek precisely the regime change policy that Khamenei is talking about. Writing for National Review, Joseph says:
Tinkering with current policies will not achieve a non-nuclear and democratic Iran. Instead, it is time to “reset” U.S. policy and recognize the need for regime change. This change must come from within Iran and be led by Iranians, but the United States and the international community can provide essential support to encourage and strengthen the opposition inside and outside of Iran.
Weirdly, Joseph goes on to endorse the activities of the cult-like People’s Mujaheddin (PMOI) and its front group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which is apparently holding a big rally of its cult member in Paris on June 22, the day after the possible run-off in the election, whose first round in June 14 and second round, if needed, will be June 21. Joseph says that the NCRI rally “is expected to be one of the largest gatherings of the Iranian opposition to date.”
In reality, the NCRI and the PMOI have zero influence and support inside Iran, little backing outside Iran, and rag-tag army of sorts—whose terrorist designation was recently lifted by the United States and which has lucrative ties to former top US officials—that is being shipped out of Iraq by Prime Minister Maliki’s security service.
Intelligently enough, Secretary of State John Kerry says that whoever wins Iran’s presidential election, it won’t affect the Obama administration’s policy of seeking a diplomatic solution. From the Los Angeles Times:
“I do not have high expectations that the election is going to change the fundamental calculus of Iran,” Kerry told reporters during a joint appearance at the State Department with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “The supreme leader will ultimately make that decision.”
He said the United States would “continue to pursue every effort to have a peaceful resolution” of the dispute.
To be successful, the United States will have to make concessions to Iran that it has been unwilling to make so far, including a decision to state forthrightly that, at the end of the talks, Iran will be able to enrich uranium, on its own soil, under tighter international supervision. But at least Kerry is committed to continuing the talks, despite the pressure from the hawks. Talking with Iran, of course, was a key plank in Obama’s 2008 election campaign.
Read more from Bob Dreyfuss on Iran’s critical elections.
New York City Council Member and Progressive Caucus Member Jumaane D. Williams, of Brooklyn, joins Occupy Wall Street protesters in marching to Zuccotti Park Monday, November 7, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Anthony Weiner is headline gold. Since the ex-congressman made his candidacy official, the New York City mayor’s race is drawing attention from national outlets and local tabloids alike (though unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be Weiner’s policy positions that they’re interested in). While the headline-writers have a field day, New York progressives are grappling with some serious questions (including): Could we finally elect a progressive mayor? Which, if any, of these candidates would qualify? But too few of us are considering an urgent companion question: What about the City Council?
Because of term limits, almost half of New York’s City Council will be replaced in November’s elections, making this a moment of great opportunity for progressives. While a mayor can single-handedly fuel or obstruct progress, the council could play a crucial role in muscling issues onto the agenda, forcing the hand of the mayor, and forging a more just and inclusive New York. The council has historically been a fairly timid body, but it doesn’t have to be. The public is ready for more progressive representation. In a 2012 poll for the Community Service Society, New Yorkers by a three-to-one margin chose “help working New Yorkers and their families get ahead” over “make New York City a good place to do business” as a policy priority for the next mayor. Strong majorities supported raising the state minimum wage, spending more on education, and mandating paid sick leave.
In the year since that poll, New York City has passed paid sick leave, despite Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s previous recalcitrance, and Mayor Bloomberg’s predictable veto. That victory is due in no small part to the efforts of the council’s Progressive Caucus, whose members provided most of the signatures for the “discharge petition” that helped dislodge the bill. The caucus, first formed in 2010 and currently co-chaired by Councilmembers Brad Lander and Melissa Mark-Viverito, right now includes a fifth of the council.But it’s been punching above its weight class, providing critical leadership in bringing participatory budgeting to New York, expanding our living wage law to cover economic development subsidies, and driving forward the effort to strengthen our ban on discriminatory profiling and create an inspector general for the NYPD.
New York City has a history of national progressive leadership, from our subway system, to our public university system, to our campaign finance system. The caucus is out to restore that legacy, at a moment when it’s desperately needed. With progress so often obstructed or diluted in Congress, cities have a particularly crucial role to play in pushing policies that are both achievable in the short-term and scale-able as national models.
“13 Bold Progressive Ideas for NYC 2013,” a document proposing dramatic reforms: enfranchising legal immigrants to vote in municipal elections; banning employment discrimination based on credit; significantly expanding our bus rapid transit network; revitalizing our Commission on Human Rights.
As Councilmember Lander wrote at The Nation, “Despite representing a huge Democratic majority of New Yorkers (47 of the 51 members are Democrats), the council has played second fiddle to powerful Republican mayors, and frequently yielded to real estate and big-business interests. The goal of the Progressive Caucus is to change that.”
That won’t happen through an “inside game” alone, and the Progressive Caucus’ effectiveness can be traced in part to its deft embrace of an “inside-outside” approach, working very closely with unions, community groups and the Working Families Party, and marching arm in arm with low-wage workers trying to organize, and occupiers facing down Wall Street.
But to bring about the kind of change we need, the Progressive Caucus needs to grow its ranks. That’s why it’s launched an aggressive new electoral effort, the Progressive Caucus Alliance, aimed at bringing a new wave of true progressives onto the council. It’s an unprecedented effort: a visionary, ideologically coherent group with a broad and popular agenda pushing hard to reboot the council’s political realities. In the past, much of the council’s priorities, policies, and possibilities have been dictated by deals cut among the Democratic Country chairs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, who hand-pick speakers in a conservative, spoils-driven process that keeps the council timid.
Working with grassroots allies, the Progressive Caucus Alliance is working to elect candidates who will put democratic rules reforms in reach, empower the body to be an independent, progressive check on the mayor, and enact those 13 Bold Progressive Ideas. That won’t be easy, and a report in Friday’s New York Times reveals an additional challenge: “A group of real estate executives and corporate leaders…plans to spend up to $10 million to make sure the City Council elected this fall is friendly to business.”
But the progressives passed their first test, electing Donovan Richards—a young leader drawn into politics after losing a childhood friend to gun violence—in a February special election. Now they’re going to bat on behalf of seven deserving candidates with grassroots credentials, with a few more endorsements likely to come.
They’ve set ambitious goals. Whether they can meet them depends in part on how many New York progressives sign up to knock on doors, make phone calls, do Get Out the Vote, and, yes, donate money (matched six to one for New York City residents). Hard work, but it’ll be more fun and rewarding than reading tabloid headlines about Anthony Weiner.
Detainees inside a holding cell at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The facility is operated by The GEO Group Inc. under contract from US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and houses people whose immigration status is in question or who are waiting for deportation or deportation hearings. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Earlier this year, one of the largest private prison corporations in the country sent out a statement to reporters claiming that it would not lobby in any way over the immigration reform debate. A new disclosure shows that the company, the Boca Raton–based Geo Group, has in fact paid an “elite team of federal lobbyists” to influence the comprehensive immigration reform legislation making its way through Congress.
The Geo Group currently manages several immigrant detention facilities for the federal government, and has faced questions about its role in shaping policies that may lead to more incarceration. In February and March, Pablo Paez, the Geo Group’s vice president of corporate relations, told media outlets, including the Financial Times and The Nation, that his firm would steer clear of immigration reform politics. See statement below (emphasis added):
“The GEO Group has never directly or indirectly lobbied to influence immigration policy. We have not discussed any immigration reform related matters with any members of Congress, and we will not participate in the current immigration reform debate.”
Geo Group’s quarterly lobbying disclosure tells a different story. A disclosure filed in April shows that the company turned to Navigators Global to lobby both houses of Congress on “issues related to comprehensive immigration reform.” Navigators Global, a corporate government affairs firm founded by several Republican aides, has been retained by the Geo Group since 2011, though previous lobbying disclosures show the firm primarily worked on federal appropriations. The latest disclosure, however, shows that their scope of work on Capitol Hill shifted in the first three months of this year to include the immigration bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. See screenshot of the disclosure below:
The private prison industry has developed close ties to leading members of Congress, including those in the so-called Gang of Eight leading the immigration reform discussions. Senator Marco Rubio, who is perhaps the most visible Republican on the issue, has received generous campaign donations from the industry, including from Geo Group.
The new disclosure suggests an even greater bind to the company because Cesar Conda, Rubio’s chief of staff, was the founding partner of Navigators Global. As we reported, he has continued to receive payments from the firm through a stock buy-out agreement reached after Conda entered work for Rubio.
Demands for an “enforcement-first” approach to immigration reform could dramatically benefit private prison operators. Conservative lawmakers have called for new criminal penalties for immigrants, mandates to local law enforcement to check the status of those suspected of being undocumented, and an expansion of current guidelines classifying undocumented immigrants as “criminal aliens”—all policies that could lead to more people being detained in private prisons, thus more profit for the industry. It’s no wonder Geo Group is now directly lobbying on the bill.
UPDATE: On June 6, a spokesman from Geo Group emailed me to say: "Contrary to the assertions made in your story, our statement as well as the disclosure itself stipulate that our company’s discussions with lawmakers have been related to the Federal Government’s existing Alternatives to Detention program." But as the lobbying report filed on April 18, 2013 clearly indicates, the Geo Group's lobbying firm told the federal government that they had lobbied for both "issues related to alternatives to detention within ICE" and "issues related to comprehensive immigration reform." So either the organization's disclosure to the federal government is inaccurate, or the spokesman's most recent claim is inaccurate. But they cannot both be true.
Supporters and fast participants rally against deportations in Freehold, NJ. (Casa Freehold)
Over the last several months, The Nation has launched numerous political campaigns in support of issues central to our reporting. Starting this week, to keep up the momentum and to give our readers more opportunities to make a difference, we’ll post weekly updates covering on-the-ground activism, important developments and meaningful victories.
Led by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), day laborers, members of the immigrant community and immigrants’ rights supporters are participating in a rolling fast to “bring a moral voice to shift the immigration debate” and to pressure President Obama to suspend current deportations of undocumented immigrants while immigration reform is being debated. The fast began on May Day in Mountain View, California, and has since spread to Homestead, Florida; Freehold, New Jersey; and Portland, Oregon. Make your voice heard!
On May 23, in a now famous act of civil disobedience, antiwar activist Medea Benjamin interrupted President Obama’s speech on national defense and took him to task on his policy on drones and the prison at Guantánamo Bay. While the President surprised the nation by actually engaging with Benjamin, activists stress that his words are not enough and that they need to see more concrete action from the White House. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been at the forefront of efforts to close the prison, welcomed the president’s re-engagement with the issue, but expressed reservations over his comment that cleared men will be released “to the greatest extent possible.” The civil rights organization has instead called for the president to act immediately and to release all of the men he does not intend on granting a fair trial, including the eighty-six who have already been cleared. Join the call!
Stand Up for Domestic Workers
California is now one step closer to becoming the third state to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which would grant nannies, caretakers, housecleaners and other domestic workers labor protections that many take for granted. The bill, which is similar to one vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown this past fall, was approved by the California State Assembly on May 29 and will now head to the State Senate before making it back to Governor Brown’s desk. Determined to win this time around, activists have intensified their efforts across the state, gathering support and launching creative protests. At one demonstration, domestic workers tore off marks to symbolize the invisible nature of much of their work and their intention to finally bring it out of the shadows. Add your voice to the cause!
London. (Flickr/CC, 2.0)
Alarmed about “the number of companies recruiting young people to work for nothing,” British tax officials are forcing nine companies to pay more than $300,000 in back wages to unpaid interns. The action by Her Majesty’s Revenue, reported on the front page of The Times of London on Monday, cited the firms for “breaching minimum wage legislation.” Under British law, a position that has “set hours and set duties” is a job subject to the laws establishing minimum wages.
“Unpaid internships can provide valuable opportunities” to young people seeking to get a foot on the career ladder, Michelle Wyer, assistant director of the government’s national minimum wage team, told The Times. “However, we are clear that employing unpaid interns instead of workers to avoid the national minimum wage is wrong.”
The government has established a “pay and work rights helpline” where interns can register complaints anonymously. Each of today’s actions resulted from a complaint filed by an intern.
The firms fined for minimum wage violations included Arcadia, Britain’s largest privately held retailer. Arcadia owns Topshop and other well-known British stores.
Ben Lyons, co-founder of the group Intern Aware, told The Times that British tax officials “have only scratched the surface of Britain’s unpaid intern problem.” The government, he said, “needs to name and shame companies that refuse to pay their interns and use its powers to prosecute the worst offenders.”
Several of Britain’s leading universities are now refusing to advertise unpaid internships because of what The Times called “growing concern over the exploitation of graduates.” Those joining the boycott include Oxford, York, Leeds, Liverpool, Essex, Sussex and Nottingham.
Sometimes, Jessica Valenti writes, you've got to feed the trolls.
Don’t feed the trolls: it’s probably the most common refrain in online discussions, especially when dealing with misogynists in feminists conversations. The idea is that the best way to deal with sexists is to starve of them of the attention they’re so clearly desperate for. Besides, we think, why sink to their level?
But the high road is overrated. It requires silence in the face of violent misogyny, and a turn-the-other cheek mentality that society has long demanded of women. A vibrant feminist movement has ensured women don’t take injustices laying down offline—so why would we acquiesce on the Internet?
When I started Feministing in 2004, the hate mail started to pour in right away. At first it felt easier to ignore the haters, but it was incredibly difficult to write about feminist issues every day without acknowledging the awful backlash we were experiencing behind-the-scenes. So we created a series of posts called “Anti-Feminist Mailbag”—we published our hate mail, mocking the often mystifyingly stupid prose. (“Why do you have to be for abortion to be for women’s rights? How can it be a part of your body if it is a male?”) It was a way to take back power through humor, while revealing just how much hate is still directed at women who speak their mind.
It was also a way to demand accountability in a space that’s often dominated by hate speech made anonymously. If someone was thoughtless enough to message us from a easily-tracked e-mail address, we outed them. One lucky young man who called me a “stupid cunt” turned out to be the public relations officer for his college republican group. Good times ensued.
For Lindy West, staff writer at Jezebel, engaging with hateful detractors is not just important as a way to bring attention to misogyny—“A lot of those attitudes are poisoning our culture, and it’s too easy to write them off as some fringe opinion,” she says—but also because it can be cathartic. Recently, West has been taking on sexists on Twitter over rape jokes and their cultural consequences. “If talking back to some random idiot makes me feel better—if it’s fortifying for my mental health—then I don’t care if I give some dumbass with thirteen followers the flash-in-the-pan attention he’s been craving.”
“I’m in this for the long haul. It’s not a game to me. I’ve been lucky enough in my career to get to the point where I can talk about things and people listen. And now that I’m here I have an obligation to keep going, and, by extension, to do whatever I need to do to keep my brain intact,” she says.
West also mentions that fighting back online often gives other young women the tools they need to respond to misogyny in their own lives: “I like to cherry-pick certain trolls to give other women (and men) templates for how to respond to the typical misogynist arguments.”
Indeed, one of the questions I’m asked most often by younger feminists is how to emotionally and mentally deal with the incredible amount of hate that gets thrown their way. My advice has usually been not to talk to brick walls—to think of their activist energy as a precious resource and save it. But I’ve never fully taken that advice. Responding to—and making fun of—sexists has always been a part of my feminist work. Not just because it shines a light on misogyny or holds people accountable to their words—but because it’s fun.
The truth is—despite stereotypes that paint feminists as forever negative—doing feminist work requires boundless optimism. It means believing that people have the ability to be better, that culture can change, and maybe even that people who hate can learn to love. It’s exhausting. Sometimes reminding ourselves how hilariously stupid the opposition can be is a necessary break from the burden of idealism.
The downside of engaging with sexists is that in an online culture where common knowledge says ignore trolls, speaking out becomes “asking for it.” You don’t get a ton of sympathy for egging on assholes. While ignoring haters can sometimes be the best move, putting the onus on women to stay silent is not. So though I still believe in picking your battles, I’ll continue to get down in the muck with misogynists from time to time—because the low road needs feminism too.
Why is Dartmouth disciplining students protesting rape? Read Jon Wiener’s take.
Frank Lautenberg speaks on Hurricane Sandy, December 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Frank Lautenberg, the son of a Paterson, New Jersey, silk mill worker and the last World War II veteran serving in the US Senate, took his cues from another political time: a time when liberals were bold and unapologetic, a time when it was understood that government could and should do great things.
One of the few members of Congress who could remember listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio and going to college on the initial GI Bill, Lautenberg served five terms in the US Senate as a champion of great big infrastructure investments—especially for Amtrak and urban public transportation—great big environmental regulations, great big consumer protections and great big investigations of wrongdoing by Wall Street.
It can fairly be said that the New Jersey senator, who died Monday at age 89, kept the New Deal flame lit. Indeed, one of his last major pieces of legislation proposed to renew one of FDR’s greatest legacies: the Works Progress Administration, which provided public-works employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression that defined Lautenberg’s youth.
When he introduced his “21st Century WPA Act” two years ago, Lautenberg declared, “Our economy will not recover and our nation will not move forward until we put jobs first. Establishing a 21st Century Works Progress Administration would immediately put Americans to work rebuilding our nation and strengthening our communities. Across the country, we continue to benefit from projects completed under President Roosevelt’s WPA, which employed more than three million Americans during a time of great need. A 21st Century WPA would tackle our nation’s job crisis head-on and accelerate our economic recovery.”
A self-made millionaire who paid his own way into politics at age 58, Lautenberg never forgot that government programs lifted him out of poverty. And he refused to bend to the austerity fantasies of official Washington. Indeed, he attacked them with gusto, especially after returning to the Senate in 2003 following a bizarre turn of political events in the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency.
First elected to the Senate in 1982, Lautenberg retired in 2000, saying he was sick of the money chase required to fund big-budget campaigns. Two years later, New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli, a more centrist Democrat with whom Lautenberg had frequently sparred, was hit with a corruption scandal in the midst of the 2002 campaign. Torricelli had to quit, creating a circumstance where it looked as if the Republicans would take the seat virtually by default. But Lautenberg elbowed his way into the race, fought in the courts for a place on the ballot and was easily reelected to the Senate at age 78.
While other Democrats were still trying to figure out how to take on the Bush administration, Lautenberg arrived ready for a fight—calling for investigations into the Bush-Cheney White House and launching blistering attacks on political cronyism. Democracy for America's Jim Dean recalls that the new senator was "vigorously opposing the war in Iraq when far too many Democrats in Washington stood silent."
Lautrenberg was, as well, an ardent foe of the social-conservative policies of the administration—and of Democrats who were willing to compromise with the White House. Unabashedly pro-choice and pro–LGBT rights, Lautenberg was a leading champion of gun control who, when his long battle with cancer and related ailments took a turn for the worse this spring, said that one of his biggest regrets was missing the debates over new gun-control legislation because “my victories over the gun lobby are among my proudest accomplishments.” The senator was, as well, a fierce defender of affirmative action—earning the admiration of the NAACP, along with a 100 percent rating for his votes. And, as Senator Bernie Sanders noted, "He was also one of the great environmental champions in Congress."
Lautenberg’s liberalism was robust. Unlike many members of the Democratic Caucus, his commitment to the ideology was of the broad-spectrum variety. Yes, Lautenberg was one of the most committed social liberals in the Senate. But like his old friend Paul Wellstone, Lautenberg was equally committed to economic liberalism.
The New Jersey senator sided with organized labor and earned top ratings from the Drum Major Institute for his battles on behalf of working families. A businessman who never forgot that his dad sweated in the silk mills and died young, Lautenberg fought for minimum-wage hikes, factory safety and fair trade—a commitment that led him to break with the Clinton administration to oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement. But his biggest fight was for a renewal of the New Deal commitment of government to invest in job creation.
Lautenberg really did believe in putting the government to work on the task of putting people to work. His legislative record was packed with proposals for infrastructure investment and jobs programs—including the recent American Infrastructure Investment Fund Act of 2013, with its plan for a $5 billion fund to incentivize private, state and regional investments in transportation projects around the country by providing eligible products with financial assistance.
Even after he announced that he would retire in 2015, at the end of his current term (which will now be filled by an interim senator appointed by Republican Governor Chris Christie), Lautenberg kept that New Deal flame lit. Barely a week before his death, the senator was one of the first members of Congress to respond to the bridge collapse of the Interstate 5 in Washington State.
“The bridge collapse in Washington State is simply unacceptable. Families in America should not have to worry that the bridges they cross are unstable,” he said. “Far too many bridges across the country and in my home state of New Jersey are aging and in urgent need of repair. This scary bridge collapse shows why the Senate should act quickly to pass my bill to strengthen America’s crumbling infrastructure, create jobs and boost our economy.”
Frank Lautenberg, who made his fortune in the private sector before ever considering a political career, had no patience with those who would limit the ability of government to respond to the physical crisis of a bridge collapsing or the human crisis of widespread unemployment. Like FDR, he understood the power of government to renew the economy.
To a greater extent than all but a few in Congress, he kept alive the New Deal faith that Roosevelt articulated in one of those “fireside chats” Lautenberg listened to as child growing up poor in mill towns of north Jersey: “To those who say that our expenditures for Public Works and other means for recovery are a waste that we cannot afford, I answer that no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources,” FDR said. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. Some people try to tell me that we must make up our minds that for the future we shall permanently have millions of unemployed just as other countries have had them for over a decade. What may be necessary for those countries is not my responsibility to determine. But as for this country, I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed.”
John Nichols is the author (with Robert W. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America. Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves says: "The billionaires are buying our media and our elections. They're spinning our democracy into a dollarocracy. John Nichols and Bob McChesney expose the culprits who steered America into the quagmire of big money and provide us with the tools to free ourselves and our republic from the corporate kleptocrats."
Where have the seven seas gone? Read Lewis Lapham’s essay.