Media, politics and culture.
As others at The Nation and elsewhere have observed over the past two weeks, the Ukraine political conflict (not to mention history) is complex, and one should be wary of black and white portrayals in the American media and via US officials and members of Congress. This applies as well to RT (formerly Russia Today) television and RT.com, which have a following among some on the US left and many others.
RT, of course, is funded by the federal budget of Russia through the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. According to its Wikipedia page, it currently reaches the homes of 85 million in the United States, making it the foreign channel with the second-highest penetration here (after the BBC). It also goes out to over 600 million in 100 other countries, they say.
Just for fun, here are all of the Ukraine-related headlines on their site at present:
And, on the op-ed page:
The West organized the coup in Ukraine and they can make this very ugly, but there is no chance of Russia being able to back down, Danny Welch, blogger and anti-war activist, told RT.
Read Next: Nicolai N. Petro’s take on the situation in Ukraine.
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, media commentators and members of Congress are returing to Cold War rhetoric on nuclear weapons, calling for a halt to already-negotiated cutbacks in the massive U.S. arsenal and/or extending the reach of our nuclear umbrella to Kiev. Sen. Marco Rubio on 'Meet the Press" called for expanding our so-called "missile shield" defense.
Still, it's worth remembering that it could be much worse. No nukes is good news, in Ukraine.
Remember that when the Soviet Union broke up, several of the breakaway republics took with them some of Mother Russia’s nukes. Ukraine had many of them, the biggest budget and a lot of animosity toward Russia. But somehow, with our help, they gave them up. Bill Maher even shoved this fact down the throat of Bill Kristol last night on his HBO show when Kristol disparaged diplomacy.
The terrific Amy Davidson of The New Yorker reviews the history here.
It was not obvious where all these missiles would end up, particularly not in the case of Ukraine, which was stronger than the others and more sharply at odds with Russia; it thought it might find better friends. (Steven Pifer, of the Brookings Institution, has a useful review.) The new Ukrainian government also thought that Russia was not negotiating in good faith (from a certain perspective, it had absconded with Ukraine’s tactical warheads). Russia, meanwhile, suggested that the Ukrainians were not decent stewards of the weapons: they didn’t know how to take care of them, and they would deteriorate and turn into public hazards—“much worse than Chernobyl,” the Russian Foreign Minister said at the time. The disaster at Chernobyl had given the Ukrainians a look at a nuclear accident; it had also underscored a sense that Moscow was neglectful and mendacious. They also knew that I.C.B.M.s, even if they had no use for them, contained highly enriched uranium that was extremely valuable. And Ukraine needed money. In September, 1993, the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine fell apart.
The United States could have approached this in any number of ways. One might have been heedlessly, without a full understanding of the danger—gleeful about the spectacle, and glad to see the inheritors of the Soviet Union dispossessed of a few more bombs. We could have helped keep Ukraine a nuclear power, thinking that it would make the country, in some way, ours. Or we could have been excessively fearful, and supported Moscow’s contention that the Ukrainians had no right to these things, anyway, encouraging them to just go in and take them. This might have made the dissolution of the Soviet Union look a lot more like a civil war, in which our position was ambiguous. We could have postured, and lost the Cold War peace.
Instead, we offered two things…
Read on to see what happened. And see a full report by a Brookings expert here.
Then Davidson concludes:
What are the lessons for the current crisis, other than to be abjectly relieved that we don’t live in a world where nuclear weapons are even more loosely held than they are? One is to not disparage diplomacy, or treat it as a lesser form of foreign policy, or to think that there is no place for a calm middle. Another is to remember how human and fallible the actors are, and how much listening and getting a sense of their interests can help.
Read Next: Nation in the News: Stephen Cohen: The US Should Promote a Stable and United Ukraine.
To no one’s surprise (I hope)—after the uproar over Max Blumenthal’s Goliath—a book often critical of Israel has provoked a strong backlash and set frequent allies against one another. This time it revolves around the pro-Israel stronghold—at least under former owner Marty Peretz and before the arrival of new boss Chris Hughes—of The New Republic.
Of course, the David Horowitzs of the world had already labeled the book Genesis by John Judis as betraying hatred for Israel and even support for, yes, the Nazis. There were several developments yesterday. After Ron Radosh had attacked the book, Leon Wieseltier, a colleague of Judis at The New Republic, sent Radosh a note going even further; the note was happily published by a right-wing site. This is just one blast:
I know with certainty that Judis’ understanding of Jewish history, and of the history and nature of Zionism, is shallow, derivative, tendentious, imprecise, and sometimes risibly inaccurate—he is a tourist in this subject. Like most tourists, he sees what he came to see…. Remember Rosa Luxemburg’s letter to her friend in which she proudly announced that she had no corner of her heart for the Jews? Judis is her good disciple.
Of course, Wieseltier has proudly picked fights for other staffers before, but he is now the last of the Old Guard there.
This latest hit provoked Peter Beinart (who has been attacked himself for some of his recent musings on Israel) to tweet: “john judis is an old, dear friend of mine. don’t agree w/ him on everything but will stand w/ him when unfairly attacked.” Andrew Sullivan hit Wieseltier here. Excerpt:
These are not arguments; they are insults. And they are as disgusting as they are entirely unsurprising. A simple question: is there an editor at The New Republic capable of preventing this kind of vicious anti-collegial invective? Not when it comes to Wieseltier, it seems. Chris Hughes and Frank Foer seem to answer to him, and not the other way round.
Jacob Heilbrunn (himself a former Wieseltier colleague) does much the same at The National Interest.
The truth is that hysterical petulance is at the bottom of much of Wieseltier’s fulgurations. The contrast between the lofty principles that intellectuals such as Wieseltier purport to espouse and the childish sniping is what emerges most conspicuously in his latest fusillade. In the end, the stakes aren’t really that high and, in any case, until recent decades many Jewish intellectuals were, more often than not, indifferent to Israel (Lionel Trilling) or dubious about it. Now Judis has written a mildly critical account that is triggering a furor. That his detractors would respond so extravagantly and violently may say more about their dispositions than his.
Max Blumenthal noted in a tweet: “Judis says Museum of Jewish Heritage has reinvited him to June 1 appearance—after rescinding invite under pressure.”
Judis then replied himself in a piece at The New Republic titled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely.”
I have to admit that I found it disturbing that after reading one of these reviews, an old friend called to ask me whether in my book I really advocated the abolition of Israel. The fact is that I don’t believe in the abolition of Israel, nor in half the things that these reviewers have attributed to me.…
[M]any states, including the United States, are products of settler colonialism and conquest. There is no going back in these cases. What Israel’s early history does suggest, though, is that Palestinian Arabs have a legitimate grievance against Israelis that has never been satisfactorily addressed. It won’t be addressed by abolishing Israel—that’s not going to happen—but it can be addressed by an equitable two-state solution that gives both peoples a state and that opens the way for Israel’s reconciliation with its neighbors. If there is a lesson to Genesis—and I happen to believe that history can tell us things about the present—that’s what it is.
Ray Davies, one of my musical heroes dating back to the Kinks half a century ago, always championed working-class struggles, going back to “Dead End Street.” Chrissie Hynde, frontwoman for the Pretenders, has long been in the forefront of animal rights and anti-fur protests. So it’s not exactly shocking that their daughter, Natalie Hynde, 29, was arrested last summer in a unique anti-fracking protest in England.
The 32-year-old, along with 55-year-old Simon Medhurst, had superglued themselves together around the drill site’s gate on July 31 to create a “striking and symbolic” media image, according to the BBC, to raise awareness about fracking (a technique to fracture shale rock and retrieve natural gasses within). Hynde and Medhurst both denied wrongdoing.
Despite their claims, a judge said the pair “went beyond reasonable freedom of speech.” Furthermore, district magistrate William Ashworth said that Hynde and Medhurst did beset the site “in the true meaning of the word” because they had blocked access to it. The blockade cost the drilling firm Cuadrilla £5,000 ($8,300). Hynde was given a twelve-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £400 and a £15 “victim surcharge”; Medhurst was told to pay £200 and a £20 victim surcharge.
But it could have been differently disruptive: Hynde said her original plan was to dig a tunnel at the site. Instead, she tried superglue because it was easier. “I wanted it to look peaceful, with the hands around the gate, and superglue seemed fast,” she said. “I hadn’t done it either, so I thought it would be a good thing to try.” She did not know how long the fixative would hold. “If it did [obstruct access to the site], then great,” Hynde said. “That wasn’t the intention.”
Hynde, a longtime activist, said that simply waving a placard this time wouldn’t get them anywhere. She was arrested one year ago after chaining herself to a tree in a protest against construction of a controversial new road.
Davies and Hynde never married. There are many famous offspring of rock stars and models, actors, actresses, even writers, but I can’t think of another daughter of two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members (let me know if you do).
Here’s an excerpt from Natalie Hynde’s piece in The Guardian:
Getting arrested for taking part in direct action at Balcombe was the most liberating experience I’ve ever had. Nothing I’ve ever done in my life has made me feel so empowered and alive.
Anyone can Google the “List of the Harmed” or look at the Shalefield Stories detailing what’s happened to people in the US as a result of fracking—the nosebleeds, the cancers, the spontaneous abortions in livestock, the seizures and silicosis in the worker’s lungs. Not to mention the farming revenue lost from sick and dying cattle. When you have exhausted all other channels of democratic process—written letters, gone on marches and signed petitions—direct action seems the only way left to get your voice heard…
A lot of us want the moratorium that was lifted in 2012 to be reinstated—due to new evidence and significant Royal Society/RIE recommendations not having been followed. We’ve already had two earthquakes in Blackpool and the property market in the town has tanked as a result of the fracking. In the exploratory drilling process, the range of chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, pose a massive threat if they escape from the well. All wells leak eventually—6% of gas wells leak immediately and 50% of all gas wells leak within 15 years….
We need an outright ban on fracking—or at the very least, a moratorium.
Read Next: Chris Hayes profiles the Exxon CEO suing to keep fracking out of his backyard.
Today marks one of the most momentous nights in 1960s history. No, not another Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan but young Cassius Clay (already one of my boyhood heroes) whipping aging bad man Sonny Liston to take the heavyweight crown in a huge upset—paving the way for his decades at the forefront of American sports and culture and politics.
Yes, the Beatles visited him earlier in his training camp in Miami Beach for a much-publicized photo op. But the most amazing meeting was the coming together, in a modest hotel in a black neighborhood back in Miami after the fight—starring new heavyweight champ Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown (the greatest football player ever and Sam Cooke (possibly the finest singer of our time). Now that’s a line-up that tops even the Fab Four. Also in attendance: a certain undercover FBI agent.
Clay was about to announce his membership in the “black Muslims” and get a name change. Malcolm was about to get kicked out of that faith, despite (or partly because of) his friendship with Clay, and then make his epic trip to Mecca. Brown was getting more and more outspoken on race. And Sam Cooke was about to record a single with Ali—and write “A Change Gonna Come.” Within a little more than a year, Cooke and Malcolm would be dead.
But on that night, as Peter Guralnick writes:
They sat in Malcolm’s room with Osman Karriem and various Muslim ministers and supporters, eating vanilla ice cream and offering up thanks to Allah for Cassius’ victory, as an undercover FBI informant took note of this apparent nexus between the Nation of Islam and prominent members of the sports and entertainment industries. Sam was uncharacteristically quiet, taking in the magnificent multiplicity of the moment. To him, Cassius was not just a great entertainer but a kindred soul. He had made beating Liston look easy, and Sam was convinced he would beat him again. Because, armed with an analytic intelligence, he had made him afraid.
Jim Brown, an outspoken militant himself, though not a member of the Nation, appeared to veteran black sports reporter Brad Pye Jr. to be more elated over Clay’s achievement than any of his own. “Well, Brown,” said Malcolm with a mixture of seriousness and jocularity, “don’t you think it’s time for this young man to stop spouting off and get serious?”
That is exactly what Cassius did at a pair of press conferences he held in the two days following the fight. He was a Muslim, he said. “There are seven hundred fifty million people all over the world who believe in it, and I’m one of them.” He wasn’t a Christian. How could he be, “when I see all the colored people fighting for forced integration get blowed up… . I’m the heavyweight champion, but right now, there are some neighborhoods I can’t move into….
I’m going to add to this story over the next hour. For now, let me direct you to this lengthy excerpt from Guralnick’s excellent biography of Cooke, which covers that night and the aftermath.
And here’s a clip from the opening of the Hollywood film Ali, with Will Smith in the starring role and a Sam Cooke character singing in a Miami nightclub that week—which actually happened and was immortalized on one of the great live albums ever, Live at the Harlem Club. Below that, the scene in the ring that night as Ali welcomes Cooke to his celebration. Finally, a clip of Malcolm talking with and about Ali in the aftermath.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: &ldqou;This Week in ‘Nation’ History: Want to Know What NAFTA Teaches Us About the TPP Fight?”
Just over two weeks ago, The New York Times published a profile of Wendy Davis, candidate for Texas governor, in its Sunday magazine. It was written by Robert Draper, a longtime contributor and native Texan. By then it had already sparked controversy, as it had been posted on the paper’s web site days earlier, along with its cover. Actually, it was the cover that drew the most comment.
I reviewed the critiques in a piece here, quoting everyone from Connie Schultz to Katha Pollitt. The cover photo was a typical (for the magazine) horrid close-up, but male politicians have suffered the same treatement—remember the remarkably horse-faced Mark Warner? It was the cover line that seemed to many most clichéd, outdated and offensive: “Can Wendy Davis Have It All?” Underneath were references to “ambition” and “motherhood.” Not to mention “mythmaking.”
As for the piece itself, Eric Boehlert tweeted: “profile of Wendy Davis so disheartending. virtually NO DISCUSSION of policy. all bio/family/custody etc. unthinkable for male.”
To no one’s surprise, the Times’s fine public editor, Margaret Sullivan, explored the criticisms in her column yesterday. And in a rare move, Draper has criticized Sullivan’s take.
A few highlights from Sullivan:
When an article sets out to examine gender bias, how can it avoid perpetuating that bias along the way? Despite its well-intentioned efforts, this piece managed to trip over a double standard with its detailed examination of Ms. Davis’s biography, including her role in raising her two daughters.
For many women, this relentless second-guessing hits hard and cuts deep. We take it personally, for good reason: In our society, there may be no more damaging wound than being found wanting in the good-mother department—and no career achievement can salve it.
Beginning the reader’s experience with the outdated “Have It All” headline didn’t help, nor did the subheadline: “A Texas-Size Tale of Ambition, Motherhood and Political Mythmaking,” which comes close to suggesting that Ms. Davis is spinning a big lie. Together, they curdle the piece that follows. A description in the second paragraph of Ms. Davis’s “fitted black dress and high heels” and her omnipresent half smile does little to ease the reader’s suspicions.
The article itself has much to commend it: engaging writing, thorough reporting and a native Texan’s understanding of his subject matter. It mostly steers intelligently and perceptively through the gender issues, but when it picks apart her history as a mother so insistently, it veers off the road. Reportorial due diligence is one thing; reinforcing a sexist standard is quite another.
I’m not sure what The Times’s next major article on a female politician will be. But I’m hopeful that not only will it avoid strange planetary depictions and ’70s-era catchphrases, but also that it will rise above gender-based double standards, leaving them where they belong: in the dust of history.
Draper responded quickly on Facebook:
I don’t agree with Margaret—I think when a politician calculatedly runs on his/her life story & the representation of that story proves to be inaccurate, reporters are required to examine that story in detail, else they become complicit in the narrative-shading. (She also misrepresents the viewpoint of Rebecca Traister, seeming to suggest Rebecca found fault with my piece when she didn’t.) Still, reasonable minds can disagree on this, and I appreciate her even-tempered critique of a story that apparently caused heads of all denominations to explode.
I asked Sullivan for a response but she has declined for now. One of the commenters on her piece, however, posted a link to a Draper farewell to George W. Bush when he was about to leave the White House, which focused on his “human decency.”
Draper then added a Comment to his original Facebook post:
There’s no question that if the art dept. had gone with a glam shot, we would’ve rightfully caught hell for it. That said, on a certain level it’s kind of weird that so much scrutiny for gender bias has been devoted to a story that, far more than any other previous to it, unambiguously portrays her as a person of intelligence, accomplishment & substance (rather than just an icon or cartoon). But what the hell—I did my scrutinizing, so others are free to do the same.
Read Next: Dave Zirin: “At Long Last, Jason Collins Is First”
Matt Taibbi, a favorite of Nation (and other) readers for several years thanks to his hard-hitting, but often humorous, reporting on the crooks and “squids” of Wall Street, and their DC cronies, for venerable Rolling Stone, announced today he was joining First Look. That’s the new media project from Pierre Omidiyar, which has already attracted the likes of Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras.
He will head the financial/economic team and produce the second digital magazine. Greenwald, Scahill and others launched the first, The Intercept, related to the NSA/Snowden leaks and privacy/security concerns earlier this month.
Taibbi’s farewell to Rolling Stone is here. (He learned of his big career break while walking in my native Niagara Falls.) See links to some of his “greatest hits” below. The First Look release is here and includes:
Taibbi will help assemble a top-notch team of journalists and bring his trademark combination of reporting, analysis, humor and outrage to the ongoing financial crisis—and to the political machinery that makes it possible. The magazine will launch later this year.
Taibbi comes to First Look from Rolling Stone, where he served as a contributing editor for the past 10 years. During his tenure, he built a large and devoted following that has grown to rely on his in-depth and irreverent reporting on Wall Street and Washington. Whether busting Goldman Sachs for market manipulation or revealing the hidden roots of the student loan crisis, Taibbi has exposed and explained the most complicated financial scandals of the day with a fresh and compelling approach to journalism that has enraged and inspired millions of readers.
“Matt is one of the most influential journalists of our time,” said Eric Bates, executive editor of First Look Media. “His incisive explorations of the financial crisis—and Wall Street’s undue influence over our political system—have played a key role in helping to inform the public and transform the national debate. He is a journalist who can explain what a credit default swap is and why it’s important—and, make you bust out laughing while he’s doing it. I look forward to having him on our team and helping him launch a dynamic new site unlike any other.”
Just this week I posted an item on Taibbi’s latest piece at my blog. “The Loophole That Ate the World,” as we put it, in describing his angle. Earlier, Taibbi on “advocacy journalists” (that is, all of them). How the bailouts created a “Ponzi scheme.” Of course, we enjoyed it when he went after David Brooks. Then there was his take on a Thomas Friedman sex tape.
Read Next: Nation in the News Stephen Cohen: In Kiev, We Can’t Ignore the Fascist Minority.
The Oak Ridge Three were finally sentenced to prison yesterday.
I’ve long covered this case of the peace activists who in July 2012 broke into part of the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in an incident reminiscent of the “Plowshares” protests made famous by Dan and Phil Berrigan and their colleagues. Yesterday Sister Megan Rice, a quite vigorous elderly nun, was sentenced to nearly three years in the pen and her two comrades—Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli—nearly twice that.
No need to point out the sentences handed down to criminals ranging from mass murdering soldiers in Iraq to Wall Street crooks.
Last year, my friend William O’Rourke sent me a piece he’d just written very much related to this case, and I posted it here at The Nation. It seems appropriate to re-post it today.
O’Rourke is one of the most cogent writers on the history of Catholic anti-war and anti-nuclear activism. I’ve known him since the 1970s, when he wrote book reviews for me at Crawdaddy. He is best known for his acclaimed book, The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left from 1972, but he has also written numerous other non-fiction books and novels (full bio here).
* * *
by William O’Rourke
Last year, in April, there was a weekend event in Harrisburg, PA, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the trial of the Harrisburg 7, which had ended in 1972, with a hung jury on the major counts—conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in Washington, DC—and convictions on minor contraband counts, smuggling letters in and out of a Federal prison in Lewisburg, PA.
The Harrisburg trial became the capstone of a number of anti-war trials that had begun in the 1960s, some involving the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, most notably the case of the Catonsville 9; these trials had marked the new Catholic Left’s ascendancy in the public eye as symbols of “nonviolent” resistance to the Vietnam war. Though the government “lost” the Harrisburg 7 trial, its fomenters, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI, won what they were after: to besmirch the reputations of the Berrigans and the larger Catholic Left resistance movement and to knock them from the high moral pillar they occupied.
A reissue of my 1972 book, The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left, had appeared a month before, so I gave the keynote address following a panel on the case, held at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg. One of the original defendants, the former nun Elizabeth McAlister and spouse, now widow, of Philip Berrigan, had been on the panel and was in attendance. It was a large crowd of some 200 filling the bookstore, the size of a warehouse, where we all convened, the average age 60 plus. (A podcast of the event can be found here: http://famousreadingcafe.podomatic.com/). I began my remarks saying that when I had written the new Afterword for the Harrisburg book I had never imagined that I would be reading parts of it aloud to Elizabeth McAlister.
Three months after that event, another nun, Sister Megan G. Rice, along with two men some decades’ younger—she was 82 in July of 2012, the men in their 50s and early 60s—were arrested after breaking into Y-12, our nuclear storage facility of storied history in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They came with the usual Plowshares movement equipment: hammers, spray paint, human blood, but also a hefty bolt cutter. The Oak Ridge 3.
They were tried this year in Knoxville, TN, in early May, and, after a two-day trial, were convicted on two counts, one of obstructing the national defense and the second of “depredation” of a government facility. The former, the sabotage count, carries a potential penalty of 20 years.
There was very little coverage of the trial itself, nothing like the Harrisburg case received four decades ago, and the Knoxville local news and the AP, in their reporting, kept referring to the defendants as the Y-12 trespassers, not the Oak Ridge 3, thereby de-nationalising the case. Sentencing for the Oak Ridge 3, who currently remain in jail, is scheduled for September. The Washington Post did run a mini-book report on the case before the trial, on April 29th, in its Style section, complete with 14 “Chapters” (all very short, Dan Brown-like), written by Dan Zak, with many web-friendly photos and extras. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/style/2013/04/29/the-prophets-of-oak-ridge/). The Post is fly-fishing for a Pulitzer.
In 2012 the Nuns on the Bus had received more coverage than the Oak Ridge 3 (many things get more publicity), but beating swords into plowshares doesn’t get a lot of traction these days. It’s hard, in the Age of Obama, when the “anti-war” former presidential candidate continues to oversee the two wars his predecessor began, and Gitmo remains open (though the president really, really wants to close it), to push through all the noise with this type of anti-nuclear protest. The Plowshares movement rose from the ashes of the Harrisburg trial, nurtured and populated by both Berrigans, Philip and Dan, along with Philip’s wife, Elizabeth McAlister. Its protests began, more or less, in 1980, with the King of Prussia, PA, action at the GE Missile Re-entry Division. More hammers and blood. Eventually, after a number of protests, the Berrigans and Elizabeth spent time in jail, some shorter, some longer, as did others.
These days activists have taken to calling such events as the Y-12 prophetic acts, rather than protests, thereby sidestepping the endemic futility found in this sort of protesting. The participants have been mainly the remnants of the Catholic Left, carrying out their never-ending mission. Protest movements in the secular protest world, and their general fecklessness, were demonstrated most starkly by the Occupy movement, the marathon sitting-in sort in a park near the heart of the beast on Wall Street in 2011. Other moments of occupation have occurred elsewhere in the country with little effect, as well as the more anarchistic protests at G8 meetings (held infrequently in the US).
One secular protest movement with teeth, though, has been the Tea Party, a largely astro-turf creation, though anchored in the small hardcore anti-tax groups of long standing, but was hatched into its current form by high-end Republican organizations with the bright idea of creating a “third” party within a party—the GOP—avoiding that way all the shortcomings of traditional third parties.
Coincidentally, a new documentary, Hit & Stay: A History of Faith and Resistance, which premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Festival last March, focuses on the Catholic anti-war movement, largely the draft-board raiding contingent, of the 60s, 70s. (Its web site: http://www.hitandstay.com/ ). At a panel after the premiere, the usual question was asked: Why weren’t more young people out in the streets protesting? My answer was that they were saddled with so much educational debt they don’t dare. And there is the continuing influence of the Democrat anti-war president whose earnest rhetoric tamps down youthful fervor to protest the government he represents.
One often overlooked reason of why the late 60s and early 70s became the golden age of protest was the state of the economy back then. There was both an excess of surplus capital and, briefly, recession, which allowed a lot of youth the time to be both fancy free and willing to take a stand. Reagan economics and the transfer of most of the wealth to the top had yet to take place.
Today’s economics perversely put a choke-hold on large-scale protests. The current volunteer army was not forced upon the government by the anti-war protestors of the time; the war makers longed for it, and got it in 1973. 1973! The one statistic that has changed in the wars we now fight is the average age of the dead. It has risen. We’re no longer killing the footloose teenage males we had such an oversupply of in the Vietnam period. Those who die now have marriages, families, some experience of real life, however truncated.
When the Plowshares people turned to anti-nuclear protests, going from protesting the humble starting point of organized warfare—draft boards, the recruitment of soldiers as good ol’ cannon fodder—the Berrigans jumped to the end of the process, protesting the technological height of the military-industrial complex, its most sacred and scary weapons, its nuclear stockpile. If Gandhi could end the British Empire’s colonial domination of a country, why couldn’t the Berrigans end our reliance on nuclear weapons? They chose to go from the limited and symbolic to the purely symbolic and sorely limited. Prophetic actions, indeed. The history of protest has many rooms, but these symbolic acts are demonstrations of resistance, idealized pleas for actual magic, as if spray paint and human blood and the marks of hammers could actually turn an article of war (a nuclear sword) into a helpful tool of humanity (a plow). Prest-O Change-O.
The general public might not have much reaction or exposure to octogenarian nuns spray-painting a building filled with enriched bomb-grade uranium, but Congress certainly did, and hearings on the Oak Ridge incident quickly were held. A number of representatives thanked Sister Rice for pointing out the deficiencies in its security systems. The thorough Lax account, courtesy of The Washington Post, points out the usual laughable lapses, the sort you get when you privatize the military. One of the horrors of nuclear weapons is how they wedded the greatest intellectual minds to the greatest amount of destruction. Our cultural DNA since the 1940s has been tainted, given this arranged marriage of science and war. It can be argued, though, it has always been so.
The Nobel prizes, the awards for the highest rarefied sort of thinking, were founded atop a pile of dynamite, or, rather Alfred Nobel’s patented dynamite and detonator. The first Nobel prizes were awarded at the start of the twentieth century, in 1901. So many symbols speak for us, there is no quiet on the earth. The events of 9/11 are both symbols and facts. Though, in war, the presumption that you might die is a given, there is a stark difference when to die is the participants’ desire. The way our country and government has reacted to what we call suicide bombers is to redefine what war is and what we are willing to do in such a war. President Obama’s speech on counter-terrorism to the National Defense University on May 23rd tried to acknowledge that he, if nothing else, is aware that the not-so-brave new world we are now in cannot go on forever. But he may be wrong, for as he pointed out the contradictions between what we say and what we do, he also demonstrated neither the will nor the power to change it.
The Oak Ridge 3 may have carried out a profound prophetic action, certainly it was courageous, but it is our own government’s symbols and actions that contain the most alarming prophecies.
Read Next: Alec Luhn: Sochi Unofficially Bans Protest (Unless You’re an American Homophobe).
With a new season of House of Cards just starting—or for many, already ending—via Netflix, it seemed like a nice moment to air Kevin Spacey’s putdown of the press at last spring’s White House Correspondents Dinner. If you did manage to view the video last year it may have been before you caught up with House of Cards, which was very new at the time, in its first season, so you may appreciate it more now.
Among others, it features the head of the organization, Fox’s horrid Ed Henry, plus Politico’s Mike Allen, Jay Carney, Valerie Jarrett, John McCain, Steny Hoyer, and more. The Politico gang just wants a Kardashian at their table, of course.
By the way, Joel McHale of Community will host this year’s event. For some reason, Stephen Colbert has not been invited back.
Also posted below: Spacey’s appearance on ABC on Sunday, talking about real-life Washington and Obama’s likely wish that he could be almost as ruthless (short of murder, one hopes) as Representative Frank Underwood.
Read Next: Michelle Orange writes about British political satire and its American progeny.
The New York Times Magazine has been heavily promoting its upcoming cover story this Sunday, in print, on Texas candidate for governor Wendy Davis, days in advance. They produced a good-sized ad for it in today’s print edition—and posted the entire feature, by regular writer Robert Draper, online yesterday. It naturally revisits the flap over her bio as a young woman and mother.
Then there’s the cover image itself (above)—and cover line.
As is so often the case with politicians in recent years, the Times goes the extra mile to make them look odd or ugly or off-putting, usually in close-up shots. Then there are the downright dumb efforts, such as the woman-in-the-moon Hillary Clinton graphic earlier this month.
So: to my eyes, the in-her-face Wendy Davis photo is another bummer, but it’s the cover line that has more people upset.
Yes, it’s “Can Wendy Davis Have It All?” Underneath we see references to “ambition” and “motherhood.” Not to mention “mythmaking.”
In the headline for a new profile of the besieged Democratic gubernatorial candidate, the New York Times Magazine wonders whether or not Wendy Davis can “have it all,” that most hackneyed of questions. And while much of the piece is enlightening and worthwhile, it continues to fall into all the tired tropes of the mainstream discourse surrounding successful, ambitious women, starting with asking if they can “have it all” (read: have what dudes purport to have) in the first place.
And while the piece takes issue with the sexist way Davis is “now being condemned as a maternally deficient careerist for not spending enough time” with her children in a way that male politicians almost never do, its author nevertheless feels no qualms about continuing to grill Davis about her parenting choices.
Eric Boehlert of Media Matters tweeted: “profile of Wendy Davis so disheartending. virtually NO DISCUSSION of policy. all bio/family/custody etc. unthinkable for male.”
Columnist Connie Schultz (she’s also married to Sen. Sherrod Brown): “Dear NYT Magazine: We don’t want it all. You can keep your cliches, for example.”
Our own Katha Pollitt: “Can Wendy Davis Have it All? can you imagine NYTmag editorial meeting that came up with that sexist cliche hed?.” And: “NYT mag: First Hillary as giant bald fleshball, now ‘Can Wendy Davis Have It All?’ Sexist much?”
Aaron Bady of New Inquiry (who is doing his post-doc work in Austin) proposes a headline for a Davis opponent: “Does Greg Abbot Have The Balls To Be Governor? A NY Times Investigation Into Whether He Has Testicles.”
I’ll add more in a bit…
Among Greg Mitchell’s many books on US election campaigns is one on the epic 1950 U.S. Senate contest between Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady.
Read Next: Jessica Valenti: “The Empowerment Elite Claims Feminism’