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Greg Mitchell

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What Does Syriza’s Victory Mean For Greece’s Immigrants?

A Syrian refugee during a protest in Athens demanding food, shelter and asylum in Greece, November, 2014. (Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)

The election in Greece has jolted Europe's political landscape: as a response to years of vicious austerity measures, the decisive victory of the radical left party Syriza has shaken up a country and a region long mired in economic and social despair. But while the sweeping support for an anti-capitalist party—in opposition to the neoliberal restructuring imposed by European Union institutions—is impressive, deeper societal and cultural shifts are churning beyond the electorate: in fact, some of the folks with the most personally at stake are not Greek citizens. They are Greece's migrants: itinerant workers, displaced families, and uprooted refugees fleeing persecution, poverty and war in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Although Syriza is most famous for its pointedly populist economic program—based on resisting debt obligations, bolstering welfare programs, and reducing inequality—some migrants see hope in their more obscure immigration policy proposals.

As part of their broader push for social equality, Syriza has championed policy changes such as speeding up the asylum petition process—which could help migrants secure their right to resettle and protect them from deportation; repealing the EU-wide rules restricting migrants’ travel within the region; guaranteeing human rights protections for immigrants currently in detention; promoting reunification of immigrant families (who are often separated on the grueling and dangerous journey); and overall, “Social inclusion of immigrants and equal rights protection.”

It’s unclear how many, if any, of these policies will lead to actual legislative reforms. Given that Syriza just formed a dubious coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL, in the Greek abbreviation) an anti-immigrant right-wing party, these initiatives could quickly be neutralized or perverted by the contradictory alliance. But if we take the platform on its word, the immigration proposals open a concrete avenue for protecting immigrants' rights, breaking from the European status quo of tightening borders, criminalizing the undocumented, and shutting out asylum seekers.

In contrast to the reactionary surge that elevated the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as a leading opposition force in 2012, the leftward social shift seems to counter the conventional wisdom: economic hard times often precipitate rises in xenophobia and chauvinism, fueled by fears of “job stealing” foreigners. But the massive hardship weighing on Greece’s populace has also created an opening for progressive, rather than reactionary, political ideas. There's perhaps an intuitive sense that, in a system of ruthlessly free-flowing, global exchange of capital, restraining people's free movement doesn’t make a whole lot of moral sense.

Greece has one of Europe’s most porous border zones, with Turkey immediately to its east. Amid rising internal turmoil, however, the border has tightened and Greek society, from the notoriously fierce police to the white supremacist fringe, has become increasingly hostile to outsiders. According to a 2012 Amnesty International report, this key destination point soon became a place to flee from: tens of thousands of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers crossing into Greece en route to other European countries often ran into a ferocious onslaught of detention, police brutality, systematic discrimination and racist neo-nazi attacks.

Due to EU rules on internal migration, many were forced to apply for asylum within Greece and became ensnared in an incompetent byzantine bureaucracy. Greece’s crowded detention centers were condemned by advocates as dungeon-like and squalid, and often children wound up in facilities meant for adults. With government collapsing and right-wing extremists capitalizing on the disorder, it seemed as if all of Greece’s political actors were conspiring both to neglect and to destroy migrants.

One migrant told Amnesty researchers: ‘When we ask the police for protection they tell us ‘fight back.’”

Of course, Syriza faces a tough fight on immigration, too. Structurally, Greece alone cannot revamp the entire EU's immigration policies, embedded in the conventional framework of nation-states and borders. However, it has generally endorsed foreign policies that try to tackle root factors driving people across borders. In a 2012 interview with Il Grande Colibri, Syriza representative Panagiotis Pantos of Nea Smyrni advocated for EU reforms to establish “strong frameworks to finance development in Asian and African countries, and also change its foreign policy to one that promotes peace and prosperity in the world, instead of war and the rights of multinational companies.”

Partnering with the right-wing ANEL, on the other hand, looks like a dangerously opportunist move to bolster anti-austerity populist forces. Takis Pappas, author of Populism and Crisis Politics in Greece, sees immigration as a fixation of the Greek right, but historically not central for the left. “Since Golden Dawn has already acquired most of 'issue ownership' over immigration,” he tells The Nation via email, “the other two parties in the right [including ANEL] try to both exploit the issue, each in its own way, but without being associated with Golden Dawn. Now, what may happen regarding immigration after a coalition between Syriza and ANEL is everyone's guess.”

So watch this space. Syriza is now a Rorschach for a country and continent adrift—a portent of anxious instability and a slim crescent of radical hope among left movements worldwide. Practically speaking, the party's idealistic campaign-trail social program may tragically dissolve if it opts to compromise with anti-immigrant reactionaries in its parliamentary maneuvering. But Syriza may shepherd a cultural turn in Greece that has encouraged solidarity, rather than antagonism, between “natives” and migrants. Or at least, a sharper class politics has somewhat drawn the humiliated working class and disillusioned precariat away from self-defeating, bigoted ideologies. After all, austerity brought a drastic leveling of disparate groups of dispossessed: the unemployed youth, impoverished pensioner, and embattled immigrant are all fighting for survival.

Before, the neoliberal establishment could manipulate and feed off social crises as frustrated factions fought against each other. Today the profile of the real enemy is clearer. And in identifying the nefarious institutional actors behind European austerity, perhaps the diverse elements of Greece’s poor will begin to recognize each other’s common humanity. And they just might get their chance to “fight back” at last—on the same side.  

January 27, 1975: The Church Committee Opens Investigation of U.S. Intelligence Agencies

Jimmy Carter, Frank Church

Jimmy Carter standing with then-Senator Frank Church in August 1977. Photo via National Archives and Records Administration.

The release of the Pentagon papers, the revelations of Watergate and other shocks of the early 1970s prompted Democrats in Congress to investigate abuses of authority of the part of the Executive Branch. The most assertive and now famous of these investigation, led by Idaho Senator Frank Church, uncovered vast surveillance operations directed against opponents of American power at home and abroad. In The Nation of February 22, 1975, the great civil-liberties scholar and advocate Frank Donner suggested lines of inquiry for the congressional committees, in an essay memorably titled, “The Issue, of Course, is Power.”

There is no point even starting without planning to call the insiders, the kinds of people who have contributed to the success of every important Congressional investigation. The committees need to hear testimony from agency staffers, whether now employed or retired. But they must evaluate the testimony, from whatever source, in the light of today’s world. A vast intelligence bureaucracy, rooted in the needs and assumptions of the 1940s, is threatened by heaving historic changes—not only in the world political situation but in the very techniques of data collection. The persons involved will go to great lengths to conform reality to their ideological biases and occupational needs. What legitimate governmental purpose should intelligence, both domestic and foreign, serve? A sound answer to that question will give needed perspective to the problems of authority, coordination, operations and data evaluation. In a post-Watergate America theories of inherent Executive power can no longer serve to justify secret intelligence baronies either at home or abroad. But does Congress have the will and resources to forge a legitimate alternative?

January 27, 1975

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

Science Stuff With Your Host, the Right Wing Science Dude

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A Staggeringly Lopsided Economic Recovery

Blighted row houses in Baltimore

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Just how strong is the economic recovery? Democrats have offered somewhat contradictory answers to that question recently. The picture President Obama painted in last week’s State of the Union address was mostly rosy. “The shadow of crisis has passed,” he declared, citing “a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production.” And indeed, the US economy added more jobs in 2014 than it has since 1999, and unemployment is at its lowest point in more than six years.

The competing, bleaker, view—described most forcefully by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren—is that the good numbers don’t accurately reflect the reality lived by America’s workers. Middle-class families “are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead,” Warren argued in an early January speech. “Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them—and they are right.” The tide may be rising, but it’s failing to lift most of the boats.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute demonstrates as much. In the vast majority of US states, the top 1 percent of earners captured at least half of the income gains during the first three years of the economic recovery. In seventeen states, the 1 percent raked in all of the income growth. Those at the top of the economic ladder in Nevada, for example, saw their incomes grow by 40 percent between 2009 and 2012; meanwhile, other Nevadans incomes actually declined, by 16 percent.

The Northeast is the most unequal region, in part because of the concentration there of financial-sector and other executive-level jobs, said Mark Price, one of the authors of the report, on a conference call with reporters. Still, the pattern is consistent whether in Alabama or New York: the benefits of economic growth “have been flowing increasingly to this tiny fraction of households across most of the states.”

That’s not the effect economic expansions have always had in the United States. Price and his co-author, Estelle Sommeiller, examined ten periods of post-recession growth, beginning in 1949. For the next three decades things basically went the way we’d expect them to, with economic gains showing up in the paychecks of average workers. The balance shifted in 1979, and since then the 1 percent has captured an increasingly large share not only of income generally but also of growth during expansions.

So what changed? The earlier era of more equitable recovery “was characterized by a rising minimum wage, low levels of unemployment after the 1930s, widespread collective bargaining in private industries…and a cultural and political environment in which it was unthinkable for executives to receive outsized bonuses while laying off workers,” Price and Sommeiller write. But today, they continue, unionization has hit historic lows; the minimum wage has lost its purchasing power; and executives are collecting lavish compensation packages, even as the economy is still struggling to near full employment. “Policy choices and cultural forces have combined to put downward pressure on the wages and incomes of most Americans even as their productivity has risen,” they write.

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It’s these policy choices that Warren is talking about when she says that the game has been “rigged.” Price and Sommeiller’s analysis suggests that it would be shortsighted to assume that the current expansion will eventually trickle down to the 99 percent. If it hasn’t happened that way for three and a half decades, why would it this time, without a serious realignment of the economic and political systems that serve currently to funnel wealth upwards? Obama did nod to this reality in the State of the Union via a vague reference to “an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well.” Still, the approach of many centrist Democrats seems to assume that, with a few minor tweaks, the rebounding economy will eventually have an effect on the inequality problem, too. The data shows the effect might be precisely opposite the one desired.

 

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on how the GOP is trying to restrict women’s right to abortion

Patriots Balls and Christopher Hitchens

Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The seeming utter inanity of our national obsession over whether the New England Patriots were deflating their footballs and if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would do something about it, reached a fever pitch this week. While wondering whether this was just a “weapon of mass distraction” or actually worth giving a damn about, Christopher Hitchens came to mind. This is not usually a pleasurable experience.

The last time I agreed with Mr. Hitchens, who passed away four years ago, was in 1998. Before Hitchens “found his purpose” verbosely lusting for war with the Islamic world—think Bill Maher with a thesaurus—he was a merciless critic of those in power, regardless of political party. This included President Bill Clinton. When the Monica Lewinsky affair was revealed in 1998, Hitchens was deeply frustrated with others on the Democratic party left who defended Clinton on the basis of standing up to what Alan Dershowitz has recently deemed “Sexual McCarthyism.” He was also angered by those on the radical left who said that Clinton’s lying about an affair was meaningless and that if the president were going to be impeached, it should be for “his real crimes.” In other words, impeach Clinton for the deadly sanctions leveled against the Iraqi people, or for his cold-hearted welfare policies, or for the unprecedented build-up of the prison-industrial complex under his watch.

Hitchens’s response to this was to say that Clinton’s perjury and these profoundly more serious issues were intertwined. Both spoke to how he believed that rules simply didn’t apply to him. Clinton’s libertine sex ilfe was also monstrously hypocritical, given how his welfare reform policies policed the sexual lives of poor women.

As the months wore on, Hitchens took his argument—in my view—to an indefensible place, a place that presaged his political future as someone who tied his skill with the written word to the needs of the American state. Hitchens voluntarily swore out an affidavit to inform on his friend and Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal for alleged plots to discredit Ms. Lewinsky. This earned Hitchens the nickname he carried in many circles until his death, ““Hitch the Snitch.”

This entire scenario echoes in the drama that surrounds the New England Patriots, Roger Goodell and their deflated balls. I am hearing many people I respect say that if we are going to roast Goodell and the National Football League, please have it be for his “real crimes” as opposed to this sideshow. In other words, the serial covering up of violence against women, the lack of regard for player safety, and his hostility towards the NFL Players Association should be what brings him down. Yes, it is difficult, if not absurd, to discuss “cheating” in a sport where every team is looking for an edge, many players take whatever pills will keep them either bulked up or upright for the opening kickoff, and the purpose of play is to mash the frontal lobe of your opponent into a fine paste. But among the Saturday Night Live sketches and snarky columns, there lurks something important about the culture of corruption and cronyism in this commissioner’s office, particularly in Goodell’s relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman was absolutely correct when he was asked earlier this week about whether the Patriots would be punished and he said, “Probably not. Not as long Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. He [Goodell] was just at Kraft’s house last week before the AFC Championship. Talk about conflict of interest. As long as that happens, it won’t affect them at all.”

This conflict of interest is very real. As GQ’s Gabriel Sherman wrote in a damning long read that dropped this week about Goodell, Kraft is apparently known among NFL execs as “the assistant commissioner.” Even this description is charitable. It’s less the relationship between an assistant and a commissioner as much as it is one between a hand and the bottom aperture of a puppet. Bob Kraft, in addition to being just a “friend of Goodell,” has been the great defender of nGoodell’s stunning $44 million salary. He was Goodell’s first defender during the release of information that showed that the NFL cared very little about domestic violence until tape went public of Ray Rice striking his wife Janay. He also, according to GQ, orchestrated Goodell’s disastrous defense of the NFL’s domestic violence policies, in conjunction with CBS network who was about to start airing its lucrative Thursday night NFL telecasts. Kraft ordered Goodell to speak to CBS and grant an interview to, in Kraft’s insistence “a woman,” who ended up being Norah O’Donnell. Goodell complied.

Drew Magary wrote, in analyzing the league’s deep concern with the optics of this, “[Y]ou can see that NFL higher-ups were far more concerned with LOOKING like they were handling domestic violence appropriately than actually doing so (cut to Eli Manning in a No More ad looking like you just told him that we’ve run out of cupcakes).

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This relationship with Bob Kraft and the mere appearance of impropriety that marks how Goodell handles every issue that crosses his desk, tells its own story about why he must go. A reckless incompetence now defines everything he touches, whether it is his enforcing of the rules, the health and safety of players, or his dealings with the union. Instead of acting—like his predecessor Paul Tagliabue—as even the mildest of checks on the grasping of the bosses, he is their id unleashed. Instead of listening to players, Goodell is so comically distanced from the reality of his own ineptitude that he has become the sports version of Yertle the Turtle.

It is understandable why people do not care about the Patriots ball-maintenance or whether public officials lie about their sex lives. But we should care about people in power who hector us about our own morality as an exercise in spin. We should care about executives who punish workers by saying “ignorance is no excuse” while proudly being an ignoramus. If deflated balls are the small string that rips the sweater off of Roger Goodell, then we should grab it like we’re trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch, and hold on for dear life.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on how it makes perfect sense why people care about the NFL’s latest scandal more than the SOTU

Demand That Congress Reject ‘Fast Track’ for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Japanese farmers protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership

 Farmers in Japan protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Reuters/Yuriko Nakao)

While President Obama used his State of the Union address this year to champion progressive policies like free community college, raising taxes on the rich and expanding access to childcare, one of his proposals threatens to seriously harm American workers

The president asked for “fast track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a secretive trade deal that advocates have called “NAFTA on steroids.” After twenty years of NAFTA, it’s clear what these trade agreements do: they push jobs overseas, weaken food- and consumer-safety standards, circumvent environmental laws, restrict Internet freedom and roll back financial protections. The TPP would even empower corporations to sue governments over alleged loss of profits.

Fast- track authority would allow the president to sign the TPP before Congress has voted to approve it, and then railroad the deal through Congress in only ninety days with limited debate and no amendments allowed.

TO DO

Write to Congress and demand a rejection of ‘fast-track’ authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TO READ

This is a fight we can win. As George Zornick points out, only a handful of Democrats reacted positively to President Obama’s push for the TPP, and a number of members are speaking out against it.

TO WATCH

From increasing drug costs to harming the environment to undermining labor protections, this video breaks down the danger of passing “the dirtiest deal you’ve never heard of.”

These Mental Health Patients Are Being Neglected on an Epidemic Scale

Mental health workers on strike at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco

Mental health workers on strike at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, California, January 12, 2015 (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

More than thirty years have passed since the first “revolution in mental health”—the deinstitutionalization movement that moved patients out of segregated mental health hospitals and, in theory, back into their neighborhoods to be with their families. But a generation later, many are still waiting to receive basic care in their communities—the therapy they require to live with the dignity and freedom the movement fought for.

Earlier this month, mental healthcare workers across California went on strike to show that everyone’s tired of waiting—patients are tired of delayed appointments, workers are exhausted by understaffing and stalled contract talks, and the system suffers from an outmoded infrastructure that fails to meet growing community needs.

Clinicians at the healthcare and insurance giant Kaiser Permanente simply want the company to follow the law: California’s relatively progressive mental health parity regulations mandate that providers offer mental health services “under the same terms and conditions applied to other medical conditions.” Meanwhile, the added insurance resources of the Affordable Care Act have raised hopes for reform.

But Jim Clifford, a psychiatric social worker at a Kaiser center in San Diego, one of thirty-five locations that went on strike statewide says that due in part to the “stigma associated with mental health,” the field has been marginalized, leading to a “relegation at Kaiser of psychiatric services to this second-class level.”

At his clinic, serving a diverse urban population, the staff must stretch to make ethically impossible choices: “We are staying late making phone calls back to patients that we weren’t able to get appointments for, to check in and see how they’re doing. The doctors have to double and triple book their schedules. The nurses usually are here before they’re on the clock and typically stay well past their paid time to try to catch up to all the extra contact that’s made necessary by the fact that we don’t have enough staffing.”

Elizabeth White, a psychiatric social worker at Kaiser West Los Angeles, tells The Nation that facing a staffing and space shortage at her facility, “the manager’s been really creative at turning closets into offices, and partitioning group rooms. But the main piece is [Kaiser regional management] really haven’t thought through their demand, to create an environment that is healing…. At five o’clock we have three different [therapy] groups starting, and the line’s out the door.”

And some patients may be simply walking out the door. Chelsie Martinez of Sonoma County recalls that Kaiser typically made her wait about six to eight weeks for one-on-one therapy appointments for post-traumatic stress and other emotional problems, which previously drove her to attempt suicide. She says that though she preferred individualized care, Kaiser pressured her to engage in group sessions. She was told, “I wasn’t participating as they thought I should be, and that I needed to be more involved.” But she protested, “I just couldn’t do groups as they were really not helping.” She eventually left Kaiser’s services to pay for private individual therapy, and says now, “although the expenses are a bit more, my mental health has never been better and I’m not willing to give that up.”

But many others may be unable to afford services outside of Kaiser’s insurance system. They’re stuck with a service infrastructure that has, despite billions in annual profits, been criticized for years for poor services and inadequate performance monitoring. A 2013 state audit found that despite a standard two-week wait time for non-urgent appointments, at one facility, “between 18 percent and 32 percent of the wait times exceeded 14 days.” Kaiser got fined $4 million for various service deficiencies, and has faced various patient lawsuits.

The union, National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), complained last June of systematic violations of standards of care in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, citing a facility in Redwood City that reportedly “experienced an unprecedented spate of seven suicides in a matter of months, which clinicians believe is directly connected to the serious understaffing of Kaiser’s mental health clinics.”

While many converging problems have created the crunch, including rising enrollment as well as chronic understaffing and inadequate recruitment efforts, the bottom line is that these patients are insured, yet their needs have been neglected on an epidemic scale.

The crisis at Kaiser may intensify as the Affordable Care Act enrolls more people in new insurance plans. Moreover, these service gaps at private insurers come in a context of a nationwide mental health crisis, with massive unmet needs among highly vulnerable populations, like the uninsured, children, and the incarcerated.The union’s seven-day strike was their most dramatic call yet to resolve the staffing shortages not just with acute care—recruiting and hiring more staff for facilities with service gaps—but also preventive measures: a new system to incorporate clinicians themselves into key personnel decisions.

NUHW President Sal Rosselli says that empowering staff themselves to participate in decisions on personnel needs is the most ethical and efficient way to manage growing care needs: “Our simple proposal was that we establish a committee of psychologists and managers at each clinic that work on the staffing situation for that hospital or clinic, and come up with a resolution.” A third-party mediator could be called upon to resolve disputes.

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For now, NUHW’s negotiations are set to resume with Kaiser, and their agreement could set a nationwide template for mental health parity.

Kaiser, which recently negotiated another hard-fought contract with the California Nurses Association, said in a statement to The Nation, “We remain ready to return to the table,” but “this agreement must be one that best serves our employees, members and patients.” It called the strike “entirely unnecessary and counterproductive.”

But the workers know what “unnecessary” looks like. Despite the corporation’s repeated vows to strengthen services, Clifford says it should start with a basic ounce of prevention: timely initial appointments and responsive staff. That way, “Not only can we avoid some of the more expensive outcomes”—including costly hospitalizations—“but also we can provide a more ethical treatment, and avoid and decrease a lot of the…needless suffering that’s going on.”

Paradoxically, striking was a demonstration of care amid crisis: workers felt the least “counterproductive” way to use their labor was to withhold it to send Kaiser a message: waiting a week for services was still a much shorter delay than what they and their patients deal with every day.

Read Next: Michelle Chen on why Cambodia’s garment workers aren’t backing down

January 26, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Having ‘Sexual Relations With That Woman, Miss Lewinsky’

Clinton, Lewinsky

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky standing outside of the Oval Office on November 17, 1995. Photo via the Associated Press.

Yes, The Almanac already covered the Clinton impeachment saga for our entry of January 7, the date in 1999 that the Senate trial began. But on this day, the seventeenth anniversary (didn‘t you know?) of the day the president denied having an affair with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” we are compelled by the laws of The Almanac to revisit the ordeal once again. In an editorial after the story broke, in our issue of February 16, 1998, The Nation connected Clinton’s “reckless private behavior” with his unprincipled political calculations:

Clinton’s crisis does provoke troubling reflection on the connection between the personal and the political. Regardless of the truth of Lewinsky’s claim, there’s no doubt that this President, so cautious in his public choices, is prone to reckless private behavior. If there’s a connection, it’s in Clinton’s telling remark to Jim Lehrer that some matters can simply be “put in a box.” For Clinton, that applies not just to rumors of his sexual conduct but to political loyalties and principles. Clinton vows fidelity to a program of social investment but instead cuts deficits; promises to protect the environment but then commits to a weak stand on global warming; pledges to build bridges to the future but then retains a cold war military budget. Everything can be put in a box except his own hubris.

January 26, 1998

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

January 25, 1915: Alexander Graham Bell, in New York, Speaks on the Telephone With Thomas Watson, in San Francisco

Alexander Graham Bell

Bell demonstrates the new telephone connection between New York and Chicago in 1892.

On this day in 1915, Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish inventor who received a patent for the telephone in 1876, made the first transcontinental phone call. Later that year, in the issue dated October 7, 1915, The Nation profiled Bell for its regular series, “Notes from the Capital,” which, written by a pseudonymous writer named Tattler, examined prominent personalities in Washington.

Dr. Bell is the typical Scotchman in appearance, speech, and manner. His broad face, framed in a mass of white hair which rises in a great shock above his brow and stands out around his jaws and chin like the unbroken mane of a lion, prepares you for the rattling burr that adds piquancy to whatever he says. He is a man whom you would describe as big rather than large, and the adjective applies to everything about him—his height, his shoulders, his hands, his carriage. I was going to add his voice, but that might convey a false impression: for, though his lungs are as leonine as his head, his long research in the field of vocal phenomena has cultivated in him a soft mode of speaking, with the most varied range of infexions and an enunciation which is as clear as the stroke of a crystal clock. You are not surprised, after conversing with him, to learn that he began his career as a teacher of elocution and music, and that his first ambition was to become a famous composer.

January 25, 1915

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

Bernie Sanders Won’t Be Entering the Koch Brothers Primary

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker thanked the crowd of potential 2016 Republican presidential caucus attendees at Saturday’s “Iowa Freedom Summit” for praying for him when he was taking away the collective-bargaining rights of teachers and snowplow drivers and custodians in their neighboring state.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz built his campaign list by telling the crowd of conservative believers to text the word “Constitution” to a cellphone number associated with his campaign.

Dr. Ben Carson got heads spinning with his immigration calculus: “There wouldn’t be people coming here if there wasn’t a magnet… you have to reverse the polarity of that magnet.”

And former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum trumped Carson by explaining that he’s not just bothered by people coming to the United States without proper documentation. “We also have a problem with legal immigration,” declared the guy who won the last round of Republican caucuses in Iowa.

So it went at Saturday’s cursory visit with actual voters by at least ten of the all-but-announced candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who are not topping the polls in Iowa—or across a country where Republicans continue to long nostalgically for Mitt Romney or another Bush. It was all good theater, but nothing more.

Everyone knew the real action wasn’t in Des Moines on Saturday.

It was in Palm Springs on Sunday.

Yes, Palm Springs in California—which, it should be noted, is not the first-caucus state or the first-primary state or the first-anything state on the 2016 Republican calendar.

Why? It was to Palm Springs that Walker, Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio traveled Sunday to bow and scrape before brothers Charles and David Koch -- and their network of very rich conservative donors. Rubio set the tone for the session by announcing to the assembled billionaires and lesser millionaires that he had no taste  for any of the "anti-business rhetoric" coming out of Washington these days.

The Kochs hold their annual winter gathering of oligarchs at a swank resort that is about as far from Iowa as you can get, yet invited presidential prospects are more than willing to fly into the warm embrace of the billionaire class. That's because, while the Kochs are important, the Palm Springs meeting is about a lot more than brothers Charles and David -- especially now. One of two yearly events at which the wealthiest conservatives from across the country come together to meet with rising right-wing "stars," this year's winter gathering was held as the 2016 Republican race is rapidly picking up steam.

If a second-string Republican contender such as Walker or Rubio were to make a big impression with the assembled donors, that candidate could end up with the money power to compete with the fund-raising apparatus of likely leaders in the race such as Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Everyone knows the new math of American politics, which puts "the money primary" ahead of any contests involving actual voters. So invitations to Palm Springs were not just accepted -- they were coveted.

"Americans used to think Iowa and New Hampshire held the first caucus and primary in the nation every four years. Not anymore,”explains Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.“Now the ‘Koch brothers primary’ goes first to determine who wins the blessing and financial backing of the billionaire class. This is truly sad and shows us how far Citizens United has gone to undermine American democracy.”

Sanders was referencing the five-year-old US Supreme Court ruling that struck down barriers to corporate spending to buy elections—one of a series of decisions that have dramatically increased the influence of not just of corporations but of billionaires like the Koch brothers.

On Wednesday, Sanders introduced a constitutional amendment that would undo the High Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and a host of other rulings that ushered in an era of billionaire-defined presidential campaigns.

“People across the political spectrum are demanding that billionaires not be able to buy American democracy,” says Sanders, noting that sixteen states and more than 600 communities have called on Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution to say that money is not speech, corporations are not people and citizens and their elected representatives have a right to organize elections where votes matter more than dollars.

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, has been encouraged to seek the presidency in 2016.

Sanders is still in the process of deciding whether to run—and how. Though he has run all of his US House and Senate campaigns as an independent, the Vermonter might enter the Democratic primaries as a challenger to presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton. 

Bernie Sanders will not, however, be entering "the Koch brothers primary."

More importantly, he is challenging "the money primary" mentality that has made the Kochs and their kind outsized players in American politics.

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