The role of the referee in professional sports is not just making sure play is monitored, penalties get called and the game has a sense of flow. It is to protect the integrity of the product and the safety of the participants. The NFL demonstrated starkly when it started the first four games of the 2012 season with scab—or in the parlance of our neoliberal times “replacement”—referees, that the game was simply not the game when you had untrained eyes in charge of the action. For reasons that beggar belief, Major League Soccer has decided to follow in the tragic trajectory of the NFL and start the season with scabs on the pitch.
The Professional Soccer Referees Association, otherwise known as the refs union, has been attempting to negotiate their first collective bargaining agreement in league history. The amount of money that separated the two parties is not vast, estimated between $440,000 and $1 million for the lifetime of the deal. The main financial issue was that in recent years, MLS mandated far more trainings for referees to improve the quality of officiating. The refs, however, were not compensated for the extra hours.
The greater issue, however, was political. It was the fact that the refs union refused to sign a no-strike pledge. As the MLS league negotiator Peter Walton said, “Since they will not give us a guarantee they will not go on strike immediately prior to our match we are left in a position where we must use replacement officials.”
Yes, you read that correctly. The response to the refs shockingly ungentlemanly refusal to sign a no-strike pledge, has been to lock them out. This contemptible, hypocritical move forced me to ask the question, what the hell is it about labor rights that so repulse people named Walton? No, Peter Walton, a former British referee, is not related to those Waltons but I did truly wonder if some ne’er-do-well billionaire Walmart nephew had taken to breaking unions as a sideline hobby.
As for the refs, they have decried the lockout as a “scorched-earth” tactic and vowed to press on. They point out that the lockout comes after the union had already filed unfair labor practice and labor intimidation complains with the National Labor Relations Board.
Meanwhile, however, we have the specter this weekend of games that could be a train-wreck waiting to happen.
I spoke with Kevin McNutt, the cohost on my radio show Edge of Sports and a basketball referee for over thirty years. He said to me, “Scab referees are not adequately trained or qualified to service the product at the professional level. Expect referee calls and interpretations to be inconsistent not only from game to game but half to half. Through this, a state of anarchy may ensue from players and coaches that could lead to the challenging of referee’s authority, increased injury to players and sloppy overall quality of play that will make fans and followers of the sport question the integrity of the games.”
Those two words, integrity and injury, cannot be mentioned enough.
On the question of “integrity,” it must be noted that professional soccer has been engulfed in match fixing scandals at the highest levels of the sport, in the English Premier League, as well as, in recent years, fifteen other nations. So far we have not seen these scandals hit MLS, but for a league with far less of a foothold than its English brethren, integrity is everything. Scab referees, with little invested long term in MLS, will make people roll their eyes with every blown call as people wonder in the stands and on message boards whether it was incompetence or fraud.
Then there is injury. The players union has certainly taken note of the lockout, with their focus firmly on the wellness of the people that fans pay to see. MLS players’ union executive director Bob Foose said that the “decision to lock out the referees and use scab replacements presents a serious health and safety issue for our members. We will continue to monitor this situation closely, as it is our sincere hope that cooler heads will prevail, the parties will reach an agreement and PSRA [union] officials will be back on the field as soon as possible.”
A parallel outrage, however, is that the MLS will become yet another pro sports league that utilizes the lockout in negotiations with refs or players, joining the NFL (twice), the NBA and NHL since 2011. The utilization of this tactic on such a high cultural platform only adds to the societal acceptance of something that was once the third rail of labor-management relations. Lockouts should never be a part of union negotiations, but in sports and beyond, they have become just a part of the process. This has to be stood up to, no matter the industry. The MLS refs lockout is awful for the unionized refs, dangerous for the players, devastating for MLS and terrible for all working people, whether you consider yourself a soccer fan or not.
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Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10 and February 26. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.
1. As Napolitano Sits, Campus Occupations Spread
On March 5, as UCLA students died-in against deportations, #not1more continued to grow and students at the largely working class Community College of San Francisco prepared further action against a potential shutdown, students at the University of California–Santa Cruz took up Berkeley’s call for escalating action against UC President and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Fresh off major wins for strike-ready UC service workers and Santa Cruz teaching assistants, students and workers rallied to make clear that these developments are part of a larger struggle to reclaim the university. After marching to McHenry Library, students entered the Hahn Student Services building and subsequently occupied it for eighteen hours. There, we called for Napolitano’s resignation and for workers’ ongoing demands—safer staffing, smaller classes and work for undocumented graduate students—to be met. Through daybreak on March 6, Hahn, normally a space of loans, fees and student-judicial affairs, became a site for students to strategize resistance to the dual challenges of racism and privatization.
2. As Cal State Tuition Skyrockets, Students Mass Across the State
California State University’s new tactic of adding “student success” fees on a campus-by-campus basis, a fee hike by any other name, is drawing criticism from students, faculty and editorial boards on campus and off. For a week, students at San Diego State University have been trying to meet with their president—who gained statewide notoriety in 2011 when he was awarded a 30 percent raise at the same time that a fee hike was implemented—after a rubber-stamp committee recommended fees be raised in fall 2014. Students have staged multiple sit-ins, marches and rallies on campus against the hike, decrying undemocratic decision-making and demanding a meeting with the president, who has yet to even respond to letters or e-mail via intermediaries. Leading up to the CSU Board of Trustees meeting on March 26, students at SDSU, Fullerton and Dominguez Hills, all affected by the fees, will continue building pressure.
3. High Schoolers Rally Over Shutdown
In February, LA’s Roosevelt High School Academy of Environmental & Social Policy received a letter from Superintendent John Deasy directing this small and notably successful school to join a larger campus in a new neighborhood or close down. Despite four hours of protest by parents and students outside LAUSD headquarters on February 25, nine speakers who addressed the school board this week and questionable claims of fiscal unsustainability, the community has not been able to convince the district to reconsider this decision—made without any input from students, parents or staff. We are fighting for our school because it is safe, a place where we are involved and, most importantly, to assert the importance of student voice—which the district is quick to ignore.
4. Trans* Students Win—Again
On February 24, the California Secretary of State confirmed that right-wing efforts to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act, AB 1266, failed to qualify for the ballot. The law provides important guidance for schools to ensure that all students, including transgender students, have equal access to facilities and services. Youth, LGBT, racial justice and statewide teacher and parent organizations formed the Support All Students coalition after the law’s passage last summer, working together to educate Californians on the experiences transgender youth face in schools and how districts can support all students. The law went into effect January 1; now, youth activists are focused on local implementation. Students can start an implementation campaign in their district or support other Gay-Straight Alliance activists’ campaigns through the GSA Network Unite! campaign platform, which is also available to youth outside California.
—GSA Network of California
5. Title IX Deck Gets Stacked
On February 19, thirty-one current and former UC-Berkeley students filed two federal complaints, under Title IX and the Clery Act, citing gross administrative inaction and conduct in preventing rape, supporting survivors and punishing those who commit such acts. This follows nine months after an initial federal complaint, representing nine students, was filed. The public survivors are committed to holding the administration responsible for allowing an environment that is unsafe for survivors and fails to sanction appropriately those who commit acts of sexual violence. The movement to end sexual violence on college campuses is a nationwide issue, with several other universities, including the University of North Carolina, USC and Swarthmore, also facing potential investigations, and Northwestern students sitting-in this week.
—Aryle Butler, Iman Stenson, Sofie Karasek, Meghan Warner, Shannon Thomas and Nicoletta Commins
6. NAFTA Returns—to Silence
On March 6, the International Relations and Pacific Studies department at the University of California–San Diego held a conference titled “Mexico Moving Forward”—a convening of economists, industrial capitalists and artists, opening with a speech by Janet Napolitano, celebrating the “benefits” of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, NAFTA has decimated the lives of millions in Mexico—while also sparking the rise of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional. In protest of the UC system for perpetuating neoliberal policies, and in solidarity with those who have resisted or lost their lives under NAFTA, students and community groups staged a silent march with ski masks and red and black bandanas to the building where the conference was held. The march was modeled after an action in December 2012, where Zapatistas marched in perfect silence to the center of San Cristóbal de las Casas to show that they are still present and resisting.
—San Diego Student and Community Groups Against NAFTA
On March 4, the first day of Florida’s 2014 legislative session, the Dream Defenders, alongside community allies, hosted our own State of the State address, #VisitFL, to discuss the disproportionate incarceration of youth of color; privatization of the state’s juvenile prison system; and the impact of laws that encourage violence against black and brown youth like Stand Your Ground. After the address, we marched to the fourth floor of the Florida capitol outside the doors where Governor Rick Scott was supposed to deliver his own annual address. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement demanded that we leave, but we refused. As our chants were heard in both the House and Senate chambers, a recess was called, and, for the first time in history, the governor took a secret entrance into the room. Meanwhile, some legislators offered their support. On that same morning, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee quietly and swiftly passed CS/HB89, a so-called “warning shot” bill that would expand the Stand Your Ground defense by allowing individuals to fire warning shots when they perceive a threat, without the obligation to retreat. HB89 passed overwhelmingly less than one week after a jury in Jacksonville chose not to convict Michael Dunn for the murder of unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Over the weekend of February 21 to 23, Generation Progress brought together young people from across the country for a first-of-its-kind #Fight4AFuture National Gun Violence Prevention Summit. Summit attendees had a range of backgrounds, from a former gang member, to a 16-year-old man who has had twenty-eight friends and family die as a result of gun violence, to the brother of a victim from Sandy Hook Elementary, to the editor-in-chief of Global Grind and representatives from the White House. Participants included Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Jr. Newtown Action Alliance and the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition. Attendees engaged in small group discussions to develop local plans of action—and hatched plans as well for a national activist network to be announced soon.
9. When Will Obama Get It?
On March 2, 398 students, among a group of more than 1,000 protesters, were arrested in front of the White House following a two-mile march from Georgetown University. Amid chants of “We love you” and “Arrest my friends,” the students, 250 of whom were zip-tied to the White House fence, awaited arrest under freezing rain and wind—a process that lasted more than six hours. Our reason for this act of civil disobedience was simple: to make it clear to President Obama that we did not vote him into office to have environmental disaster exacerbated by the Keystone XL Pipeline, and to stress the environmental, climatic, economic, political and social consequences that would arise if the pipeline were to be approved. As we await President Obama’s decision over the coming months, activists across the country will be delivering comment cards and petitions to Washington, pressuring elected officials and ramping up direct action.
10. Who Speaks for Mass Incarceration?
This winter in West Philadelphia, FAAN Mail, a collective of young women of color, organized a screening and discussion of Orange Is the New Black, the Netflix series set in a women’s prison. Community members concerned about—and personally affected by—mass incarceration shared dialogue about the portrayal and realities of prison. Activists talked about local organizing efforts after exploring the following questions: What value, if any, does OITNB offer in the movement to end mass incarceration? What aspects of the show are realistic or fantasy? What do OITNB audiences need to know about mass incarceration?
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In October, the Obama administration nominated Ted Mitchell, the chief executive of the NewSchools Venture Fund, to become under secretary of the Department of Education. While the nomination has flown largely under the radar, the choice represents a sign that the administration is favoring greater privatization of public education.
As Lee Fang pointed out last December, Mitchell’s connections to for-profit colleges and the movement toward privatization raise real questions about his commitment to public education. On top of his work with the NewSchools Venture Fund, Mitchell has connections to powerful education corporation Pearson and to Salmon River Capital, a venture capital firm that helped found the for-profit college Capella University. Furthermore, until he stepped down to prepare for his confirmation process, he was on the advisory board of Students Matter, the organization funding a legal challenge to teacher tenure in California.
Over at City Watch LA, Gary Cohn detailed the concerns advocates for public education have over Mitchell’s nomination.
Last spring, Education historian Diane Ravitch spoke at Occupy the Department of Education about the dangers of privatization and the Department of Education’s failure to stand up to corporations profiting off our education system.
This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
On February 22, the US and Mexican governments caught the Big Fish. Mexican Navy forces and police walked into a beachside condominium and arrested Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the immensely powerful Sinaloa cartel, without firing a shot.
The weeks since have been packed with details of the capture, which was surprisingly undramatic. Self-congratulatory remarks and speculation about what happens next are the order of the day here. While many Mexicans are skeptical about any real change resulting from the capture, US government officials have heralded the beginning of the end for the Sinaloa cartel.
There isn’t enough public information yet to measure whether drug flows to the US market have been interrupted or how the cartel is responding. If experience is any indication—and it usually is—the loss of El Chapo will neither disrupt cartel operations nor end the violence.
As the undisputed head of a global criminal enterprise, El Chapo Guzmán was one of the few people in the world on both the most-wealthy list (Forbes listed him at No. 67, with an estimated yearly income of $3 billion) and the most-wanted list (the US government had a $5 million reward out for him).
Yet for thirteen years, Guzmán dodged law enforcement after escaping from a Mexican high-security prison in 2001. His uncanny ability to slip out of the noose, along with other indications, led to a commonly held belief in Mexico that the US and Mexican governments were favoring the giant Sinaloa cartel as they killed and arrested high-level members of rival cartels. El Chapo’s arrest knocks a hole in the theory, although it remains to be seen how the cartel will reorganize relations internally and with government officials.
For now, all viable scenarios add up to more, rather than less, drug-war violence in Mexico. The kingpin strategy of taking out capos has been found to provoke battles for succession and turf wars, so the nation is braced for a wave of violence.
Relations between the drug lord, the government and Mexican society are anything but a typical cops-and-robbers story. El Chapo had, and still has, politicians and security forces on his payroll throughout the country. His organization provides employment and social services to communities, as well as sowing fear and bloodshed.
In Guzmán’s home state of Sinaloa and the neighboring state of Durango, residents have protested his capture. Melissa Montenegro, who organized one of the marches, told the Mexican news site Sin Embargo that El Chapo “has done more for us than any government” in fighting hunger and poverty in the region. The Mexican government dismissed the marchers, claiming that most are relatives of the criminal.
What’s undeniable is that the perception of a negligent and corrupt government went a long way to building the Sinaloa cartel’s reach and empire. When the government withdrew support for small farmers, the drug lords moved in to provide credit and marketing—not only for those willing to switch to opium or marijuana production but also to those growing legal crops.
El Chapo’s outlaw cult built on his Horatio Alger story of the poor kid made good. Peasants sang popular ballads of how he outwitted the government time after time and lauded his community projects.
And, of course, he also spread around a lot of money.
What Happens Next?
It’s possible that this was a strategic surrender. Guzmán gave up without a fight, unlike the showdowns with other cartel leaders. As he felt the circle close around him, he left his stronghold in the mountains and went to an exposed location at the beach—apparently without even a fraction of his 300-man guard service.
Common sense indicates that if he did agree to surrender, he would have two non-negotiable demands: not to extradite him to the United States and not to touch his wife and kids. Surprisingly, the US and Mexican governments seem to have granted these without question. The United States has not requested extradition, although it still could, and the Mexican attorney general let El Chapo’s young wife, Emma Coronel, go without even questioning her, although her father and El Chapo’s two ex-wives are both designated by the US Treasury Department as having drug ties.
So what happens next? None of the current scenarios bode well for Mexico’s ill-conceived war on drugs. One possibility is that someone will rise up to fill El Chapo’s shoes in the Sinaloa cartel leadership. His sons and closest collaborators are undoubtedly well trained to do that.
Another possibility is that El Chapo will continue to call the shots from inside prison. This happened before, when he was imprisoned from 1993 to 2001, and given the corruption in Mexican prisons, it could happen again. This scenario would indicate a high degree of collusion between the government—not just prison officials—and the cartel.
The most dangerous scenario would probably be the breakup of the Sinaloa cartel. The Mexican experience with cartel dissolution has been violent and tragic. The Zetas split off from the Gulf cartel when its leader was extradited to the United States, and it soon gained a name for itself as the most ruthless in a tight field. The Knights Templar formed after its parent cartel, La Familia, was decimated by government attacks. The Knights soon strangled Michoacán communities with violence and extortion.
Shoring Up the Drug War
The Mexican government was relatively cautious about crying victory over El Chapo’s capture. But US officials grabbed the occasion to shore up the leaking credibility of their drug war in Mexico.
Indeed, they’re the only ones predicting that this capture will destroy the power of the Sinaloa cartel, reduce violence and restore law and order in Mexico. “It’s not just the most significant capture and the arrest of one man,” the AP quoted US Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, “but it bodes well for our efforts to dismantle and unravel the Sinaloa cartel.”
In his statement US Attorney General Eric Holder called the arrest a “landmark achievement” and praised “the cooperative relationship that US law enforcement agencies have with their Mexican counterparts.” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson similarly congratulated the Mexican government and implied that the bust would increase security on the US-Mexico border, calling Guzmán’s arrest “a significant victory and milestone in our common interest of combating drug trafficking, violence, and illicit activity along our shared border.”
Ironically, Sinaloa cartel control is often credited with pacifying formerly volatile border cities.
This is not to justify the cartel’s crimes or argue for a hands-off approach to organized crime. But as more is understood about different approaches to law enforcement and how the cartels themselves construct their influence, it is clear that blunt force backfires. Community-building, prosecution of financial crimes and regulation rather than prohibition of controlled substances have far greater potential to succeed.
Yet with millions of dollars in security contracts at stake and a Pentagon plan to extend its influence in Mexico, the US government continues to focus on what it calls “hard security” training and equipment. Poverty, clearly the most potent recruiting tool for the cartels, receives barely a nod in the 2015 Obama budget.
These are tense times for Mexico. The UN drug representative has warned that the capture will “destabilize” cartel activity. That usually means more bloodshed.
As government officials pat themselves on the back, no one seems to be concerned about the effect this will have on real security—the kind that determines whether children can safely play outside, not the kind that feeds the military-industrial complex and offers politicians a soapbox to stand on.
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Paul Ryan’s CPAC speech yesterday was almost comically offensive even before it became clear that it was based on a lie.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the speech itself, in which Ryan denounced the left for offering people “a full stomach—and an empty soul.” Discussing the moral squalor of free school lunch programs, Ryan retold a story he heard from Eloise Anderson, a former single mother on assistance who became a hero to the right by calling for the abolishment of welfare (she’s now a member of Scott Walker’s cabinet). It was about a boy Anderson had ostensibly met who didn’t want a free government lunch. “He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’,” said Ryan. “He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”
Ryan’s words would have been nasty even if the underlying story were true. Do parents whose kids get subsidized school lunches not care for them? Does Ryan really think their souls are empty? Last night, however, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported that the anecdote Ryan used was actually ripped out of context from the bestselling book An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny. The book is about the friendship between author Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck, whom Schroff met when he was begging on the street. At one point, she made him school lunches every day and left them with her doorman to pick up on the way to school. In a heartbreaking passage, Mazyck asked her to put them in a brown paper bag like the ones all the other kids had.
Anderson’s communication’s director now admits that she never actually spoke to Mazyck, though she appropriated his story when she testified last year at a congressional hearing chaired by Ryan. As it happens, Schroff and Mazyck have partnered with an organization called No Kid Hungry that, among other things, works to connect poor children to free school meals. “[A] simple inquiry would have determined that the person telling the story actually is an advocate for the federal programs that Ryan now claims leaves people with ‘a full stomach and an empty soul,’” writes Kessler, describing it as a story “too good to check.”
That in itself is telling, since even in it’s apocryphal version, it’s not that good of a story. After all, it’s not as if liberals think that free school lunches are better than homemade ones. The argument for free school lunches are that they are better than no lunch at all. The implication of Ryan’s “full stomach…empty soul” line is that he disagrees. He just knows better than to say so outright, and so he needs to hide behind an imaginary poor child.
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The hard-right audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was expected to give Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and not exactly the Tea Party’s friend, a cool reception on Thursday. After all, in 2013 Christie wasn’t even invited to CPAC, and he’s earned a reputation as the establishment’s candidate, not the ally of the insurgent conservatives who fill CPAC’s ranks. Besides, outside in the hall his critics were evident, including John Bloom, a right-wing activist from Newport News, Virginia, holding a sign that read: “Walkout protest of Gov. Traffic Jam,” and who called Christie a “big-government Republican.” And, only that morning, The Washington Post ran a poll saying that 30 percent of Republican voters and 35 percent of conservatives wouldn’t consider voting for him.
But, confounding expectations, Christie entered the hall—to address a gathering of perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 people, by Christie Watch’s rough count—to rousing applause, whoops and hollers and a lengthy standing ovation.
Other presidential contenders who spoke today, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, were welcomed warmly, but it did appear that the beleaguered New Jersey governor was the star of the show. Perhaps it was because, as some attendees explained to Christie Watch, they thought Christie is being treated unfairly by Democrats and by the media. Or perhaps they identified with Christie’s bullying, tough-guy image, as others said. But whatever it was, Christie bathed in the applause, and he launched into a spirited account of his past efforts in New Jersey to confront unions, slash public pensions and take on teachers and other public employees.
But his core message, clearly aimed at skeptical conservatives who’d rather go with their hearts and back Cruz or Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who speaks on Friday, is that he can win a general election—and, by implication, they can’t:
We don’t get to govern if we don’t win. And they [the Democrats] do. Let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.
By contrast, Senator Cruz, speaking earlier, urged CPAC attendees to support people who, like him, are fiercely loyal to hard-right policies and politics. In 1996, 2008 and 2012, said Cruz, the Republican party ran people who “don’t stand for anything,” and he joked: “All of us remember President Dole, President McCain and President Romney.”
In the hallways and in the exhibition hall, a Christie Watch reporter spoke to dozens of conference participants and, to the reporter’s surprise, quite a few were either enthusiastic or supportive of Christie. “We need a strong candidate who can go up against Hillary,” said Mary Reilly, a speech therapist from Virginia. “Christie might not be everything on every issue, but we need someone who can win. If he makes it through this current trouble, I think he’ll be the candidate.” Similarly, Dick Stabile, 73, a retired pharmacist from Pennsylvania who called himself “a Tea Party guy,” said:
I like Christie because he fights back. Romney was called a lot of names, and he never said squat. Christie would punch back. He’s a guy who doesn’t put up with stuff. He understands that the way the left goes after you is to destroy you personally, that he closed bridges. But he is one of the few who will counterattack. Romney had rich-man’s disease. His mother told him all the time, if someone hit him, “Let it go. We’re better than them.” Christie’s mother was a New Jersey Italian, and if Christie came back bloody from school, she’d say, “Good.”
Helen Davis, a retired air force officer from Virginia who’s planning to join a Tea Party group, said she likes what the country’s Republican governors are doing, especially Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who’s eviscerated the public-employee unions. (Walker, involved in a bitter re-election fight, isn’t appearing at CPAC.) On Christie, she said: “For me, what I heard is he made tough decisions in New Jersey, decisions that weren’t popular.” Asked why Christie got the reception that he did, she added: “They appreciate that he says what he thinks.”
To be sure—besides the activist who tried to organize a walkout against Christie, to little effect—the New Jersey governor had his strong critics and outright opponents in the crowd. Sylvia Strauss, from Bergen County, New Jersey, who said she’s with the Tea Party, said: “I despise Christie. He’s a phony. He’s part of the establishment. I don’t like the way he hangs around with Democrats, trying to show he’s with all the people.” Kristian Kramford, from Kernersville, North Carolina, said: “I’m not a Chris Christie fan. He’s not conservative enough for me.” And Carmen Villani, from Chantilly, Virginia, said, “I’m not sure he’s embracing conservative principles.” Villani is backing Cruz, at least for now. But he added: “Christie was obviously a popular speaker today, judging by the fact that the hall was full and by the applause he got.”
In any case, Christie did indeed get a stirring reception, and if a couple of dozen interviews means anything, there’s a reservoir of support for him among at least half or more of the attendees at a hard-core conservative conference.
However, with strong Wall Street support, the backing of the Republican party’s deep-pocketed contributors, and a national base as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie is certainly one of the party’s establishment representatives. Cruz, on the other hand, appeals strongly to the party’s insurgent wing, and in his speech at CPAC Cruz struck a remarkably populist tone, with lines that wouldn’t be out of place at a Bill de Blasio rally. In between his rants about Obamacare, calls to repeal Dodd-Frank, and balance the federal budget, Cruz said that under Obama, “Wall Street prospers, and Main Street suffers.” And, he said, “We need to eliminate corporate welfare and crony capitalism.” For good measure, he added that members of Congress who leave office should be slapped with a “lifetime ban on lobbying.”
Not something Republicans are likely to hear from Chris Christie anytime soon.
Meanwhile, John Rhodes, 52, a financial consultant from Germantown, North Carolina, and a fan of Ted Cruz, complained to Christie Watch that Cruz would have a hard time winning because the left-leaning, mainstream media would bring him down. Paradoxically, though, he believes that the media is going after Christie because they perceive him as the most credible opponent of the Democratic candidate in 2016. “The media thinks he’s a threat, and they want to knock him out. They perceive him as the threat to Clinton.”
The most important inequality-related news of the week was the release of a new IMF report that found that lower inequality is correlated with faster growth. This marked an amazing reversal. The IMF made itself notorious over the years through its strong support of anti-equality economic policies such as austerity budgets and radically weakened labor laws—all in the name of economic growth and development.
But this week, the organization finally admitted that such policies aren’t associated with growth, after all. Indeed, according to their study, “redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth” (emphasis theirs). Oops!
The IMF is hardly alone in taking this position. Unsurprisingly, conservative economists and pundits continue to insist that high levels of inequality are necessary for economic growth—you don’t want things so equal that those sainted “job creators” go Galt on you, do you? But a growing number of economists are coming to believe the opposite.
Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, for example, argue that inequality has slowed growth. Late last year, Jared Bernstein wrote this excellent report about the impact of inequality on growth. The report zeroes in on three theories about the relationship between growth and inequality that are particularly promising.
First, there are the demand-side theories. These theories are based on differences in marginal propensity to consume among different income groups. We know that low-income consumers are more likely to spend every last dollar, while high-income consumers tend to save. The idea is that, in a high-inequality economy, there’s less spending, and hence less growth, because the non-rich have lower incomes and thus less money to spend. In this paper, economists Heather Boushey and Adam Hersh cite research supporting this theory.
Second, there are political economy theories. According to this model, high levels of inequality cause the political process to “become increasingly solicitous of the preferences of the wealthy.” These preferences include what Bernstein refers to as “anti-Keynesianism and pro-austerity fiscal policies resulting in slack labor markets and output gaps”—in other words, macroeconomic policies associated with slow growth. Research by political scientists such as Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens, which shows that Congress tends to be extremely responsive to the preferences of wealthy constituents and far less so to everyone else, lends support to this interpretation.
Finally, there are inequality and credit busts. This theory holds that growing inequality causes low- and middle-wage incomes to stagnate. To keep from losing ground, many low- and middle-wage earners rely on credit and go into debt. At the same time, high-income households have more money and seek more investment opportunities. Both these developments—rising debt, and the increasing demand for investment opportunities—lead to risky financial innovations and a growing financial sector. Instability in financial markets results, and there are crashes and a “credit bubble-and-bust” cycle. This IMF paper by Michael Kumhof and Romain Rancière and this working paper by economists Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari explore this theory.
Now, back to that new IMF paper I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The study, which examines a number of countries over many years, doesn’t control for variables like private debt or political representation, so it’s hard to say which of the theories best fit the data. The most you could say is that the data is not inconsistent with the demand story.
The more important question concerning this research is how the IMF will use it. In recent years, the IMF has undertaken some welcome progressive reforms. Unfortunately, however, it’s still blinkered by a neoliberal ideology that advocates slashing taxes for the rich while balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class.
But now it’s released its own highly publicized research showing that equality is associated with faster growth. The implication is clear: new IMF development policies should recommend redistribution and investments in public goods like health, education and infrastructure. Similar policies are working in Bolivia, to name one country that’s had great success reducing inequality and growing the economy through redistribution. What is the IMF waiting for?
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There’s been a lot of talk about trigger warnings lately, now that the practice of giving essentially a heads-up on potentially triggering content has leaped from feminist blogs and online spaces to college classrooms. The New Republic reports that the University of California, Santa Barbara “passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi.” Oberlin similarly has an official document on triggers that advises faculty to remove material from the classroom that could potentially trigger students and to make triggering content optional.
Here is what smart feminists have said:
Jill Filipovic: “[T]here is the fact that the universe does not treat its members as if they come hand-delivered in a box clearly marked “fragile”. The world can be a desperately ugly place, especially for women. That feminist blogs try to carve out a little section of the world that is a teeny bit safer for their readers is a credit to many of those spaces. Colleges, though, are not intellectual or emotional safe zones. Nor should they be.”
Tressie McMillan Cottom: “[N]o one is arguing for trigger warnings in the routine spaces where symbolic and structural violence are acted on students at the margins. No one, to my knowledge, is affixing trigger warnings to department meetings that WASP-y normative expectations may require you to code switch yourself into oblivion to participate as a full member of the group. Instead, trigger warnings are being encouraged for sites of resistance, not mechanisms of oppression.”
Melissa McEwan: “Being triggered does not mean “being upset” or “being offended” or “being angry,” or any other euphemism people who roll their eyes long-sufferingly in the direction of trigger warnings tend to imagine it to mean. Being triggered has a very specific meaning that relates to evoking a physical and/or emotional response to a survived trauma or sustained systemic abuse…. Speaking about trigger warnings as though they exist for the purposes of indulging fragile sensibilities fundamentally misses their purpose: To mitigate harm.”
Roxane Gay (2012): “Intellectually, I understand why trigger warnings are necessary for some people. I understand that painful experiences are all too often threatening to break the skin. Seeing or feeling yourself come apart is terrifying. This is the truth of my trouble with trigger warnings: there is nothing words on the screen can do that has not already been done. A visceral reaction to a trigger is nothing compared to the actual experience that created the trigger. I don’t know how to see beyond this belief to truly get why trigger warnings are necessary. When I see trigger warnings, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel protected. Instead, I am surprised there are still people who believe in safety and protection despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
I tend to come down with Gay—I understand why some people need and want trigger warnings. I imagine, as McEwan points out, that they do mitigate some harm. Editors and moderators of certain spaces—especially feminist ones—know that triggering topics come up often, and that some of their readers have trauma related to these issues. Giving readers a heads-up gives them the choice to opt out.
So where we can help, we should. Trigger warnings and content notices in “accountable spaces” on obvious distressing content like graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence are not difficult to do and can save trauma survivors from pain.
But as someone who has had PTSD, I know that a triggering event can be so individual, so specific, that there is no anticipating it. Last year, a position in yoga class gave me a panic attack because it so closely resembled the position I was in when I had an emergency C-section. Last night—for the first time in over a year—I had a flashback. It took me an over an hour to realize that the trigger was an incessant distant beeping coming from a neighbor’s fire alarm, which sounded like the beeping of my then-two-pound daughter’s heart and oxygen monitors. There is no trigger warning for that. There is no trigger warning for living your life.
Read Next: Jessica Valenti on feminism and the empowerment elite
Cumulative student loan debt in the United States has reached an astonishing $1.2 trillion, and it’s rising quickly. It shot up 20 percent just from the end of 2011 to May 2013, faster than even the growth of revolving credit products like credit cards. On average, the student loan debt held by 25-year-olds has gone up 91 percent in the past decade. The problem is exacerbated by tough economic times—nearly one-third of borrowers who have begun repayment are seriously delinquent.
And, as is true of so many issues, Congress has struggled to do anything substantial to solve the problem. Last summer, after it failed to come up with new student loan lending laws, Congress at the last minute prevented student loan interest rates from doubling, but only for new borrowers—no doubt a good move, but tiny in the face of such a large problem. Democrats also attached a measure to the Affordable Care Act that limits repayments to 10 percent of income and forgives debt after twenty years, which is beneficial but similarly a decidedly small-ball approach to the crisis.
Most higher education analysts agree drastic measures are needed—and to that end, a new coalition launched this week that aims to push forward radical ideas on how to both reduce the current student loan debt burden, but also make college more affordable going forward.
The “Higher Ed Not Debt” campaign is a coalition made up of a wide variety of groups: big unions (ranging from education unions like AFT and NEA, to bigger labor groups like the AFL-CIO, SEIU and AFSCME) to standard progressive organizing outfits (Progress Now, Working America and Jobs With Justice, to name a few) to big think tanks like the Center for American Progress and Demos.
It has four essential goals:
Provide support to borrowers now paying off the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.
Change state funding and financial aid structures to address both the declining quality and increasing cost of higher education.
Address the role of Wall Street in the increasing financialization of student loan products, as well as the privatization of funding outlets.
Civic engagement and education on what it means to take on student debt, and how to push legislators to find better answers.
Higher Ed Not Debt’s roadmap is pretty broad—maybe dangerously so, unless they really have the funding, manpower, and wherewithal to pull it off. The coalition will produce extensive reporting and research on the higher education crisis and particularly Wall Street’s role, and also—presumably with the help of the aforementioned think tanks—produce concrete policy proposals. It will naturally have a communications strategy to push out the message, alongside a grassroots organizing push in at least five states to recruit citizens to demand action. Finally, the group plans to get involved in elections to push candidates towards its preferred solutions.
The campaign launched Thursday at the Center for American Progress with some big-name speakers: Senator Elizabeth Warren and AFT President Randi Weingarten.
Warren took a broad approach to the crisis, noting one fundamental problem: only the wealthy are able to avoid the student debt crisis. “If you’re not rich in America, college costs more. It costs more because you have to borrow the money, and pay and pay and pay,” she said. “As a matter of federal policy, we’ve penalized those young people by saying ‘You’re going to pay more for your education than people who have the blessing of being born to a family that can pay for it up front.’”
She noted that the federal government profits from this arrangement—based on the loans made between 2007 and 2012, the Treasury will bank $66 billion in profits. Warren pushed several proposals that for now are stuck in the Senate, but that the campaign aims to prop up.
One such idea is to enact the Buffet Rule, which closes tax loopholes for the wealthy, and use the money to reduce student interest loan rates. Warren is working with Democratic Senators Dick Durbin, Jack Reed, and Kirstin Gillibrand on a bill that would take the savings from the Buffet Rule and allow students currently holding loan debt to refinance down to 3.86 percent—and if enough savings were brought in from the Buffet Rule where all students could do that and there was still money left over, then allow for refinancing at an even lower rate.
“I think about it this way because I think about the choice America makes. Think about this. Right now in order to finance United States government, we take in billions of dollars in profits off student loans, but permit billionaires to have enough loopholes that they pay at tax rates that can be lower than those of their secretaries,” she said. “It’s about values. Where, as a country, do we believe we should make our investments? Follow the money on this. Invest in billionaires or invest in students. Well I want to put my money on students.”
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy picks apart de Blasio’s lukewarm war on charter schools.
President Obama has denounced Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, calling it a “breach of international law.” Russia’s actions deserve criticism but, as a new campaign from RootsAction points out, the United States is hardly beyond reproach. Despite protestations from around the globe, our government routinely violates international law with drone strikes and missile attacks in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Sign RootsAction’s petition calling on President Obama to end the United States’s own violations of international law.
In her column for the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel calls for a sane, common sense approach to the crisis in Ukraine.
On CNN’s Amanpour this week, vanden Heuvel reiterated her call for diplomacy and for “some sober perspective” from politicians in the Unites States, Russia and Ukraine.