Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel went on Democracy Now! today to speak about how the United States should “test Russia’s resolve” to disarm Syrian chemical weapons. She said that while she was not an “optimist” with regard to US-Russian relations, collaboration was key to help sort out different conflicts in the Middle East. For example, she explained, “you have to engage Russia in resolving Iran.” vanden Heuvel added that such collaboration would lead to a “new internationalism that is not defined by military strikes, by drones, certainly not by land wars anymore.” She continued: “And to seize that non-imperial, democratic narrative of a new national foreign policy seems key.”
Former US Minister of Foreign Affairs Henry Kissinger meets with General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. (Reuters)
This past week was marked by the coincidence of two sad and related occasions: Wednesday, September 11, was the fortieth anniversary of the American-backed coup that overthrew the socialist President of Chile, Salvador Allende; on Monday, the great journalist and documentary filmmaker Saul Landau—a lifelong friend and contributor to The Nation—died at 77.
Landau’s first articles for The Nation were based on a years-long investigation into the assassination of Allende’s foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, by a car bomb in Washington, DC, in late September 1976. In his Nation pieces and in his widely acclaimed 1980 book, Assassination on Embassy Row, written with his frequent collaborator, John Dinges—our reviewer Jorge Nef called it “a provocative study [that] reads like an absorbing spy thriller”—Landau painstakingly demonstrated that the US intelligence community’s complicity with the Pinochet regime’s crimes did not end with the tragic 1973 coup.
Just a month before he was killed, Letelier—then a fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary—published a remarkably prescient article in The Nation titled “Economic ‘Freedom’s’ Awful Toll: The Chicago Boys in Chile,” extensively documenting the efforts of American-trained conservative economists to convince Pinochet’s regime “that they were prepared to supplement the brutality, which the military possessed, with the intellectual assets they lacked.” In an editorial the week after the bombing—which also killed 24-year-old Ronni Moffitt, Letelier’s assistant at the IPS and a US citizen, and injured her husband, Michael, sitting in the backseat—The Nation wrote: “Letelier made the essential political connection in that article—that the kind of economic organization the United States was fostering on Chile absolutely required a ‘system of terror…to succeed.’ And now that system of terror has reached out and struck down by murder an opponent of the dictatorship which the United States did so much to install.”
Landau and Ralph Stavins, both colleagues of Letelier’s at IPS, immediately embarked on an investigation to determine both who was directly responsible and who was complicit. In a March 1977 Nation article dramatically titled, “This Is How It Was Done,” Landau and Stavins laid out the evidence linking the Chilean secret police—DINA—to the crime:
Our evidence indicates that a high-level DINA agent landed in Miami on September 13, 1976, and met with a group of Cuban exiles who had already been alerted that a “contract” was in the offing. The DINA agent worked out the details of the Letelier assassination with four young terrorists, noted for their daring and cold-bloodedness. Having secured a plastic explosive and a detonating device, they departed for Washington. There they met with DINA agents, posing as Chilean officials, stationed at the Chilean Embassy. The Washington-based operatives briefed the exiles on Letelier’s habits, his car description, daily departure times, route to work, parking location, and probable work schedule at the Institute for Policy Studies during the following week.
Landau and Stavins then provided a vivid, clock-ticking account of the assassination based on their six-month investigation:
As Letelier entered Sheridan Circle, a hand in the [assassins’] gray car depressed a button. Michael Moffitt heard the sound of “water on a hot wire” and then saw a “white flash.” Thrown clear of the explosion, Moffitt tried to free the unconscious Letelier from the wreckage on top of him. His legs had been snapped from his body and catapulted some 15 feet away. Ronni Moffitt stumbled away from the smoldering Chevrolet; she seemed to be O.K., but in fact had suffered a severed artery and soon bled to death. Michael screamed out into the world, “The Chilean Fascists have done this.”
Landau and Stavins then began to unravel the connections between the assassins and top members of the US government and media elite, which Landau developed further in later Nation investigations:
Most of the FBI and Justice Department officials investigating the murders have made a concerted effort to bring the ‘perpetrators to the bar of justice. At the same time, other agents inside the government have leaked material from Letelier’s briefcase, seized by the police as potential evidence at the time of the explosion. The leaked material first appeared on the desks of several officials of the Inter-American Development Bank, where Letelier had served for many years. Next, the briefcase material was given to newspaper columnists Jack Anderson and then to Evans and Novak. The columns which these men wrote attempted to discredit Letelier and divert attention from the actual killers—General Pinochet, the Chilean junta, the DINA and their Cuban exile hit men.
The names of most of the killers, their motives, and their modus, operandi are now known to the Justice Department. What remains are the more fundamental questions: will the U.S. authorities be allowed to gather sufficient evidence to bring the killers to trial? Will they name General Pinochet and other ruling junta members who ordered the assassinations? And will the role of U.S. intelligence and defense agencies, which had previously trained junta leaders, DINA agents and the exiles, be revealed in full?
A few years later, Landau himself helped reveal more of that role, in collaboration with John Dinges. In “The Chilean Connection” (November 28, 1981), they revealed new information about how the CIA may have provided crucial information and even assistance to Letelier’s and Moffitt’s killers:
In the early summer of 1976, Col. Manuel Contreras, head of DINA, Chile’s secret police, launched an operation to assassinate exiled Chilean leader Orlando Letelier. It has now been learned that within a few days of setting that plot in motion, Contreras mace a secret visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with officials of the Central Intelligence Agency and also negotiated the purchase of illegal weapons and electronic spying equipment with a firm run by former C.I.A. officers Edwin Wilson and Frank Terpil.
Wilson and Terpil gained notoriety after a Federal grand jury accused them of exporting terrorist goods and services to Col. Muammar ‘el-Qaddafi of Libya, whose regime is high on the Reagan Administration’s enemies list. By 1978, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had established that DINA agents killed Letelier on U.S. territory. That evidence, combined with the newly revealed materials showing that former C.I.A. officials cooperated with other DINA covert operations in the United States, would seem to compromise the Administration’s efforts to rehabilitate Chile’s military dictatorship as an anti-Communist ally.
In a follow-up article the following year, “The C.I.A.’s Link to Chile’s Plot,” Landau and Dinges revealed that Contreras had also met twice with the second-highest ranking official at the CIA, deputy director Vernon Walters. One meeting occurred just a month before the assassination.
Walters’s name has arisen several times in connection with Contreras and the DINA agents plotting the murder, according to the evidence compiled by the F B I That evidence shows that Walters traveled to Asuncion, Paraguay, in June 1976 on agency business. A month later, two DINA agents assigned to kill Letelier arrived in Paraguay to obtain false passports, using Walters’s name and alleging that Walters and the C I A knew about the DINA mission to Washington Walters has denied he had anything to do with the DINA agents or the false passports…
The biggest question left unanswered concerns the relationship of the C I.A to DINA and to [Leterlier assassin Michael] Townley at the time of the assassination. Why were DINA agents able to come and go freely in the United States? Were C.I.A. officials involved in circumventing the Congressional arms embargo against Chile, and so obliged to keep silent about DINA activity in Washington at the time of Leteher’s assassination for fear of revealing another C.I.A. covert action scandal?
In 1987, Landau and Dinges conducted an interview with Armando Fernández Larios, a former DINA official, who fled to the United States so he could reveal the truth of Pinochet’s direct involvement in the Letelier assassination. The authors spoke with Fernández Larios in a Virginia motel room under strict US Marshal Service security.
Fernandez has named six generals and colonels as having had a direct role in the murder or in ordering the cover-up. And he has pointed a finger at the President. He says DINA deputy chief Espinoza, one of the few insiders in a position to know, told him that Pinochet himself had given the order to kill Letelier. According to Espinoza, Fernandez said, DINA chief Contreras admitted to another general that he had set the Letelier assassination in motion because he had been so ordered. When asked by whom, Contreras replied “Ask the chief”—which both Espinoza and Fernandez took to be a reference to General Pinochet, Contreras’s only superior.
On so many issues—from Chile to Iraq, globalization to nuclear fallout—Landau “called us all to thought, gave an example to emulate in his fights for justice and left his mark forever,” as Nation intern Andrés S. Pertierra writes in his moving commemoration. It was The Nation’s honor to publish his work at such an early and definitive moment in his career, when he sought to uncover who was responsible for the brutal and untimely death of his dear and principled friend.
Director Jacob Kornbluth from the film Inequality For All poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP Images)
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.
That’s how one reviewer describes the experience of watching Harvey Weinstein’s latest film. Only the movie in question isn’t Erased, Weinstein’s pulse-pounding thriller about an ex-CIA agent on the run. Nor is it Only God Forgives, in which Ryan Gosling finds himself caught up in a gritty underground world of Thai drug smuggling, prostitution, rape and murder.
The movie is, in fact, a documentary, but one more disturbing than international criminal conspiracies and more devastating than any Sharknado. It’s about income inequality. As Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich intones in the film, “Of all developed nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income, and we’re surging towards even greater inequality.”
Inequality for All, directed by Jacob Kornbluth and set to be released nationwide on Sept. 27, comes at a critical moment for America. September 15 marks the five-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers—fueled by a toxic combination of deregulation, subprime lending and credit-default swaps—that precipitated the 2008 global economic crisis and laid bare the rot at the heart of our economic system. It was largely this orgy of greed that led the first Occupy Wall Street protesters to Zuccotti Park on September 17, two years ago next week.
In the half-decade since Wall Street’s self-induced crash, the country has hovered between outrage (that the perpetrators walked off scot-free and bonus-laden) and apathy (that anything will ever break the iron bond between Congress and the financial industry).
Until now, hopefully. Following the diminutive Reich on his “statistics-driven and impassioned” crusade, Inequality for All throws into sharp relief the numbers and stories we hear. Combining footage from Reich’s electrifying Berkeley lectures with interviews, news clips and rich graphics, the film weaves a compelling narrative about how and why, since the late 1970s, income inequality has risen to crisis levels.
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.
President Obama is asking the Senate and Congress to authorize an attack on Syria. But Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel spoke on ABC’s This Week about why she believes a diplomatic solution—and not a strike—would be the best option for the United States and for the Syrian people. “Ultimately any resolution of the human catastrophe in Syria is going to demand a political solution,” she said. “We don’t need to use military strikes.”
The beginning of a new school year offers an opportunity to evaluate the state of American education—where we are now, how we got here and where we need to go. As last month’s release of New York City’s abysmal test scores showed, something is seriously wrong, here and in most of the country.
The bankruptcy of the corporate-style “reform” agenda—which emphasizes high-stakes testing, vilification of teachers and the further stratification of American society under the banner of “choice”—has been obvious for years to those who have cared and dared to look. For the past two decades, contributors to The Nation have consistently challenged these trends and exposed their hidden assumptions, consequences and costs.
In September 1997, the writer Phyllis Vine explored the early stirrings of the for-profit education movement and catalogued the many ways in which it was a bad development for kids, parents and teachers. The only people it would benefit, she argued, were those like the Lehman Brothers director she quotes calling education “a local industry that over time will become a global business.” That’s no way to run schools, Vine concluded:
Creaming students most likely to succeed, poor management, unionbusting, conflicts of interest and discrimination against kids who need special education (and sometimes discrimination against kids of color)—all are on display in the for-profit school system. And so is the effort to eviscerate a core American institution that has been a laboratory for citizenship. While right-wing education guru Chester Finn insists that ‘the market…can rise to the challenge of educating America’s young,’ the record suggests otherwise. ‘The schools belong to us as communities,’ says Barbara Miner, editor of Selling Out Our Schools. So why should we allow some private company to come in and make money off of our kids?
Nation contributors have not only pointed out the shortfalls of the corporate approach; they have also offered a robust counter-vision, laying out specific proposals to fix the American educational system while situating the present problems in a broader socioeconomic and cultural analysis. In “Testing, Testing: The High-Stakes Testing Mania Hurts Poor and Minority Students the Most” (June 5, 2000), Gary Orfield, then a Harvard professor of education (now at UCLA), and Johanna Wald, a researcher, cited study after study showing that high-stakes testing narrows the curriculum, increases drop-out rates, and may actually hurt, not improve, economic productivity.
If, as all these studies suggest, high-stakes tests both discriminate against poor and minority students and are educationally unsound, we are still left with the dilemma of how to achieve the dual goals of equity and excellence. Dozens of studies offer convincing evidence that children in poor schools make academic gains when they have access to quality early-childhood education programs, when they are taught in small classes by skilled and committed teachers, and when they are given assessments linked to appropriate and immediate responses.
The single most important factor in raising academic performance in poor schools appears to be the presence of experienced, competent and caring teachers. Disadvantaged youths currently are taught by the least prepared and most transient instructors in the system. Devising incentives for recruiting and maintaining highly qualified teachers and for retraining existing staff in high-poverty schools should be the top priority of those serious about raising standards.
Eight years of the Bush administration—and a few years of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative—only accelerated the “reform” movement’s takeover of American education. In June 2010’s “Restoring Our Schools,” former Obama adviser Linda Darling-Hammond argued that real reform would have to be smarter, fairer and more systemic:
We need more than a new set of national goals to mobilize a dramatically more successful educational system. We also need more than pilot projects, demonstrations, innovations and other partial solutions. We need to take the education of poor children as seriously as we take the education of the rich, and we need to create systems that routinely guarantee all the elements of educational investment to all children.
What would this require? As in high and equitably achieving nations, it would require strong investments in children’s welfare—adequate healthcare, housing and food security, so that children can come to school each day ready to learn; high-quality preschool to close achievement gaps that already exist when children enter kindergarten; equitably funded schools that provide quality educators and learning materials, which are the central resources for learning; a system that ensures that teachers and leaders in every community are extremely well-prepared and are supported to be effective on the job; standards, curriculums and assessments focused on twenty-first-century learning goals; and schools organized for an in-depth students and teacher learning and equipped to address children’s social needs, as the community schools movement has done…
To meet twenty-first-century demands, the United States needs to move beyond a collection of disparate and shifting reform initiatives to a thoughtful, well-organized and well-supported set of policies that will enable young people to thrive in the new world they are entering. We must also finally make good on the American promise to make education available to all on equal terms, so that every member of this society can realize a productive life and contribute to the greater welfare.
Then, in January 2011, Pedro Noguera, an NYU professor and Nation editorial board member, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in “Beyond Silver Bullets” that far from boldly asking the difficult questions, as the “reform” movement is often celebrated for doing, it had really shirked responsibility for fixing American schools. Corporate-style reform applied Band-Aids where intensive surgery had been required.
Despite the promises, fads of the day and splashy slogans, we continue to leave millions of children behind. Rewarding a few states for agreeing to adopt measures the administration regards as essential to reform has convinced the public that we have embarked on a race to the top, when we have not. Policy-makers continue to pursue silver-bullet solutions, such as small schools, high-stakes testing and performance pay for teachers—some of which have no evidence of their effectiveness—while ignoring the more substantive issues that have much more influence over the quality of education. What we should be focused on are basic issues: How do we ensure that all teachers are well trained in content and pedagogy, and are able to develop relationships with an increasingly diverse array of students? How do we make sure that school leaders have the skills and resources to keep our schools safe and to maintain conditions for good teaching and learning? What do we do to motivate students not merely to pass tests but to become life-long learners who seek out knowledge and information long after the tests are over? How do we make sure that parents do their part to support their children and reinforce the importance of education at home?
Most tragically, Noguera and Weingarten argued, despite the rhetoric of “choice” and “opportunity,” the latest trends in education left behind precisely those students they were meant to save—the ones most in need of help.
In many of the most disadvantaged schools, the non-academic needs of poor students—for health, housing and a variety of social supports—are often unmet. Invariably, when the basic needs of children are ignored, the task of educating them is much more challenging. Acknowledging that poverty and related social issues can make the job of educating children more difficult does not mean we believe that poor children are incapable of achieving at high levels. There are many examples of excellent schools that serve poor children. There are also a number of poor children who have been able to use education to overcome obstacles related to poverty and who have accomplished great things. But to ignore the fact that the effects of poverty pose formidable obstacles to academic achievement and healthy development is worse than naïve; it shows blatant disregard for the enormous challenges that poor children and their families face.
Just as the proponents of corporatized education use their proposals for privatization and union-busting as a means towards a broad vision of a transformed American society, their critics—the true inheritors of the word “reform”—are increasingly aware that both the problems and the solutions of American public education can be found in an investigation of the structural causes of inequality. Only through that recognition can we reclaim the word “reform.”
US President Barack Obama talks to bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington while discussing a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. (Reuters/Larry Downing)
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.
President Obama’s decision to ask Congress to authorize any action towards Syria is both courageous and correct. He ignored the inevitable scorn he would get from the armchair patriots who believe the U.S. president can dispatch the military anywhere, at any time, for any reason. He reportedly overruled the advice of most of his national security team that wanted to strike Syria without going to Congress. After the British parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s appeal for authority to join the United States in the Syrian strike, Obama knew the vote in this bitterly divided and dysfunctional Congress would be “a tough sell.”
But he made the right call, responding not only to his constitutional obligation but to the more than 150 legislators from both parties who signed letters calling on the president to seek approval from Congress before taking action. According to polls, a strike on Syria, even in response to the proven use of chemical weapons, is opposed by a plurality of Americans. Neither the United States nor its allies faces any imminent threat from the Syrian regime. If the United States is a constitutional democracy, surely this is a case where the Congress, the people’s representatives, should determine whether the nation gets involved in—as the president put it—“someone else’s war.”
Now it is time for democracy to work. The administration has begun to detail its case that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people. Members of Congress should probe and test the administration’s evidence, given the credibility gap created by the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq war, not to mention the lies and distortions peddled by the Bush administration to sell that conflict. Congress should also arrange to receive and consider the report of the U.N. inspectors, because their report will be accepted by other members of the international community and will offer clues about those behind the attacks even if the mandate of the inspectors does not cover who was responsible for the alleged use of chemical weapons.
Russian police detain a gay rights activist during a rally outside the mayor’s office in Moscow, May 25, 2013. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)
In the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Kremlin is getting torched.
An international chorus of critics has assailed Vladimir Putin’s government for enacting a law that bans any discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) relationships, rights and issues wherever children might be present. Many protesters are calling for a global response.
In a New York Times op-ed, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein argued that a boycott of the Sochi Olympics would pressure the Russian government into reconsidering its treatment of gay men and lesbians. British actor Stephen Fry wrote an impassioned letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging an Olympic boycott as well. American author Dan Savage launched a popular #DumpRussianVodka campaign.
There is a reason that everyone from Lady Gaga to President Obama has spoken out against Russia’s new anti-gay law: it is discriminatory and inhumane, and many people are desperate to do something, anything, to show solidarity with Russia’s LGBT community and help get the law repealed.
Yet it’s not all that clear whether today’s clamor, however well-intentioned, will improve the lives and human rights of gay people in Russia. Unless we take the time to understand the reasons behind the ascendance of hyper-conservative traditionalist values in Russia and then develop a more strategic response, we may instead strengthen the already powerful nationalist forces in the country.
March on Washington. (Wikimedia Commons)
In this week’s cover story, Nation columnist Gary Younge uses the occasion of this Wednesday’s fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington as an opportunity to recall the context in which those dramatic events of the summer of 1963 actually occurred:
Half a century after the March on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the event has been neatly folded into America’s patriotic mythology. Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call it off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one. Instead, it is hailed not as a dramatic moment of mass, multiracial dissidence, but as a jamboree in Benetton Technicolor, exemplifying the nation’s unrelenting progress toward its founding ideals.
That quest for our nation’s founding ideals is also served when we tour The Nation’s coverage of the civil rights movement in the weeks immediately preceding and following the March. What we find bolsters Younge’s argument and shows that emphasizing both the vigor with which the movement was opposed as well as the radicalism of its more disruptive—and for that reason, eagerly forgotten—socioeconomic demands is not a revision of civil rights history, but a restoration.
In remarkable editorial dated August 10, 1963, bearing the simple headline, “The Whites,” the magazine praised the assertiveness and recent successes of the civil rights movement, but offered a pointed critique of the general population of white Americans who treated the movement with either disdain or poorly concealed condescension:
The white majority’s attitude seems to be based on apprehension, uncertainty, reluctance, false piety and a suddenly acquired determination to sin a little less than before.…
The fact is that racism, in its modern connotation, is a virus that must be ‘overcome’; no society is immune until it has experienced it. We have a chance, then, in the glare of world scrutiny, to be the first large industrial nation to overcome this damnable blight.
This is a prospect to excite emotions and stir the heart. Yet the whites continue to act as though they were being dragged into the future caterwauling, haggling, grimacing, hemming and hawing, bargaining, resisting, hedging and rolling their eyes. Their attitude is only the more curious in that the evidence is now clear that integration is good for the nation, good for business, good for the arts, for religion, for sports, for labor, for education, for government; good also for our immortal souls.
In the issue dated September 7, 1963, which would probably have been on newsstands the day of the March, the novelist and social critic Harvey Swados wrote in “Revolution on the March” about the intense preparations that went into the event, much of it focused in a small office on West 130th Street in Harlem. The piece is a fascinating read today for two reasons. First, Swados offers contemporaneous observations of Bayard Rustin, the woefully underappreciated activist who, as Ari Berman writes in this week’s issue, organized of the March but was later spurned because he was gay, and was recently awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Swados wrote that Rustin had “a driving mind ruthless as a clenched fist.” Second, the article explicitly confirms Younge’s contention that as early as 1963, the movement was about much more than equal political rights:
As events have unfolded, including the efforts of the New Frontier to embrace and envelope the marchers, their demands have simultaneously broadened and become more specific. And it began to become clear that as the logic of the situation and the fervor of the young forced it onward, the March—that is, the grand coalition—would have to call not only for the Kennedy civil-rights bill, not only for more jobs in general terms, but for total civil-rights legislation and total economic demands surpassing anything conceived of by white liberals and well-intentioned officialdom, and involving a dislocation—with incalculable consequences—of the warfare-welfare state and its present power structure.
In the next issue, The Nation reckoned with the legacy of what had occurred and, again, emphasized the expansiveness of the protesters’ demands. This week, as the country celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of a symbol of all that the civil rights movement has achieved, one cannot read The Nation’s September 14, 1963, editorial without a profound sense of tragedy—and anger—over what it still has not:
The March will go down in history as a superb example of orderly, democratic self-expression. It should bring a blush of shame to the cheeks of those who tearfully voiced a variety of misgivings about the enterprise and suggested that it should not be staged. It should also mildly embarrass those who deployed troops and police as though Washington were about to be besieged by a hostile army instead of being visited by a vast number of friendly and well-disposed citizens who conducted themselves with the utmost restraint, dignity and impressive dedication to a fine public purpose. The demonstration should also establish what has been clear all along—at least to those who have had more than a nodding acquaintance with the so-called ‘Negro problem’—that the Negroes are probably the least alienated of America’s racial minorities and the least revolutionary in any ideological sense. The overwhelming drive of American Negroes, in all regions, at all levels, is for middle-class status; they want to participate, on terms of freedom and equality, in the Great American Barbecue.
But a question remains: after the civil-rights issue has been won, as it will be—that is, after all legally sanctioned forms of Jim Crow discrimination have been removed—what then? All that needs to be done to take the disturbing overtone out of this question is to grant Negroes the right to join the American middle class on terms of full freedom and equality. This is far from an intimidating prospect, it could mean greater buying power, more profits, a higher GNP. In practical terms, however, it poses some major social, economic and political problems. But civil rights is the first phase and victory in this should set the stage for the larger reforms and structural changes in the economy that must come next.
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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Hillary Clinton. (Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin)
“Just lunch, or is it Campaign 2016 just getting started?” one pundit breathlessly asks of a meal between President Obama and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. The New York Times does a deep dive into the Clinton Foundation, while others list “The People Already Rearranging Their Lives for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign.” And every major news outlet has asked some form of this question: Is America ready for a woman president?
The media are, in fact, obsessed with whether Hillary Clinton will become the first female president. Her every move is analyzed and interpreted, like tea leaves from which we might deduce her 2016 intentions. But in their heavy breathing over Clinton, many in the media seem to be ignoring an equally important story about women and politics. Put another way, instead of setting up a beat dedicated to covering Clinton, perhaps the Times could better serve the public by using those resources to cover women and politics more broadly.
Will shattering the Oval Office’s glass ceiling and electing a madam president be an inspiring achievement for this country? Of course. Do we also need madam mayors, madam senators, madam councilwomen, madam sheriffs, madam governors and madam congresswomen all across the nation? You betcha.
Bill de Blasio speaks with potential voters on July 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
For the most part, Americans outside of New York have heard only one story about New York City’s mayoral race — the bizarre public self- immolation of former representative Anthony Weiner. But obscured beneath the flood lights of the Weiner farce is a populist insurgency that exemplifies the coming struggle to define the Democratic Party in the wake of President Obama.
The progressive champion in the race, New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, is challenging the odds-on favorite, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, to succeed retiring Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Under pressure from de Blasio and progressives, she has begun recently to assert some independence from Bloomberg’s trickle-down technocratic politics and shown a willingness to challenge the administration on certain issues, such as the city’s harmful homelessness policies. But Quinn has too often used her influence as speaker to protect corporate and developers’ interests.
De Blasio has pitched his campaign with the most populist and ambitious agenda in memory. He does so in a city that is one of the most unequal in the country, with an extreme gulf in income and wealth. Visitors gape at Manhattan’s skyscrapers, but almost half the population lives at or near thepoverty level. In any one year, 1.5 millionsuffer hunger or food insecurity. Accelerating gentrification has made affordable housing scarce. Public schools are in crisis. Bloomberg has vetoed efforts to pass a living wage, and he is so anti-labor that all of the 152 public unions in the city now are without a contract.
De Blasio argues that New York is a “tale of two cities,” and that the central issue of this and future campaigns is “economic fairness.” “Without a dramatic change of direction,” he said in a May 30 address, “an economic policy that combats inequality and rebuilds our middle class, generations to come will see New York as little more than a playground for the rich.”