When the prairie populists of the North Dakota Non-Partisan League swept to power a century ago,with their promise to take on the plutocrats, one of the first orders of business was the establishment of state-run bank.
They did just that. And in just a few years the Bank of North Dakota will celebrate a 100th anniversary of assuring safe stewardship of state funds, providing loans at affordable rates and steering revenues toward the support of public projects.
After the 2008 financial meltdown, and the failure of Congress to regulate “too-big-to-fail” banks, activists and progressive legislators across the country began to explore the idea of replicating—or even expanding upon—the North Dakota model in other states.
But would the voters go for that?
Vermonters for a New Economy decided to test the idea.
This year, the group urged citizens to petition to place the public-banking question on the agendas of town meetings across the state—distributing information outlining a proposal to turn the Vermont Economic Development Authority into a state bank. Under the plan, the group explained, “the State of Vermont would deposit its revenues into the state bank. The bank would use these funds in ways that would create economic sustainability in Vermont by partnering with community banks to make loans and engaging in other activities that would leverage state funds to promote economic well-being in the state. The interest from these loans would be returned to the bank instead of out of state interests and would be available for further investment in the local economy or could be transferred to the state general fund. The bank would not invest in the risky financial instruments that the megabanks seem to love. The bank’s activities would be open and available for public inspection.”
Last week, at least twenty Vermont town meetings took up the issue and voted “yes.”
In many cases, the votes were overwhelming.
Vermont is not the only state where public banking proposals are in play. But the town meeting endorsements are likely to provide a boost for a legislative proposal to provide the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) with the powers of a bank.
The bill would create a “10 Percent for Vermont” program that would “deposit 10 percent of Vermont’s unrestricted revenues in the VEDA bank and allow VEDA to leverage this money, in the same way that private banks do now, to fund…unfunded capital needs” outlined in a recent study by the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. The legislation would also develop programs, often in conjunction of community banks, “to create loans which would help create economic opportunities for Vermonters.”
Among the most outspoken advocates for the public-banking initiative is Vermont State Senator Anthony Pollina, a veteran Vermont Progressive Party activist and former gubernatorial candidate, who argues that it “doesn’t make any sense for us to be sending Vermont’s hard-earned tax dollars to some bank on Wall Street which couldn’t care less about Vermont or Vermonters when we could keep that money here in the state of Vermont where we would have control over it and therefore more of it would be invested here in the state.”
—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration, literature and film.
“Fake Outrage in the Kentucky Senate Race,” by Mark Leibovich. The New York Times Magazine, March 3, 2014
Mark Leibovich’s dispatch from the closely watched KY senate race between incumbent Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes depicts the dueling campaigns as clouded in a thick “fog of fake outrage.” Real disagreements over policy are displaced by a less-than-ingenuous disgust olympics between warring communications departments, over usually imagined affronts—e.g. “I am so appalled. You’ll never believe just how low our opponent has stooped this time.” Leibovich writes wistfully about a time when “the privilege of speaking publicly on behalf of a candidate belonged to a select few operatives, usually 40- and 50-somethings who spoke with deliberate authority.” Like an indignant Scooby-Doo villain, Leibovich seems specifically intent on indicting the campaigns’ conspicuously young and female spokespersons for fueling the substanceless war-of-position. Thus, intentionally or not, Leibovich aligns himself with the single most tired meme in American media: blame the millennials! Even when they somehow break free of their storied laziness and political apathy, they have to go and spoil the godly, dignified work of campaigning with their tweets and their irony. Meddling kids!
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
"Like a lingering cloud of tear gas: how do you reconcile the two Brazils?" by Grant Wahl. Sports Illustrated, February 27, 2014.
The side effects of mega-sporting events have become all too evident in recent years; forced relocation of poor people, immense corruption and even larger public debt are now foregone conclusions. However, these competitions also mute local culture by commodifying everything in their path. Grant Wahl's piece explores this phenomenon as experienced in Rio de Janeiro's legendary Maracanã stadium. Gustavo Mehl, a 30-year-old Brazilian social activist, described the old Maracanã as "a symbol of public participation in Rio" and "the most democratic space of the city" in contrats to the undemocratic, gentrified space the stadium has become. Now, corporations have exclusive license to hawk their goods; standing room for the poor has been replaced by individual seating and luxury boxes; the sale of traditional foods has been restricted in favor of Big Macs, Coca-Cola and Budweiser; and organizers' push for "more civilized" fan behavior destroys traditional forms of cheering. Aldo Rebelo, a former Communist party congressman and Brazil's current sports minister, insists that "there's a great risk that the market will eliminate the enchantment soccer holds for the people." That's quite a statement to make about Brazil, cultural epicenter of the "beautiful game."
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“What Tender Possibilities: Two Meditations On The Oikos, Pt. 1,” by Anne Boyer. CUNY Academic Commons, March 5, 2014
I was surprised to find myself again, this week, reading and having my interest piqued by an article that aims to draw a point about contemporary gender relations out of a scholarly analysis of Ancient Greek ones. Anne Boyer's blog post is a "meditation" on Angela Mitropoulos's book Contract & Contagion: From Biopolitics to Oikonomia and is part of an ongoing project by the CUNY Graduate Center's (very interesting) "Digital Labor Working Group." What I like about this post, whose claims are hard to fully evaluate without reference to the texts it's building off of, is the broader project it takes part in: the search for ways of understanding gendered labor that neither naturalize "women's work" nor collapse it into a homogeneous notion of "labor" that obscures its unique social and economic functions. Instead it aims at a notion that, in Boyer's words, allows for "more complexity than the Arendtian conception of the private or Marxian theories about reproductive and productive labor."
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“Who cares if it’s true?” by Marc Fisher. Columbia Journalism Review, March 3, 2014
The story begins, as it increasingly does, with BuzzFeed. The morning's topic at BuzzFeed HQ was the president's State of the Union address and how to cover it: "getting Vine video 'of when stupid stuff happens' and putting together a piece about how no one cares about the State of the Union," reports CJR's Marc Fisher in their cover story, "Who Cares If It's True?" Fisher visits newsrooms with widely divergent views on sourcing and editing, and concludes, with evident regret, "What’s news is what’s out there, whether or not it’s been checked and verified." Reporting from newsrooms, on newsrooms and (let's face it) for newsrooms, Fisher manages to state the obvious—what makes you click isn't always good for you—by substantiating this fact of life with truly entertaining anecdotes from the people behind the curtain.
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“Oral Argument Recap: Ohio Supreme Court Considers Home Rule in Challenge to Zoning Ordinances Restricting Drilling,” by Dan Kavouras. North America Shale Blog, February 28, 2014
This piece, written for an industry law firm’s “Shale Blog,” reports on a current Ohio Supreme Court case concerning local governments’ role in governing oil and gas drilling. The city of Munroe Falls, OH argued (see video of oral arguments) that as a home-rule city, its zoning power to determine where drilling takes place can coexist with state law regulating how drilling takes place. More generally, the city defended localities’ right to speak (pass laws) where the state is silent and guarded against “implied pre-emption.” Beck Energy, with support from the state, argued that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources unilaterally regulates oil and gas extraction in the state. Justice Pfeifer was quick to note: “I believe it’s the only department we’ve held in contempt in my tenure here.” Both sides agreed that localities have no power to outright ban drilling.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.
“The Human Rights That Dictators Love,” by Pedro Pizano. Foreign Policy, February 26, 2014.
While I certainly don't share Pizano's apparent distaste for the economic redistribution implied by some "positive" rights, I'm always interested in the tension he notes between the all-or-nothing premise of rights and the consideration of proportionality and degree that the idea of economic rights implies. If people have a right to employment counseling and paid vacation leave, two of Pizano's examples, how much of it do they have a right to? If we need to evaluate what specific amount of something would fulfill our right to it, does that undermine the idea that rights are defined by universality and indivisibility? Of course, traditional "negative" rights or "freedoms from" also must be balanced against each other—perhaps the common insistence that negative rights are more clear-cut goes to Pizano's point about how easily supposedly universal rights talk lends itself to politicization.
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
"The Two Worlds of Vladimir Putin," by Amy Knight. The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2000.
By the time events in Ukraine reach their dénouement, at least half of the think pieces, blog posts, analyses and projections you will have read about Russia, Ukraine and Crimea—many of them written with forceful certainty—will be wrong. That is why this week, I'm looking at a piece from 2000 that got it right. Prescient is the term often applied to such work, but really, it's usually the product of good scholarship, strong subject knowledge or deep reporting.
Writing in the Spring 2000 issue of The Wilson Quarterly, just as Putin assumed leadership of Russia, historian and former Wilson Center scholar Amy Knight offers a warning about the dangers of building foreign policy around the idea of Putin as “someone we can do business with.” She ends with a line that reverberates, fourteen years later: "The fact that almost a decade after the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991 someone like Putin could rise to the top of the political leadership in Russia is a grim reminder that the legacies of police states die hard."
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“Open-Sourcing a Treatment for Cancer,” by Gary Marcus. The New Yorker, February 27, 2014.
Be prepared to feel like a massive under-achiever: before she's even graduated from high school, Elana Simonton has helped to conduct new research on fibromellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer she was diagnosed with at age twelve—and she's done it in an innovative way. By compiling data from patients at different healthcare centers, Simonton helped to pinpoint a common gene mutation found in fifteen fibromellar patients, which could aid more precise diagnosis. The research also found genes that become active in fibromellar, which could act as potential targets for treatment.
Simonton's use of multiple data sources is radical in its simplicity: there is often a dearth of research on rare diseases, given that there aren't many patients out there, and moreover competing doctors and health centers don't want to share data with each other. By bringing multiple patients together from across sites, Simonton was able to see trends that are otherwise missed. Her research, and other "open-access" tools that push back against a cult of secrecy surrounding scientific and research data, should become the norm, rather than the exception, in order to catapult new research and better health outcomes.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“We do not have to live with the scourge of inequality,” by Jonathan Ostry. Financial Times, March 3, 2014
Most mainstream economists have long held that government efforts to reduce inequality come at a cost: a lower rate of economic growth. Taxing the industrious rich and granting welfare to the idle poor distorts incentives, they argued—and devised mathematical models to prove it. That such measures have a chilling effect on the economy does not necessarily mean we should forego them, the thinking went, but that there is a tradeoff to be had is undeniable. This conventional wisdom has been contested before, and to read of it in the pages of The Nation or Mother Jones would be less than shocking, but here I direct you to an article in the Financial Times. The author, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, having co-written a recent research paper on the subject, concludes rather candidly that a more redistributive tax system appears not to stunt, but to stimulate economic growth. This is good news and, after decades of folly, may indicate a shift in thinking at the IMF.
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
"The Trigger Warned Syllabus," by Tressie McMillan Cottom. Tressiemc, March 5, 2014
Tressie McMillan Cottom, an influential writer on higher education, offers a surprising take on the question of whether college courses should offer trigger warnings on their syllabi (discussed in this article from The New Republic). Consciously refraining from entering in the debate about the use of trigger warnings, Cottom suggests that trigger warnings, a tool originally intended to help survivors of sexual assault, have become a way for universities to control what is taught and ultimately suppress "the critical canon of race, sex, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and capitalism." For Cottom, trigger warnings serve as ways for elite universities to enforce normative standards.
Read Next: intern Simon Davis-Cohen on a legislative victory for Oregon foster youth.
Two days ago the Web and airwaves were filled with breathless reports of a leaked phone call, lasting about eleven minutes and posted on YouTube, between two officials, in which one reported a conversation with a certain Ukrainian doctor named “Olga.” She allegedly had told him that, based on the bullets found in and around the bodies of slain protesters and policemen in Kiev at the apex of the recent violent showdown, it appeared that the snipers had been hired by the rebels, not the government or military, since the bullets that killed victims on both sides matched.
Some, such as Russia-funded TV network RT, swallowed the claim whole from the start—and others joined in when the phone call was confirmed as real. (RT’s editor in chief, in attacking anchor Liz Wahl after she quit, even demanded to know why the US media was ignoring this firm evidence of the protesters hiring the snipers.) For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to matter to them that the fact that the phone conversation took place did not mean that the reported chat with the doctor had been interpreted and relayed accurately.
So the headlines, from partisans and quasi-journalists, rang out about this purportedly strong evidence, even proof, that the protesters had hired the snipers, apparently to shoot a few dozen of their own to draw international outrage and sympathy.
A few of us raised questions from the start about this single-sourced “evidence.” And who was this Olga? Could she be found and interviewed?
The “evidence” was weak from the start, secondhand, hearsay. Even though there was no way to judge the veracity and potential bias of the officials—and even if the official was trying to speak truthfully there was no way to know if he’d misinterpreted the doctor’s remarks—the conspiracy fans, pro-Putin agitators and faux journos promoted it widely.
Of course, it turns out the doctor, who we learn is quite famous and important in that country—Olga Bogomolets—denies suggesting any such thing. Here’s just one account of it, near the close of an excellent profile of her.
In another interview, with the Telegraph, she could have been referring to the ‘journalists” when she said, “I think you can only say something like this on the basis of fact. It’s not correct and its not good to do this. It should be based on fact.”
Might she have said one thing to that official in the leaked call and is changing her story now? It’s always possible. I would certainly not declare, "New Statement By Doctor Proves Protestors Did Not Hire Snipers." But in any case, citing her as the only source for “evidence” that snipers backed protesters is ludicrous.
Dr. Bogomolets, by the way, is so well-known and respected that she has been offered key positions in the new government there, which she has turned down because she is suspicious of whether the new regime will make good on promises for reform. She's also called for a full investigation of the sniper shootings, though her suspicions seem to run in the direction of outsiders brought in by the former regime or the Russians. In any case, unlike so many others, she wants to wait for the full facts before making a firm declaration.
Greg Mitchell blogs daily at Pressing Issues.
If we are told to remember the Beatles’ arrival in the United States fifty years ago last month as an “invasion,” it is as one that was unopposed. The 73 million people who watched Paul McCartney count the band into “All My Loving” on February 9, 1964 shattered all records, representing nearly two-fifths of the US population at the time, despite the fact that only 17 percent of American homes even had televisions in them. We surrendered without resistance, it often seems—a view evident in one Amazon review of a collection of the late Bill Eppridge’s photographs from the Beatles’ first week in the US. “Those six days did change the world,” the commenter writes, “by simply unifying us all with faces of sheer happiness.”
But at least one person wasn’t smiling. In an essay published in the March 3, 1964 issue of The Nation, “No Soul in Beatlesville,” a young Simon & Schuster editor named Alan Rinzler objected to the furor over the Liverpool lads’ music and—correctly, if somewhat myopically—attributed Beatlemania to a massive, premeditated PR campaign. The quivering throngs of teen-aged girls, he believed, said much more about the susceptibility of Americans to fashionable trends than it did about the talent or novelty of the group itself.
Rinzler began his essay by favorably comparing the Beatles with the folk music that then dominated American airwaves—“the citybilly's academically perfect imitation of a sound created from an experience different from his own.” Of performers like the string-band revival New Lost City Ramblers, Rinzler wrote: “Their musical tradition goes back no farther than some very careful listening to old Library of Congress tapes and Folkways recordings.”
The Beatles, he continued, were only marginally more authentic, more a throwback to the 1950s than a harbinger of any significant musical progress to come:
Another group which must have spent a great deal of time lately paying close attention to old records and making faces in the mirror are the Beatles, four young men from the mainstream of working-class Liverpool, with skin-tight, blue gray suits (velvet lapels), mops of long brown hair, and an electrical system guaranteed to numb the senses of even the most reluctant attendant. Their recent invasion of the United States was the PR man's finest hour (reportedly, thirteen publicity firms worked on the debut). For weeks the national press, radio and TV, and the slick magazines had instructed novitiates on what to expect and how to react. Beatle records blasted the air waves, promoted by disk jockeys eager to claim a "first discovery" (actually Beatle records were in this country ten months ago, but no one played them until the press agents got to work). Wigs, buttons, locks of hair, wallpaper, the hour of their arrival in New York, the exact location of their daily activities, all contributed to a triumphant exploitation of the affluent teen-ager. By the time the Beatles actually appeared on the stage at Carnegie Hall, there wasn't a person in the house who didn't know exactly what to do: flip, wig-out, flake, swan, fall, get zonked—or at least try.
The Beatles themselves were impressive in their detachment. They came to America "for the money." They attribute their success "to our press agent." They looked down at their screaming, undulating audience with what appeared to be considerable amusement, and no small understanding of what their slightest twitch or toss of head could produce. John Lennon, the leader of the group, seemed particularly contemptuous, mocking the audience several times during the evening, and openly ridiculing a young girl in the first row who tried to claw her way convulsively to the stage. Paul McCartney bobbed his head sweetly, his composure broken only when—horror of horrors—his guitar came unplugged. (There was a terrible moment of silence. One expected him to run down altogether, and dissolve into a pool of quivering static.) George Harrison tuned his guitar continually, and seemed preoccupied with someone or something at stage right. Ringo Starr, the drummer, seemed the only authentic wild man of the group, totally engrossed in his own private cacophony. For the rest, it was just another one-night stand.
Musically, the Beatles are an anachronism. They come pure and unadulterated from the early 1950s, the simple, halcyon days of rock 'n roll: Bill Haley and his Comets, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, the Eberle [sic] Brothers, the Ted Steele Bandstand. The Beatle sound is primitive rock 'n roll—straight four-four rhythm, undistinguishable melody, basic three-chord guitar progressions electrically amplified to a plaster-crumbling, glass-shattering pitch. It's loud, fast and furious, totally uninfluenced by some of the more sophisticated elements in American music that have brightened our pop scene in recent years. One can only assume that Ray Charles, gospel, rhythm and blues, country and western, and other purer folk sound has yet to cross the Atlantic. The English always have been a bit behind us—witness Oliver, a good old-fashioned American musical comedy, or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and other realistic films in the 1930s' style. Often they do improve upon our models; the Beatles, with their American accents, their savagely delivered musical cliches, their tight pants, hair cuts and wild gyrations, are more entertaining and intelligent than anything we produced ten years ago.
But the Beatles remain derivative, a deliberate imitation of an American genre. They are surely not singing in a musical tradition which evolved spontaneously from their own lives or from a "natural" habit of expression. This is probably why the reaction at Carnegie Hall was not a real response to a real stimulus. There weren't too many soul people there that night either on the stage or in the audience. The full house was made up largely of upper-middle-class young ladies, stylishly dressed, carefully made up, brought into town by private cars or suburban buses for their night to howl, to let go, scream, bump, twist and clutch themselves ecstatically out there in the floodlights for everyone to see; and with the full blessings of all Authority: indulgent parents, profiteering businessmen, gleeful national media, even the police. Later they can all go home and grow up like their mommies, but this was their chance to attempt a very safe and very private kind of rapture.
Most did what was expected of them and went home disappointed. Disappointed because nothing really passed from the stage to the audience that night, nor from one member of the audience to another. There was mayhem and clapping of hands, but no sense of a shared experience, none of the exultation felt at a spontaneous gathering of good folk musicians, or, more important, at a civil rights rally where freedom songs are sung. The spectacle of all those anguished young girls at Carnegie Hall, trying to follow "I Want To Hold Your Hand," seems awfully vapid compared to the young men and women who sing "I Woke Up This Mornin' With My Mind" (. . . Stayed on Freedom). The Beatles themselves are lively and not without charm. Perhaps their greatest virtue is their sense of humor and self-caricature. But Beatlemania as a phenomenon is manna for dull minds.
* * *
In an e-mail, Rinzler—who just a few years later “discovered” Toni Morrison and edited her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970)—writes that he has “spent the last fifty years apologizing for that snooty review.”
There's nothing in it about the Beatles that I agree with now, except my appreciation of their humor. The songs they performed that night at Carnegie Hall were all quite excellent but not only couldn't I actually hear them over the crowd of screaming weeping girls, but at 26, I was a soul-brother, rhythm and blues purist and didn't become a big fan until 1965 with the release of the superb album Rubber Soul, followed shortly by the equally terrific Revolver in 1966.
Meanwhile, my day job was at Simon and Schuster, where I was involved with the publication of Yoko Ono's avant-garde book Grapefruit and John Lennon's A Spaniard in the Works, though neither of them actually knew the other at that time.
Then, in 1968, my musical and publishing interests led me to become one of the pioneering staff members of Rolling Stone Magazine. I opened the first New York office then moved to San Francisco, where I was the Associate Publisher and Vice-President, as well as President of the books division Straight Arrow.
In that capacity I published several books on the Beatles and was a huge fan, a major promulgator of editorial work on their personal and professional lives. Later, when Lennon was assassinated, I was at Bantam Books, and was responsible for publishing the memorial book Strawberry Fields Forever.
Nevertheless that old Nation review comes back to bite me every once in a while. Even my own adult children can't believe I wrote it, but forgive me. Hope you will, too.
* * *
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.
In February of 2013, five members of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) testified before the Senate health and human services committee in defense of Senate Bill 123—mandating the adoption of an Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights and the hiring of a state foster youth ombudsman.
In their testimonies Zachary James Miller, Patrick Lamarr Kindred, Deedee Hartley, Royce Markley and Cain Stellings movingly detailed the consequences of foster youth being unfamiliar with their rights and feeling unsafe in speaking up in defense of themselves—making clear why the stakes were so high in the fight over SB 123.
Miller told stories of his brother being locked in a room for entire days at a time; Kindred didn’t know he was entitled to state funding to pay for clothes; Hartley was unaware she had a right to see her sister; and Markley only recently discovered his right to free legal counsel and to keep and spend money. The group argued that compiling foster youth’s rights in one place and posting them in every foster and group home in the state—as SB 123 requires—would help educate foster youth of their rights. But they also argued that a bill of rights is not enough; to protect their rights foster youth need to be able to report abuse confidentially.
SB 123 was passed in June 2013 and took effect this past New Year’s Day.
The bill’s first mandate was to establish a working group to implement the legislation. The group, comprised of representatives from OFYC, community groups, the Governor’s Office and the Oregon Department of Human Services, has drafted the Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights, agreed on a job description for the state foster youth ombudsman and interviewed applicants for the new job. Just hired on March 7, the ombudsman will be immediately tasked with creating a grievance procedure and setting up a private hotline.
Bills that reaffirm the rights of foster youth, like the Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights, have been passed before. North Carolina—in an effort led by the current and former foster youth at Strong Able Youth Speaking Out—passed a Foster Care Bill of Rights last July. The North Carolina and Oregon foster bills of rights do not introduce new rights, they acknowledge existing ones—to help educate foster children of their rights.
What differentiates the two states’ legislation is the fiscal impact of SB 123—to fund the ombudsman and grievance process. This was a major step toward a more clear—publically funded—grievance procedure for American foster youth, particularly at a time when the cutting of public child welfare services is commonplace coast to coast.
OFYC, a member of the national Foster Youth in Action network, joins Florida Youth Shine, California Youth Connection, The Mockingbird Society and other foster youth-led organizations driving public child welfare policies through their respective state legislatures—reminding us that in America the states are foster youth’s caregivers, and that they can and must act like it.
Read Next: catch up on the latest in student activism.
Pat Nolan strode to the podium and rattled off the facts: more than 2 million Americans are in prison, meaning one in every hundred adults is incarcerated. Fewer than half of those in prison are there for violent crimes; most are drug offenders; and state budgets are badly strained by maintaining this system. Then he read a quote: “Only a nation that’s rich and stupid would continue to pour billions into a system that leaves prisoners unreformed, victims ignored and communities still living in fear of crime.”
This wasn’t an ACLU convention nor an academic confab, however—it was the Conservative Political Action Conference, the infamous annual showcase of the far-right boundaries of the Republican Party. Just before this panel on criminal justice reform began, former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was onstage accusing President Obama of lying about Benghazi and pronouncing that “the IRS is a criminal enterprise.”
But the panel was far more substantive. Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke at length about unnecessarily punitive mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, as well as the wisdom of drug courts that divert addicts out of the penal system and into treatment. During his time as governor, Perry has become one of the more aggressive prison reformers in the country. In 2011, the state actually closed a prison because it couldn’t be filled thanks in large part to the declining incarceration rate. (Before Perry, George W. Bush oversaw the construction of thirty-eight new prisons.)
“You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money,” Perry said. “Stop the recidivism rates—lower them. That’s what can happen with these drug courts.”
Then there was former New York City Police Chief Bernie Kerik, who no doubt has a unique view on the criminal justice system: aside from being police chief and running Rikers Island, he also was incarcerated for three years on conspiracy and tax fraud charges.
Kerik spoke passionately about the number of people he met in federal prison who who were there for nonviolent drug offenses—people who got ten years for drugs “the weight of a nickel.”
“If somebody told me I would go to prison and meet some really good people, I would have laughed in their face. The reality is, I met some really good men. Decent men. Good fathers, good family men,” Kerik said.
“We’ve got to create alternatives, and we have to stop putting people in prison that don’t necessarily have to be there to learn their mistake,” he continued.
Given that it was of course a political conference, the anti-tax crusader and guardian of the Republican brand Grover Norquist was there to provide the political calculus behind passing real prison reform. His theory was straightforward: as a matter of political necessity, the effort had to be lead by conservatives.
“If I walked in and said ‘It’s a really good idea, they did this in Vermont.’ They’d laugh at you. Even if it was a good idea,” Norquist said, putting an emphasis on Vermont you imagine he also reserves for Venezuela. “Only coming from the right can serious criminal justice reform that saves taxpayer’s money, that saves American lives, [emerge].”
Norquist struggled to explain exactly why this was. He said conservatives had the right federalist approach by starting the reform movement in the states, but naturally state penal systems have to be reformed at that level, while the federal criminal code must be addressed by Congress.
The most Norquist could ultimately muster was an empty cheap shot: “Our friends on the left have zero credibility when it comes to focusing on reducing criminal activity, and punishing people who deserve to be punished.”
But, at heart, Norquist isn’t wrong on the strategy. Buy-in from the left and right is surely needed to enact real reform, and the CPAC panel reflected ongoing, noteworthy momentum on that front. Republicans aren’t just declining to criticize Democratic efforts at reform but trying to out-muscle them and claim the issue.
There were, of course, huge blind spots during the discussion. The all-white panel literally never mentioned racial disparities in sentencing—one of the most glaring injustices in America’s criminal justice system. The only glancing mention of race at all came when Kerik noted that “black kids with felony convictions” have a hard time re-entering society.
Rather, the unfairness of the criminal justice system was presented in a way that dovetailed with the more typical CPAC jeremiads.
Several panelists portrayed the federal prison system as full of people locked up because of over-burdensome regulations; Kerik mentioned two fellow prisoners who were there because they sold a whale’s tooth and some night vision goggles online. Nolan, the moderator, ticked off a list of hilariously esoteric crimes people are supposedly in prison for, like “inadvertently mislabeling a shipment of orchids” and “packaging lobster in plastic bags instead of cardboard.”
Nolan also suggested federal prosecutors had it in for conservatives (and perhaps white college athletes). “Think of the resources wasted on witch hunts against Dinesh D’Souza, Scooter Libby, the Duke Lacrosse team and Senator Ted Stevens,” he bemoaned.
Though the high number of nonviolent drug offenders was mentioned over and over again, nobody ever revealed that blacks make of 50 percent of state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes, nor that black kids are ten times more likely than white kids to be picked up for drug offenses despite being less likely to use drugs.
The drug war couldn’t possibly be conceived as racially motivated—instead, the panelists had to cook up some extremely unusual reasons for why so many people were in jail for possessing trivial amounts of drugs. “For the bureaucrats, it’s easier to pick on these first-time offenders that are small cogs in the chain. Taking on a big kingpin means your family and you are threated by it, and unfortunately a lot of bureaucrats are afraid. And so they go after the numbers of small people,” said Nolan.
The reforms pushed by the panel were limited in other ways, too. There was no small irony in having Rick Perry talk about criminal justice reform, since he has presided over more executions than any other figure in American history, including at the execution of at least one likely innocent man. Naturally, the death penalty never came up.
But perhaps one shouldn’t expect the CPAC set to talk in terms of the prison system as a new Jim Crow. Maybe it’s enough to just be heartened when a popular conservative like Perry says things like this: “The idea that we lock people up, throw them away, give them no chance at redemption, is not what America is about.”
That’s how he closed his remarks—well, right before launching into a non-sequitur about the Keystone XL pipeline and unfair federal taxes, almost as if he had to close on a note that reassured the audience he was still one of them.
Moments later, everything was back to normal. Ralph Reed was onstage noting gravely that “there is, in truth, a war on religion and a war on religious values being waged by this administration and their radical allies.” Then he went on to compare Obama to George Wallace.
Read Next: CPAC embraces Chris Christie.
Tomorrow, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The earliest Women’s Day celebrations were organized in the early twentieth century by commie firebrand types like Germany’s Clara Zetkin and Russia’s Alexandra Kollantai. The purpose was to bring together two great political movements, feminism and socialism, and to pay tribute women’s revolutionary potential. The March 8th date was chosen to commemorate the historic protests that took place on March 8, 1857, when female garment workers in New York City took to the streets to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 women in 1911, led to renewed activism that popularlized International Women's Day celebrations throughout the world.
Today, the radical ardor behind the original project has cooled considerably—to the point where International Women's Day sometimes seems like just another excuse to sell cheap pink crap. Nevertheless, in honor of the socialist spirit that motivated the original observances, I thought I’d write a post focusing on some of the economic injustices facing women around around the world today.
As it happens, this month saw the release of a new World Bank report on women in the work world. Much as I’d love to be doing a happy dance and celebrating all the advances women have made since Clara Zetkin’s day, it’s sobering to realize how little things have changed for so many women around the globe. Even in countries where women have advanced, gender economic inequality remains a serious problem.
Consider some of the report’s major findings:
• Women continue to trail behind men by every economic measure.
• Their labor force participation of women worldwide has stagnated over the past two decades, declining slightly from 57 percent to 55 percent today. Female labor force participation has sunk as low as 25 percent in the Middle East and North Africa.
• According to an ILO analysis of eighty-three countries, on average, women earn between 10 and 30 percent less than comparable men. There is no country in the earth where women have reached wage parity.
• Sexist bias and social norms continue to impose an enormous penalty on women’s economic well-being. Women worldwide spend at least twice as much time as men do on unpaid housework and care work. According to the report’s authors, close to 40 percent of people worldwide “agree that, when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to jobs than women.”
• Women’s lack of access to credit, land, and education remains serious obstacles. Though girls’ access to education is improving in many areas of the world, in sixteen countries in 2010–12, female-to-male enrollment ratios in primary education were less than 90 percent, and millions of children in those countries were not enrolled at all.
• Various forms of sex-based economic discrimination are perfectly in the vast majority of countries in the world. 128 of 143 countries had some sort of sex-based legal differentiation in 2013. In some countries, women still need their husbands’ consent to work.
How do we turn around this depressing state of affairs? While the authors of the report call for “proactive private sector leadership” as part of the solution, they understand full well that the magic of the market is not going to fix things. That’s why they also recommend that the government step in and level the playing field. Among their suggestions: that governments integrate a “gender assessment” in labor market and growth diagnostics, and that governments enact a wide range of policies that advance gender equity, from improved child care and family leave policies to more female-friendly education programs.
The report is chock-full of fascinating tidbits, including a couple that are particularly notable considering the ideological bent of the World Bank. There’s a particularly nice section about how market failures contribute to women’s unjustly limited work opportunities.
Even more interestingly, the authors of the report take pains to point out that “economic growth does not guarantee gender equality.” They note that countries including Japan, Kuwait and Qatar enjoy high levels of GDP, yet suffer from large gender wage gaps and poor records of gender equality in general. For many decades, the World Bank fetishized growth at all costs, with little concern about how that growth might be distributed. But in recent years, like its even eviler twin, the IMF, the World Bank has begun to show some concern about economic inequality.
It’s an interesting tonal shift, at least.
But more important is what hasn’t changed. A poster announcing one of the first International Women’s Day rallies, in Germany 100 years ago, decried the “prejudice and reactionary attitudes” that “have denied full civic rights to women.” Women are still fighting those very same attitudes—including the reactionary economic ideologies that harm them disproportionately, and deny them their full humanity and participation in civic life. Then as now, economic inequality was soaring, and women needed a feminism that could fight for them not only as women, but also as workers. Today, a century later, women need that kind of feminism every bit as much now as they did then. Clara Zetkin might be disappointed, but not surprised
Read Next: In an abrupt tonal shift, the IMF admits that inequality slows economic growth.
This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel either has no understanding of campaign finance, or is willfully misleading her readers. In either case, her column today about the Koch brothers’ political spending—which parrots a meme that has bounced around conservative blogs and websites like a bad chain e-mail—gets the facts about Koch spending versus union spending completely wrong.
In her column, “The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs,” Strassel cites a Center for Responsive Politics list to claim that unions “collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries” on political races. Of course, if you actually visit this page on the CRP website, the list runs below a disclaimer noting that it does not include certain Super PAC spending or most undisclosed dark money spending, the preferred route for the Koch brothers for decades. In fact, the CRP site notes that union spending might appear inflated since unions’ traditional PAC spending is coupled with outside Super PAC spending. For the purposes of this chart, union spending is inflated compared to the giving of companies like Koch or Super PAC donors like Sheldon Adelson.
For the last election, Koch PACs spent $4.9 million in disclosed contributions (figures that appear on the chart referenced by Strassel). But they also spent over $407 million on undisclosed campaign entities, which does not show up in the CRP chart.
Republic Report broke down the figures for the last election and found that Koch groups alone spent more than double the combined political spending (including to undisclosed group) for the top ten unions combined. The chart includes union spending on dark money Democratic groups and Koch spending on dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity.
This undisclosed campaign system is nothing new for the Koch brothers. In 1995 and 1996, Koch set up a shell company called Triad Management to spend millions in secret money to help the Republican Party. Of course, this type of spending never shows up in databases like the one cited by Strassel.
All NRLB-regulated unions, on the other hand, disclose every outside payment. Payments that cannot be found through the FEC can be found on a database maintained by the Labor Department. Individuals and corporations are under no such similar disclosure rules. The Koch money identified recently by The Washington Post, the $407 million, relates only to money filtered through foundations and nonprofits. The money Koch spends as a corporate entity, as it has in the past, may have gone unreported.
Read Next: Lee Fang investigates DC’s shadow lobbying complex.
By now you have definitely seen it: the Cadillac ad for its first hybrid car that has a hard on for America’s work ethic. “Other countries,” actor Neal McDonough says while strutting through his perfectly landscaped yard alongside his in-ground pool, “they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café, they take August off. Off.” Quelle horreur! And he explains that Americans, from Bill Gates to Ali, aren’t like that. “We’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers,” he says. And he implies we do it for the glory, but also for the stuff, like a luxury car: the latter is “the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.”
But McDonough, or this hyper-capitalist alter ego, is dead wrong. Americans should absolutely take August off. It will, in fact, lead to more stuff—among other things.
Americans don’t take August off, but most people probably don’t even take two weeks during that month. Twenty rich countries have a national guarantee that workers can get some vacation time. Thirteen also make sure workers get at least a few paid holidays off. The United States, on the other hand, is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t have either requirement. About a quarter of Americans don’t have any paid vacation or holidays at all, a share that is growing—although I would guess that the luxury-product-buying, power-suit-wearing character McDonough plays in the commercial does get paid vacation time, as these benefits are disproportionately the purview of the rich. The average American worker gets about ten days of paid vacation and six paid holidays a year—that’s just over two weeks every year—which is less than the minimum required in nearly every other country. And of those who get paid vacation, they leave more than three days, on average, unused.
We also don’t ensure that workers can take other kinds of paid time off, like sick days or family leave or even a weekend. And we certainly aren’t slacking in the hours we work each week, either: we’re number eleven out of thirty-three developed countries for weekly hours worked.
What are all of these hours getting us? Certainly, we are one of the richest countries in the world. But all this time spent on the job without taking some time off to decompress isn’t necessarily why. It can be incredibly counterproductive. Henry Ford’s famous 1920s revelation that shortening the working day and the workweek would lead to better productivity is still true.
Ford found that productivity diminished after workers put in eight hours a day, five days a week. And as Daniel Cook of Lost Garden has found, working more than sixty hours a week produces a small productivity boost, but it doesn’t last: after three or four weeks, it actually ends up hurting output. Other studies have found the same thing: you can push yourself into overwork for a short time and produce more, but eventually it will wear off and come back to bite you. Taking small breaks can also help people better focus and perform.
Taking a vacation has a similar effect. When accounting firm Ernst & Young studied its own workers in 2006, it found that for every ten hours of vacation an employee took, his or her year-end performance ratings would improve by 8 percent. More vacation time also correlated with lower turnover. Former NASA scientists had the same experience: they found that people who take vacations see an 82 percent bump in job performance when they get back. And longer vacations are more important for refreshing than just taking a few days off. Shutting down for a whole month isn’t sounding so crazy, is it?
Individual companies don’t just see a monetary gain from pushing employees to take some time off, though. The whole economy benefits. That’s because people on vacation tend to spend their money on plane tickets, hotel rooms, restaurants and sightseeing, instead of holding on to it all while working away at their desks. If American workers took their unused vacation time—remember, only about three days—and traveled, leisure spending would increase by nearly a trillion dollars, according to Oxford Economics. Even if only some people traveled, however, it would add $67 billion in travel spending. The total economic impact beyond the leisure industry would be $160 billion in business sales and $52 billion in additional income.
Think what the increase from a whole month off would look like. Think of all the stuff that we could buy with that extra income and economic growth.
Beyond stuff, of course, there is the improvement in quality of life. We are a stressed-out country. Half of both working mothers and fathers are stressed about juggling work and family. A month off in the summer has the added benefit of lining up when most students aren’t in school, allowing parents to spend a solid chunk of time with their children. It wouldn’t solve the whole problem—there are plenty of other vacations parents wouldn’t necessarily be able to take off for, and then there’s the everyday struggle of coming home from work to the demands of feeding, cleaning and clothing everyone in your family—but it would give working people some breathing room.
Heck, maybe some people would use that month to dream up the next innovation in automobiles or space travel.
Read Next: Bryce Covert on why men must lean out