With its Jay-Z soundtrack, bizarre 3-D effects and commitment of Nick Carraway to a mental institution, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has seemed to some critics insufficiently deferential to a precious cultural totem. But long before it won silver in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels, writers in The Nation offered drastically different assessments on both the book’s meaning and its legitimate place in the literary pantheon.
Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer who later served as Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, reviewed The Great Gatsby for The Nation in the issue of May 20, 1925, just a month after the book’s publication:
Mr. Fitzgerald is a born story-teller…[H]is work is imbued with that rare and beneficent essence we hail as charm. He is by no means lacking in power, as several passages in the current opus abundantly testify, and he commands a quite uncanny gift for hitting off character or presenting a concept in a striking or memorable manner…
Up to date, Mr. Fitzgerald has occupied himself almost exclusively with the aspects and operations of the coeval flapper and cake-eater. No one else, perhaps, has delineated these mundane creatures quite as skillfully as he, and his achievement in this direction has been awarded authoritative recognition. He controls, moreover, the necessary magic to make his most vapid and rotterish characters interesting and even, on occasion, charming, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact that they are almost invariably presented in advanced stages of intoxication…
In “The Great Gatsby,” there are several of Mr. Fitzgerald’s typical flappers who behave in the manner he has conceived as typical of contemporary flapperdom. There is again a gargantuan drinking-party, conceived in a rowdy, hilarious, and highly titillating spirit. There is also, in this novel…something else. There is the character of Gatsby…
But in a review the following year of a stage production of Gatsby, The Nation’s theater critic, Joseph Wood Krutch, mocked Fitzgerald’s blurring of the line between spectator and spectated, satirist and satirized. Almost ignoring the theatrical production entirely, Krutch instead skewered the book:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born into the flapper age with exactly the qualities and defects which would enable him to become its accredited historian. Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of describing, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any very penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do; and when he pictures the manners of the fraternity house or the Long Island villa he pictures them less as they are than as their practitioners like to imagine them. He makes cocktails and kisses seem thrillingly wicked; he flatters the younger generation with the solemn warning that it is leading the world straight to the devil; and as a result he writes The Flapper’s Own History of Flapperism. Thus he becomes less the genuine historian of a phase of social development than one of the characteristic phenomena of that development itself, and his books are seen to be little more than documents for the study of the thing which they purport to treat.
The book, Krutch added, was “preposterously maudlin.”
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The Nation has had only distaste for both screen adaptations of Gatsby reviewed in its pages. Painter and film critic Manny Farber panned the 1949 Paramount adaptation as “a limp translation,” writing that the film’s purposefully antiquated style “takes on the heavy, washed-out, inaccurate dedication-to-the-past quality of a Radio City mural.” Farber also said that the actress Betty Field failed as Daisy because she was “no more marked by Southern aristocracy than a cheese blintz.”
“Respectful work and appalling” were the choice words Robert Hatch, a longtime executive editor of the magazine, had for the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Sam Waterston as Nick and Mia Farrow as Daisy, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola. “When it sticks to the original, it adds nothing; when it deviates, it puts a heavy foot into Fitzgerald’s magic,” Hatch wrote. “Overall, its most conspicuous weakness is that it cannot handle vulgarity or ostentation without becoming vulgar or ostentatious”—precisely the same complaint Krutch expressed about the book itself in The Nation almost fifty years earlier.
Other Nation articles about Fitzgerald include a 1945 essay by Lionel Trilling—putting him in the same category with Shakespeare, Dickens, Voltaire, Balzac and Goethe—and a 1996 appreciation by friend-of-the-magazine E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “in its few pages” Gatsby “arcs the American continent and gives us a perfect structural allegory of our deadly class-ridden longings.” And as many have argued, the release of “Gatsby” should also be an occasion for renewed discussion of inequality in America.
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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.
President Obama meets with Jan Brewer in the Oval Office, June 2010. (Wikimedia Commons/CC, 2.0)
President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memo late into last year’s election season, which allows certain undocumented immigrant youth to apply and obtain renewable two-year work permits. While some lawmakers responded favorably, others reacted with vitriol. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer made clear that DACA youth would not be eligible for driver’s licenses. A federal court has now ruled there’s no rational basis for her decision—but refused to issue an injunction as the case moved forward.
DACA isn’t all-encompassing for undocumented youth. Those who arrived in the United States before they were 16, have resided here without interruption since June 15, 2007, are in high school, have graduated or otherwise obtained an equivalent certificate of completion, or have served in the military with an honorable discharge are eligible for the program, which is administrated by the Department of Homeland Security. However, those who arrived in the United States as children but turned 31 before June 15, 2012, are not allowed to apply; the same applies for anyone who arrived in the United States after the age of 16. Those who have been convicted of felonies or even certain misdemeanors are also ineligible.
Still, nearly half a million youth have applied, and so far about 200,000 have been approved. Once DACA youth receive approval and work permits, many naturally look to obtain a driver’s license as well. Arizona Governor Brewer called the entire program a “backdoor amnesty,” while simultaneously drawing attention to the fact that because DACA doesn’t provide permanent relief, she would not allow DACA recipients to obtain Arizona driver’s licenses. DACA youth and their allies organized to challenge Brewer in federal court.
The plaintiffs demanded an injunction against what they say is Brewer’s discriminatory decision. In order to grant that, Judge David Campbell wanted attorneys to show evidence that there is irreparable damage being caused against those DACA youth who are unable to apply for licenses. In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Campbell stated that he hasn’t been persuaded that that kind of damage is being cause—but he also wasn’t convinced to throw the case out, as Arizona’s attorneys wanted. Further, he indicated that Brewer’s basis for denying driver’s licenses was simply her fundamental disagreement with Obama. The judge also chided Brewer for referring to DACA youth as “illegal people,” indicating that the plaintiffs’ broader arguments about discrimination may stand in the final ruling.
Dulce Matuz, a 28-year-old activist who’s organized against Brewer’s decision, respectfully disagreed with the judge’s ruling around irreparable damage—citing that her colleagues are being denied opportunities because they cannot obtain a license. But she’s confident that her side will emerge victorious over Brewer and her backers. “They wanted to dismiss our dreams—even our dream to have driver’s licenses,” she said. “But this lawsuit continues, and I’m confident that justice will prevail.”
The final decision on whether those driving dreams will soon become a reality will be handed down after a yet unscheduled hearing on the matter, which will likely be heard in the coming weeks.
Are millennials really lazy, tired narcissists? Read Emily Crockett’s analysis.
Karl Rove addresses the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. (Steve Helber)
Karl Rove is offering America a super-sized serving of political cynicism.
Since the controversy over the targeting of grassroots tea party groups for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service arose, Rove has engaged in the sort of political sleight of hand that could only be practiced in a country where elite media have no skepticism—and no memory.
Just a few months ago, after the 2012 election, Rove was widely portrayed as having declared war on grassroots conservatives in general and the Tea Party movement in particular. The former White House political czar was frustrated: During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Republicans had been positioned to win control of the US Senate. Yet, in each cycle, they fell short after the party’s grassroots activists upended the candidacies of relatively more moderate candidates in Republican primaries. The Tea Party favorites frequently proved to be weaker contenders and—in the cases of candidates such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell in 2010 and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock in 2012—were seen as having snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
Rove had enough of that. So in February of this year he declared his intent to use his gold-plated political operations to police the party. Specifically, the veteran operative who says his hero is “Gilded Age” political boss Mark Hanna, declared his intention to “avoid having stupid candidates who can’t win general elections. Who are undisciplined, can’t raise money, aren’t putting together the support necessary to win the general election campaign—because this money is too difficult to raise to be spending it on the behalf of candidates who have little chance winning in the general election.”
That stirred an outcry from Tea Party activists and their allies:
Fox News’ Sean Hannity described “a battle between conservatives and the GOP establishment.”
Conservative talk-radio host Mark Levin asked: “Who made Karl Rove queen for a day.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said that Rove’s “American Crossroads is creating a new Super PAC to crush conservatives, destroy the tea party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions.”
Newt Gingrich wrote of Rove’s plan: “No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country. That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican.”
The Tea Party Patriots announced that “Karl Rove believes he can raise hundreds of millions of dollars, crush the Tea Party movement and protect the big-government status quo in Washington from millions of freedom loving Americans.”
What a difference three months makes.
Now Rove is racing from studio to studio to cry crocodile tears about the abuse of, well, the people he was determined to abuse. He decried “the IRS’s thuggish behavior” in a Wall Street Journal column. He told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, “This smacks of a greater, you know, sort of effort inside the IRS to punish conservative groups.”
You would have thought Karl Rove was a Tea Party Patriot himself.
But, of course, he’s the guy the patriots said was “out to crush the Tea Party movement.”
So what gives?
Rove is playing a particularly cynical game. He recognizes that there is going to be a Tea Party movement—and that it may actually be stronger as a result of the current controversy. And he knows that the grassroots groups that are seeking tax-exempt status are unlikely to be able to counter the financial and strategic might of his American Crossroads combine.
So Rove is joining the outcry on behalf of the little folks, recognizing that he can only benefit by being seen as an ally of conservative activists who, before they were enraged with the IRS, were enraged with Karl Rove.
But there is more going on than mere “The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend” positioning.
Rove understands something else. If the IRS is under attack for scrutinizing grassroots groups unfairly—and, make no mistake, it is unfair to target any group based on its ideology—that could create a climate of official caution where it becomes less likely that there will be scrutiny of what the Center for Responsible Politics describes as “the heavy hitters of the multicandidate outside spending groups”: Rove-tied groups such as Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 nonprofit “social welfare” corporation, and American Crossroads, a so-called “super PAC.”
This is where Rove’s shows his smarts.
He understands that the current wrangling over the IRS is going to result in changes, some of them structural, some of them relating to the focus and intensity of inquiries into alleged abuses by tax-exempt groups.
Everyone who has steered a 501(c)4 into the political fray— conservativesand liberals; Republicans like Rove and Democrats with close ties to President Obama—knows that the best possible circumstance for them is one where the rules governing political activity by supposedly “charitable” groups are weak and unclear. And it gets even better for Rove and his ilk if battered-and-bruised IRS agents are disinclined to challenge any individual or group that might accuse the agency of targeting them.
Rove recognizes that the real debate is not about whether discrimination based on political ideology will be aggressively addressed and appropriately constrained. That’s going to happen, as it should. The Congress and the White House will see to it; indeed, President Obama sounds every bit as ardent on the issue as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The question that remains is a bigger one.
Will Congress and the Federal Election Commission establish clear and unequivocal standards that IRS auditors can follow? Will we finally, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, and a host of other rulings, have some definition of the new political playing field? That definition would, necessarily, be fair to conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. But it could still place limits on the ambitious activities of Mr. Rove and his compatriots on both sides of the political aisle.
Only the most naïve observer would imagine that Karl Rove is concerned with protecting the grassroots activists with whom he was so recently sparring. Every evidence suggests that it is Rove’s plan to thwart their activism in 2014 and beyond. What concerns Rove is taking advantage of a political moment. A master of gaming whatever opening occurs, Rove is busily attacking Democrats in the Senate and President Obama for having suggested that clear standards ought to be established.
“Hey, look, the president in some degree is responsible for some of these acts. Remember in September and October of 2010, he went out and denounced…conservative 501(c)(4) groups as enemies of democracy,” says Rove. “You can’t tell me some IRS bureaucrat in Cincinnati, Washington, California—all of which were conducting investigations of conservative groups—were not hardened by the president going out declaring the groups they were looking at quote, ‘enemies of democracy.’”
That’s not exactly an accurate characterization of what the president said. Obama’s remarks on money in politics, made in Philadelphia several months after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision knocked down barriers to corporate campaign giving, made no mention of grassroots conservative groups. Rather, what Obama said was:
[Thanks] to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, they are being helped along this year by special interest groups that are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads… just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.
Now, that’s not just a threat to Democrats—that’s a threat to our democracy. Every American business and industry deserves a seat at the table, but they don’t get to a chance to buy every chair. We’ve seen what happens when they do. They put the entire economy at risk and every American might end up suffering.
So you can’t let it happen. Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections. And you can’t stand by and let special interests drown out the voices of the American people.
Obama wasn’t telling the IRS to go after grassroots activists there. He was talking about the need for Congress to enact the mild reforms of the Disclose Act, which proposed to “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign influence in Federal elections, to prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections, and to establish additional disclosure requirements with respect to spending in such elections, and for other purposes.”
Just days before Obama spoke, in October, 2010, an effort to advance the legislation had failed by one vote in the Senate.
It is hard to imagine a better circumstance for Karl Rove than one in which any effort to control the flow of corporate money into the political process, and to assure at least a measure of transparency, is decried as somehow inappropriate.
Then, Rove would be a man without limits.
He could use his vast resources to beat the candidates favored by grassroots conservatives in Republican primaries and to secure November victories for his favored contenders.
Then the threat to democracy that the president described would be complete—as sincere activists on the right and the left would be shunted to the sidelines of a new political landscape where corporate cash decides the day and the boss is not a CEO but a cynical political operative named Karl Rove.
How long will Arizona deny driver’s licenses to immigrant youth? Read Aura Bogado’s take.
Students walk out on May 9. (Credit: @215studentunion)
Running a massive deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars, Philadelphia’s school system is planning to eliminate all sports, extracurricular activities, counselors and libraries—beyond which, for schools eviscerated by austerity politics, there’s not much left to lose. At noon today, May 17, thousands of students are expected to walk out of class and flood downtown.
“It’s time that the City Council and Governor Corbett started listening to students,” says Sharron Snyder, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School and an organizer with the Philadelphia Student Union. “If they spent even one day in my school, they would know that already we don’t have the right resources to succeed.”
Walkout organizers state, “We are willing to break the stereotypes and expectations of urban youth, and are taking this opportunity to tell the world that urban school districts deserve funding, and it is your responsibility under the Commonwealth Charter to provide us with more than a ‘bare bones education.’”
Here are five backstories to #walkout215:
1. The pregame. On May 7 and 9, students staged two walkouts, the first with a few hundred students, the second with upwards of 1,000. The May 7 action was launched by an unaffiliated group, the Silenced Students Movement, over Facebook and Twitter. By Thursday, members of the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Youth United for Change (YUC), the city’s largest student organizing groups, were in on the call. This time, students have the support of PSU, YUC and the broader Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS). The coalition includes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, both student groups and an array of community groups and other unions.
2. The school closing shell game. The citywide uprising goes hand-in-hand with the city’s unprecedented, Boston Consulting Group-inspired maneuver to shutter public schools. In December, the city announced that 41 schools would be closed or relocated—a total that has since dropped to 23. Over the spring, students, teachers and allies have disrupted SRC meetings, blocked traffic, marched endlessly and released their own survey-based plans to revamp the school system. The district hasn’t undertaken the school-by-school community needs assessment that PCAPS is demanding before any schools are closed. Putting aside the dubious logic of “facility underutilization,” any labor savings from closed schools portend disaster for students and workers alike. And the students who are affected are more likely to be black or Latino. A handful of PCAPS groups, including PSU and YUC, are part of the Journey for Justice, a growing national movement led by people of color. The coalition’s demands pivot on the racialized thrust of neoliberal education policy; in some cities, groups are pushing federal civil rights complaints against school closings and related overhauls.
3. Receivership. City students and state leaders don’t exactly agree on issues of school funding. In response to protests against Governor Tom Corbett’s planned commencement address at Millersville University, state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said, “Unfortunately, those people believe the only support for education is shown by how many zeroes are on a check.” After a Corbett-proposed $1.2 billion in cuts to public education funding in 2011-2012, the state cut $860 million, or $410 per student. That year, Philadelphia lost 1,600 teachers and 2,100 other school staff. For their part, city spokespeople decry state underfunding—while, last year, bankrolling charter school expansion. Since 2001, the district has been run by the state-directed School Reform Commission (SRC). That year, hundreds of students walked out to protest the state takeover—enacted by the state legislature partly under the pretense of district budget woes.
4. School safety. When schools are closed, students risk crossing myriad social boundaries—including gang lines—to survive in their new environments. Through the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, Philadelphia students are pushing for student voice in school safety policy. After a series of actions last summer, the campaign won a new, less punitive discipline matrix and protections in the school’s dress code for gender-nonconforming students. More recently, students successfully advocated for pilot restorative justice programs in ten schools. This month’s mass actions aren’t some hormonal release, but flashpoints in years of organizing. The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools is a prime example.
5. History. On November 17, 1967, more than 3,500 students from at least twelve high schools walked out and marched to the Board of Education. In conjunction with the Black People’s Unity Movement, students demanded black representation on the city’s school board, black history taught by black teachers and the removal of police from schools. Despite clashes with 400 cops—and fifty-seven arrests—the walkouts drove the administration to open dialogue with students and allies over curricular reforms and community voice in school policy.
Today’s protests, which land on the 59th anniversary of the Brown decision, recast the legacy of civil rights struggle.
A council controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide who can run for Iran’s presidency. (AP Photo/Hayat News Agency, Meisam Hosseini.)
This is the first in a series of posts about Iran’s crucial presidential election on June 14.
If Iran is a dictatorship, its politics is remarkably rough and tumble.
Not only does the coming presidential election look like it might well be wide open and contentious, but it could have a lot to do with whether or not talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers will be successful when they resume.
As I’ve been writing for more than a year now, the talks with Iran have been largely frozen because both the United States and Iran were engaged in crucial presidential votes. To be successful, both sides will have to make significant concessions to the other—and thus to pay a political price at home, where hardliners in both countries will oppose any deal that’s half-a-loaf. That’s still hard, but with both elections out of the way maybe the roadblocks can be bulldozed.
As the June 14 election draws closer, a vast array of would-be candidates has registered to run. In a few days, the Guardian Council—the body in Iran that vets candidates for, among other things, their commitment to Islamic piety and to the Islamic Republic itself—will decide which of those will be approved to run for president, giving the candidates just a few short weeks to make their case.
In one sense, of course, that’s hardly democratic, since the Guardian Council would instantly bar anyone who doesn’t fit its preconceived standards from running—and that almost certainly includes women, a number of whom have filed for candidacy, along with anyone who’d overtly challenge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And, of course, Khamenei wields near-total power over the council, six of whose twelve members are appointed by Khamenei and the rest by Iran’s judicial authority, whose leader is also a Khamenei appointee.
Still, for a political system like Iran’s, the major candidates who’ve emerged so far represent a broad range of Iran’s establishment. One of them, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has carved out a position that leans more nationalist than Islamist, and he’s emerged as a favorite even for some of the Green Movement’s partisans because both he and Ahmadinejad have challenged the clergy’s power. Both Ahmadinejad and Mashaei appear to be seeking an independent political power base within Iran’s system, and there has been speculation that the two men might be trying to emulate Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s move in Russia, who repeatedly switched jobs as president. Ahmadinejad, who cannot run in 2013 for a third term, has fallen out of favor with Khamenei and the conservative clergy, including Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, who had been Ahmadinejad’s chief clerical backer and purported mentor in 2009.
It’s far from certain that Khamenei and the Guardian Council will allow Mashaei to run. Iranian conservatives frequently attack the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei group, several of whose allies have been either arrested or ousted from their government positions since 2009, as the “deviant current,” and they’ve been accused of witchcraft, sorcery and worse. One of the sins allegedly committed by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei has been to imply that they are in direct, spiritual communication with the Mahdi, a mystical descendant of the Prophet Mohammad who, many Shiites believe, went into “occultation” centuries ago. The political implications of Ahmadinejad’s link to the Mahdi is that he short-circuits the clergy itself, whose ayatollahs claim that mantle of mediator between their followers and the Mahdi. In any case, were Mashaei to be ruled ineligible to run, it could trigger a political crisis, especially if President Ahmadinejad sought in retaliation to postpone the election.
Another candidate—who also might be declared ineligible—is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president (1989-1997). Like Mashaei, Rafsanjani didn’t register as a would-be candidate until the very last moment. He said that he wouldn’t announce his candidacy unless Ayatollah Khamenei gave permission, and although there is no overt sign that Khamenei did so, Rafsanjani’s family and others are hinting that the former president received a last-minute phone call from Khamenei giving him the okay.
In 2009, Rafsanjani strongly backed the reformist candidacy of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. In 2013, Rafsanjani has garnered an official endorsement from former President Mohammad Khatami, the godfather of the reformists. Rafsanjani is trying to cast his candidacy as a chief opposition both to the conservatives, of whom there are several candidates vying for Khamenei’s semi-official backing, and to the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei faction. Despite his complex and controversial past, both as a billionaire businessman and as the man who oversaw assassinations of dissidents in the 1990s, Rafsanjani presents himself as a practical and pragmatic doer who can restore relations with the United States and West, solve the Iranian nuclear dispute, and fix the economy. (As in the United States, the economy—not the nuclear issue!—is the No. 1 issue in the election.)
In different ways, both Ahmadinejad-Mashaei and Rafsanjani are relative “doves” on the nuclear issue, however. In early talks with the Obama administration in late 2009, Ahmadinejad seemed to endorse an interim deal over Iran’s 20-percent-enriched uranium that was later scuttled by his domestic political opposition, presumably with the backing of Khamenei. And Rafsanjani, who is closely allied with wealthy businessmen and the bazaar leaders who resent Western sanctions against Iran, would dearly like to get the nuclear issue out of the way so that the Iranian economy could be freed of the shackles imposed by the sanctions, which have badly hurt the Iranian oil and energy, high-tech, aviation, and automobile industries, among others.
But few if any Iranian politicians are willing to cave in during talks with the United States and the P5+1 over the nuclear issue. Perhaps the leading conservative candidate, who many observers suspect will garner Khamenei’s ultimate backing on June 14, is Saeed Jalili, who is the leader of Iran’s national security council and currently serves as Iran’s chief negotiator in the nuclear talks. Both as a candidate and as a negotiator, Jalili will stand firm in support of Iran’s fundamental right to enrich uranium, on its own soil. On May 16, following talks in Istanbul with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s representative in the negotiations, Jalili gave a clarifying interview to Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor in which he reiterated, once again, that so far the proposals from the United States and the P5+1 have been “unbalanced,” since they don’t recognize Iran’s enrichment right and because they’re asking Iran to make nearly all of the concessions. Said Jalili:
“Their proposals are unbalanced. The other party needs to appreciate that they need to table proposals that have the necessary balance. If they accept to do so, then we can engage in talks that will hopefully bring about that required balance. … As you might appreciate, the US is in no position at the moment to issue ultimatums. And this language, unfortunately, is the language—the words—that created so much headache for the US around the world. After everything is said and done, the Americans usually make such mistakes. And as each day passes, they seem to make fresh mistakes. These mistakes do not come cheap; they are very expensive.”
It’s almost inconceivable that Khamenei will make concessions to the United States and the P5+1 without getting major concessions in return, and so far the Obama administration has not been willing to offer those. In that sense, by supporting Jalili—who is well known to American officials and others—Khamenei could underline his refusal to sign off on any deal that doesn’t allow Iran to continue a carefully monitored civilian nuclear program, including enrichment of uranium. By the same token, none of the other candidates are likely to do so, either.
Finally, one interesting candidate—who, also, may or not be approved by the Guardian Council—is Hassan Rouhani, a long-time Iranian national security official. Like Jalili, Rouhani also was Iran’s chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, with Khamenei’s support, but under the regime of President Khatami. In addition, however, Rouhani is close to Rafsanjani, under whom he served on Iran’s national security council in the 1990s, and it’s possible that either Rouhani or Rafsanjani could step back and support the other’s candidacy. Indeed, Rafsanjani’s son and daughter prominently attended Rouhani’s announcement of his candidacy last month.
Rouhani, too, has been outspoken about improving relations with the United States. “It is not that Iran has to remain angry with the United States forever and have no relations with them,” he said. “Under appropriate conditions, where national interests are protected, this situation has to change.” To be sure, in a series of speeches, Ayatollah Khamenei too has declared that Iran might be willing to restore ties with the United States, and nearly all of the candidates have echoed that view. Still, Rouhani seems to be unafraid to make better relations with a West a key plank of his campaign, though he too focuses overwhelmingly on Iran’s economic problems:
“My government will be one of prudence and hope and my message is about saving the economy, reviving ethics and interaction with the world. Inflation is above 30 percent, the reduction in the value of the national currency, unemployment and zero economic growth are among the country’s problems.”
There’s a lot more to say about Iran’s election and its implications for U.S.-Iran relations, and there are plenty of other candidates—including powerful conservatives, such as the mayor of Tehran—who have thrown their hats and turbans into the ring.
But let it not be said that Iran doesn’t have a vibrant political debate. In 2009, that debate spilled over into the street following what many thought was the fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad. But if anything, there are more and greater contrasts today between those seeking to run for president than before.
Does it have meaning for the talks with the P5+1 over the nuclear issue? Yes. Not only do the potential candidates have differing approaches, I suspect, but the election itself might say something about Khamenei’s own views about Iran’s future relations with the West. We’ll see. If the Guardian Council bars Rafsanjani, Mashaei, Rouhani, and others and endorses only strict, “principlist” conservatives as candidates, it could signal that Khamenei won’t give an inch in the talks. If the council lets a hundred flowers bloom, or at least a handful or so—and there are hints that as many as ten candidates might win approval—then perhaps it’s a tea leaf signaling that Khamenei will have a little more give later this year when talks resume in earnest.
To be continued.
Read Bob Dreyfuss on the latest possibilities for peace talks on Syria.
A shot from The Great Gatsby. (AP Photo)
There is one thing that Baz Luhrmann gets right about The Great Gatsby, and I think it’s unintentional. It has to do with the way that, turned at a certain angle, lit in a certain way, Leonardo DiCaprio again looks like the boy everyone I knew (I’m that age) grew up loving. The rest of the time, well, he’s still handsome, but he’s aged in such a way that it makes the features of his youthful beauty look a little ridiculous, in retrospect. The worry lines and stubble seem to be telling us that the beauty of that face was only a temporary, fleeting thing. I guess you could say he looks like a ruin of a movie star—a gorgeous ruin, but a ruin nonetheless. And ruin, I always thought, was what Gatsby was all about. Everything in the book is ruined: the old mansion he lives in, the love he has for his perfect woman, the business he runs, Tom Buchanan’s mistress and, more broadly, in the way your tenth grade English teacher taught it to you, the American Dream.
Luhrmann clearly disagrees that rot has any place in the story; he sparkles and spangles his Gatsby to the hilt. But then his interpretation seems to be the dominant one. Kathryn Schulz, in a well-argued piece in New York, pointed out that Scott Fitzgerald was always a bit of a hypocrite about class. In spite of himself, he sort of liked the rich, and she argued that Gatsby suffers from that. “As readers, we revel in the glamorous dissipation of the rich, and then we revel in the cheap satisfaction of seeing them fall,” she wrote. “At no point are we made to feel uncomfortable about either pleasure, let alone their conjunction.”
For this heresy, Schulz received some entertaining blowback: A.O. Scott, in The New York Times, called her a “showboating critical contrarian,” and Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, in apparent reaction, that “Hating ‘The Great Gatsby’ [the novel] is like spitting into the Grand Canyon. It will not be going away anytime soon, but you will be.” But in fact Schulz’s position has been around as long as Gatsby has. Here in The Nation, in a review of a 1926 stage adaptation of the novel, a critic began with a rant about Fitzgerald’s worldview,
Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of description, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do…
I guess I just don’t know precisely what would separate Fitzgerald from Danielle Steel if this perspective were 100 percent true. Call me naïve, but I feel certain that prose style alone doesn’t bridge that gulf. There’s some other difference at work, here. When most people write about flappers qua flappers—these days, it’d be more like celebrities qua celebrities—it’s not quite Fitzgerald-esque. When Gatsby first appeared, in 1925, the reviewer for The Nation, Carl Van Vechten, said it was the character of Gatsby himself that embodied a new and bolder art for Fitzgerald than merely chronicling the activities of flappers.
The figure of Jay Gatsby, who invented an entirely fictitious career for himself out of the material of inferior romances, emerges life-sized and life-like. His doglike fidelity not only to his ideal but to his fictions, his incredibly cheap and curiously imitative imagination, awaken for him not only our interest and suffrage, but a certain liking, as they awaken it in the narrator Nick Carraway.
I confess I’ve always wondered about the last half of that common interpretation. Gatsby sympathetic? I think he evokes pathos, because he is the kind of person who cannot see how ridiculous it is, when Nick asks him where in the Middle West he’s from, to answer “San Francisco.” Because he thinks Daisy is some kind of grand romantic heroine when she’s just someone who, like everyone else in the novel, isn’t sure what she wants. Because he thinks he’s fooling anyone with all those big parties, the sign of someone with something to prove. But liking him? I’ve always been more in the interest and suffrage camp. Identifying with Gatsby would involve me wanting him to get what he wants. Instead, I just want him to want something else.
Schulz argued that a higher-minded reading doesn’t map with Fitzgerald’s authorial intent, though I think one statement of his not considering the psychology of his characters is not a total guide. No one can say for sure, but I suspect it isn’t an accident that that “beautiful little fools” line really is nonsense, just as one example. It was, in real life, something Scott borrowed from his wife Zelda, who said it coming out of anesthesia after the birth of their daughter. The lush romanticism notwithstanding, there’s something about using that drugged fragment from a dream, the sheer unreality of it, that suggests on some level that Fitzgerald knows all his characters are caught in a set-up, deeply vulnerable to the incursions of a messier reality.
Another way to put this is that the thinness of the tragedy in Gatsby—all that deception not quite getting him the really-quite-imaginary girl—should be, for modern audiences, exactly the point. Of course you can’t have something that doesn’t exist. Which, I thought anyway until very recently, was what we all agreed about the “American Dream” he represented. That it was silly, and in the end a kind of hurtful delusion. That there was very little to admire in it when it manifested itself, as in Gatsby’s case, as a kind of greed that can only be supported by gangsters. But then, I guess, we live in a world right now where the gangsterism is forgivable, and the indulgences of the rich are things we want for ourselves. Some things, I suppose, really haven’t changed.
Why do big chain retailers get to decide on their own safety standards for supply-chain workers? Read Elizabeth Cline’s analysis.
(Photo: Press Association via AP Images)
This year, I’ve been focused on how anti-poverty activists can move from a defensive battle defined by trying to save what needs to be saved during these budget debates, to an offensive one, laying out a vision that inspires ongoing, unified action and builds a vibrant movement that connects with people in their communities.
I offered one modest proposal for an “anti-poverty contract”—five issues that impact both low-income and middle class people—around which activists and groups could organize. The Western Center on Law & Poverty and a handful of other national and local groups are trying to build an effort around that idea.
However, when you consider the scale of the problems we face—and what inspires people to take action—clearly much, much more is needed. As I wrote previously, to build a new anti-poverty movement will require the kind of organizing and actions that are as creative, visible and gripping as the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Enter Stephen Lerner.
Lerner is a labor and community organizer who has spent more than three decades organizing hundreds of thousands of janitors, farm workers, garment workers and other low-wage workers into unions. These efforts resulted in increased wages, first-time health benefits, paid sick days and other improvements on the job. The architect of the historic Justice for Janitors campaign, he is currently working with unions and community groups across the country to break Wall Street’s anti-democratic grip on our politics and our economy.
Lerner lays out a powerful case about the intersection between poverty and Wall Street accountability—and how a Wall Street accountability movement can transform an economy that offers so few pathways out of poverty, and so many ways to keep people impoverished.
Here is our conversation:
Greg Kaufmann: Why is the Wall Street accountability movement now the focus of your work, and what is the potential you see there?
Stephen Lerner: One of the challenges is that there are so many things wrong right now—that you can be involved in any of a thousand causes. The problem is if they are disconnected it doesn’t add up to anything. So, people who are opposed to poverty have a dozen different things they’d like to move on the Hill, none of which are likely to pass at this time.
So the focus on Wall Street is: How do you connect all of these different battles? And, in fact, are there core things in common that drive them together?
If you look at some of the biggest issues of the day—whether it’s the loss of wealth in communities of color, the housing crisis, the student debt crisis, local and state governments cutting jobs and services because of debt—you can connect all of these issues to the original economic crisis of 2008, and the growing and continued dominance of the Wall Street big banks.
The majority of people in this country are either impacted by student debt, the ongoing housing crisis or the crisis of the public sector. And you can trace so much of it to Wall Street. This means instead of having twenty separate campaigns, you can have one campaign, that says how do we rebalance and reorganize the economy so that it benefits everybody—not just a teeny elite at the top.
How does the effort to address these three issues intersect with the fight against poverty in particular?
Let’s start with housing. In this country, for many workers and people of color, wealth isn’t in the stock market, or the Cayman Islands—it’s in a home. And the banks first preyed on folks through subprime loans pre-crisis, making enormous profits while putting people in danger. Then when the bubble burst, millions of people lost their homes, and those who didn’t have had outrageous payments because the subprime loans exploded. Now you still have 13 million families that are underwater—owing more on their loans than their homes are worth.
In Latino communities, 66 percent of their wealth was lost, half as a result of housing. In the African-American community, it was 53 percent. Fifty years of the gains of the civil rights movement and the expansion of the economy were wiped out overnight, pushing millions into poverty. If you add to that the people who are unemployed as a result of the crashed economy—we just have this strange thing that happened: the banks created a disaster, and economists and politicians said, “That’s terrible for the economy, let’s give them trillions.” And then the folks who were actually hit the hardest were forced into poverty.
On student debt: funding to public education was dramatically cut, which obviously hurts poor people and workers the most. As it was cut, people had to take out loans. So 37 million people have now run up a trillion dollars in student debt. It’s a burden no matter what, but if you come from a family that doesn’t have means, you now graduate from school with a crushing debt burden, and then there aren’t jobs available. And there’s a vicious cycle: you cut the budget of public universities, to give tax breaks to banks and big companies, who respond by creating toxic loan packages for students that they make a profit on. And because public funding of universities has been cut—the schools need to borrow more money in order to operate and build, so the banks get a piece of that action, too. And now university endowments are investing in Sallie Mae—the largest private student loan lender—so students have to take out loans to go to school, and the university endowment profits off those loans.
There are much better ways to fund education—like by [publicly] funding education so people can actually afford it, instead of creating these twenty layers that let Wall Street suck money out at every step.
So individuals and families are getting crushed by housing and education debt, and then you say public debt completes a sort of perfect storm?
That’s right, what we call predatory public loans. So three things have happened: Wall Street has taken advantage of the desperation of cities and municipalities since the crisis; the deals are so complex that public entities don’t know what they are getting into; and third is that Wall Street gets its money at a subsidized, Too Big to Fail rate, and in the case of the discount window, almost for free. Banks get money at .075 percent interest from the Federal Reserve, and they then create all sorts of ways to make more and more money off the spread, from the public sector.
Take interest rate swaps, for example. On the surface it sounds like not a bad idea—a bank says they will protect a city from a fluctuating interest rate by locking it in at, say, 4 percent. If it goes higher, they eat it. And if it goes lower, they make money. But they then add so many different formulas and traps, that all of a sudden when the whole thing blew up during the crisis and a city is hemorrhaging money, and they want to get out of it, it turns out that they have an exit fee that’s extraordinary and they can’t afford it. In Detroit, the city had to pay around $470 million on a series of bond and interrelated swap deals gone bad at the same time they were laying off police and firemen. So then you end up in fights like, “Do we help the poor, or do we take workers that are middle class and cut their wages so they’ll be poor?”
Describe what this movement looks like—what are some of the asks and how do you see it potentially playing out?
There are multiple levels of how Wall Street is impoverishing the country, and so different people can engage in different ways.
On housing, in Atlanta, Minneapolis, all over California—one piece is the Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes. This involves physical encampments, blockading the police and saying you’re not going to take my home, or my neighbor’s home. It’s incredibly vibrant, street-level resistance—and it’s often successful. And as folks are successful, it grows. This is all nonviolent, and involves people who are willing to go to jail.
If you take it up a level, there is a simple policy demand, which is that banks should reduce principal on homes to current market value. That means if you’re paying a $300,000 mortgage on a home that’s worth $200,000, the bank should rewrite it to that value. If we did that, it would save $700 billion to $1 trillion—that’s how much people are underwater—and generate $101 billion in economic activity, create 1.5 million jobs, and the average underwater homeowner would save $7,700 a year.
There are cities all over the country that are now exploring using eminent domain to seize these underwater mortgages and rewrite them with principal reductions. For years eminent domain was the tool to take advantage of poor people—tear up a neighborhood, build a highway, build a stadium and tell people they will be paid what their homes are worth on the open market. They said it was for the public good, even as it devastated once stable neighborhoods. We’re saying let’s flip that on it’s head—for the public good, let’s seize these mortgages and rewrite them at current market value so people can stay in their homes.
On student debt, there is a gamut of activity ranging from student activism on campuses, to state and local legislation, to sit-ins at the Sallie Mae shareholders meeting, to challenging the Education Department on why they have as contractors like Sallie Mae that are profiting off this disaster. The movement includes Senator Elizabeth Warren’s brilliant bill to give students loans at the same rate we give to banks. Why should banks get money cheap and student loans be more expensive? And it includes people on their college campuses—a movement around Big Banks Off Campus—because the banks shouldn’t be allowed to come on campus and sell their credit cards and figure out new ways to indebt students.
Finally, on public debt, people are fighting back. In the case of Oregon, SEIU Local 503 calculated that the state lost $110 million because of the LIBOR manipulations. So here’s what happens: the SEIU public sector union goes in to negotiate with the state representing public employees, and the state says we want to cut all of these services for poor people. And the workers themselves are often poor—homecare workers who haven’t had a raise in six years. The state says there is no money. And how do you argue if there’s no money? Except that the money was stolen! And so the movement is changing the debate. This is not about: Are public employees overpaid? Are their too many benefits for poor people? Should we have pre-K or not? There are incredible sums of money out there, but we’ve devised a system that drains it from the bottom to the top. Why don’t we cut out the middleman? Like let’s have an infrastructure bank and loan the money at cost. Let’s figure out a way so banks can’t make more than a certain amount of money on the spread. And I know that gives the free-market people heart attacks, because this is intervening in the market, but there is no market. Because five banks control it, and where they get their money is from taxpayers. It’s our money.
To what extent are these three threads—on student debt, housing debt and public debt—coalescing into a movement so they aren’t the kind of independent, divided struggles that you suggest hold us back from big victories?
As the campaigns develop, the overlap happens more and more. For example, people are seeing the relationship between housing debt and student debt—needing to take out student loans because your family’s house isn’t worth anything anymore so you can’t help finance an education through a second mortgage like you might have in the past. At the Wells Fargo meeting at Salt Lake City, folks campaigning about student debt showed up, and so did people campaigning on housing, and so did people about the environment. So, on an organic level on the street, people are seeing it more and more.
After I covered the actions at the Wells Fargo shareholders meeting, a progressive friend and writer told me, “The activists seem to think banks can’t ignore their message, that being heard is equivalent to making change.” How do you think a movement like this actually could make principal reduction, for example, a reality?
First, the enemy of change is the notion that if you are not winning at that moment then you are losing. These things never have an even flow. It’s not like you start one day, you have steady escalation—they go up and down. In Taylor Branch’s book At Canaan’s Edge, you read these transcripts of FBI wiretaps on civil rights leaders and it’s them saying, “We’re losing”… or “so and so was killed”… or “we have in-fighting, how will we win?” But when we look back at that period now, we see that the civil rights bill was going to pass, it was all going to happen. I think when you are in the middle of the battle, under siege, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
But your friend’s critique is fair in that we’ve been screaming about the banks for years, and they are more powerful than ever—the top six banks now control 73 percent of the total assets in the US banking sector. However, we’ve started to identify some levers that we think begin to level the playing field. Eminent domain is one example—if you’re not willing to reduce principal, then we’ll use the power of the city to force you to do it. On LIBOR, city after city is investigating whether they can sue to get their money back. Many are exploring, and some have passed, bills that say if banks don’t meet certain standards the cities won’t deal with them anymore. Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have all passed responsible banking ordinances recently.
Also, the banks’ greed and hubris is so great that [there are] new avenues to go after them. So if you look at the litigation that California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed: this is where the banks essentially did the same thing with credit card loans that they did with mortgages—they moved to litigation without accurate documentation to even show that people owed them money. We are seeing more opportunities for growing protest, more litigation and more public policy changes. You even now have Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter working together on a bill to break up the big banks.
Is there a role in this movement for people and organizations that are focused on the Hill?
Petitions can raise important issues and get people involved. Lobbying can be important—but I think what we need to do is connect all of this to an analysis of who the villains are and why the economy is unbalanced. This is not a problem of lack of policy—we have unlimited great policy ideas. This is not a problem of lack of money to fund anti-poverty programs. This is a problem of power. I think people need to accept that there is no real significant economic and political change as long as the finance sector is so dominant. The DC-centric stuff will be far more effective if there is something out there in the rest of the country brewing. If this is just an intellectual policy debate about who has the best idea and who has the best statistics, we’re doomed.
To win—to really make the kinds of structural changes you are talking about—does the public protest need to be as constant and visible, engaging and creative, as Occupy Wall Street?
Yes, we need to get to that. And there is an interesting myth about Occupy that somehow it just emerged out of nowhere. But many of the people who were engaged in it were part of other battles before Occupy Wall Street. The month before Occupy, community groups were doing rallies and sit-ins at banks all over the country. So you never know when things are going to take off. Why did the Vietnam protests take off when they did? Or the civil rights protests? You never know what triggers something to go from dedicated souls to a mass movement.
But your key point is right—the system is currently working for the banks and super-rich. And as long as they feel it’s working we won’t really achieve change. And so some combination of mass disruptive protest—nonviolent—of all sorts of local legislative activity; of a growing change in the narrative. Some mix and match of that has to put the kind of heat on them that makes them feel they have to negotiate over these issues—that they need, for example, to fix mortgages because the alternative is worse. We need to have a better system on student loans, because the alternative is worse. I think that’s really our challenge.
In a recent piece, you suggest that anger is insufficient to sustain a movement—that what keeps people going is love. Can you describe what you mean by that?
There are four things currently that are self-defeating for progressives and labor folks: one, the mantra of progressives is built on “we’re losing, there’s no hope, we’re getting clobbered.” That leads to the slogan of much of the progressive movement, which is “Let’s fight for small, incremental, not particularly important change now.” So what we largely talk about isn’t very inspiring. We talk about stopping cuts—stopping bad—not how we win good things.
The great movements—take the story of Exodus—they didn’t say, “Can the Egyptians whip us less often?” They said, “We’re leaving. We’re outta here. We’re gonna form a new country, a place where we can be free.” Gandhi, South Africa, the civil rights movement—all of these movements were based on this idea that there is something profoundly better that we can fight for. And I think for many of us in America we’ve lost that ability to say we’re engaged in this—not just because we care about principal reduction but because we believe in the richest country on earth we can transform society and redistribute wealth and power. So, we need to have a vision that’s inspiring and not be afraid to be called a little utopian.
Second, we need an analysis, a narrative, of who the bad guys are that are concentrating wealth and power. All of the organizing I was involved with—with the garment workers, the farmworkers and the janitors—they all had an analysis of who really had the power and could fix things, and I think we’ve forgotten how to do that.
Third, we need to think about the strategy and tactics that give us leverage, so this is not simply yelling and screaming. And fourth is about love—which is that people are involved both out of self-interest because they want to make their lives better; but also because they realize their life is better if they help make other lives better.
If you look at the great movements that’s what happens—some combination of vision, analysis, strategy and this deep, deep feeling that by supporting and sacrificing for others—in the labor movement we call it solidarity—you not only transform your own life, but you transform the lives of people around you and in doing that transform how society operates. That’s the roots of how we build what we have to build.
* * *
End “Too Big to Jail”: May 18–23, Washington, DC
If you think what Lerner has to say makes sense, here’s an immediate opportunity to get involved. Next week, families on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis are traveling from across the country to the nation’s capital to make their voices heard.
Their message is simple: five years into the financial crisis, Wall Street has still not been held accountable, and communities are still suffering. In fact, a new report from Alliance for a Just Society, the New Bottom Line and Home Defenders League shows that $192.6 billion in wealth was lost due to the foreclosure crisis in 2012, and this year another 13 million homes are at risk of foreclosure with $221 billion in wealth on the line. (See “Studies/Briefs” below for more information on this report.)
It’s long past time for the administration to prosecute those who violated the law and for the banks to repay individuals, families and communities that continue to suffer losses—beginning with reducing their mortgages to fair market value.
“We can’t have two systems of justice in this country: one for the rich and powerful, where Wall Street criminals are actually rewarded with bailouts and huge bonuses, and another for the rest of us,” said Vivian Richardson, who will be in DC next week after successfully defending her home from foreclosure with the help of members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “These Wall Street banksters stole many homes, and are still committing crimes. It is time for them to be held accountable.”
There will be home-defense and nonviolent, civil disobedience trainings on May 18–19 and a rally and march to the Department of Justice on Monday, May 20. The activists will attempt to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder and are prepared to take direct action if that doesn’t happen—blocking entrances, setting up an Occupy-style encampment, getting arrested and staying in jail.
Democratizing Wealth and a Sustainable Future—A Conversation with Gar Alperovitz (Wednesday, May 22, 12:15 pm–1:15 pm, New America Foundation, 1899 L Street NW Suite 400, Washington, DC). In his new book, Gar Alperovitz presents a case for democratizing wealth as a foundation for a new and sustainable economy. He offers specific policy ideas for how we might start with a transformation of the banking industry and health care sector. Join the New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program for a vibrant discussion, RSVP here.
DC Housing Authority and People with Disabilities
Jacqueline Young and Latheda Wilson both receive housing vouchers from the DC Housing Authority. Ms. Young’s apartment is too small for her to live with her child, and Ms. Wilson is in an apartment that she says is in substandard condition with mold- and insect-infestation.
Both women have hearing impairments and rely on American Sign Language to communicate—they have limited comprehension of written English. Unfortunately, they say, for years the DC Housing Authority failed to provide sign language interpreters at meetings where critical information regarding rules, regulations and requirements for the rental assistance program was provided, leaving the two women in their current predicaments.
A lawsuit was filed on their behalf by Relman, Dane & Colfax, which litigates civil rights cases in the areas of housing, lending, employment, public accommodations, education and police accountability, and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Deaf-REACH, a DC nonprofit advocacy organization, is also a plaintiff.
The complaint alleges that the Housing Authority engaged for years in a pattern of discrimination—promising but not providing interpreters, and canceling appointments due to a lack of interpreters or other effective means of communication.
“The law is very clear and well-established on this issue,” said attorney Megan Cacace of Relman, Dane & Colfax. “Entities like the DC Housing Authority must make their services and programs accessible to people with disabilities and provide sign language interpreters.”
Cacace said Young and Wilson were forced to sit through meetings or presentations without any way of understanding what was being said—or even were denied the opportunity to attend meetings at all—and that they were expected “to communicate through notes and gestures” despite repeated requests for interpreters.
“It’s appalling and unacceptable,” said Cacace.
Richard White, director of Public Affairs and Communications for the Housing Authority, wrote in an e-mail: “As a matter of policy, I’m not going to comment on active litigation. What I will tell you is that DCHA takes its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act very seriously. We have policies and procedures in place to accommodate the needs of the disabled in all our operations. We will investigate the claims made and respond to the litigation, through our General Counsel office.”
I look forward to learning about the response and hope that it’s quick, thorough and just. This is the twenty-first century and our nation’s capital, after all. It’s bad enough that we are among the cities with the worst wealth inequality and highest child poverty rates in the country. Can we at least provide basic services for people with disabilities?
“Equality for people with disabilities is an important civil rights issue,” said Cacace. “People like Ms. Young and Ms. Wilson are entitled to, and deserve, equal treatment and respect. This lawsuit seeks to vindicate those rights.”
National Community Action Month
Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are nonprofit private and public organizations with their fingers on the pulse of poverty. They provide direct support for nearly 35 million of the 46.2 million people living in poverty in the United States today.
Each CAA is governed locally and offers programs and services designed to meet a community’s specific needs, including: emergency aid like food pantries and domestic violence counseling, education programs like Head Start and youth mentoring, daycare and job training programs, community economic development, services to military veterans, income management and housing assistance, healthcare clinics, WIC and more.
May is National Community Action Month, a public awareness campaign created by the Community Action Partnership in 1997 to highlight the agencies’ effectiveness in helping America’s low-income people and communities achieve economic security. The CAAs and the people they serve are currently getting hit by sequestration, budget cuts and rising hunger and unemployment, and will hold events to call attention to poverty and economic inequality, and to advocate for their programs as a way to help address these issues.
“While policymakers and hedge fund managers are trying to decide what to do with their Enron refrigerator magnets and their Merrill Lynch shot glasses, Community Action is approaching its fiftieth year of providing bona fide opportunities and economic security for millions of people and families,” said Don Mathis, president and CEO of the Community Action Partnership.
CAAs across the country are hosting poverty symposiums, town hall meetings and other events to raise awareness about poverty-related problems and solutions. Here are just a few of the events:
Arizona Community Action Association and Community Action of Northeast Indiana are hosting screenings of A Place at the Table.
TRI-CAP in Jasper, Indiana, is hosting a poverty simulation.
North Hudson Community Action Corporation in Union City, New Jersey, is hosting a health fair with free dental, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screenings, along with nutrition and health information.
“Our network of more than 1,000 CAAs is focusing on the devastating effects that the severe income and wealth gaps are having on everyone in America, not just the poor,” said Mathis.
Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)
“Class Size & Funding Inequity in NY State & NY City,” Bruce Baker
“Fast Food Strikes Hitting Fifth City: Milwaukee,” Josh Eidelson
“Mother’s Day Edition: Challenges Give Strength,” Equal Voice
“Unemployment From a Child’s Perspective,” Julia Isaacs
“Unions to Banks: Pay Up,” Sarah Jaffe
“The Link Between Mass Incarceration and Voter Turnout,” John Light
“Parents to Lawmakers: Protect Child Care, Social Services,” Michael Mello and Brad Wong
“Mending factory conditions after Bangladesh,” Harold Meyerson
“Welfare fraud investigations perpetuate fraudulent stereotypes,” Monica Peabody
“Lift the Millstone of Student Debt That’s Slowing the Economy,” Isaiah J. Poole
“The Facts on SNAP: SNAP Is Efficient,” Dottie Rosenbaum
“In D.C., parents miss work, lose jobs trying to get child-care subsidy,” Brigid Schulte
“Racism Remains Alive and Well,” Patricia Williams
“Leaning in With Child Care: A Discussion on Childcare Jobs and the Need for Quality, Affordable Care,” Workforce Strategies Initiative, Aspen Institute [VIDEO]
“Congress is Ready to Fight Over Deep Food Stamp Cuts,” George Zornick
Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)
“Enhancing GED Instruction to Prepare Students for College and Careers,” Vanessa Martin and Joseph Broadus, MDRC. In many large cities, students face dropout/pushout rates upwards of 50 percent. Many who drop out pursue the GED, or General Educational Development credential, but too few pass the GED test, and even fewer are prepared to step into college or the workforce. This study assesses an initiative at LaGuardia Community College, the GED Bridge to Health and Business Program, which is designed to help students pass the GED while simultaneously preparing for college and careers. Students in the program receive intensive advising and spend more hours in class than typical GED students. In a randomized evaluation, MDRC finds encouraging results: compared with students who went through traditional GED prep, Bridge students were twice as likely to complete the semester of classes, more than twice as likely to pass the exam and more than three times as likely to enroll in a CUNY school.
“Wasted Wealth: How the Wall Street Crash Continues to Stall Economic Recovery and Deepen Racial Inequity in America,” Ben Henry, Jill Reese and Angel Torres, Alliance for a Just Society. The Great Recession took a racially uneven toll: whereas white median net worth fell by 16 percent between 2005 and 2009, net worth for Latinos dropped 66 percent and blacks 52 percent. As 2012 foreclosure data reveals, the foreclosure crisis has far from abated—particularly for people of color. Overall, foreclosures caused a $192.6 million aggregate drop in wealth in 2012—an average of $1,679 per household—and more than 13 million homes remain underwater and vulnerable to foreclosure. In zip codes with proportions of people of color above the national average (16 percent), the average lost wealth per household was $2,008, and in zip codes with majority people of color, the loss was $2,198. Why the ongoing crisis? While banks have received $8 trillion in federal bailouts and loans, the feds haven’t acted on principal reduction—which would save underwater homeowners an average of $7,710 and stimulate the economy to the tune of 1.5 million jobs. The report offers a slate of proposals for government and banks, including: ensuring that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac prioritize keeping families in foreclosed homes through rental and buy-back programs; full legal accountability for Wall Street executive and bankers; legislation like the California Homeowner Bill of Rights that protects homeowners from abusive mortgage servicing; local foreclosure mediation programs; and public reporting from mortgage servicers on foreclosures, short sales and principal reductions by race and income.
“A Strategic Road-Map,” Academic Pediatric Association, Taskforce on Childhood Poverty. While there’s no vaccine to end child poverty, the APA says, there are clear strategies for combating its causes and effects. The APA’s road map focuses on four categories: raising children out of poverty through raising the minimum wage, increasing access to quality jobs and improving income and work supports such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit; high-quality childcare and early childhood programs for low-income families; “place-based” initiatives, recognizing that poverty, crime, housing characteristics and lack of employment opportunities can all have negative impacts on poor children’s health and well-being; and a White House Conference on Children and Youth to elevate children’s needs and build public support for investments.
US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.
Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.
Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.
People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty).
People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.
Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.
Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.
Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.
Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent.
Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.
Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled, or working households: over 90 percent.
Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.
Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.
Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.
Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.
Quote of the Week
“There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. Money has to serve, not to rule.”
James Cersonsky wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.
My new Think Again is called “Worse than Watergate?” Guess what it’s about.
Congratulations once again to the Hillman Foundation for their award to Andrew Sullivan, who is quick to remind them of his pride in promoting the racist/eugencist-based research of Charles Murray going all Bell Curve-y about the Richwine scandal, here. I’m sure immigrant unionists are particularly pleased....
So it was a relatively quiet week musically. I did catch my first ever Hays Carll show last Friday at City Winery. I missed out on Hays for a while, but I saw him on PBS during last year’s Americana Awards show and boy was he funny. I bought two albums of his and they were pretty funny too but also quite a bit more than that. He’s from the Steve Earle/Robert Earl Keen/Jimmy Dale Gilmore school of Texas ironic soulfulness in songwriting—Corb Lund is another member—and he’s pretty funny and charming in concert. Pretty impressive band too. If any of the above is your thing, then you’ll be glad you invested in. His website is here. Oh and “Wings over America is back,” remastered like the most recent McCartney re-releases. It’s a great album—I was there—as it pulls together much of what was great about McCartney’s early post-Beatle releases and only a few from what totally sucked (“Silly Love Songs” is bad. “Let Em In” is one of the worst songs of all time.)
That’s all. Now here’s Reed.
Obama’s Media Shield Kabuki
by Reed Richardson
In battle, assessing the true strength of one’s defenses necessitates taking full measure of the forces opposing them. Armor is only as worthy as the threats it can protect against, in other words. This is why taking cover—either physically or intellectually—behind a position that offers little to no real protection becomes twice as risky; it perpetuates a false sense of security where none exists and encourages ignorance of the real dangers lurking about.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s renewed interest in a federal media shield law this week presents just such a hazard for the press. Coming on the heels of a revelation by the Justice Department that it secretly scooped up phone records of Associated Press reporters to identify the source of a classified leak, it’s not hard to see this as a transparent ploy at damage control. (The AP story that drew the government’s scrutiny, which included leaks about how the CIA thwarted an Al Qaida bomb plot, is here.) While it may be tempting to view the passage of a media shield law as a potential silver lining to an otherwise ugly case of executive overreach, context here matters greatly. And it’s why it’s worth closely examining what the press really would—or more accurately, wouldn’t—gain if the bill gets passed.
Some background is necessary—the debate over how much constitutional protection the press enjoys regarding confidential sources was the fundamental issue in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court case of Branzburg v. Hayes. Though a majority of the Court found the press does not have an absolute privilege to withhold sources in every circumstance, an ambiguous concurrence by Justice Lewis Powell and a compelling dissenting opinion essentially snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Thanks largely to these arguments, a large majority of states in the past forty years have been able to enact media shield laws that either do grant absolute privilege or that recognize the dissenter’s more press-friendly, multi-part test framework. (For a handy state-by-state breakdown of shield laws, check out the Reporter’s Committee for the Freedom of the Press.)
This patchwork quilt of state-based media shield laws is problematic, obviously. It punishes the press in states with less progressive legislatures, makes navigating interstate or national stories that much more difficult, and fails to address the unique circumstances in play when reporting on national security. Thus, a robust, federal version of the shield law has been a goal of free press advocates almost since the Branzburg decision came out.
Here’s the rub, though. The compromised 2009 federal media shield bill that Obama wants to revive is anything but robust and, overall, it might actually end up being a net negative for press freedom. Though a federal shield would undoubtedly help the press in the states that currently offer no source protection, the media outlets in places that already enjoy absolute privilege (12 states, including, critically, New York, as well as the District of Columbia) would experience a noticeable roll back in rights. What’s more, when it comes to national security and classified leaks, this particular bill’s language provides little more than a legal speed-bump for any overzealous government agency. And worst of all, Obama knows this.
How? Because four years ago, he was the one responsible for weakening it. The truth is, had the 2009 federal media shield law been in place last year, when the Justice Department secretly obtained the AP’s phone records, the outcome likely wouldn’t have changed. This even the bill’s chief sponsor tacitly acknowledged this past week: “Schumer himself made no claims that a shield law would have blocked the probe. Instead he says, ‘at minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case.’”
Even this claim of a “more deliberate process” seems dubious, though. As the Times noted of the changes requested by the Obama administration in 2009:
[U]nder the administration’s proposal, such procedures would not apply to leaks of a matter deemed to cause ‘significant’ harm to national security. Moreover, judges would be instructed to be deferential to executive branch assertions about whether a leak caused or was likely to cause such harm, according to officials familiar with the proposal.
Previously, the government’s burden of proof had been more stringent and tangible—it would have had to document that “imminent and actual harm to national security” would result if a media source was not identified. But due to White House fears that this language afforded the press almost blanket immunity, this time-critical element was stripped out and, in its place, the government was given broad leeway to interpret a leak’s impact. Thus, the press would be left in the unenviable position of pleading a case of “he said, she said” against a national security apparatus that now enjoys the benefit of the doubt in the court’s eyes.
Sadly, this comes as no surprise from an administration that has undertaken a disturbingly aggressive approach toward leaks. Just this past Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder demonstrated this us-versus-them mindset during a House Judiciary Committee, where he was ostensibly advocating for press freedom:
“There should be a shield law with regard to the press’s ability to gather information and to disseminate it,” [Holder] said. “The focus should be on those people who break their oath and put the American people at risk, not reporters who gather this information.”
This statement displays a rather stunning lack of cognitive dissonance on the part of the Attorney General. But it does explain a lot about the Obama administration’s unprecedented “War on Whistleblowers” and adversarial approach toward leaks in the press. After all, an administration can hardly be expected to operate under the presumption that leakers are betraying the country and harming its security without eventually losing professional respect and judicial regard for those in the press to whom they are leaking. No matter the president’s words, all too often his administration’s actions demonstrate a contemptuous attitude toward the press for abetting these leaks.
Which us brings to the final disgrace of the media shield law—its rapidly growing irrelevance. In an environment where our sprawling national security apparatus repeatedly abuses its power and increasingly relies upon secret “215” subpoenas and gag-ordered National Security Letters (NSLs) to out confidential sources and collect data, the law represents little more than the legal equivalent of the French Maginot Line, an outdated, easily-bypassed fortification. While the revelation about Justice Department’s monitoring of the AP is shocking, it really shouldn’t be. The fact is, our government secretly gather vast troves of surveillance information about journalists (and the public) thousands of times every year without them (or us) ever knowing about it.
What impact would the proposed media shield law have on this supra-judicial spying of the media? Precious little, if any. And therein lies the trouble. Passing it would only offer a pretense of a solution to a much more insidious problem confronting our government and the press. Repairing this critical relationship requires more than Obama signing a largely symbolic piece of legislation, one that fails to honestly address our out-of-control secret surveillance state. Encouragingly, some of the excesses of our national security apparatus are finally being questioned by the courts. But unless the establishment press also refuses to be co-opted into accepting the status quo, things won’t get better for it, or for our democracy. In other words, to truly safeguard our freedom of the press, merely giving it a shield is no longer enough. We now have to start taking back the weapons our own government is using to attack it.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.
Also, I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
RE: “Why Does the Press Take the Heritage Foundation Seriously?”
Dear Mr. Richardson:
A couple of points: Immigration reform will not help Social Security or Medicare in the long run, as millions more citizens mean trillions more in unfunded liabilities, the short-term windfall notwithstanding.
Of course an expanded population typically means a bigger GDP; if America absorbed China our output and income would increase gigantically. Problem is, per capita income and production would go down in a major way.
Quite frankly, I don't give a damn about your feelings on whether Richwine used racist stereotyping. What does matter is if his arguments or numbers can be refuted. If so, well and good, we've advanced in knowledge a little. If not, we've still gotten ahead in what we know, despite liberal pieties that seem eternally meant to stifle truth.
Well, at least the PC corps got Richwine booted out. So much for the disinterested search for truth.
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
Students at Green Mountain College. (Courtesy of Divest Green Mountain.)
Kudos to Green Mountain College for its announcement this week that it is committing to divest its $3.1 million endowment from companies profiting from fossil fuels. GMC is the fifth college nationwide and the second in Vermont to commit to divestment as part of a nationwide campaign that has spread to over 300 colleges and universities and more than 100 cities and states across the country.
The GMC Board of Trustees voted on Friday, May 10 to immediately divest from fossil fuels and establish a process for aligning future investments with social, environmental and governance goals. GMC has a $3.1 million endowment, only 1 percent of which is currently invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies that own the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves. So it’s a symbolic victory, yes, but one that demonstrates the increasing traction of the divestment movement.
“We’re pleased with the conversation that has occurred this semester between students and administration, resulting in the divestment from the list of the most destructive 200 fossil fuel companies,” said a statement issued by Divest GMC, the student group on campus who led the divestment campaign. “As students of an environmental liberal arts college we look forward to continuing the dialogue of authentic sustainability, both environmentally and socially. In this way we are strengthening student voice in all aspects of institutional education.”
Students at GMC began their divestment campaign last February. In March, a number of students participated in Mountain Justice Spring Break, traveling to West Virginia to witness the devastation of mountaintop removal firsthand. In April, the GMC Student Senate voted unanimously to support divestment and more than 50 percent of the student body signed on to a petition supporting the move.
“A heartfelt thanks to the handful of students of Club Activism at Green Mountain College who never lost hope and to the administration and board of trustees at Green Mountain College who listened as the murmur became a broad movement across the college community,” said Dr. Paul Hancock, professor of economics and director of the Sustainable Community Development Center at GMC. “This small place has accomplished so much to sound the alarm about climate change and overhaul the way we work and live. As we blow past 400 ppm let’s hope the folks in our nation’s capital respond to the demands of these young leaders.”
The GMC announcement provides a boost of momentum for divestment campaigns at other Vermont colleges including Goddard, St. Michaels, Johnson State, Middlebury and the University of Vermont. “This puts huge pressure on Middlebury’s Board of Trustees to divest,” said Middlebury College sophomore Teddy Smyth. “Our school’s reputation for environmental leadership is lagging behind our neighbors at Green Mountain College.”
Activists are also pushing for divestment at the state and city level. Mor than 957 people have signed a petition, to date, calling on the state legislature to pass legislation to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuels.
“Vermonters want to align the state’s financial holdings with our strong environmental ethic,” said Maeve McBride, an organizer with 350 Vermont. “The Vermont legislature has banned fracking and set ambitious efficiency targets, but our state pension funds are invested in companies that frack, drill and pillage. We were the first state to ban fracking, and we can lead again by divesting our state pension funds from fossil fuels.”
Over the coming weeks, students across the country will continue to meet with their boards of trustees to push for divestment. This summer, the Go Fossil Free campaign aims to expand the divestment movement and lay the groundwork for an even bigger fall of organizing on campus.
Read Emily Crockett on why the millennial generation isn’t just a bunch of narcissists, as a recent Time article suggests.
Volunteers fill bags for a school lunch program. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta.)
Late Wednesday night, the House Agriculture Committee passed a comprehensive, $940 billion farm bill. This was a first step towards making a real, five-year bill law—something the last Congress failed to do, and something that, by all accounts, this Congress deems an absolute necessity.
But one central issue could derail the farm legislation once again: food stamp cuts. Republicans are demanding even deeper cuts than what they proposed last year, and Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, several House Democrats made it clear they are willing to let the farm bill die if it contains those steep cuts.
The bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee last night slashed $20.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, $4 billion more than what the committee proposed last year. These cuts would take away food stamps from nearly 2 million people, and several hundred thousand low-income children would stop receiving free school meals.
At a press conference Thursday morning, several prominent Democrats drew red lines around the cuts. “Lest anyone think that this [debate] is going quietly into the night, you have another thing coming,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro. “Maybe, and I can’t say for sure, maybe we’ll take a look at whether this bill can move at all.”
Representative Jim McGovern was more direct. “The $20.5 billion cut in SNAP is a poison pill. It means that we shouldn’t be supporting the farm bill,” he said.
The stakes are extremely high here. The agricultural community—from farmers to the multibillion-dollar industry players—badly wants a new farm bill, and powerful senators from rural states, in particular, are bent on enacting it. President Obama has repeatedly pressed Congress to pass one.
These threats from McGovern and DeLauro, who were joined by Representatives Marcia Fudge and Barbara Lee at Thursday’s event, carry real weight. The backdrop is that many conservatives oppose the House Agriculture committee bill in part because the SNAP cuts are too small—Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget calls for $135 billion in cuts to food stamps and for the program to be block-granted to the states.
Many far-right conservatives will likely oppose the farm bill for this reason, and for many other reasons—voting yes on a nearly trillion-dollar bill isn’t easy for them. That means Democrats will be needed to secure House passage, and if liberal members can mobilize enough colleagues to join them in steadfast opposition to the food stamp cuts, the farm bill might not pass. (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did not return a request for comment about how she would instruct members on this issue.)
Even if the bill does pass the House, food stamp cuts could still blow up final passage when the House and Senate try to reconcile their bills. The Senate version of the farm bill cuts one-fifth of what the House proposes. Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that she would not accept the food stamp provisions of the House bill.
“I absolutely reject the level of cuts [to SNAP] and the way this is done in the House,” Stabenow said. “That policy does not have support in the United States Senate. I won’t support it the conference.”
McGovern said he hopes Obama, too, will prioritize the food stamp fight over simply getting a bill passed. “We need the White House to come up here and help us a little bit on this,” he said. “I really do believe there ought to be a line in the sand drawn, by this White House, that you’re not going to sign a farm bill with any SNAP cuts. Certainly not cuts of $20 billion.”
The House Agriculture Committee bill cuts SNAP primarily by eliminating “categorical eligibility”—a method that forty states use to make sure needy families get food stamps. The 1996 welfare law allowed states flexibility with food stamp qualification limits by aligning them to more generous rules used under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and that’s the flexibility the GOP wants to eliminate.
Generous, of course, is really a misnomer here. The qualification for food stamps—130 percent of the poverty level—often excludes needy families who technically exceed that limit, but have disposable income well below 130 percent because of childcare and other expenses, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explains. Also, the SNAP asset limit of $2,000 hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 1986 and has fallen 53 percent in real terms.
So forty states, both red and blue, use the flexibility provided by categorical eligibility to make sure needy families don’t get screwed out of food stamps. If that eligibility is scrapped, as the GOP proposes, the Congressional Budget Office estimates 1.8 million low-income will stop getting food stamps and 210,000 needy children will stop getting free meals at school.
This is an outcome that far-right members of the House proudly champion. “It seems to me that the goal of this administration is to expand the rolls of people who are on SNAP benefits, the purpose of which is to expand the dependency class,” said Representative Steve King during Wednesday’s committee debate.
McGovern and his colleagues also see this debate in moral terms, though naturally very different ones. “Here’s the deal: we have 50 million people in the United States of America who are hungry. Seventeen million of them are children. We’re the richest, most powerful country in the world. We all should be ashamed,” he said Thursday.
“The debate around the farm bill yesterday should not have been focused on how we should cut SNAP. We should be talking about how we improve and expand SNAP,” he added. “We should be talking about how we invest more in nutrition, invest more in the effort to end hunger.”
Read George Zornick on another under-covered issue: integrating veterans back into society.