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An Inconvenient Political Truth: That St. Louis Prosecutor Is a Democrat

Robert McCulloch

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Monday, November 24, 2014, in Clayton, Missouri. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte)

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s handling of the Michael Brown shooting case has inspired a storm of controversy.

After a grand jury refused to bring charges against Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death of the African-American teenager, an attorney for the Brown family told the Associated Press, “We said from the very beginning that the decision of this grand jury was going to be the direct reflection of the presentation of the evidence by the prosecutor’s office.”

Long criticized for failing to adequately investigate complaints about the police, and for failing to demand accountability in cases of officer-involved shootings, McCulloch’s approach to the grand jury inquiry was the subject of concern from the start. And the prosecutor sparked anger at the finish by delaying the announcement of the grand jury’s decision deep into Monday evening. The prosecutor seized his prime-time platform to delivera rambling and frequently defensive forty-five-minute speech. He went on and on about aspects of the case. Yet he failed to mention that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.

“Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way,” argued a New York Times editorial, which concluded:

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Mr. McCulloch took a reckless approach to announcing the grand jury’s finding. After delaying the announcement all day, he finally made it late in the evening, when darkness had placed law enforcement agencies at a serious disadvantage as they tried to control the angry crowds that had been drawn into the streets by news that the verdict was coming. Mr. McCulloch’s announcement sounded more like a defense of Officer Wilson than a neutral summary of the facts that had led the grand jury to its conclusion.

This is appropriate criticism.

Now let’s add some political context.

What has not been much discussed is the fact that McCulloch is a Democrat—a member of the same party as President Obama, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Congressional Black Caucus chair Marcia Fudge, the Ohioan who on Monday evening referred to the failure to bring charges against Wilson as “a slap in the face to Americans nationwide who continue to hope and believe that justice will prevail.”

Across America, counties elect top law-enforcement officials as state’s attorneys, district attorneys and prosecuting attorneys. Hundreds of them are Democrats. Some, like Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney Ken Thompson and Bronx County District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, have impressed progressives by taking bold stands and developing innovative policies on everything from the drug war to the death penalty to gun violence and domestic abuse. Former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, a “wild Irish rogue” who was arrested sixteen times as a civil rights campaigner before his election to the DA post, often clashed with the police on accountability issues during his tenure.

But there are plenty of Democratic prosecutors who are indistinguishable from the Republican counterparts. Placing a “D” next to the name of a prosecutor does not make that prosecutor a progressive, or even a moderate. Some of the most controversial prosecutors in the country are Democrats. For instance, Brooklyn’s Thompson won his post in 2013 by beating incumbent DA Charles Hynes in a Democratic primary campaign, during which The New York Times noted that Thompson accused Hynes “of remaining passive on issues important to minority communities, like stop-and-frisk policing.”

As the elected prosecutor in suburban St. Louis County since 1991, McCulloch is a powerful player in Missouri Democratic politics. He has delivered sought-after endorsements to prominent figures such as Claire McCaskill, who had the prosecutor’s support when she challenged a sitting Democratic governor in 2004 and who is now Missouri’s senior senator. In August of this year, McCulloch helped a white challenger mount a successful Democratic primary challenge to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, the first African-American to hold the position. On the same day, McCulloch, who is white, easily saw off a Democratic primary challenge from Leslie Broadnax, an African-American attorney and municipal judge.

The primary came just before the killing of Michael Brown. As protests filled the streets of Ferguson, community leaders argued that McCulloch—because of his close ties to the police in suburban St. Louis County—should hand off the case. “Many community members don’t believe he can be fair and impartial,” said state Senator Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat who led a drive that collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

McColluch balked at that request, as did Democratic Governor Nixon. There was no real chance to defeat McCulloch at the polls in the fall, as he ran without Republican opposition. But thousands of St. Louis County voters refused to vote for the incumbent. In Ferguson, for instance, 10,645 voters went to the polls on November 4. Almost all of them cast ballots in races for county executive and county assessor. Yet, rather than vote for the unopposed McCulloch, Ferguson voters cast more than 1,000 write-in ballots and another 3,000 voters simply skipped the race.

In the contest for county executive, a number of leading African-American political figures rejected the Democratic nominee backed by McCulloch and endorsed the Republican, who attracted substantial African-American support and lost by just 1 percent of the vote. The Republican, veteran state legislator Rick Stream, was not a progressive by any means. But he reached out to the African-American community in suburban St. Louis, listened and made commitments. In return, he was backed by a number of African-American Democrats, led by State Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal, St. Louis County Council Chair Hazel Erby and the Fannie Lou Hamer Democratic Coalition.

In announcing the endorsement, Erby specifically criticized Democrat Steve Stenger’s “unbreakable alignment with Bob McCulloch.”

For his part, Republican Stream declared, “Mr. McCulloch had a chance to step aside and frankly it would have removed all doubt about having a fair and independent investigation.” The Republican went further, endorsing a proposal to name special prosecutors to handle all cases of officer-involved shootings. He also campaigned in the African-American community and promised to promote diversity in his appointments.

That wasn’t enough to reverse voting patterns altogether. But it shook the process up; for instance, the Democratic vote for county executive in Ferguson dropped twenty points, from 2010 to 2014. “There was a significant falling off of Democratic performance at the top of the ticket,” said Mike Jones, an ally of the coalition effort. “And you have to argue that didn’t happen by accident.”

Elections for local positions should not happen by accident. And that goes double for key law-enforcement posts.

It is good that prosecutors are elected. Prosecutors have immense authority over the lives of citizens, and citizens should be able to hold prosecutors to account. But for that political process to work, it is important to move beyond simplistic assumptions about Democrats and Republicans, and to make demands of candidates from both parties.

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It is important to take primary elections seriously. And it is important to recognize the value of independent and third-party challenges to the two-party status quo.

There is a good argument to be made for electing prosecutors on a nonpartisan bais. But there is an even better argument to be made that elections for prosecutor positions— be they partisan or nonpartisan, be their primaries or general elections—must be recognized as some of the most vital contests on our ballots.

Media and political elites tend to focus on top-of-the-ballot races for president and governor and senator. But, if the experience of Ferguson and St. Louis County teach us anything, it is that at the bottom of the ballot, in races for local law-enforcement posts, the most fundamental choices are made.


Read Next: In Ferguson, a militarized police isn’t necessary for suppression.

This Is Black Friday in Bangladesh

Relatives of victims of the Tazreen factory fire demonstrate on its second anniversary, November 24, 2014. The second sign reads, “Sumaya Khatun, a victim of Tazreen Fashions fire—where is compensation?” (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

Walmart marks the holiday season this Friday with deals on its Faded Glory women’s sweaters. But this time of year marks a different occasion in another corner of Walmart’s empire: In Bangladesh, survivors and families remember the second anniversary of a massive fire at the Tazreen factory on the outskirts of Dhaka.

After the fire on November 24, 2012, as families mourned over the incinerated bodies in the factory ruins, activists dug up some damning shreds of evidence: they uncovered a Faded Glory label, proving that the workers had produced Walmart-branded clothes.

Today, two years on, Walmart seems eager to put the horrific legacy of Tazreen behind it. But the victims, including 112 dead and many others left injured and impoverished, can’t move on.

The disaster left Maliha partially blind, with severe leg and head injuries, leading her husband to abandon her “to avoid taking care of me.” She recounted in a 2013 report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), “The money I used to earn at Tazreen helped me support my ill mother in the village. Now, I wonder everyday how to survive and feed my children who are so young.”

Some of the world’s largest corporations should have an answer for her, but on Tazreen’s second anniversary, labor and human rights groups have reminded the many multinationals linked to the factory that they have yet to take responsibility. A coalition led by the Clean Clothes Campaign and other labor groups declared, “Walmart still hasn’t paid any compensation to the victims nor has it engaged worker organizations to find a solution.” In addition, the workers at the “death trap” factory had “also produced clothing for Delta Apparel, Dickies, Disney, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, El Corte Ingles, Sean John Apparel, Kik, Piazza Italia, and Sears. None of these companies have paid a cent towards compensation.”

To date, activists report that workers have been left with only meager, piecemeal payments from charitable funds from the government and some local business associations.

Clothing with Walmart’s Faded Glory label was found in the burnt-out factory (AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)

ILRF Director of Organizing and Communication Liana Foxvog tells The Nation via e-mail that activists have criticized the domestic compensation programs, observing that “the distribution that has happened has been nontransparent, has not reached many of the injured workers and affected families, nor has it been disbursed equally or fairly.”

Some companies have responded to public pressure to pay up. Recently, a foundation tied to the European retailer C&A announced an agreement with labor advocates, the union federation IndustriALL and the International Labour Organization, to create a formal compensation scheme to provide for victims’ lost income and medical treatment.

Still, the main challenge will be compelling the major apparel companies to actually fund the program, as corporate contributions continue to lag the toll of dead and injured.

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The Tazreen tragedy was a prelude to an even larger disaster, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory compound, which killed more than 1100 people and galvanized international outrage. Though both incidents have led to some compensation offers (a separate program has been established to support Rana Plaza victims, with some donations from Walmart, but still underfunded), workers still face massive physical and economic hardship.

The two tragedies show that industrial catastrophes happen so routinely in Bangladesh’s garment sector, the devaluing of workers’ lives is structured into the gears of the production chain, reflected in the abysmally low wages and astronomical profits generated by high-paced overseas mass production.

Walmart has launched its own factory safety initiative, a multi-brand coalition known as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Yet despite well-publicized efforts to “promote accountability” and “ensure that garment workers remain at the heart of our efforts,” the Alliance’s statement on the Tazreen anniversary was terse, commemorating the tragedy as “an important wake-up call about the need for urgent reforms,” without mentioning any of the companies’ links to the factories.

Of course, avoiding any hint of liability for worker deaths is nothing new. After the fire, Walmart tried to distance itself by claiming that Tazreen was not authorized to produce orders for them.

The retail giant was undermining corporate accountability in the days leading to the Tazreen fire as well. In addition to relying on notoriously weak and corporate-friendly auditing services for supplier factories, the company helped scuttle an earlier proposed agreement for the retailers to cooperate on investing in safety renovations. Walmart balked at the proposed requirements, calling them “not financially feasible for the brands.”

Tazreen Fashions garment factory after the fire (Reuters/Andrew Biraj)

The corporate stonewalling continues today. To prevent future industrial atrocities, labor groups have launched a framework to administer independent factory monitoring and remedial measures, known as the Bangladesh Accord. Meanwhile, Walmart and Gap have rejected that accord and promoted its Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety as an alternative. But rights groups have sharply criticized that initiative because it allows multinationals to escape full legal liability for safety violations, rendering it comparatively toothless.

The problem isn’t simply that Walmart’s alternative scheme distracts from the broader, more comprehensive Bangladesh Accord (with about 180 signatory brands). It’s that the lack of support from North American industry giants ultimately undermines the social compact underlying the Accord’s emergent network of labor and community groups, government and industry.

If the overall culture of the workplace remains hostile to workers, they will remain unprotected in terms of both physical safety and protection of their labor rights. Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity testified to Congress in February that currently in the factories:

Their right to refuse dangerous work is denied. When I say this, I’m thinking of the workers at Tazreen who were ordered to go back to their sewing machines when the fire alarm went off and then when it became really clear that it was a real fire, the exit doors were locked and the floor managers with the keys were nowhere to be found…. This is why I fear that until the largest U.S. companies the buy from Bangladesh–companies such as Walmart, Gap and VF Corporation–join the Accord, garment workers will continue to die on the job in my country.

So past tragedies will be repeated. And Miraj, who survived Tazreen with severe injuries, will still be haunted by his ominous exchange with his boss before the disaster:

Once I asked the manager, how can we get out if there is a fire? The manager told me that they would build stairs outside, but they did not do anything. This was long ago.

Walmart can argue that it doesn’t have to be held to account for factory accidents, and it can perhaps try to make a business case for avoiding the cost of safety investments. But on the question still seared into Miraj’s memory—how can we get out if there is a fire?—there’s no excuse for the industry’s silence.

Read Next: Michelle Chen on how Walmart saves $1 billion through tax loopholes

A Grat Étude

A couple of years ago, we put up a thankful post, expressing our deep appreciation for the test-solvers who go over our puzzle before it sees print. Our gratitude hasn’t diminished in the slightest since then—if anything, it’s become even more heartfelt—so with Thanksgiving upon us, it seemed like a good time to thank them all over again.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without these attentive and exacting collaborators, the Nation puzzle would not be possible. Every week, without fail, they save us from inadvertent errors and lapses of diction, suggest improvements both large and small, and generally add an inviting gloss to our efforts—and they do it without recompense or hesitation. We are indebted to them beyond measure.

Since our last thank-you note, we’ve added a couple of new helpers to the roster. Katherine Bryant, an editor of science books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is well-known to us through the National Puzzlers’ League, where she was a longtime editor of the monthly puzzle magazine, The Enigma; she can always be counted on to correct any scientific misapprehensions on our part.

Bart Laws, a professor at the Brown University School of Public Health, came to our attention because he was already checking for our errors—only after the fact, when it was too late to save us from embarrassment. After the second time Prof. Laws sent us a correction e-mail, we decided it was time to get him on our team. Happily for us, he accepted.

The other testers, who have remained with us from the beginning of this enterprise are:

Mark Halpin, the theater designer and puzzlesmith whom we interviewed on the subject of Stephen Sondheim; his own remarkable puzzles can be found here
Sally Picciotto (Henri’s daughter), a dancer and public health researcher
Greg Pliska, a film and TV composer/orchestrator, Broadway music director (War Horse), and puzzlesmith who appears occasionally as puzzle guru on NPR’s Ask Me Another
• a group of solvers that meets over breakfast in Berkeley, including Ann Daniels, Jutta Degener, Joe Fendel, Erica Klarreich, Dunn Miller, Barbara Selfridge and Jon Zingman.

And as always, our tireless editors at The Nation, Judith Long and Sandy McCroskey, are an invaluable source of advice and wisdom.

Here are a few examples of how these folks have improved the puzzle just over the past few weeks:

• In Puzzle 3345 we originally clued NYMPH as
   Goddess seen in New York unit (5)
There was universal pushback on that definition, so “goddess” became “spirit.”

Puzzle 3343—which, incidentally, was written in direct response to Ms. Long’s plea for a knitting-themed puzzle—included the entry PURLOINED LETTER, which led to a long discussion of whether “letter” in the sense of “one who lets [an apartment]” was better clued by “landlord” or “tenant.” The consensus pointed to “landlord.”

• In Puzzle 3339, we had clued ODIN simply as
   God of noise (4)
relying on the Irish O’ for “of” (which is attested by Webster’s). The testers unanimously agreed that that was too cute, which is why the clue wound up as
God of boundless joy and noise (4)

Naturally, any mistakes that remain in the puzzle are entirely our own. But because of these folks, there are fewer than there would have been otherwise. So: Thank you. (And thanks also to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll, from whom we borrowed the title of this post.)

This week’s clueing challenge: GRATEFUL. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Do #BlackLivesMatter to White Athletes? Let’s Ask Them

Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers would be a welcome political voice following the injustice in Ferguson. (Reuters/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

As the news that Officer Darren Wilson will not face trial for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown reverberated across the country, more than a few athletes took to social media to express their disgust, sadness, and even rage. With each message—whether from LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Serena Williams—I probably received ten to fifteen texts or e-mails from people asking, “Did you see what Serena/LeBron/Dwyane Wade said?” It is understandable why people, whether isolated in their depression, or marching in outrage, take solace that those who hold astounding cultural platforms,would say, “We feel the same way you do.” (Kobe’s tweet in particular, which read, “The system enables young black men to be killed behind the mask of law #Ferguson #tippingpoint #change” was both piercing and extremely welcome.)

It is also understandable why people look explicitly to black athletes when it comes to speaking out on those matters. After all, Brown’s death speaks to the deadly nature of the intersection of racism and police violence. Anyone who heard “America’s Mayor’ Rudolph Giuliani, make his disturbingly cold-hearted, racist rant on Meet the Press knows that to be true. And in the long history of athletes who have used their elevated platform to say something political, it has been black athletes who have most dramatically and memorably taken the weight and used their platform to speak out for change. Whether Muhammad Ali, Wyomia Tyus or John Carlos and Tommie Smith, these are people who have shown the ways athletic activists don’t only reflect struggle but inspire it. To quote a person I met at the Facing Race 2014 conference in Dallas, given all that social-justice activists ask of the most vulnerable people in our society—undocumented immigrants, sexual assault survivors, low-wage workers—there’s nothing wrong with putting questions to people with cultural power about the rot that exists within the very culture that has brought them glory.

Yet this also speaks to the heart of the unbothered privilege of being a high-profile athlete who happens to be white. If you want to be political—Steve Nash—you can be, but if you just want to get paid, and play one game at a time and give 110 percent, that’s all you are asked to do. It’s a sweet gig: one where you can do your Papa John’s commercials and throw for 5,000 yards while the world burns, and few in the sports media will ever challenge you to do otherwise. The bar is “Be white, play hard, and the world is yours.”

Well, fuck all of this. Michael Brown is dead, and Officer Darren Wilson not only walks free but has $400,000 in donations for his troubles. Then there is 12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland, shot dead this week for having a BB gun in his belt. Or Akai Gurley, unarmed and killed in East New York by police in a situation already judged to be a homicide by the medical examiner’s office. Once every twenty-eight hours, a black man is killed by police. This isn’t justice. It’s a virus.

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It’s horrific that in 2014, we are still, as Funkadelic said in 1972, a nation that eats its young. It should be both an outrage and a shame that the burden is on black America to be the voice of anger when killings like this takes place. People need to stand up and be counted. All people. You either stand with the family of Michael Brown and believe that Officer Darren Wilson should have to stand trial for killing an unarmed teenager, or you believe Officer Wilson’s gobmacking story about what took place when his path crossed Mr. Brown’s in August.

Everyone in the hyper-exalted cultural firmament of sports should be asked if they have any solidarity—verbal or financial—to offer to the family of Michael Brown as well as those on the ground in Ferguson fighting for justice. “Everyone” means not just black athletes. Peyton Manning, Kevin Love, Tom Brady, Mike Trout, Aaron Rodgers: this is the culture that has made you famous. If you want its blessings, then share its burdens and call for justice for Michael Brown. Either black lives matter or they don’t. In other words, either the lives of your teammates matter or they don’t. It’s time, white athletes: take some of the damn weight.


Read Next: "Why Ferguson Burns"

The Assault on Young Black Life Extends Beyond Ferguson


A makeshift memorial for Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, August 19, 2014 (Reuters/Joshua Lott)

Soon after police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, I wrote that the killing of black youth is a reproductive justice issue that should be taken up by progressives with the same intensity with which they advocate for access to abortion and contraception. Today, as news of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson settles in and as advocacy groups turn their attention to the ongoing Justice Department investigation, I am thinking again of reproductive justice advocates’ insistence that women have “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments,” as explained by the organization SisterSong. I am also wondering whether this framework for organizing should be broadened to include the right of black children to be understood as children and treated as such.

Granted, Michael Brown was 18 years old when he was killed, an adult by the legal standard. But the language Wilson used in his testimony to the grand jury indicates that he understood the importance of making sure Brown was not remembered as a teenager, as someone barely past that porous line that separates childhood from the class of people we consider fully developed:

And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan… Hulk Hogan, that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm.… The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.… At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And then when it [the bullet] went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone, it was gone, I mean I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped.

By Wilson’s account, the 28-year-old officer of the law, holding the gun, was the child, and Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old, was somewhere between the devil and a professional wrestler. Making sense of Wilson’s words depends on our understanding that black life is often considered to be simultaneously subhuman and superhuman, impervious to pain and so requiring a level of force beyond what it would take to subdue a non-black person acting in a threatening manner.

When applied to young people, the impact of this potentially deadly delusion is especially difficult to stomach. Research has shown that black children cannot expect the same presumption of innocence that other youth can and so are often treated as adults, particularly in the criminal justice system. After 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a black child, was killed last week by police after brandishing a toy gun in a Cleveland park, a family friend asked police a legitimate question: “Why not taze him? You shot him twice, not once, and at the end of the day you all don’t shoot for the legs, you shoot for the upper body.” The police union representative’s response was telling, if unsurprising: “We’re not trained to shoot people in the leg. If we pull that trigger, we feel our lives are in danger.”

Which raises some questions. What does it take for an officer in such a situation to feel endangered, to feel threatened, to feel outside his comfort zone? How does that change depending on the race of the person in front of him? Well-meaning educators, intent on training students how to be respectable and nonthreatening, are also complicit in this preoccupation with telling black youth that their childish behaviors and natural inclinations are inherently wrong and deserving of harsh punishment. A recent Atlantic article about school discipline explains how this looks in a New Orleans school with a predominately black student body

From the moment Summer Duskin arrived at Carver Collegiate Academy in New Orleans last fall, she struggled to keep track of all the rules. There were rules governing how she talked. She had to say thank you constantly, including when she was given the “opportunity”—as the school handbook put it—to answer questions in class. And she had to communicate using “scholar talk,” which the school defined as complete, grammatical sentences with conventional vocabulary.… There were rules governing how Summer moved. Teachers issued demerits when students leaned against a wall, or placed their heads on their desks. (The penalty for falling asleep was 10 demerits, which triggered a detention; skipping detention could warrant a suspension.) Teachers praised students for shaking hands firmly, sitting up straight, and “tracking” the designated speaker with their eyes.… The rules did not ease up between classes: students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape.

In a letter demanding change, Duskin and sixty of her classmates wrote of the endless requirements narrowing the range of their behavior, “The teachers and administrators tell us this is because they are preparing us for college. If college is going to be like Carver, we don’t want to go to college.” I would take their brave declaration one step further to ask: Where do we want black young people to go? Based on some institutions’ actions—from police departments to prosecutors’ offices to schools, where black students are three times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled—it’s easy to draw the conclusion that we don’t want them on the streets, we don’t want them in public parks and we don’t want them in classrooms unless and until they learn how to act like perfect middle-class white adults.

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Parents of black children continue to question a culture that tells them to clip their children’s wings before they have nerve enough to think they can spread them. Teaching black children that they need not be fearful, docile or mature beyond their years is a revolutionary and potentially dangerous act, but it shouldn’t be. Perhaps disappointment over events in Ferguson will help grow a movement advocating that black kids should be allowed to be kids, with the many messes and mistakes that entails.

Read Next: No indictment for Darren Wilson, no justice for black lives

Rethinking the Cost of Western Intervention in Ukraine

Kiev's Independence Square

A March rally in Kiev's Independence Square (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, recently cautioned Americans against intervention fatigue: “I think there is too much of ‘Oh, look, this is what intervention has wrought’…. one has to be careful about overdrawing lessons.” Say what? Given the calamities wrought in Iraq, Libya and now Ukraine, one would think that a fundamental rethinking and learning of lessons is long overdue. The United States needs a sober look at the actual costs of supposed good intentions divorced from realism.

Power’s comments come as Ukraine marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Maidan Square demonstrations in Kiev, surely an occasion for rethinking and changing course. One year after the United States and Europe celebrated the February coup that ousted the corrupt but constitutionally elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, liberal and neoconservative interventionists have much to answer for. Crimea has been annexed by Russia. More than 4,000 people have lost their lives in the civil war in Ukraine, with more than 9,000 wounded and nearly a million displaced. This month, the Kiev government acknowledged the de facto partition of Ukraine by announcing it was ending all funding for government services and social benefits including pensions and freezing all bank accounts in the eastern districts that are in revolt. The Ukrainian economy is near collapse with nowhere near the billions needed to rebuild it at hand. How Kiev or the cut-off eastern regions will provide heating and electricity to their beleaguered people as winter approaches remains to be seen.

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The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia, with threats of more to come. Many observers have rightly suggested that we are witnessing the beginnings of a new Cold War. US and NATO forces are being dispatched to buck up the purportedly nervous Baltic nations, now part of NATO’s security guarantee. Meanwhile, the sanctions have added to Europe’s economic woes. Vladimir Putin’s popularity has soared within Russia, even as the nation’s economy has suffered. European unity has begun to fray, with several countries worried about the effect of sanctions on their own economies, and officials questioning the sanctions’ effectiveness.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Rich Countries Pony Up (Some) for Climate Justice

Drought in China

(Reuters/China Daily)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

It’s one of the oldest tricks in politics: talk down expectations to the point that you can meet them.

And it played out again in Berlin as twenty-one countries—including the United States—pledged nearly $9.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund, a UN body tasked with helping developing countries cope with climate change and transition to clean-energy systems.

The total—which will cover a four-year period before new pledges are made—included $3 billion from the United States, $1.5 billion from Japan and around $1 billion each from the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

That’s a big step in the right direction. But put into context, $9.5 billion quickly sounds less impressive.

Floods, droughts, sea-level rises, heat waves and other forms of extreme weather are likely to cost developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars every year. And it will take hundreds of billions more to ensure that they industrialize more cleanly than their counterparts did in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Developed countries should foot a large part of that bill, since they bear the greatest responsibility for causing climate change.

The Politics of Responsibility

Determining who pays for what is an integral part of achieving an international climate deal. And so far, pledges from rich countries have tracked far behind previous requests and recommendations.

Back in 2009, developed countries signed the Copenhagen Accord, which committed them to move $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries. A year later, the UN climate conference in Cancún called for the Green Climate Fund to be set up to channel a “significant share” of the money developing countries need to adapt to climate change.

Earlier this year, the G77—which is actually a grouping of 133 developing countries—called for $15 billion to be put into the Green Climate Fund. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres set the bar lower, at $10 billion. The failure to reach even that figure is likely to put strain on negotiations for a new multilateral climate agreement that is expected to be reached in December 2015.

But it’s not just the headline figure that’s important. Plenty of devils are likely to be lurking in the details.

Delivering on the US pledge requires budgetary approval from a hostile Congress, although a payment schedule stretching over much of the next decade could make that more politically feasible than it initially sounds.

More concerning are the conditions attached to the US pledge, which include a threat that some of the money could be redirected to other funds—likely those run by the World Bank—if “the pace of progress” at the Green Climate Fund is inadequate. Given that the United States is advocating rules on how the fund makes decisions that would tip the balance of power in favor of contributor countries, the threat is far from innocuous.

France will provide a significant proportion of its share as loans rather than grants, while the small print of the UK contribution is likely to reveal that part of its money comes as a “capital contribution,” which can only be paid out as loans.

Those restrictions could limit the scope of activities that the fund can finance, since much of the vital support and infrastructure needed to support community resilience in the face of climate change is too unprofitable to support loan repayments.

Future of the Fund

Looming over these issues is the larger, unresolved question of what the fund will actually finance. Some donor countries—including the United States—are pushing for a fund that would support transnational corporations and their supply chains, helping them turn profits from investments in developing countries.

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Despite its green mandate, the Green Climate Fund may also support an array of “dirty energy” projects—including power generation from fossil fuels, nuclear power and destructive mega-dam projects. That’s the subject of an ongoing dispute on the fund’s twenty-four-member board and a persistent complaint from a range of civil society organizations.

That battle is not yet lost.

Despite its shortcomings, the Green Climate Fund has great potential to support a global transition to renewable energy, sustainable public transport systems and energy efficiency. And with its goal of spending 50 percent of its funds on “adaptation” activities, it could also serve as a vital lifeline for communities already facing the impacts of climate change.

An important milestone was passed with the billions pledged to the Green Climate Fund. But achieving a cleaner, more resilient world will take billions more—along with a commitment to invest the money in projects that mitigate climate change rather than cause it.

Read Next: How the North Pole Could Become the World’s Next Battlefield

In the Awesome World of the Future

Tom Tomorrow

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No Indictment for Darren Wilson, No Justice for Black Lives

Ferguson, Missouri, November 24, 2014 (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

It has now been announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted on criminal charges for the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But the writing has been on the wall as well, and on the bodies of protesters who have demanded justice. No one I talked to while in Ferguson believed there would be an indictment. No one I spoke to could bring themselves to trust that the system that killed Michael Brown would care about his life now. All that I spoke to were prepared to continue this fight.

Because even if Wilson had been indicted, true justice would not have come to Ferguson, St. Louis, Missouri or America. It would have meant one cop being tried for the death of one black boy in one town. Wilson’s indictment would not have prevented the deaths of Kajeime Powell, Vonderrit Myers, Tanesha Anderson, Tamir Rice or Akai Gurley. Only a lasting justice that values black life is capable of that.

But what is justice in a nation built on white supremacy and the destruction of black bodies? That’s the question we have yet to answer. It’s the question that shakes us up and makes our insides uncomfortable. It’s the question that causes great unrest.

There is fear in that word, “unrest.” It’s become synonymous with violence. But it is unrest that put Michael Brown’s name into our consciousness, and it is unrest that his kept his memory alive. Unrest is the key to justice.

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Protesters in Ferguson should not be calm, as they have been admonished by everyone from the president on down. Michael Brown doesn’t need calm. Black boys and girls who grow up in America need their lives to be respected. They need justice.


Read Next: Chase Madar on “Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop.”

How One Woman Tried—and Failed—to Stop the Fed From Driving the US Into Recession

Federal Reserve Bank

The headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The death of Nancy Teeters was properly noted last week (November 17), since she was the very first woman to serve as a governor on the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. But I remember Teeters for more poignant and powerful reasons—her personal courage in stubbornly resisting the harsh and devastating recession the Fed imposed on Americans.

This was thirty years ago in the early 1980s when Paul Volcker was the formidable Fed chairman and his conservative convictions triumphed. Volcker is remembered reverently in the annals of finance for saving the country from inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lonely dissenter, was soon forgotten but she understood some things about human society and arrogant power that her male colleagues failed to appreciate.

Those long-ago events during the Reagan presidency were at the dawn of the conservative era and—due especially to the Federal Reserve—began the triumph of finance capital over the broader economy. I wrote a book in 1987 that described the historic watershed, called Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. Teeters was right. If other Fed governors had listened, this country might have been saved from a lot of pointless pain.

This is what I said about her unique role:

Nancy Teeters, almost alone, resisted. Month after month, as the economy spiraled downward, she repeatedly urged her colleagues to back off. The largest corporations were shutting down more and more of their production. As loan failures accumulated, the financial sector was threatened with crisis. The Fed’s single-mindedness, she warned, was inflicting deep wounds that would not soon be healed.

“I gave the Federal Open Market Committee a lecture.” Teeters said. “I told them: You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.”

Her metaphor, she pointed out to me, was understood by women. “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life,” Teeters said. [page 465]

The objections she expressed thirty years ago in the closed-door meetings of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors are still highly relevant to our current national condition. The “social fabric” has been torn asunder, first by Volcker’s deep recession, then by deregulation and Wall Street’s high-risk adventures, and then by globalization and finance capital’s hegemony over labor and production. These destabilizing forces led eventually to the collapse. They are driving the grinding deterioration that continues to afflict the society.

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Contemporary politics is still blind to the gravity of our situation. Even the Democratic president is still resisting the kind of big, bold actions that Keynesian economists like Nancy Teeters might have proposed in these circumstances. Defending the “social fabric” remains an inadmissible argument in the mechanistic logic of conventional economics. As Teeters argued then, innocent people are being sacrificed to crude abstractions. Meanwhile, some people are still getting richer and most other people are still getting poorer.

There is one great change in the landscape, however. The Federal Reserve Board is now chaired by a woman. Janet Yellen is perhaps not so upfront in her social concerns as Nancy Teeters was, but she is clearly trying to move the boys in that direction. Yellen met recently with a network of activist community organizations who are pushing for concrete action on work and wages. If the very masculine Federal Reserve can break free of the reactionary past, maybe there is hope for the country.


Read Next: Should we impeach Chief Justice John Roberts?

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