The Nation

Thanks to Republicans, the World Just Got a Little More Dangerous

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin

Barack Obama meets with Vladimir Putin during the June 2013 G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Thankfully, US-Russia cooperation on nuclear security will continue—for now. Since 1993, the United States has spent $1.6 billion on Cooperative Threat Reduction (known as the Nunn-Lugar pact), a program designed to increase safety and security at nuclear and chemical-weapons facilities of former Cold War antagonists. But last June, the pact expired after twenty years, and despite pledges from the Obama administration that work would continue “unfettered,” recent events in Ukraine have introduced enough friction into the relationship to cause alarm.

Cooperative Threat Reduction includes treatment of nuclear and radiological material and facilities, as well as efforts to destroy chemical weapons and keep smugglers from secreting weaponry across the Russian border. The necessity to stay on top of this delicate—in every sense of the word—work cannot be understated. Paul Walker, international program director of the environmental security and sustainability program of Green Cross and Global Green, expressed concern about Russia’s ability to safely deal with its chemical and nuclear arsenals without US assistance quite bluntly. “I worry about the Russians going off on their own and making some unintentional mistakes, having some accidents,” he said. Unfortunately, unintentional mistakes and accidents have been part of both the Soviet and American nuclear programs since the Manhattan Project.

Though unrecognized as such, one of our most critical human resources—if not the most critical—is the carefully maintained control of the world’s nuclear arsenal. The idea that “control” is a resource, and not a state of being, is born out in Eric Schlosser’s magnificent Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety, a comprehensive chronicle of American atomic weapons since 1945. Control, Schlosser demonstrates, proves to be a fleeting concept, something that can be reached for, and sometimes temporarily harnessed (in a treaty, for example), but never fully realized. Indeed, “The search for stability was inherently destabilizing,” summarizes The New Yorker in a review, with each advance in safety matched—and more often than not superseded—by a corresponding development in technology or strategy that rendered the safety benefit moot.

So we should be alarmed to discover that nuclear safety has become a bargaining chip in the ongoing US-Russia-Ukraine situation. Amidst hawkish bluster from House Republicans, some of our lawmakers seem hellbent on ensuring that suspicion and instability—along with unintentional mistakes and accidents—remain an integral part of the nuclear age.

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On April 8, Representatives Michael Turner (R-OH) and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (R-CA) introduced a bill that, among other things, prohibits “the contact, cooperation or transfer of technology between the National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] and the Russian Federation until the Secretary of Energy certifies the Russian military is no longer illegally occupying Crimea, no longer violating the INF treaty, and in compliance with the CFE treaty.”

Engendering nuclear instability by using safety as a stick is an incredibly reckless way to approach global security, and the difference between congressional GOP chest-thumping and the precious-bodily-fluids paranoia of Dr. Strangelove’s Gen. Jack D. Ripper is one of degree, not kind. As Schlosser and Strangelove director Stanley Kubrick make clear, when it comes to atomic weapons, no state with nuclear capability will ever cower and retreat to a more cooperative position when threatened with nuclear attack. Intimidation and braggadocio yield only more intimidation and braggadocio, which in turn yields recklessness, instability and, ultimately, catastrophe. To make the NNSA’s work subject to the political ebb and flow of an immediate crisis such as that in Ukraine is utter folly. We cannot afford to relive the last seventy years of our nuclear history.

Read Next: Nation in the News: A Diplomatic Resolution to the Crisis Over Ukraine Is Still Possible.

Talking Sports Mascots With Members of Idle No More

Idle No More

Members of Idle No More march during an indigenous rights protest in Victoria, British Columbia, December 21, 2012. (Courtesy of rpaterso, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Idle No More is an indigenous persons– or First Nations–led movement that has had an electric effect on indigenous activism throughout North America. Emerging into public consciousness in Canada in December 2012, Idle No More has become a touchstone for a host of indigenous-led movements ranging from economic and ecological justice to the battle to stop the mascoting of First Nation’s people. I interviewed Idle No More members Alexandria Wilson and Erica Lee about their thoughts on mascoting and why they see it as a connected part of their struggle. Dr. Alexandria Wilson is a Cree and the professor and director of the Aboriginal Education Research Center at the University of Saskatchewan. Erica Lee, who is also Cree, is an undergraduate philosophy student at the University of Saskatchewan. Ms. Lee recently led a successful movement to change the name and logo of her high school team, the Bedford Road Redmen, in Saskatoon, Canada.

Dave Zirin: Alex, people who want to keep names like Redmen, Redskins, Indians, Braves—like Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington football team—often say, “There are bigger problems in indigenous communities than mascoting. Focus on the real problems and not on sporting events.” How do you respond to that?

Dr. Alexandria Wilson: My response is that all of these things are connected, so when people try to minimize the overall impact of racist caricatures and mascots, what they’re doing is erasing the true history of what happened to indigenous people—not just in North America, but elsewhere in the world as well.

Erica, can you talk about the movement to get the Bedford Road Redmen to change their name?

Erica Lee: I’ve been working on this for the past two and a half to three years now. And before that, when I was a student at Bedford Road, in high school, I was working on it. But I definitely didn’t have the courage or the support structure to be able to change it at that point. We had a good foundation, because back in the 1990s there was a group of First Nations people who tried to change the logo but they felt overwhelmed and couldn’t continue the fight. So, what it is about to me is just continuing, being persistent, showing that we’re not going to go away on this, that we’re not going to forget, that we’ll still stand. I think the folks who are fighting the Washington team name are doing a great job on that.

Erica, What’s the connection between Idle No More—and perhaps you can tell us a bit about what Idle No More is—and what you were able to do at Bedford Road?

EL: Sure, Idle No More is a movement that started here in Canada. And it’s about a fight that started against a few bills that were laid down by the Canadian government which limit the rights and the sovereignty of First Nation’s people in Canada, and do a lot of environmental damage as well. So we started Idle No More to get discussion going and to get resistance going on issues that effect indigenous people. Mascots—like Redmen, like the Washington team—are issues that effect indigenous people. Like [Alex] said, it’s not just a small thing on the side, it’s all part of a bigger narrative.

Alex, let’s bring it back to DC. The latest gambit by the owner of the team, Dan Snyder, was to start something called the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, a charitable foundation. I was just curious, what was your reaction when you heard that this was going to be his response to all of the criticism that he’s been receiving?

AW: I thought that it was kind of juvenile, and once again a way to commercialize our identities. And, honestly, it’s quite ridiculous. And so, rather than making a change that would have some sort of social impact, he’s trying to buy people’s votes, buy people’s public opinion. I think, from a marketing perspective, if he really wants to make money out of this, he could merchandise a new logo and there would be a whole new commercialized aspect. But I think that this is all in line with people who want to erase our stories, and actually just want to erase the visibility of indigenous people in North America.

Erica, you also hear people unfamiliar with the issue ask, “Why are we talking about this Washington football team issue now? Why not five years ago, why not ten years ago?”

EL: I think people forget too is that it’s just recently that this issue has received prominence, but the reality is that we’ve been fighting these things for decades, so it’s not something new. The resistance has always been around, and it’s powerful to know that we now can finally start to make a difference with our voices.

AW: I’d like to add to that too. Suzan Shown Harjo was in a class action suit against the team back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so like Erica said, there’s been resistance going not for just five, ten, twenty years, but hundreds of years on addressing racism towards indigenous peoples. And so, I think one of the significant things that has happened lately is the Idle No More movement, but also its connection to social media. So now we’re able to share information quickly—articles, teach-ins, educational materials that help people understand to put the mascot issue into the larger context of racism. Not only racism, but also sexism and misogyny and hypermasculinity and homophobia and how those are linked too. And I think that’s a really important issue for sports fans, commentators and cultural critics to take into consideration.

Alex, You mentioned misogyny and hypermasculinity. When you speak to indigenous people and you speak about issues of mascoting, do you find it to break on gender lines at all?

AW: I do find in our own indigenous communities, of course the impact of colonization has been internalized, so there is sexism throughout our whole community. That is something that we have to address.

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And Erica, when you were working around the high school name, who were the people who sided with you and who didn’t side with you? What alliances were there?

EL: I remember the first time I ever started complaining about this mascot or raising the issue was in high school, grade eleven. And there wasn’t too much backlash from my peers at the time, but actually teachers who really defended the logo and said, “It’s an honor. You should be honored, this is your culture.” And that’s why I backed off, I thought, “Oh, this is an authority figure telling me, then I must be wrong.” And that’s why it’s so frustrating to see so many teachers and educators reinforcing these stereotypes in the minds of young First Nations kids, and students in general at that school and all around the city. It’s the job of educators to encourage critical thought, not to tell them to blindly follow stereotypes of First Nations people. These have real consequences and effects on our everyday lives.

Last question. How can people find out more about Idle No More?

AW: Well we have a website, idlenomore.com or idlenomore.ca. And people can visit that website, and then there are about four hundred and some Facebook pages… So if people just Google ‘Idle No More,’ and there are different regional groups as well. That’s probably the best way to find out information.


Read Next: The UConn Huskies win “NCAA Hunger Games Bingo.”

Feds, State Legislative Committee Accelerate Inquiries Into Bridgegate

George Washington Bridge

The tollbooth lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Just two weeks after Chris Christie’s lawyer, Randy Mastro of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, released a report with great fanfare allegedly clearing the governor of involvement with the George Washington Bridge scandal, new revelations are calling into question the “evidence” used by Mastro’s team of former prosecutors who authored it. At the same time, federal investigations into the activities of the New Jersey governor’s office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are heating up, and it’s possible that some of the people at the center of the lane-closing investigation may be ready to make a deal to tell what they know.

Mastro argued that his comprehensive report, based on interviews with more than seventy people and the review of 250,000 pages of documents, showed Christie knew nothing about the bridge lane closures in advance. Now it turns out that Mastro’s elite investigators, former prosecutors with lots of investigative experience, forgot or didn’t see the need to either videotape or audiotape the interviews with witnesses or have a stenographer record them.

According to Assemblyman John Wisniewski who chairs the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the bridge scandal, Mastro’s prosecutors may have only their own notes to back up their conclusions. Wisniewski yesterday characterized Mastro’s findings as now little more than just hearsay, according to a report by NJ Spotlight:

“If this was supposed to be a transparent 360-degree examination of what happened, the lack of any hard evidence of what people said and how they responded to questions means that this report is based upon nothing more than the [Mastro team’s] mental impressions of what people said,” Wisniewski noted. “That’s the classic definition of hearsay,” he said, dismissing the conclusions of the $1 million taxpayer-funded study.

The legislative committee has demanded that Mastro turn over to them all their documents and notes, but they have not received anything. Wisniewski said that the committee, which met yesterday for the first time in two months, decided to give Christie’s lawyer until the end of this week to get them the material or they will start issuing subpoenas.

Wisniewski also said that the committee, which is investigating how the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been used as a slush fund by the New Jersey governor’s office, has not received documents they subpoenaed from the recently resigned chairman of the PA, Christie’s close associate, David Samson.

In brief remarks before the committee went into closed session with their lawyer about the investigation, the committee co-chairmen Wisniewski and state Senator Loretta Weinberg pushed back against various moves to delay or hinder their work. The investigation, said Wisniewski, is the only way to insure that the people of northern New Jersey “never again become a pawn in a vindictive power play.”

He reacted angrily to efforts by some of the committee’s Republican members to stampede legislation to reform the PA, especially since Christie vetoed such legislation passed by the legislature last year that was authored by Weinberg. Wisniewski made clear the committee will move ahead on its investigation into the PA because they were not happy “with the way the governor treats the PA as just another desk in the governor’s office.”

The committee is awaiting a ruling expected soon by a state court judge on whether two key people who oversaw the closing of bridge lanes, former deputy chief of staff to Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly and one of his top PA appointees, David Wildstein, can withhold documents from the committee. They argued to the court that turning over the material will violate their Fifth Amendment rights, since there is a criminal investigation into the issue.

And that investigation is escalating with a report that the US Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman has expanded the team of people involved with the investigation. According to a report by Main Justice, which covers the Department of Justice:

Fishman’s team of investigators has swelled beyond its original three. He assigned as line lawyers senior litigator J. Fortier Imbert and AUSAs Lee Cortes and Vikas Khanna, leaving for himself the job of ultimate decision-maker in consultation with top staffers Thomas Eicher, head of the Criminal Division; First Assistant William Fitzpatrick; executive assistant Sabrina Comizzoli and counsel John Fietkiewicz.

At the same time three people told Main Justice that the New Jersey prosecutor’s office is not the only one investigating the mounting scandals.

The US Attorney’s office in New York is also looking into whether David Samson misused his Port Authority position to help his law firm and its clients. The two US Attorneys are cooperating on their separate investigations.

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The New Jersey prosecutor has subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury, as reported last week by Christie Watch, and the US attorney may be close to working out a deal with the man at the heart of Bridgegate, David Wildstein. Main Justice eports that Wildstein “was camped at the US Attorney’s office in Newark,” last week, spending several days there. Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, has indicated several times since January that his client would tell all if he gets immunity from prosecution.

In addition to the recent discussions with Wildstein, Fishman’s office met with Christie’s former chief counsel, Charles McKenna, back in January. That’s important because McKenna, who moved out of the governor’s office about that time to head the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, had been asked by Christie to look into the lane closing in early October. That’s when the PA’s executive director’s memo surfaced saying that the lane closures may have violated state and federal laws. And it was McKenna who, according to a text from Wildstein, said that the PA’s deputy executive director and Christie’s top PA appointee Bill Baroni did “great” when he testified to the NJ legislative investigations committee that the lane closures were all part of a traffic study, which it clearly wasn’t.


Read Next: Christie Watch looks into the expanding investigations of key Christie allies.

How Ethnic Tensions and Economic Crisis Have Strengthened Europe’s Secession Movements

Catalan independence

Marchers wave Catalonian nationalist flags as they demonstrate during Catalan National Day in Barcelona. (Reuters/Albert Gea)

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

Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The opening to Tolstoy’s great novel of love and tragedy could be a metaphor for Europe today, where “unhappy families” of Catalans, Scots, Belgians, Ukrainians and Italians contemplate divorcing the countries they are currently a part of. And in a case where reality mirrors fiction, they are each unhappy in their own way.

While the United States and its allies may rail against the recent referendum in Crimea that broke the peninsula free of Ukraine, Scots will consider a very similar one on September 18, and Catalans would very much like to do the same. So would residents of South Tyrol, and Flemish speakers in northern Belgium.

On the surface, many of these secession movements look like rich regions trying to free themselves from poor ones, but while there is some truth in that, it is overly simplistic. Wealthier Flemish speakers in northern Belgium would indeed like to separate from the distressed, French-speaking south, just as Tyroleans would like to free themselves of poverty-racked southern Italy. But in Scotland, much of the fight is over preserving the social contract that conservative Labour and right-wing Tory governments have systematically dismantled. As for Catalonia—well, it’s complicated.

Borders in Europe may appear immutable, but of course they are not. Sometimes they are changed by war, economic necessity or because the powerful draw capricious lines that ignore history and ethnicity. Crimea, conquered by Catherine the Great in 1783, was arbitrarily given to Ukraine in 1954. Belgium was the outcome of a congress of European powers in 1830. Impoverished Scotland tied itself to wealthy England in 1707. Catalonia fell to Spanish and French armies in 1714. And South Tyrol was a spoil of World War I.

In all of them, historical grievance, uneven development and ethnic tensions have been exacerbated by a long-running economic crisis. There is nothing like unemployment and austerity to fuel the fires of secession.

The two most pressing secessionist movements—and the ones most likely to have a profound impact on the rest of Europe—are in Scotland and Catalonia.

Both are unhappy in different ways.


Scotland always had a vocal, albeit marginal, nationalist party, but was traditionally dominated by the British Labour Party. The Conservatives hardly exist north of the Tweed. But Tony Blair’s “New Labour” record of spending cuts and privatization alienated many Scots, who spend more on their education and health services than the rest of Britain. University tuition, for instance, is still free in Scotland, as are prescription drugs and home healthcare.

When Conservatives won the British election in 2010, their austerity budget savaged education, healthcare, housing subsidies and transportation. Scots, angered at the cuts, voted for the Scottish National Party in the 2011 elections for the Scottish parliament. The SNP immediately proposed a referendum that will ask Scots if they want to dissolve the 1707 Act of Union and once again be an independent country. If passed, the Scottish government proposes re-nationalizing the postal service and throwing Britain's nuclear-armed Trident submarines out of Scotland.

If one takes into account its North Sea oil resources, there is little doubt that an independent Scotland would be viable. Scotland has a larger GDP per capita than France and, in addition to oil, exports manufactured goods and whiskey. Scotland would become one of the world’s top thirty-five exporting countries.

The Conservative government says that if the Scots vote for independence, they will have to give up the pound as a currency. The Scots respond that if the British follow through on their currency threat, Scotland will wash its hands of its portion of the British national debt. At this point, there is a standoff.

According to the British—and some leading officials in the European Union—an independent Scotland will lose its EU membership, but that may be bluster. For one, it would violate past practice. When East and West Germany were united in 1990, some 20 million residents of the former German Democratic Republic were automatically given EU citizenship. If 5.3 million Scots are excluded, it will be the result of pique, not policy. In any case, with the Conservatives planning a referendum in 2017 that might pull Britain out of the EU, London is not exactly holding the high ground on this issue.

If the vote were taken today, the Scots would probably vote to remain in Britain, but sentiment is shifting. The most recent poll indicates that 40 percent will vote for independence, a 3 percentage-point increase from the previous poll. The “no” votes have declined by 2 percentage points, to 45 percent, with 15 percent undecided. All Scottish residents over the age of 16 can vote. Given the formidable campaigning skills of Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the SNP, those are chilling odds for the London government.


Catalonia, wedged up against France in Spain’s northeast, has long been a powerful engine for the Spanish economy, and a region steeped in historical grievance. Conquered by the combined armies of France and the Spain in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), it was also on the losing side of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. In 1940, triumphant fascists suppressed the Catalan language and culture and executed Catalonia’s president, Lluis Companys—an act no Madrid government has ever made amends for.

Following Franco’s death in 1975, Spain began its transformation to democracy, a road constructed by burying the deep animosities engendered by the Civil War. But the dead stay buried only so long, and a movement for Catalan independence began to grow.

In 2006 Catalonia won considerable autonomy, which was overturned by Spain's Supreme Tribunal in 2010 at the behest of the current ruling conservative People’s Party (PP). That 2010 decision fueled the growth of the Catalan independence movement, and in 2012 separatist parties in the province were swept into power.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s PP is pretty much an afterthought in Catalonia, where several independence parties dominate the Catalan legislature. The largest of these is Province President Artur Mas’s Convergencia i Unio (CiU), but the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) recently doubled its representation in the legislature.

That doesn’t mean they agree with one another. Mas’s party tends to be centrist to conservative, while the ERC is leftist and opposed to the austerity program of the PP, some of which Mas has gone along with. The CiU’s centrism is one of the reasons that Mas’s party went from sixty-two seats to fifty in the 2012 election, while the ERC jumped from ten to twenty-one.

Unemployment in Spain is officially at 25 percent—but far higher among youth and in the country's southern provinces—and the left has thrown down the gauntlet. Over 100,000 people marched on Madrid last month demanding an end to austerity.

Rajoy—citing the 1976 Constitution—refuses to allow an independence referendum, a stubbornness that has only fueled separatist strength. This past January the Catalan parliament voted 87 to 43 to hold a referendum, and polls show a majority in the province will support it. Six months ago, a million and a half Catalans marched in Barcelona for independence.

The PP has been altogether ham-fisted about Catalonia and seems to delight in finding things to provoke Catalans: Catalonia bans bull fighting, so Madrid passes a law making it a national cultural heritage. The Basques get to collect their own taxes, Catalans cannot.

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How would the EU react to an independent Catalonia? And would the central government in Madrid do anything about it? It is hard to imagine the Spanish army getting involved, although a former minister in the Franco government started Rajoy’s party, and the dislike between Madrid and Barcelona is palpable.

Other Fault Lines

There are other fault lines on the continent.

Will Belgium split up? The fissure between the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south is so deep it took eighteen months to form a government after the last election. And if Belgium shatters, does it become two countries or get swallowed by France and the Netherlands?

In Italy, the South Tyrol Freedom Party (STFP) is gearing up for an independence referendum and pressing for a merger with Austria, although the tiny province—called Alto Adige in Italy—has little to complain about. It keeps 90 percent of its taxes, and its economy has dodged the worst of the 2008 meltdown. But some of its German-Austrian residents are resentful of any money going to Rome, and there is a deep prejudice against Italians—who make up 25 percent of South Tyrol—particularly among those in the south. In this way, the STFP is not very different from the racist, elitist Northern League, centered in Italy’s Po Valley.

It is instructive to watch the YouTube video on how borders in Europe have changed from 1519 to 2006, a period of less than 500 years. What we think of as eternal is ephemeral. The European continent is once again adrift, pulling apart along fault lines both ancient and modern. How nations like Spain and Britain, and organizations like the EU, react to this process will determine if it will be civilized or painful. But trying to stop it will most certainly cause pain.


Read Next: Nicolai Petro on Crimea’s vote to rejoin the Russian Federation

The Politics Around Welfare Show Why the Poor Need a Real Break, Not Just a Tax Break

A mother on welfare looks at job postings with her son

A mother on welfare looks at job postings with her son at the Virginia Employment Commission. (Reuters/Molly Riley)

The Earned Income Tax Credit occupies a curious space in Washington’s budget wars: it’s the rare welfare program conservatives can embrace, because it can be presented as a tax rebate, rather than a benefits check. A brainchild of the Nixon administration, the EITC has long been held up as an “incentive to work,” presumably in contrast to public assistance programs that support the unemployed.

And so the EITC, along with the parallel Child Tax Credit (CTC) aimed directly at supporting children within a household, are key pillars of both the White House budget proposal as well as the far-right counter-proposal of Representative Paul Ryan. While he rails against public assistance in general for supposedly destroying a “culture of work,” Ryan has praised the EITC as part of a conservative anti-poverty agenda, in which “federal assistance should not be a way station [but] an onramp—a quick drive back into the hustle and bustle of life.”

However, Ryan’s budget would revamp the EITC in a way that steepens the onramp out of poverty. Back in 2009, Congress expanded the tax break for lower-income families, helping to lift 1.5 million people above the poverty line. But Ryan is proposing to let this measure expire, along with other draconian welfare cuts and, in addition, to make “massive unspecified cuts amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars” from the section of the budget containing the tax credits.

Some conservatives do wish to expand low-income tax credits, but with certain revealing political caveats. For instance, one idea circulating on the right is to boost poor families with children by funding extra tax rebates for them with higher taxes on childless single people. Reihan Salam recently argued in Slate that the government should tax childless households extra in order to provide subsidies directly to parents who are raising the next generation (presumably while their child-free counterparts can live relatively carefree, unencumbered lives).

In reality, poor single, childless adults can hardly be considered freeloaders; and this is in part because the current tax code discriminates against them and favors households with kids. Childless adults under age 25 are automatically disqualified from the EITC. And those who do qualify receive little assistance.

Under the current system, according to the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a single adult working full time at a minimum-wage job (about $14,500 per year) “will have a federal income and payroll tax burden of $2,617 in 2015—a large tax burden for someone with income this low—after receiving an EITC of just $22.”

The White House budget would specifically expand the EITC for childless workers, which would, according to CBPP, provide a much-needed boost in income stability and workforce participation among the poorest childless adults.

On the flipside, if you parse that demographic of “childless adults” more closely, you realize who is disproportionately helped by the GOP’s favored income subsidy.

As Suzy Khimm explains at MSNBC.com:

Single working adults with two children who earn less than $43,756 can claim a $5,460 maximum credit in 2014. By contrast, adults without qualifying children can’t receive the credit unless they earn less than $14,590, and the maximum benefit is only $496. (Only custodial parents claim tax credits for a qualifying child, even if the non-custodial parents pay child support).

A 2006 Brookings Institution analysis revealed that that the people who are eligible for the EITC but did not file were more likely to be male, single and childless, or have less education or English speaking ability.

The current EITC system’s skewed distribution of benefits reflects a categorical neglect of single men, non-custodial parents and childless working women, which in turn speaks volumes about the history and politics of welfare in a neoliberal era. Since the advent of the US welfare state, the government has defined the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor along racial and gender lines.

After all, as Politico explains, the idea was originally championed by Milton Friedman as the right’s answer to the welfare state—a “negative income tax” for working families. Meanwhile, welfare policies since the 1970s have been colored by grossly distorted stereotypes of “welfare dependent” black single mothers, in contrast to the hardworking nuclear families who deserved a tax break.

Over time, the role of the EITC has grown massively, and other forms of public assistance, such as direct cash benefits, Medicaid and food stamps, have withered. The shrinking of welfare has hurt all low-income households, but the pain is compounded for many childless workers who face longstanding restrictions on these critical supports. For example, childless adults facing unemployment are generally eligible for just three months of food stamps every three years or are subject to strict work requirements. Ryan and other conservatives also seek to repeal the Affordable Health Act and to undermine Medicaid, another program that largely leaves out many poor, childless men. (As for promoting a so-called “culture of work,” CBPP points out that a large portion of the tens of millions of people affected by these cuts actually already have jobs; they’d just have a harder time supporting themselves with those wages.) Not exactly an “onramp”—more like a social engineering project draped in a tattered safety net.

Beyond the Tax Credit

Progressive economists say the EITC alone cannot serve as a substitute for the immediate supports for the very poor—such as the long-term unemployed or people who can’t secure steady work over the course of the year. Sharon Parrott, Vice President for Budget Policy and Economic Opportunity with the CBPP, explains that the EITC alone cannot stabilize people struggling with structural hardships:

It is not designed to help people who are out of work or can’t work; it provides assistance in a single lump sum at the end of the year, so it doesn’t provide timely assistance when someone loses a job or gets sick and can’t work; and it isn’t large enough to help with certain kinds of very large expenses, such as Medicaid.

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Progressive economists contend that the EITC, while a vital income support, should be coupled with a higher minimum wage, which is a direct income boost that comes not in the form of an occasional credit from Uncle Sam but as the wages that your boss owes you for your labor—in other words, getting them to take responsibility as employers. The EITC would be one essential facet of a comprehensive welfare infrastructure—one that covers the whole spectrum of economic precarity—whether you just lost your job, or just lost your health insurance or lost your house to foreclosure.

Whatever setback they’ve encountered, poor people don’t need more “incentives” to lift themselves out of poverty, they need an opportunity to not be poor. And a boost from Uncle Sam once a year, while certainly welcome, isn’t enough to overcome the institutional social forces that weigh them down year round.


Read Next: $2.13 an hour? Michelle Chen explains Why The Tipped Minimum Wage Has to Go

Allies and Skeptics Alike Want Details From de Blasio

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

This morning the New York Post carried a tough op-ed by Mona Davids, the president of the New York City Parents Union, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to put a fully fleshed education plan on the table. It read, in part:

Pre-K may be important, Mayor de Blasio, but then what? Too many elementary and middle schools are performing at a low level. It follows, therefore, that any gains that may result from the pre-K experience are likely to be lost by the third grade—and certainly by middle school. So, the question must be reiterated: Where’s the plan, Mr. Bill?

Davids is not the first to suggest that de Blasio would do well to talk more extensively about his vision for schools and detail the policies he will implement to reach it.

In last month’s damaging fight over charter relocations, de Blasio’s enemies capitalized on the fact that while the mayor, as a candidate, had made clear his skepticism about charters, he had not explained whether he wanted to phase them out altogether, change the role they played in the system, or what. De Blasio staunched the bleeding over charter schools with his speech at Riverside Church in late March, where he clarified his concerns and cooled the rhetoric about charters. But that talk still left a lot of policy questions open.

Don’t get me wrong: progressive advocates I’ve talked with are very pleased at the dramatic change in tone, approach and priority from the Bloomberg years. “Low-income people with HIV who got sick in city shelters are meeting with Lilliam,” says VOCAL-NY’s Sean Barry, referring to Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. Barry, whose organization claimed a huge victory in the city-state deal over HIV/AIDS housing, isn’t the only advocate who is still enjoying the novelty of having—at least for now—a consultive rather than combative relationship with City Hall.

Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director at the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), says her group actually was able, at times, to work with rather than against the Bloomberg team. But de Blasio has still been a breath of fresh air: the mayor’s prioritizing pre-K and advocating vocally for the state to make good on the fiscal obligations it accepted under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement were, Ansari says, “historic moments.” But it’d be good to hear more. “What we need him to do is put out a clear, robust and progressive vision for education and really articulate that,” she says. (Update: Mere hours after this post went up, the city school department made a major announcement about promotion policy that AQE’s Biull Easton hailed: “Mayor de Blasio’s administration is setting the right approach in motion by prioritizing real improvements in teaching and learning.”)

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Nor is education the only issue where people want to learn more. “He has to stop saying he’s going to build 200,000 units and start saying how he’s going to do it,” says one community organizer of the mayor’s housing plan.

Some of this impatience has nothing to do with de Blasio. Mayors don’t typically reveal all the details of all of their policies in their first 100 days in power, because they need to stagger the publicity, politicking and actual governing behind each initiative in order to avoid overloading the system. And mayoral campaigns, despite their exhausting length and enormous expense, do a poor job of teasing fine-grained details out of candidates—in part because of the fixation with sound-bites, and in part because most candidates are running with incomplete information and only grasp the fiscal and legal constraints on policymaking when they are behind the big desk.

However, some of the thirst for details has everything to do with de Blasio, or at least with what he represents. De Blasio’s slowness to make appointments means the administration simply hasn’t had the people in the room to make big policy decisions. His decision to make pre-K his absolute top priority over the first three months, while successful, naturally meant other topics got less attention.

Beyond that, de Blasio’s election encompassed a deep yearning for real change and his inauguration triggered a shift in the governing approach that has dominated the city for (depending on how you look at it) twelve to twenty years. That means there are very steep expectations and a long, long to-do list. De Blasio has made real progress in fulfilling promises—ending the FDNY suit, getting paid sick-leave expanded, achieving UPK funding. Now the targets get tougher.

Read Next: Poll finds most New Yorkers still undecided about de Blasio.

How a Receipt Helped Free a Wrongfully Convicted Man After More Than 24 Years in Prison

Jonathan Fleming

Jonathan Fleming, center, exits the courthouse with his mother Patricia Fleming, left, and his ex-wife Valerie Brown in New York, Tuesday, April 8, 2014. (AP Images/Seth Wenig)

Jonathan Fleming walked out of a New York courthouse a free man Tuesday after serving more than twenty-four years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

“I feel wonderful,” Fleming told reporters. “I’m going to have dinner with my mother and my family and I’m going to live the rest of my life.”

Mr. Fleming, 51, has always maintained his innocence in the 1989 murder of Darryl Rush, claiming he was vacationing with his family at Disney World when the Brooklyn shooting occurred. After more than two decades of fighting Fleming’s appeals, the district attorney’s office finally believes his story.

Over the last year, investigators with the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit uncovered key evidence corroborating Fleming’s Disney World alibi. They found a phone bill placing Fleming at an Orlando hotel four hours before Rush was fatally shot hundreds of miles away. And a local police report contains statements by hotel employees confirming Fleming’s stay.

Authorities did not turn over either document to Fleming’s trial attorneys when his case was tried in 1990.

“Where the hell was this evidence all these years, and why wasn’t it turned over until 25 years later?” attorney Taylor Koss said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

During his trial, attorneys presented family photos and videos of Fleming in Florida. Several family members who were on the trip also testified in court. But prosecutors argued that he could’ve flown to Brooklyn, shot Rush and then caught a flight back to Orlando. Jurors believed that version of events and convicted Fleming in July 1990.

Prosecutors also produced a key witness who told police she saw Fleming commit the murder. Shortly after Fleming’s sentencing, the witness recanted her statement, saying she lied to police to get cleared on unrelated charges. But a judge did not believe her statement, and Fleming remained in prison.

Fleming’s attorneys, Taylor Koss and Anthony Mayol, say they have evidence pointing to another man as the shooter.

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Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes created the Conviction Integrity Unit after several questionable convictions resurfaced in recent years. But some attorneys said Hynes acted too slowly and defensively. Now, many are looking to Hynes’ successor, Kenneth Thompson, who campaigned on fighting false convictions, to take on the problem head-on.

Meanwhile, Fleming looks to adjusting to life outside of prison, after spending the past quarter century there.

“The day is finally here. I’ve dreamt about it many nights,” Jonathan Fleming said as he walked out of court. “I’m finally a free man.”


Read Next: Why is California penalizing women for wanting to be parents?

The NCAA Makes Billions and Student Athletes Get None of It

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) celebrates after winning the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against Kentucky Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This opinion piece was originally published in the student-run Daily Targum at Rutgers University.

For many years, the pay-for-play issue in major college sports was a no-brainer to me. A full-ride scholarship—a free education—is an invaluable experience. A college degree is something so many bright Americans struggle to afford, let alone attain. So the idea of athletes getting any kind of compensation beyond a free opportunity to pursue a degree was silly to me.

Not long after coming to Rutgers, I started to realize that student athletes are in a situation the rest of us cannot truly relate to. Universities recruit them to operate within the NCAA—a fully commercialized, multi-billion dollar industry that regulates players to the point of exploitation.

All television revenue, ticket and jersey sales, likeness promotions and other sources of income go to the NCAA, the schools, the coaches, the event staffs and everyone else involved in the business—except for the athletes creating the value. Last year, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament generated $1.15 billion in television ads, well beyond the revenue generated by the NFL and NBA playoffs, according to ESPN.

Despite devoting forty to sixty hours per week to their sport most of the year—more than many full-time jobs—Division I football players aren’t considered employees and lack basic economic rights under the NCAA’s cartel restrictions. That’s what former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is pushing to change in his fight for unionization of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). He wants better medical insurance and academic support for players, and rightfully so.

The NCAA’s exploitative marketing comes in exchange for a scholarship incidental to the industry, and it requires far more time spent playing a major sport than studying for classes. Colter testified that advisors kept him from pursuing a dream of becoming a doctor in favor of easier classes to cater to his football schedule. That’s not putting someone in a position to succeed academically if they aren’t going professional athletically.

Yet somehow, universities paint a picture of student athletes being primarily students. They find it appropriate to use them as a vehicle for institutional promotion during sporting events that have nothing to do with education. The reality is, they care almost exclusively about a football player’s talent and marketability—nothing more, nothing less. The “student athlete” is a false concept.

The National Labor Relations Board’s decision last week to uphold CAPA’s petition carries few short-term ramifications, as the NLRB only affects private schools. But it’s beginning to expose the bigger fundamental issue here.

In response to the ruling, Northwestern appealed and wrote in a statement that it believes its student athletes “are not employees, but students.” That’s nonsense. Since when are money and education mutually exclusive?

There is no other student on scholarship at any university told they can’t be paid while receiving an education, and athletes collectively hauling in tons of money for their schools should be no different.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr found in his twenty-four-page ruling that Northwestern’s football team generated approximately $235 million in revenue from 2003 to 2012. A typical training camp day entails mandatory meetings, film sessions and practices from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm. Sorry, but that is a job, not an extra-curricular activity.

Imagine you’re an English scholar. You write a novel that becomes a best seller, but have to forfeit any profit to the school because you’re already taken care of with paid expenses. Or what if you’re a talented engineering student who builds something as innovative as Facebook in a dorm room, but couldn’t reap any benefits, because you were told the college experience is enough?

The NCAA tags student athletes with the label of “amateur,” but it’s more of an excuse to control the distribution of billions of dollars than an institutional ideal. The notion that college athletes should play strictly for the love of the game is laughable. If so, why give them a scholarship at all? Oh, right, schools need athletes enrolled for revenue and institutional advancement.

To be clear, student athletes do not need salaries or monthly paychecks, even though the NCAA runs just like any other professional sports league. They should simply be allowed to operate within the free market like anyone else in America. Schools can pay what they want, and athletes should be able to sign endorsements for their own likeness and image. It’s fairly simple.

There is no evidence to suggest that athletes being compensated a fairer market value would compromise an educational mission. Ivy League schools don’t award athletic scholarships, but that doesn’t mean their players love the game more than those in the Big Ten. And athletes in the Big Ten aren’t compromised academically by virtue of their scholarship.

Why would going beyond an arbitrarily capped number be any different?

The NCAA and misinformed fans have a myriad of excuses and unanswered questions, as if they are impossible to solve. There isn’t enough money. College athletics will crumble. Athletes already have it great as is. How much will everyone be paid?

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None of those scare tactics is sufficient justification for restricting only one class of people in a booming industry that, oddly enough, has no problem making challenging business decisions with everyone else involved. Coaches and athletic directors can negotiate million-dollar contracts, billions are available for installing state-of-the-art facilities, but the whole enterprise hinges on maintaining an arbitrary benefit to the student athletes.

Please, that’s ridiculous. Billion-dollar industries don’t collapse when their employees receive more than their expenses.

Sometimes life isn’t fair, but the business the NCAA is conducting is unethical.

Read Next: Catch up on the latest in student activism.

11 Years Ago Today: Media Coverage of the Fall of Baghdad Suggested ‘Mission Accomplished’

Ramadi, Iraq

US Marines drive through smoke and dust from a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)

On the morning of this day eleven years ago, in 2003, I happened to be sitting in the ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans waiting for Dick Cheney. This may sound like the beginning of a joke, perhaps with a musical or culinary kicker, but the punch line in this case is quite tragic.

I was covering a newspaper convention as editor of Editor & Publisher and the vice president had been scheduled weeks earlier as the featured morning speaker. We wondered if he’d show up: US forces had just entered central Baghdad and victory had been declared. Now, along with millions of others, I watched as locals, apparently acting on their own, toppled a giant statue of Saddam Hussein. I remember it well. There were two giant, if fragile, screens set up on either side of the stage where Cheney would soon appear—and just as the statue of Saddam was pulled down, live, the screen on the right also started to topple.

I should have known the worst was yet to come right there. Actually, unlike most in the mainstream media, I’d been warning about that for weeks, just the previous weekend on Bill Moyers’s PBS show.

A few minutes later, Cheney arrived and naturally hailed the events of the day. He also told us that critics of our conduct of the war were merely ”retired military officers embedded in TV studios.” Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington, gushed, “The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.”

Okay, we expected nothing less from the architects of the war. But what about our media? Commentators suffered from premature ejaculations. Chris Matthews on MSNBC announced, “We’re all neo-cons now.” Joe Scarborough, also on MSNBC, declared: “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.”

Fred Barnes at Fox News said: “The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war.” Dick Morris at Fox News: “Over the next couple of weeks, when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing, the fact that this war was attacked by the left and so the right was so vindicated, I think, really means that the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years.”

And William Safire in The New York Times:

Like newly freed Parisians tossing flowers at Allied tanks; like newly freed Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall; like newly freed Russians pulling down the statue of the hated secret police chief in Dzerzhinsky Square, the newly freed Iraqis toppled the figure of their tyrant and ground their shoes into the face of Saddam Hussein….

Even in the flush of triumph, doubts will be raised. Where are the supplies of germs and poison gas and plans for nukes to justify pre-emption? (Freed scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.) What about remaining danger from Baathist torturers and war criminals forming pockets of resistance and plotting vengeance? (Their death wish is our command.)

Alas, extensive looting soon began in Baghdad and many other large cities, with prizes ranging from household items to deadly weapons and bomb-making equipment. Rumsfeld explained, “Stuff happens…. Freedom’s untidy.” Mobs were greeting Americans as something less than liberators. On April 18, tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against a US occupation in Baghdad. In late April, in separate incidents in Baghdad and Fallujah, US troops fired on demonstrators, killing more than dozen and inspiring grenade attacks on Americans.

Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times, “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war…. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons.” David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote a column along the same lines. Richard Perle on May 1 advised in a triumphal USA Today op-ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.”

The same day, President Bush, dressed in flight suit, would land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declare an end to major military operations in Iraq—with the now notorious “Mission Accomplished” arrayed behind him in the war’s greatest photo op. Chris Matthews called Bush a “hero” and PBS’s Gwen Ifill said he was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.”

Of course, there is much that can be, and has, been written about the decade that followed in Iraq, the treasure squandered, the media malpractice, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost (see my updated book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long). But on this day, I’d simply recommend a now-forgotten 2011 piece at The New Yorker and Pro Publica by Peter Maass.

He had covered the taking of Baghdad for The New York Times that day as a non-embedded or “unilateral” reporter. His article lays out, in detail, what actually happened that day in Baghdad—revealing the full nature of the media malpractice. The crowds that gathered around the statue of Saddam were much smaller and less enthusiastic than the TV images showed, and US marines played a central role in pulling down the statue. And the images would have profound and long-lasting negative effects in America, he argues. He also quotes from the likes of John Burns of The New York Times admitting that his gratitude toward the US marines that day was explicit. “They were my liberators, too. They seemed like ministering angels to me.”

Maas reveals that two CNN correspondents elsewhere in Baghdad were each ready to go on air with coverage of Iraqis firing on US troops but producers kept the focus on the statue for two hours. One of them, Walter Rodgers, seemed to defend this later: “Pictures are the mother’s milk of television, and it was a hell of a picture.”

Meanwhile, on CNN, Wolf Blitzer described the toppling as “the image that sums up the day and, in many ways, the war itself” and anchor Bill Hemmer added, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history … indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume said, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen…. This speaks volumes, and with power that no words can really match.”

Maass relates that a study found that between 11 am and 8 pm that day, “Fox replayed the toppling every 4.4 minutes, and CNN every 7.5 minutes. The networks also showed the toppling in house ads; it became a branding device.”

Anne Garrels, a leading NPR reporter in Baghdad, revealed that her editors requested that she emphasize the celebratory angle, because the television coverage was more upbeat. In an oral history, Garrels claimed she told her editors that they were getting the story wrong: “There are so few people trying to pull down the statue that they can’t do it themselves…. Many people were just sort of standing, hoping for the best, but they weren’t joyous.”

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Robert Collier, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, “filed a dispatch that noted a small number of Iraqis at Firdos, many of whom were not enthusiastic. When he woke up the next day, he found that his editors had recast the story. The published version said that ‘a jubilant crowd roared its approval’ as onlookers shouted, ‘We are free! Thank you, President Bush!’” Collier told Maass, “That was the one case in my time in Iraq when I can clearly say there was editorial interference in my work. They threw in a lot of triumphalism. I was told by my editor that I had screwed up and had not seen the importance of the historical event. They took out quite a few of my qualifiers.”

Among Maass’s conclusions:

I had little awareness of the media dynamics that turned the episode into a festive symbol of what appeared to be the war’s finale. In reality, the war was just getting under way. Many thousands of people would be killed or injured before the Bush administration acknowledged that it faced not just “pockets of dead-enders” in Iraq, as Rumsfeld insisted, but what grew to be a full-fledged insurgency. The toppling of Saddam’s statue turned out to be emblematic of primarily one thing: the fact that American troops had taken the center of Baghdad. That was significant, but everything else the toppling was said to represent during repeated replays on television—victory for America, the end of the war, joy throughout Iraq—was a disservice to the truth….

The media have been criticized for accepting the Bush administration’s claims, in the run-up to the invasion, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The WMD myth, and the media’s embrace of it, encouraged public support for war. The media also failed at Firdos Square, but in this case it was the media, rather than the government, that created the victory myth.

Among the handful of studies of Firdos Square, the most incisive was George Washington University’s, led by Sean Aday, an associate professor of media and public affairs. It concluded that the coverage had “profound implications for both international policy and the domestic political landscape in America.” According to the study, the saturation coverage of Firdos Square fueled the perception that the war had been won, and diverted attention from Iraq at precisely the moment that more attention was needed, not less. “Whereas battle stories imply a war is going on, statues falling—especially when placed in the context of truly climactic images from recent history—imply the war is over,” the study noted.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “New Surge in Death and Violence in Iraq—Eleven Years After We Took Baghdad.”