Protesting what they see as blatant corruption at the highest levels of government, Bulgarian students have occupied their national university, kicking out teachers and the media and locking the doors behind them.
In a series of protests that has now gone on for more than five months, the students at Sofia University and other universities across Bulgaria have decided to fight for their future in a nation where their outlook is growing increasingly grim: The highest rates of poverty in the European Union, a government that they claim is ruled by a “mafia” that controls the media and pillages national resources, and the wholesale flight of an entire generation of college graduates to other countries.
“As a citizen, I have to speak for myself to make a difference. That’s the reason I stayed in Bulgaria,” said law student Aleksandrina Ikosomova, 19. “I love my country and I love the people. I don’t want to run somewhere else because I’m not happy with our political situation.”
Since general protests ousted the center-right government in March of this year, students had pinned their hopes on the new socialist government led by Plamen Oresharski. When reports surfaced of the same corruption and graft that has impoverished the nation and put money and power in the hands of a few oligarchs, students reacted with outrage.
It didn’t matter who is in charge, because they are all serving the same people,” said history student Mina Hristova, 23. “We decided to occupy the university and focus on one question for the Bulgarian people to ask: Who? Who is behind the corruption? We don’t have to know the answers right now, but the answer is the most important question for our society.
Students occupied Sofia University on October 23, after the country’s constitutional court upheld the appointment of a media mogul as the head of the State Agency for National Security. When the chief lawyer of the court failed to arrive at a heavily protested lecture at the university he’d previously scheduled, students stayed in the lecture hall. Some of them brought chains. By the end of the night, everyone but students had been ejected from the school, with student-appointed sentries standing guard at the gates, blocking entrance for anyone without a student ID. Bulgarian media has been banned from the school because of widespread coverage that the students believe inaccurately reflected the protests. Almost all of the media in Bulgaria is owned by a handful of businessmen, all with deep ties to the ruling government.
We only allow foreign journalists into the school, and we do this to shame the Bulgarian journalists,” Hristova said.
Inside the school, banners hang from the ceiling and signs litter the floor, as rooms are filled with students either sleeping, eating or planning their next protest action. Contrary to the reports of drunken parties propagated by the Bulgarian media, alcohol is strictly forbidden.
Inside room 237, the school of law’s main lecture hall, an executive council sits behind the lecturer’s desk, holding almost non-stop meetings with fellow students. As the occupation has dragged on, protesting students from across the nation have begun flowing into the country’s central university. Unlike occupations that adhere to the rules of non-hierarchical rules of consensus, like Occupy Wall Street, the students at Sofia University have an executive council that presides over meetings, and ultimately decides the direction of the protests. Also, unlike OWS, they have an actual microphone.
At a meeting on Wednesday night, students debated how best to encourage more of their fellow students to join the protests. Already, a group referred to by the occupying students as the “contras” have asked the occupiers to leave the school, so they and other students could resume their classes. Most of the discussion however, has centered on the violence of November 14, when students and police clashed outside parliament as students and allied protesters attempted a siege of the national government.
As police attempted to provide passage through the crowd for departing members of parliament, riot police began beating back protesters, some of whom had knocked down barricades in front of parliament and had started throwing objects at the police.
“They started hitting people. But we can’t handle this anymore,” said law student Jordan Tsalov, 20. “We were radical and they were radical. I was taken down by the police and taken into a police van in which I was beaten. When they arrested me, I showed no aggression. I was given a black eye and bruising along my side. I don’t know which police officers did it.”
Police officers in Sofia, many of whom have been called in from other parts of the country to assist in policing the protests, have not been wearing name tags or ID numbers at the protests, which protesters say violates the law. On November 15, they delivered a signed appeal to the defense ministry to let police officers identify themselves and know who is accountable for some acts of violence.
Walking through the dimly lit school (the students don’t know where many of the light switches are and some utility rooms remain locked), Mina Hristova pointed out the custodial and security workers who are still cleaning the school and keeping it running.
“They support us. The first few days, they had to leave. But they came back when we decided we didn’t want them to lose money or their jobs because of our protest,” she said.
Food donations have poured in from well-wishers, keeping the students fed as they plan upcoming protests. This weekend, the two major political parties will rally (the students support neither), setting the stage for a particularly turbulent few days. In the School of Theater (also occupied) students stay up through the night, planning political performances to coincide with the protests. They don’t know what to do with them yet, but someone donated 100 gas masks and offered them the use of horses.
“We’re theater students, so we’ll figure it out,” student-director Lyubomira Kostova told me.
Fighting for their future in a poor country where corruption has marred development since the fall of the Soviet Union, the students at Sofia University have taken dear hold of what little is theirs: Their classrooms and their friends. They’ll take whatever else they can get, even if its the parliament.
At the close of the 1976 Republican convention in Kansas City, after President Gerald Ford barely squeaked out the nomination against Ronald Reagan, the Reagan aide David Keene gave a revealing interview to The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Drew.
Keene is a conservative movement lifer. In college he was national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. He ran for public office only once, for Wisconsin state senate, in 1969, and lost, then worked for Spiro Agnew in the White House back when the loud-mouthed vice president was the conservatives’ Great White Horse for president (“Spiro of ’76”). He became an assistant to the conservative senator James Buckley (William F.’s brother). He was chairman of the American Conservative Union from 1984 until 2011. At the time Drew spoke with him, Keene had been the head of Reagan’s presidential campaign in the South. In my Nation cover story last week about the Tea Party’s continuities with conservatism past, when I wrote about the right’s “ideological entrepreneurs” who work to leverage grassroots outrage into conservative power, Keene is exactly the sort of figure I had in mind.
In Kansas City, Keene spoke to Drew of the anger against Reagan among conservatives for his last-minute gambit to save his failing presidential bid by choosing a liberal running mate, Senator Richard Shweiker of Pennsylvania, who had received a 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education. Reagan had defended his decision by stressing Schweiker’s agreement with him on abortion and gun control. Carped Keene, “These are all window-dressing issues. What about the economy?” Keene insisted that it was “economic issues” that conservatives really cared about. He explained, “The picture of hardhats taking to the streets over abortion and gun control is misleading. Those issues aren’t what people care about. What it really comes down to is the economic system and the theory that the government is too big. The big things that thinking conservatives think about involve questions of economics and questions of freedom. They draw on the frustration in the country from the increasing feeling that people can’t do anything about anything.”
He was wrong—as the organizers of the nascent New Right would soon be concluding en masse. Yes, people were feeling plenty of frustration about not being able to do anything about anything when it came to their economic lives. But conservative leaders proved entirely ineffectual at “drawing on that” to get people to believe conservative solutions were the answer to their economic frustrations.
It is, in fact, a truism, confirmed by nearly half a century of political polling, a fact brilliantly explained in a must-read article at Salon.com from Paul Rosenberg. It was true even after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential victory, and his 1984 landslide reelection. Consider the statistics compiled in the perennially useful 1986 study Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics, by Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers. One poll they cite from Opinion Research Corporation asked voters in 1980 whether “too much” was being spent on the environment, health, education, welfare and urban aide programs. Only 21 percent thought so, the same percentage as in 1976, 1977 and 1978. The amount saying the amount spent was either “too little” or “about right” was never lower in those years than 72 percent. The number favoring keeping “taxes and services about where they are” was the same in 1975 and 1980—45 percent. The pattern continued well into Reagan’s presidency. In 1983 the Los Angeles Times found that only 5 percent of Americans found regulations “too strict,” while 42 percent called them “not strong enough.” Between 1978 and 1982, according to surveys from the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, the number of voters who wished to “expand” rather than “cut back” not just social spending in general but the dreaded “welfare” programs, increased by 26 percentage points. And finally, in 1984, when Reagan’s approval rating was 68 percent, only 35 percent favored cuts in social programs to reduce the deficit, which of course was their president’s strenuously stated preference on the matter. Sixty-five percent believed such cuts were imminent—and, of course, that November, well over 60 percent of them voted for Reagan instead of the Democrat Walter Mondale.
So how did the New Right ever manage to achieve its political thunder? How did they help elect Ronald Reagan when so few Americans, despite Keane’s confidence in 1976 they could be swayed, proved to be economic Reaganites? It was by selling what Keane called those “window dressing” issues—over which people suffering “the increasing feeling [they] can’t do anything about anything” were willing to follow conservatism’s lead.
Richard Viguerie once reflected on his and his New Right comrades’ frustration at their inability to get Christians to care about the Washington Marxists’ stealing their freedom—until Jimmy Carter’s IRS commissioner took away the tax deduction for Christian schools that served the cause of school segregation. “It kicked the sleeping dog…. it was the real spark that ignited the religious right’s involvement in politics.” (Then, incidentally, leaders like Viguerie lied so as not to make their constituency sound racist by retroactively claiming that it was Roe v. Wade that had done the trick.) An activated religious right helped put Reaganism over the top—after which Reaganites retroactively claimed a mandate to push economic conservatism.
It’s not that these conservative leaders didn’t care about about what were then called the “social issues”—in addition to abortion and gun control and keeping the IRS out of Christian schools, the ones that counted back then included the Equal Rights Amendment, gay rights and “secular humanism” in the public schools. It’s just that, in their heart of hearts, just like David Keene said, they cared about helping business more. I always found it revealing that, both times I sat in Richard Viguerie’s private office to interview him about the history of conservatism, the books that sat on his coffee tables were not about abortionists or secular humanists or other ungodly creatures, but about the evils of unions. Business, in turn, eagerly lapped up the help on offer.
This is the context we need to understand as we evaluate the question of whether the romance between the business lobby and the conservative movement, in its current Tea Party incarnation, can ever really cool. I don’t think it will. And it’s true that there are many different kinds of corporations, with all sorts of social agendas and interests. The sort of political division among capitalists I described in the first part of this series still obtains in various forms; Tom Frank writes, for example, about the “cool billionaires”—hedge fund folks, tech wizards—and “square billionaires”—resource extractors like the Kochs—the first preferred by corporate Democrats, the second by corporate Republicans. But you only need to consider the outrage of corporate executives over that one little time Obama used the phrase “fat cats” to know toward which side the ledger truly tips. And when it comes to business and conservatism, though some disciplining from the big-money boys might occur around the edges, they’re just too organically intertwined, in the ways I wrote about in my second part, to effect a divorce.
One of the most important things liberal don’t understand about conservatism, obscured by too much lazy talk about conservatism’s various “wings,” is that its tenets form a relatively organic base for its adherents, where “traditional morality” serves the interests of laissez-faire economics and vice-versa. This holds true whether the individual conservative in question is a sincere “traditionalist” or not. Howard Phillips, who died this year, was certainly a sincere traditionalist: he eventually became an outright Christian Reconstructionist, a fan of returning to the punishment of stoning for those who flout Leviticus’ codes. Both the thought of right-wing intellectual guru Leo Strauss and the neoconservative tradition itself as exemplified by a figure like William Kristol (“thinking conservatives,” in Keene’s revealing phrase) have a quiet tradition of allowing that religious orthodoxy is crucial to keeping society orderly and the masses in line, but something they’re far too smart to subscribe to themselves. (This tribute that the right paid to virtue was brilliantly flushed out eight years ago when The New Republic’s Ben Adler asked ten leading conservative intellectuals what they really thought about Genesis’ account of creation.) A similar perspective holds true for corporate masters of the universe as well: “tradition” keeps the worker bees tractable, after all. If you’re a capitalist, or just capitalism’s biggest fan, conservatism works.
The best writing about this ironic organic unity between “traditional morality” and tradition-wrecking capitalist creative destruction comes from the University of Georgia’s Bethany Moreton, in To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise, and, approaching the issue from the other side of the business-conservatism/Christian-conservatism divide, the University of West Georgia’s Daniel K. Williams. Williams argues that laissez-faire was a perfect fit for a figure like Jerry Falwell, too: after all, it was only natural for a Sun Belt entrepreneur like himself, the proprietor of a media network, to preach “that capitalism was a divinely ordained system and that hard work was the key to success, and he exemplified those virtues by logging ninety-hour workdays to turn his church into an ecclesiastical business empire.”
This marriage works so well (for them; not so much for us) because conservatism provides such a great way to manage the very anxieties capitalist creative destruction engenders: convince folks the true threat to families is “liberalism,” not licentious corporate greed, and you’ve worked a pretty neat trick—if you’re a capitalist. What’s more, it’s a great way to get scared victims of capitalism to the polls. The incomparable journalistic chronicler of the religious right and its corporate entanglements, Adele Stan, now of RH Reality Check, unearthed a luminescent recent example:
There is little doubt that the rash of anti-choice measures that flooded the legislative dockets in state capitols in 2013 was a coordinated effort by anti-choice groups and major right-wing donors lurking anonymously behind the facades of the non-profit “social welfare” organizations unleashed to tear up the political landscape, thanks to the high court’s decision in Citizens United….
Helping to drive the right-wing offensive in the states and in Congress is a network of deep-pocketed business titans convened by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, principals in Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States. Like the Kochs themselves, many of the donors in the brothers’ networks signal disinterest in fighting against women’s rights or LGBTQ rights, yet anti-choice groups have seen their coffers swell with millions of the network’s dollars.
“If you want to promote a pro-corporate agenda, you’re only going to get so far,” Sue Sturgis, the Durham, North Carolina-based editorial director of the progressive website Facing South, told RH Reality Check. “But when you start weaving in these social issues like abortion and other reproductive rights issues, then you’re gonna appeal to a broader range of people, and a very motivated voting bloc. They will turn out. So it serves your larger cause.”
That explains why David Keene has finally come around. A past master at exploiting conservatism in the service of corporate cupidity—review if you dare the extraordinary story of how the American Conservative Union under his reign sold itself to the highest bidder in a trade dispute between FedEx and UPS—he’s now one “thinking conservative” who knows that social conservatism is no longer “window dressing.” Nope: he’s now president of the National Rifle Association—the poster-child organization (read our own Lee Fang) for the proposition that scaring people over culture is a splendid way to keep the capital flowing.
Social conservatism, business conservatism: the one side constitutes the other, like some infernal Mobius strip. Let’s not mistake the growls from the US Chamber of Commerce about taking on some Tea Partiers as signs of an imminent divorce. I suspect it’s more more like a lovers’ quarrel.
In the second part of this series, Rick Perlstein explains how conservatives came to embrace Wall Street in the 1970s.
—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“States Moving Beyond U.S. Minimum Wage as Congress Stalls,” by William Selway & Jim Efstathiou Jr., Bloomberg, November 12, 2013.
Earning a minimum wage in an expensive city makes for a generally unpleasant experience—but although I’m grimly acquainted with this situation, I can’t fathom how difficult it must be for those supporting dependents. There are rumblings within congressional bodies across the country to increase the minimum wage as popular support has surged in favor of the idea. Those within the business sector often allege the old lie that raising the minimum wage “hurts the very people it’s trying to help;” true that in the short term some miserly businesses may cut their number of workers to shield the revenue stream for shareholders and higher-level executives, but it’s completely medieval to keep the minimum wage at its current level. Had the wage kept pace with either worker productivity or inflation, it would now be somewhere between $21.72 and $10.52.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“Socialize Social Media!” by Benjamin Kunkel. n+1, November 8, 2013.
In light of the frenzy of Twitter going public, n+1 senior editor Benjamin Kunkel underscores the need to view the digital spaces in which we socialize as publicly owned commons. Profits drawn from the sum of our social interactions, he argues, degrade the quality of these “public utilities” and constitute “a form of social rent.” He unfortunately glosses over the possibility (or inevitability) of government snooping, but, well, it’s a manifesto. He gets some slack.
—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.
“The Video-Game Invasion of Iraq,” by Simon Parkin. The New Yorker, November 13, 2013.
This account of an 18-year-old Iraqi student’s obsession with violent American video games, which he describes as his only escape from the continued devastation of his country, illustrates the ongoing effects of the bungled American invasion and occupation of Iraq through a more personal lens. With the death toll rising by the month due to reignited sectarian violence, it is important to read personalized accounts of the lives impacted behind the headlines listing the number of dead.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“America Has a Long Way to Go Before It’s Fully ‘Clitorate’,” by Anna Lekas Miller. Alternet, October 2, 2013.
It’s that time in your news cycle again when everyone in the media tries to put their finger on what exactly is wrong with women and their orgasms. The New York Times squirreled away an exposé on why women who engage in hook-up culture have fewer orgasms than men on its ‘Well’ blog. The conclusion: women achieve orgasm more easily when they are in a committed relationship (cause we all know that the invention of happy couples came before the invention of sex). Katie McDonough at Salon responded with a meek suggestion that perhaps the real culprits are performance anxiety and discomfort around strangers; she too cites studies. Her article unfolds below a picture of two pairs of white feet, one big and one small, innocently poking out from beneath a white sheet. And Bustle approved of this orgasm-talk with its obligatory high-five to all click-bait floating about the feminist blogosphere: “So, my slutty contemporaries, carry on!” How to make sense of this muddle? I refer you to former Nation intern Anna Lekas Miller’s excellent interview from a few weeks back with artist Sophia Wallace, whose traveling street art, installation and viral information campaign “Cliteracy” seeks to raise awareness about what the clitoris is, where it is and how to debunk the many cultural myths that obscure it.
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“How States Rejecting the Medicaid Expansion Sabotaged Their Biggest Cities,” by Emily Badger. The Atlantic Cities, November 11, 2013.
Large urban hospitals already provide healthcare to thousands of uninsured and underinsured patients each year. Yet the twenty-six Republican-controlled states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion have added to their burden; eight require that counties contribute to the non-federal share of Medicaid costs and fifteen are now insisting that counties provide some kind of indigent care. Instead of receiving much-needed financial support through the ACA, these overburdened city hospitals—and the taxpayers who live in their vicinity—will continue to be saddled with the responsibility of funding healthcare for America’s uninsured.
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures,” by Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati. Reuters, November 11, 2013.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the top cleric in Iran and has the final say in every government decision, but this six-month investigation by Reuters explores another reason why he has been able to hang onto power for twenty-four years: his grasp on major aspects of Iran’s economy through a highly secretive government organization. Part one describes how the organization known as Setad has been seizing and consolidating billions of dollars worth of property belonging to the marginalized Baha’i community, a group whose religion is seen as heresy by Iran’s Muslim majority. Part two describes how the organization later went on to claim major stakes in the banking and telecommunications sectors and was added to the list of companies overseen by the US State Department’s sanctions list. Finally, in part three, we see how Setad has continued to build its economic empire by stretching the limits of the law under Khamenei’s watch.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Refugees in Bulgaria face death threats,” by Krassimir Yankov. Al Jazeera, November 13, 2013.
“People in Syria told me Bulgaria is good. This is not true.” Thus speaks a young Syrian who has fled the violence and injustice of his country to seek a better life in Europe. I’ve written here before about the rise of fascist groups in Eastern and Western Europe, so it’s not surprising—if no less chilling—that some Bulgarians are adopting hard-right anti-immigrant views that would seem more at home under the World War II regime of Tsar Boris III. But the details of the miserable conditions in refugee camps, the violence these immigrants are suffering—and, most importantly, the fact that the state’s machinery is allowing this to happen—are all particularly worrying. Refugees are being dehumanized both by this violence, these conditions and in the popular press, where they have been called “cannibals.” Hopefully good reporting such as this piece will force legislation against hate crimes and the rise of the far right.
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America, with an emphasis on Cuba.
“Venezuelan Soldiers Deployed to Stores,” by William Neuman. The New York Times, November 11, 2013.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is not facing an easy first term. Galloping inflation, tough government control on the export of hard foreign currency, soaring prices despite strict official price controls and widespread shortages of basic goods have the country in economic turmoil. At the same time, Venezuelan opposition figures seek to take advantage of—and according to Maduro, foment—these issues in their campaign to take back power in the upcoming elections. On Friday, President Maduro ordered the military occupation of electronics chain Daka in order to supervise government-imposed prices.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“One day in the life of Mikhail Khodorkovsky,” by Neil Buckley. Financial Times, October 24, 2013.
That an elite businessman worth an estimated $15 billion could end up in prison for ten years (and perhaps more) seems—a little sadly—unimaginable to me as an American. But that’s what happened to Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 after a fallout with President Vladimir Putin. After providing some context for Khodorkovsky’s incredible downfall, Buckley let’s him describe in his own words the conditions of his life in Russia’s prison system.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley,” by Evgeny Morozov. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 11, 2013.
Morozov shows—with examples that may seem like the product of a Luddite’s wild imagination but are in fact real (see: Facebook’s real-time ad auctions)—why his critique of Silicon Valley is not a digital, but a deeply political and economic, one.
There was a wonderful public “memorial” for Lou Reed Thursday afternoon outdoors at Lincoln Center in NYC, amid the opera, philharmonic, dance and theater shrines, with just his music blaring over speakers and people gathering and dancing and playing air guitar for several hours. No speeches. No tribute songs by the famous. Just Lou himself.
And yes, he did hang out at Lincoln Center a lot, even gave a ringing endorsement of Occupy there, captured on video.
Here are three vids. First, a little “Rock and Roll.” Then, the great Sandi Bachom’s footage of what happened when they played “Walk on the Wild Side.” And, yes, the seventeen-minute “Sister Ray,” complete with, ahem, off-color lyrics. Proud to say, I helped her ID “Sister Ray.”
John Nichols reminds us of Lou Reed’s radical politics.
Far be it from me to distract from the important blaming and shaming around the Obamacare website. But if we do have a minute left for our actual health, can we talk about the radiation threat that seems to be soaring on the Pacific?
I don’t want to frighten anyone unduly, so I’ll quote the calm people at Reuters:
The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will as early as this week begin removing 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented operation fraught with risk.
That’s Reuters. Nuclear researcher Harvey Wasserman says things more to the effect of “What the F’ity F. F?”
The point is, since an earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in March of 2011, the fuel rods at Reactor Number Four have been in dangerously delicate shape. They can’t heat up, be exposed to air or break without releasing deadly gas, but the cooling pool they’ve been resting in is leaky and corroded by seawater and could never withstand another tremor or quake.
Starting any day now, Tokyo Electric or TEPCO, is going to begin plucking more than 1,500 brittle and potentially damaged fuel assemblies out of where they are and placing them in new casks.
Each assembly contains some 50-70 spent fuel rods, weighs around 660 pounds and measures fifteen feet long. And I did mention the pool is 100 feet up?
Operations like this are usually done by robot, but here it has to be done by hand because the rods are out of place and the pool’s still littered with junk.
In the GRITtv studios this week Wasserman compared the operation to the fairground game of lowering a clunky mechanical claw into a crowded glass box to snag a prize.
I for one, usually drop it.
It’s important we do more than hold our breath. After years of mistakes, cover-ups and fibs, nuclear watchers don’t want to give TEPCO another chance. A hundred and fifty thousand people have signed a petition calling for the world to take over at once.
It’s certainly a world problem. Tepco has already admitted that 300 tons of toxic water are belching into the Pacific every day, and as long as a year ago, Oregon State University researchers found traces of Fukushima cesium in West Coast Fish.
What next? We can’t afford to wait to find out.
For the very latest from me, and to be one of the first to see what Wasserman had to say about the world’s worst nuclear accident, sign up to join the mailing list at GRITtv.org. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed of these weekly commentaries at SoundCloud
It's not allowed to happen in Russia, or in Kazakhstan—but in the United States, children as young as twelve are allowed to toil on tobacco farms, performing backbreaking work and putting their health and lives at risk. As Gabriel Thompson and Mariya Strauss document in The Nation, agricultural work is dangerous: on top of exposure to heavy pesticides and the possibility of acute nicotine poisoning, young workers are vulnerable to hazards involving farm vehicles, grain silos and manure pits.
The Children's Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), introduced by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard but blocked by the GOP-controlled Education and Workforce Committee, would bring child labor standards in line with protections in other industries and increase civil penalties for abuse. The measure faces stiff opposition, but the exploitation of children, in the final telling, should be impossible to defend.
Join The Nation in calling for an end to child labor in agriculture. Contact your representatives and demand they fight to bring the CARE Act up for a vote. Then tweet at Representative John Kline (@repjohnkline), chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, and demand his committee act to fight this gross injustice.
In the latest issue of The Nation, Gabriel Thompson sheds light on the hazards faced by children working in tobacco fields, while Mariya Strauss documents the ways in which lax regulations have put kids' lives in danger.
In Fingers to the Bone: Child Farmworkers in the United States, Human Rights Watch takes a close look at the lives of the kids the CARE Act would seek to protect..
A common introduction to cryptic crosswords goes something like this: “Standard crosswords are all about testing your vocabulary. Puzzles are made more difficult by the use of more obscure words. Cryptic crosswords, on the other hand, are all about clever wordplay, and are made more challenging by more misleading and devious cluing. In a cryptic crossword, you are guaranteed to know the words you will be expected to enter into the diagram.”
That introduction is less accurate than it used to be. Many standard crosswords nowadays are made challenging in rather the same way as cryptics: through clever wordplay, such as misleading parts of speech, or secondary meanings of words. And on the cryptic side, there are many constructors of challenging puzzles who do not hesitate to include obscure words in their diagrams. Some constructors warn you about entries that are not in all dictionaries. Others limit themselves to the words in a given reference dictionary, but allow any word and any definition from that source. Still others include obscure words without warning.
While solving a cryptic crossword, one of us recently learned that MEPHITIC means “foul-smelling” and that PITHECANTHROPUS (aka JAVA MAN) was a hominid during the Pleistocene. We quite enjoyed learning these words. You, dear reader, may already know these words, and think one of us is an uneducated boor. (That’s why we won’t reveal which one of us it is.)
But that is precisely one point we’d like to make: What is familiar to one person may be obscure to another. And that applies to more than just the breadth of one’s vocabulary— some people don’t know movie stars or athletes, others don’t know mathematics or theater. We try to vary the areas of knowledge we draw from, in the hope that sooner or later we will hit an area that is comfortable for you, the solver. For example, we recently defined DIDO as a pop singer, not a queen of Carthage. If she reappears in a puzzle in a year or two, we’ll probably go the other way.
As constructors of the Nation puzzle, we are perfectly willing to include the occasional obscure word in our diagrams. We don’t do it very often, and when we do it, we try to make the wordplay more transparent. Moreover, we try to only do it with words we like: while we enjoy learning new words, and we trust most solvers of cryptic crosswords agree with us, we know that different words have different appeal to different people. You may like MEPHITIC, but hate PITHECANTHROPUS, or vice versa. We can only go with our own preferences here, and we hope you will welcome the occasional trip to the dictionary or the Internet to confirm an answer.
What do you think about expanding your vocabulary while solving puzzles? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.
The New York Yankees of Egyptian soccer, Al Ahly, have officially expelled one of its top players, striker Ahmed Abdel Zaher. Did this extraordinary act take place in the aftermath of a heartbreaking loss? No, the team had actually just triumphed 2-0 and Zaher had even scored a goal. Was there an off-field scandal? Did Zaher find himself caught with steroids, or bullying teammates or running a dog-fighting ring? None of that. He was, by all accounts, a model citizen. Zaher’s crime was choosing to remember the massacred victims of Egypt’s dictatorship on the field of play, and in the Egypt of 2013, such an act will not go unpunished.
After Zaher scored in Ahly’s 2-0 win over South Africa’s Orlando Pirates in the African Champions League in Cairo on Sunday, he flashed four fingers while running back down the field. That simple gesture has changed his life, because flashing four fingers in today’s Egypt is a gesture as incendiary as raising a black gloved fist in 1968.
The Arabic word for “fourth” is Rabaa, and uttering the word “Rabaa”—like whispering the word “union” in nineteenth-century coal country—can get you in all kinds of trouble. It was just last August when hundreds of peaceful Egyptian supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi were killed by security forces at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque. They were sitting in and demanding some kind of electoral justice after Morsi was deposed by Egyptian General Abdel Al-Sisi. After they had occupied the area for six weeks and with no end in sight, Al-Sisi had them summarily slaughtered. Once the blood had been washed away, the dictatorship has set about the project of erasing any memory that such an atrocity had occurred. Currently situated at the site of the massacre, a statue has been erected. It is not to commemorate the dead, but it’s a monument to the Egyptian military and police. And yet there are those throughout Egypt who choose not to forget. Their symbol is those four raised fingers: “Remember Rabaa.”
Ahmed Abdel Zaher in particular had a dear friend die in Rabaa. He wanted him to be remembered. Al Ahly however, would have none of it. The club already has a very precarious relationship with the current dictatorship. This stems from a match last year against Al Masri in Port Said where Al Ahly saw seventy-two of its fans killed. Most died of asphyxiation, as waves of Al-Masri fans pressed them against locked gates. It is widely believed, with ample supporting video evidence, that security officials did not intervene so as to punish the hyper-intense Al Ahly ultra fan clubs who played a leading role in the ouster of President-for-life Hosni Mubarak. Since Port Said, the Al Ahly ultras have demonstrated, sat-in and fought in the streets, demanding justice for those killed. But management at Al Ahly seems desperate to not ruffle any more feathers, and Zaher will pay for that with his job, if not worse. He is also due to be “interrogated by the state-run Egyptian Football Association in the coming days.
Al Ahly may be the ones officially putting Zaher “up for sale”, but his release was clearly engineered by the Egyptian state. Only after sports minister Taher Abouzeid said that “dissuasive sanctions await the player by his club and the soccer association,” and that he was confident the team would make “the right decisions,” did Al Ahly buckle and send him packing. They then released a statement, seemingly out of commitment to turn this tragedy into a farce, saying that “the club’s principles” were rooted in “its firm rejection of mixing politics with sports.”
At least Zaher is not being singled out. Last month, Egypt’s Kung Fu Association banned international star Mohamed Youssef from participating in international championships for two years after he wore a T-shirt bearing the four-finger sign at a tournament in Russia. Youssef was not wearing it while competing but during the medal ceremony where he was awarded the gold. Last week there was another kung fu tournament in Malaysia where Youssef’s replacement, Hesham Abdel Hamid, won the silver. He also flashed four fingers to both remember Rabaa and support his teammate. Abdel Hamid was also punished and stripped of both his medal and prize winnings. As one fan of the sport said to me, “Egypt has not won any medals for years. Yet they punish their champions.”
What is so informative about this crackdown is that Egypt’s dictatorship has committed not only to punishing athletes but punishing their best athletes. They are not only going after demonstrations of remembrance of Rabaa but doing so on the highest possible cultural platforms where they are fully aware it will engender the widest possible coverage. The message is clear: no one is safe, and you will remember Rabaa at your own risk and your own peril.
And yet despite the crackdown, the resistance continues. I spoke with Abdullah Al-Arian, a history professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar and author of the forthcoming Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Egypt. He said, “Since the tragic events at Rabaa, the wave of protests has only grown across the country. The attempts to censure the actions of conscientious Egyptian athletes and artists who oppose the return to authoritarianism, reflects a desperation on the part of the current regime due its failure to establish its legitimacy. Zaher’s demonstration in solidarity with the victims of the military is a clear sign that the leaders of the coup have not yet succeeded in their mission.”
This “mission” to establish legitimacy, can take place only if people allow the dictatorship to control the memory of what was done to achieve power. That’s what makes the actions of Zaher, Youssef and Hamid so brave and so important in the quest to achieve democracy in the region. Their message is simply to never forget.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous talks about a new draconian anti-protest law in Egypt.
A new Gallup poll says 76 percent of Americas support raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, including 58 percent of polled Republicans. On last night’s Ed Show, Nation Washington correspondent John Nichols contrasted that public opinion with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s policy record. In January, the now re-elected Republican vetoed a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $8.50, opting instead for a $1 increase. “If there’s a core issue, it’s these economic justice issues,” Nichols said, “On these, we’re seeing the majority of Republicans saying it’s time to get working on raising wages for working Americans.”
It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s phone call to French President Hollande yesterday will fix the glitch in the talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, talks that were sabotaged by French perfidy last week—or, in the opinion of Israel, hawks and neoconservatives, by French heroism.
After returning to Tehran after the talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif bluntly blamed the French for wrecking the talks. What happened, it seems, is that an American draft of an accord was dismantled by the French, who opposed it and forced a rewrite, surprising Iran (and, apparently, the United States as well). So the Iranians had to back off the accord and return home for consultations before resuming talks on November 20. Tweeted Zarif:
No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 545 PM Saturday.But it can further erode confidence
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 11, 2013
Mr.Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? and publicly commented against it Friday morning?
No, it was France.
Zarif was contradicting Secretary of State Kerry, who after the talks ended said that the P5+1, including the United States and France, were in agreement and that it was Iran who scuttled the negotiations.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, doesn’t agree, and his account tallies with Zarif’s. Reports the Associated Press:
Russia’s foreign minister says Iran had accepted a U.S.-draft proposal on a nuclear deal, but last-minute amendments blocked an accord last week in Geneva. Sergey Lavrov’s account fits with comments from Iran and world powers. But it offers additional insights into how Washington apparently led the negotiations seeking to ease Western concerns that Iran could one day produce nuclear weapons—a charge Iran denies. Lavrov did not mention which country offered the 11th hour amendments. Others, however, say France raised concerns over issues such as a planned heavy water rector that produces more byproduct plutonium.
Still, RT.com reports, Lavrov is optimistic.
What happened during the phone call between Obama and Hollande isn’t known. It’s a curious failure of American diplomacy for the United States to have gone into last week’s talks without all of its ducks in a row, those ducks being the UK, Germany and France. Did Kerry not know of the impending French wrecking ball? In any case, after their call, according to AFP, Obama and Hollande were back on the same page, publicly at least, speaking of a “unified proposal” and saying that now it’s all up to Iran:
Hollande and Obama “confirmed their full support for the text agreed” by the P5+1 group of world powers at this weekend’s talks, which they said forms “the basis for a serious, solid and credible agreement”.
“Now it is up to Iran to give a positive answer,” the statement said.
By all accounts, Obama and his team are committed to a positive result from the talks in Geneva. They’ve pushed hard to get the Senate to hold off on new Iran sanctions, and they’ve told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shut up, essentially. Let’s hope that Obama convinced Hollande that a deal is in the works, and that the United States won’t stand for any more interference by the French.
Bob Dreyfuss looks into AIPAC’s role in the negoatiations with Iran.