Perusing the archives of a 150-year-old magazine is always a pleasure, but at its most exciting, it is also an education. The argument the magazine put forward against the development of the hydrogen bomb, the pursuit of which President Truman inaugurated on this day in 1950, was not an obvious one: The Nation’s editors argued that the bomb should not be developed because doing so would prompt the creation of a vast security apparatus and the repressive measures required to keep it in place. When Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s massive spying programs fifty-three years later, one argument that was not frequently heard was that such a secret security state would not be necessary if there were not so many precious state secrets to keep secure. By dropping the A-bomb and developing the H-bomb, Truman made a bed we are all still sleeping in—or uneasily trying to, at least.
In the atmosphere of a cold war such development work can be the source of civil repressions on a scale not yet experienced. It becomes elevated to the status of the secret, and defense of the secret will be used to justify anything. We have seen how the necessity of guarding the secrecy of the A-bomb has been used as the basis for civil repression….
The American state of mind today is very similar, and at this point panic is to be given the added impetus of a new secret to defend. Nobody has the vaguest idea what this secret is or whether it even exists. It is the nearest thing to an invisible, intangible, impersonal, all-powerful god that has been conceived of in the past five thousand years. It comes at a time when the appropriate religious fervor—panic and repression—is gathering momentum….
In the fairy tale it did no good for cautious courtiers to finger the king’s non-existent garments and murmur that the cut wasn’t exactly up to his standards or that the color was unbecoming. No evasive formula satisfied him. The little boy had to stand up and speak the blunt truth. What this country needs today is sixty millions grown-ups who will stand up and speak the blunt truth.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.
Just when the storm over political correctness seems about to burst—a storm stoked most recently by Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine piece accusing the left of virtually censoring free speech (Michelle Goldberg nicely dissects Chait’s arguments here)—Comedy Central has debuted The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. And damned if this show, more or less from the left, isn’t designed to confront just those PC pieties.
Amazingly, The Nightly Show is currently the only late-night talk show hosted by an African-American, and Wilmore opened his first show, on January 19, with the just the sort of perfectly reasonable ethnic-based complaint that could, if your victimology meter was set on hair-trigger (or in the hands of Rush Limbaugh), be read as “PC”: “Brother finally gets a show on late night TV!” he said. “But, of course, he has to work on Martin Luther King Day.”
But the show’s format and Wilmore’s style—he’s as easygoing and open-minded as Colbert’s character was intense and rigid—defy the Chaity caricature of PC.
Wilmore, a veteran comedian, writer and producer, who played “the senior black correspondent” on The Daily Show—a sly job title that pointed to the show’s overwhelming whiteness—is clearly no black power radical. But his politics appear to be more progressive than his moderate temperament might lead you to believe. As Dave Itzkoff of the Times writes, “Mr. Wilmore said he wanted his show to look at ‘events in the world from the perspective of the underdog,’ while being ‘provocative and absurd, all those things rolled into one.’”
In that first show, Wilmore laughed at Al Sharpton running to protest the Oscar snub of the movie Selma. “Al, Al, Al, you don’t have to respond to every black emergency,” he said. “You’re not a black batman.” Then he asked, point-blank, “Are we protesting too many things here?” Still, Wilmore clearly believes in activism; he zeroed in on recent protests that he believes have produced results: the climate change demos in September that, he says, helped the US and China reach a climate accord; nationwide minimum-wage protests that led to twenty-one states raising their wages.
The Nightly Show seems consciously designed to laugh at the confusions and mystifications that ideological identities, left or right, trail in their wake. The show’s format more closely resembles Bill Maher’s show than Jon Stewart’s or John Oliver’s: After a Wilmore monologue (the only really scripted part of the show), Larry convenes a panel of four different guests every night to discuss a single topic. The panel is a combo of comedians, journalists and people who have some sort of relevance to the topic, like a former sniper when Wilmore focused on controversies over American Sniper, or an anti-vaxxer on measles night. The set-up can, but doesn’t always, kindle conflict.
The show’s signature segment, called “Keep it 100” (as in keeping it 100 percent real), is meant to step on the cracks in a guest’s political identity.
For instance, Wilmore asked comedian Sabrina Jalees, a Canadian and a lesbian, to imagine that there’s “two terrorists, one’s about to blow up a roomful of Canadians and one a roomful of lesbians. You’re a sniper: which terrorist do you take out?” (The Canadians, she joked, because she’s making money up there.)
He asked Soledad O’Brien, whose father is black and mother is Latino: “If you had to choose one side to identify with, which one would it be?” (Black, she said, “because blacks need a lot of support right now.”)
John Leguizamo, of Puerto Rican and Colombian descent, got the question, “Which Latino identity do you hate being mistaken for the most?” and Leguizamo answered, “I love all my Latino brothers—Argentine.”
The questions—many are versions of “Would you do X for a million dollars?”—can be silly. And the gimmick of handing out stickers for the guests who’ve kept it 100, or teabags for those whose answers were “weak tea,” could quickly become tiresome.
But Wilmore does tease people to come out of their ghettos for air, and not to take ethnic and ideological identities so seriously.
Who knows what Larry would ask Jonathan Chait? But it might be something like, If you knew you had to invade a country to take revenge for 9/11, would you pick one that had something to do with the attack, or one that spells its name with the letter Q without the letter U?
Read Next: Leslie Savan on how the French fried Fox News
In the run-up to the 1932 presidential election, The Nation ran a series of profiles of the candidates called “Presidential Possibilities.” The ninth and final installment—oddly mislabeled the eighth—was of the sitting governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born on this date in 1882.
Henry Pringle, journalist and biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, wrote that FDR’s last name itself was “worth a vast number of votes.” Like the name Clinton today, perhaps? “We talk a good deal about democracy,” Pringle continued, “but we like Presidential candidates with a background, at least, of aristocracy.”
Pringle’s conclusions about the prospects for liberal revival under a Roosevelt presidency are amusing to read. Of particular interest today is Pringle’s suggestion that “a new deal is needed in the world,” but that Roosevelt was not likely to introduce it:
The truth is that Franklin Roosevelt hauls down banners under which he has marched in the past and unfurls no new ones to the skies…His candidacy for the Democratic nomination has strength because he is all things to many sections of the nation. In the East he is wet and not radical. In the West he is progressive. In the South he is not very wet, after all, and is—thank God—a Protestant. These are priceless assets to a candidate for a nomination. They are, perhaps, exactly the reverse if Franklin Roosevelt is to be judged on the basis of his worth as a possible President of the United States. If it is true that a new deal is needed in the world, there is small hope for better things in his candidacy. If it is true that foreign debts must be adjusted downward and reparations forgotten, there is nothing in Roosevelt’s philosophy, as far as we know, which gives promise of a better day. He calls for palliatives in world affairs, not cures. His domestic program is hardly more stimulating. This may be the reason why, although Roosevelt wins respect for his ability, his candidacy arouses so little real enthusiasm. I see no evidence whatever that people are turning to him as a leader. They may vote for him—I think they will—because they are sick and tired of Hoover and weary of the depression.
* * *
Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at rkreitner at thenation dot com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Read Next: Richard Kreitner and The Almanac on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
This week’s New York Times Magazine features a fascinating article about two teenagers’ worlds colliding on a city bus in Oakland, California. In the fall of 2013, the skirt of an 18-year-old gender-nonconforming person named Sasha Fleischman was set on fire while Sasha napped during a bus ride home from school. Richard Thomas, a 16-year-old boy whose life differed from Sasha’s in a number of ways, had just left his own high school and was on the same bus. Egged on by two friends, Richard, who is black, set Sasha, who is white, on fire. Richard, whose East Oakland neighborhood is plagued by poverty, faced the possibility of life in prison, while Sasha, who is from Oakland’s wealthier foothills, was treated for second- and third-degree burns in the wake of the incident. Richard, who at one point begged to be let into an intervention program for chronically absent students, is now in the midst of a seven-year sentence and could be transferred to an adult prison after turning 18. Sasha, who decided at 16 that identifying as one gender didn’t feel quite right, is now a student at MIT.
The article is captivating storytelling that explores gender expression, how baffled parents struggle to make sense of their children’s choices, and how we decide what constitutes a hate crime. This could have been yet another article that depicts black teenagers as brutal and amoral and encourages readers to identify with victims hell-bent on the harshest punishment possible, but it’s not. Instead, pretty much everyone involved bucks some stereotype.
Some examples of how the story confounds readers expectations: Richard comes across as a confused kid swayed by peer pressure. He tells police when he’s brought in for questioning, “I wouldn’t say that I hate gay people, but I’m very homophobic.” (Perhaps he was being precise in his use of the word, admitting a fear rather than hatred?) He later wrote Sasha a letter that reads in part, “I had a nightmare last night and I woke up sweating and apologizing. I really hope you get back to the way you were. I went to court yesterday and there [sic] still making me seem like a monster, but I’m not.” Sasha’s parents didn’t want Richard tried as an adult and, according to the article, “consistently cautioned against leaping to conclusions about Richard’s motivation.” The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center asked the district attorney not to charge Richard as an adult.
But there’s one stereotype the story does risk enforcing. By focusing on Sasha Fleischman to tell a 4,500-word story about crimes against gender-nonconforming people, a reader could believe that victims in such situations are overwhelmingly white, preyed upon by black or Latino boys and men. In fact, that’s not the case. According to an Anti-Violence Project report, LGBTQ and HIV-affected people of color were 1.7 times more likely than white people similarly classified to be injured and two times more likely to require medical attention as a result of hate violence in 2013. They were 1.4 times more likely to experience violence in the street or a public area. Of the hate-motivated homicides of LGBT people that year, two-thirds of the victims were transgender women of color.
Trying to make sense of these stats, a writer at Jacobin reflected on the names read during an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil, names of people killed because of their gender expression in the preceding year. She explained:
Why am I not on the list? I’m white, which exempts me from many forms of violence and discrimination. I’m employed full-time in a safe profession, so I can afford housing. I have trans-inclusive health insurance, which allows me to pay the medical expenses associated with my transition. I pass, which means that most people can’t tell that I’m transgender by sight. In a group of people who feel perpetually unsafe, I’m as safe as I can possibly be.
Sasha identifies as agender, not transgender. And neither whiteness nor access to housing or other markings of financial security kept Sasha safe on the bus that day. But these stats and the struggles of gender-nonconforming people of color to have crimes targeting them recognized and stopped are worth remembering. They offer important context to the already intricate story of Sasha, Richard and their families.
Read Next: Dani McClain on the way we talk about abortion rights
When I started writing about the intersection of sports and politics in 2003, a countless number of sentences started with two words: “if only”. “If only” star athletes used their hyper-exalted-brought-to-you-by Nike platform to actually say something about the world instead of just trying to sell us more crap. If only they stood up to tired sports media that for decades had treated outspoken athletes with a sneering and, in the case of black players, transparently racist contempt. If only the pros, particularly in basketball and football, did not forget the painfully exploited “student athletes” they left behind in the multibillion-dollar NCAA meat grinder. If only a new generation of athletes would show that speaking out did not prevent you from being able to land a new contract and provide for your family, so we could put to rest cautionary tales like 1990s players Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, drummed out of the league for rocking the boat. If only the most successful athletes, the ones with the rings on their fingers, would speak out more in the tradition of champions such as Bill Russell, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali thus giving lie to the myth that having a voice takes your focus off of winning the big game.
It is so easy for all of us to get so caught up in saying “if only” that you don’t see changes taking place right before your very eyes. To paraphrase James Reston, it’s a lot easier to to notice revolution than evolution. Well the evolution is here, and they’re coming straight outta King County with a posse on Broadway. They are the NFC Champions going for back-to-back Super Bowl wins. They are the Seattle Seahawks.
It helps that they are led by Pete Carroll, that rare football coach who does not think he’s the reincarnation of General Patton. It helps that we live in a social-media age when players can get their message directly to the fans, and around the traditional sports media gatekeepers.
But to make this a social-media story, or a narrative about the more relaxed nature at the top of the Seahawks organization, takes too much credit away from the courage of the players themselves. To have Seahawks linebacker Michael Bennett use the Super Bowl media scrum to slam the NCAA and say, “I think the NCAA is one of the biggest scams in America” and “I think there are very few schools that actually care about the players. Guys break their legs and they get the worst surgery they could possibly get by the worst doctors with the worst treatment” is more than someone sounding off. It’s an act of solidarity.
To have their always-outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman follow that up by saying, “I tell you from experience that one time I had negative forty bucks in my account. It was in the negative more times than positive. You have to make a decision whether you put gas in your car or get a meal” turns it into a national story.
To have Marshawn Lynch consciously try to control his own labor and by doing so, dredge up the worst impulses in the sports media aristocracy was, intentionally or not, a national service. Thanks to Lynch, we have seen a layer of sports writers regurgitate all of their suppressed bile against young black athletes—tweeting things like their desire for an “English to Marshawn dictionary”—and exposing the long-standing resentments older and mostly whiter sportswriters have towards the people they cover. When Lynch looked at the media and said, “Shout out to all my real Africans out there,” you could almost hear the ventricles in the room constricting.
Yes, the team is owned by the wealthiest owner of them all, Paul Allen. But unless you are a fan of the Green Bay Packers, never stand with a team based on the owner. Look at the people on the field. This is a team that has had players speak out for the Black Lives Matter movement and a team that has felt no compunction against calling out a commissioner in Roger Goodell who cares more about public relations than the players and the families of players that the league employs. The Seahawks are also doing all of this while winning with a hell of a lot of style and flair. It is a fact that the more Super Bowl trophies they collect, the bigger their collective platform will become. It is also a cardinal rule of the sports world that the more they succeed, the more they will become a paradigm for how the next generation of athletes will try to leverage the spotlight. We can understandably shake our heads over the fact that the NFL—a brutal, damnable sports league—is now intimately connected to how we discuss issues ranging from violence against women, to workplace safety, to the movement against police brutality. But as long as that is the truth, we should want the people who hold that platform to be the most conscious possible participants in this discussion. This is reason enough, if you aren’t from the Maine-to-Connecticut-corridor, to pull for the Seattle Seahawks. Pull for the team that will use the win to be more than just a brand. Pull for the team that models the idea that having an opinion about the world is a positive thing. But most of all, pull for that moment, as the confetti falls, when that walking, talking corporate crime spree Roger Goodell has to hand Marshawn Lynch the MVP trophy.
Read Next: Dave Zirin on Marshawn Lynch and Roger Goodell
Gandhi was assassinated on this day in 1948, a shocking and dispiriting event covered by media all across the world, including a mournful Nation. But perhaps more interesting to read today is this article from our issue of May 6, 1897, “East Indians in South Africa,” written by Alfred Webb, an Irish MP and an early president of the Indian National Congress. According to the historian Ramachandra Guha, this is the first mention of Gandhi ever to appear in the American press.
The population of India increases rapidly and encroaches upon the means of subsistence. South Africa is the nearest outlet for emigration. The climate is congenial; and thither numbers of Indians have repaired…. While all were at first welcomed as helpful toward the development of the country, all alike have been subjected to disabilities by color prejudice and by law…. M.K. Gandhi, a Hindu barrister, long resident in South Africa, returned to India to arouse public interest in the subject. His address at Bombay, last September, has been published…Mr. Gandhi says: “The general feeling throughout South Africa is that of hatred towards the Indians, encouraged by the newspapers and connived at, even countenanced, by the legislators. Every Indian without exception is a coolie in the estimation of the general body of the Europeans…” These varied disabilities, sufferings, and wrongs have been most strikingly forced upon public attention, both in Indian and at home, by Mr. Gandhi during his mission to his native country. In the treatment meted out to him on his return to Natal, at the hands of the people whose conduct towards his countrymen he had exposed, we are reminded of early abolition days in the United States. When his return was signalled, a crowd of indignant whites collected, who mobbed him, upon his landing, with stones and beating.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.
Cryptic crosswords, like all puzzles, are meant to be solved. Thus, while they may be challenging, they also need to be fair. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear where to draw the line between fair and foul.
One example of a practice that almost all concerned would agree is unfair is the indirect anagram, where the solver is supposed to anagram a synonym of a word in the clue. Still, our predecessor, Frank Lewis, would use indirect anagrams on occasion, and the clues could always be solved, because he only did this with very short word fragments, and gave transparent definitions for the words to be anagrammed. We do not use indirect anagrams, but we agree with British constructors who routinely use abbreviations as part of anagram fodder. Once you know to expect this, and as long as the abbreviation is standard, we think this spices things up a bit, while still remaining fair. Here is one example:
ALTER Change in real time! (5)
Also like the Brits, we occasionally separate anagram fodder into chunks, as in this example:
TROPICAL Hot car and pilot in smash-up (8)
This practice would be unfair in a venue where solvers expect all anagram fodder to be one continuous string. But once you know we might do this, you know to be on the lookout for it. Likewise, once solvers know that once in a while we mess with spacing in our clues, they get used to watching for that.
Here are some of our thoughts about what makes a fair Nation puzzle.
Some of it is about the way the entries cross each other:
• At least half the letters in each entry should be checked, except on rare occasions in the case of very long entries, where the ratio can drop slightly below half.
• There should not be consecutive unchecked letters.
• If an entry is obscure or its clue very difficult, the checked letters should be helpful. (For example, if the entry is DACE, it is the consonants that should be checked.)
• An entry which requires specialized knowledge (e.g. sports) should not cross another one with the same requirement, as that would make the crossing useless to those not familiar with this domain.
Some of it is about the relationship between an entry and its clue:
• An entry that would be obscure to many solvers needs a straightforward clue.
• A definition need not be very specific, as that could make the wordplay superfluous. But if it is very vague, the wordplay needs to be accessible.
Some of it is at the macro level of the whole puzzle:
• If a puzzle has some obscure entries and/or some difficult or unorthodox clues, this should be balanced with some easy or straightforward clues, typically anagrams and hidden words.
A general principle is that if some information is taken away from the solver, something must be given back. Often it just works that way. For example, clues that reference other clues offer less information to the solver. But some information is regained by going back and forth between those clues, and solving one helps solve the other. This even works in the case of two clues that reference each other. If, for example, the entries are anagrams of each other, getting some letters for one of them provides information about the other.
In the end, there are no hard and fast rules for fairness. We strive to be reasonably consistent, so that solvers know what to expect from us. We know that the level of difficulty of our puzzles varies from week to week, but we hope that we are never unfair.
Cluing challenge for this week: COUNTY FAIR. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.
This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
It’s lunchtime at a quiet bar and restaurant by Dublin’s River Liffey, and a man in his 30s walks in holding a copy of his résumé. He wants to leave it for management to look over.
“Sorry, waste of time,” the server says bluntly, raising her hand two feet off the counter. “I’ve résumés up to here behind the bar.”
The whole exchange takes maybe ten seconds, but the surrounding silence makes it an awkward one. As the man shuffles out, the expressions of the few patrons are full of sympathy, but not surprise. They soon turn back to their food.
Just a few years after the death of Ireland’s famous “Celtic Tiger” economy, Dublin is a different place. For the majority, it’s a lot harder to catch a break.
On this quiet December Tuesday, talk is dominated by the following day’s water charges protest, and how a €3 per week payment will bring tens of thousands onto the streets. In the free-wheeling days of a decade ago, many would have laughed at the idea. This, however, is a changed country.
In 2008, as Irish banks faced collapse, a calamitous blanket bank guarantee was agreed, which in turn had necessitated a €67-billion EU-IMF bailout by 2010. Years of pain followed, as taxpayer money was used to prop up speculators who had fueled a giant property-based bubble.
Since the implosion, Ireland has endured round after round of maddening austerity, but to the surprise of many, this inner anger hasn’t translated into rage in the streets, as it has elsewhere in Europe.
The official line is that this patience and understanding is now being rewarded. The country has since exited the bailout, and there are signs that a corner has been turned. Unemployment is at 11.3 percent, down from a high of 14.7 percent in 2012. It may even drop to around 9.7 percent this year. After surviving a series of regressive budgets, the country is back on its feet.
Yet now, after years of simply “getting on with it,” it looks as if a new plan to charge Irish residents some €160 per year for water could finally be the drop that spills the cup.
Almost from nowhere, people are digging in as the Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition government attempts to impose new water treatment and consumption charges on the public. Rallies are ongoing against the new semi-state body Irish Water, set up to satisfy EU-IMF demands.
As numbers grow, the protestors have an unlikely ally in their corner: the Detroit Water Brigade.
As Detroit has sunk into its own economic hell, this volunteer group has provided bottled water and rainwater barrels to embattled communities facing water shut-offs stemming from unpaid bills. Local activism has already squeezed certain concessions from authorities. In the long term, they’re pushing for an income-based ceiling on water charges for their city.
After bringing international attention to Detroit, the collective arrived in Dublin recently at the invitation of Right2Water, a gathering of Irish community groups, opposition politicians, and union leaders who oppose Ireland’s water plan. Not restricted to the capital, they toured the country to pass on lessons learned in Michigan.
The suburb of Crumlin is as “Dublin” as it gets. The night before the demo, the visitors are given a roaring welcome at a local sports hall, where a crowd hangs on their every word. The Americans offer solidarity, but they’re also taking an active role in preparations for the following day.
Detroit’s Makita Taylor, a mother of six, outlines her own experiences with water shut-offs, insisting the Irish must not take their government at its word when it says the same will not happen here.
“You have absolutely no reason to think it can’t happen to you,” she tells her audience.
“The government is banking on ignorance, so educate yourselves as you have been doing. Really encourage each other to care.”
In Detroit, water is publicly administered. However, as the city emerged from bankruptcy, striking deals with Water and Sewerage Department bondholders and chasing delinquent debts to quickly raise revenue became major priorities. An estimated one in five Detroit residents lives on $800 or less a month, but the average monthly water bill is now over $70, with the council recently approving an 8.7-percent hike. With many families unable to make those payments, water access has been cut off for thousands.
After a recent visit to the city, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported a crisis stemming from the surge in disconnections, with 27,000 water shut-offs in 2014 alone.
“We were deeply disturbed to observe the indignity people have faced and continue to live with in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and in a city that was a symbol of America’s prosperity,” the UN report read.
“We were also distressed to learn from the low-income African-American residents of the impossible choices they are being compelled to make—to either pay their rent or their medical bill, or to pay their water bill.”
Back in Ireland, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar made headlines when he said it “really bothers” him that people are protesting about what for many may amount to a €3 per week charge. There are “much bigger problems in Irish society,” he said, yet there is no bigger problem facing his government than water.
After protests in November 2014, the government made concessions, which included a climb-down on water metering. Single adult households are now slated to pay a basic €60, with every other household paying €160 (after €100 rebates are factored in). With metering set to apply above a certain quota, the original base figure had been estimated at €240. The flat rates will now remain in place until the end of 2018.
But the protestors are calling for the abolition of Irish Water altogether, not concessions. If they give a financial inch now, they say, a mile will be taken later. The government has promised Irish Water won’t be privatized, but the public smells a rat.
The government says water is leaking away at dizzying rates, and charges are needed to overhaul an antiquated system which has seen hundreds fall ill with cryptosporidium poisoning. They insist Irish Water’s rates are among the lowest in Europe. Those against, however, say they have long paid for their water as part of general taxation, and that people are now being forced to pay twice.
Compounding matters, the government assured people that Irish Water would be “a very cost-effective and lean operation,” but it has been anything but. Consultant fees have reached €85 million. The Irish Times recently pointed out that Irish Water spends some €81,000 a week on legal fees, enriching three Dublin law firms to the tune of €5 million since August 2013.
Questions have also been raised over the granting of lucrative contracts to install water meters nationwide, with the cost of the devices reaching €540 million, despite the fact that they now won’t be fully utilized for years.
Slowly, unrest has grown. Residents have confronted water workers, in some places blocking meter installations. So-called “meter fairies” have been removing meters from outside homes, and residents have appeared in court.
Since 2008, Irish people say it’s been all take and no give. Incomes have fallen dramatically, but taxes have ballooned, with various levies dreamed up to cover the bailout. The oft-repeated line is that Ireland enjoyed the good times, and therefore had to take its punishment, but cracks have slowly appeared in this argument.
“People were told they all partied,” says David Gibney of Right2Water. “And a lot of people believed that. But as time has gone on, you get the Anglo Tapes and all the rest of it coming out, and people say: ‘Hold on a second—that wasn’t me partying. [A small number of] people partied, and we have to pick up the bill.’”
The Anglo Tapes Gibney refers to are tape recordings that emerged in 2013, centered on the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, which began in 2008. In one phone call, two Anglo executives discuss a request for rescue funds from state coffers. Asked where he came up with an initial figure of €7 billion, one banker says to another that he “picked it out of my arse,” with the pair heard laughing about how the debt would never be paid back. Anglo famously went on to cost Irish taxpayers €30 billion.
The tapes caused uproar when released, but they did nothing for anyone’s bank balance, and the financial pain caused by such malpractice has continued.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan recently admitted that the Universal Social Charge, for example—which takes in €4.5 billion per year and was sold to taxpayers as a temporary measure—is now not likely to be abolished.
Rents and housing prices are again soaring—residential properties jumped 16.3 percent in the year to October 2014—but services have been shredded. The health system is in crisis. Although the collapse occurred under the previous government, the current coalition has broken a raft of election promises, not least on government “advisor” salaries. The perception is that insiders and cronies benefit at the expense of everyone else.
As the march kicks off, police report that a crowd of 30,000 has gathered, but organizers put the figure closer to 100,000. The truth is somewhere in between. Some protestors are arrested after a sit-in at O’Connell Bridge. A policeman is injured after an object is thrown, but things remain relatively peaceful.
At the main rally behind government buildings, which goes on all afternoon, independent left-wing MP Clare Daly takes to the stage and says those present are “living in a moment that changed Ireland.”
“Irish Water is already dead,” she says. “We are here to bury it.”
All walks of life are present, but some are more present than others. The Sinn Féin party has banners everywhere, and its figurehead, Gerry Adams, gets the rock-star treatment from a large section of the crowd when he appears. Some, though, bemoan the “hijacking” of the event by politicians who have next year’s general election in mind, if indeed a vote doesn’t come sooner.
Irish Water is not yet dead, and Ireland hasn’t really changed, despite Daly’s enthusiasm. Yet something is clearly stirring. Unconcerned by local squabbles, DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade is fired up when asked for his thoughts.
“Do not let them take this water,” he says. “Or else you will end up just like us. A lot of the things that have happened in Detroit will come to Ireland.
“When we were out in Crumlin and we saw the water meters being installed, [we said] ‘Why are you letting them put them in? Shut them down!’ And they stood with us. That was awesome. You are standing up for your children and for Ireland.”
Back on stage, local stars Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard belt out Brendan Behan’s famous song “The Auld Triangle.” Chatting afterwards, Oscar-winning singer Hansard gets to the point.
“Yes we voted in the government,” he says. “But there’s a growing sense of: ‘who are we voting in, and who are they supporting?’ Because it seems like they’re not supporting the people. We don’t mind paying our taxes, nobody does. It’s just…don’t take the piss.”
Reflecting after the dust settles, Right2Water’s Gibney feels the Detroit group’s visit was a massive boost, and says the trans-Atlantic cooperation will continue. An Irish visit to Michigan is being discussed.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say we have nothing in common with the people of Detroit,” he says.
“But the people who’ve spoken to them can see it’s exactly the same situation, it’s just that they’re twenty years ahead of us. They kept referring to themselves as the Ghost of Christmas Future from Scrooge, which made sense to a lot of people.”
“You have 1.7 million people in Ireland with less than €100 at the end of the month,” he goes on, using figures from the Irish League of Credit Unions. “And they’re told: ‘It’s only €3 a week’. [That’s] a lot to somebody who has no money, when their rent has just gone up 10.5 percent. You can only shake a can of Coke a certain amount before it explodes.”
One new poll has both government parties at their lowest ratings in a decade, with Fine Gael at 21 percent and its partner the Labour Party running at just 6 percent. An Irish Sunday Independent survey found that “less than two in five householders” have said they will eventually pay the revised fees. The protests, meanwhile, will go on.
“I think they’re on the run,” Gibney concludes. “Most of the time politicians can talk their way around things, but nobody is pulling the wool over people’s eyes on this issue.”
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In December of 2013, after years of being by turns bullied, vilified and ignored by the political establishment, Canada’s sex workers were vindicated with a landmark Supreme Court ruling that affirmed their right to engage in their trade. A year later, they were condemned again through a new law that purports to rescue them from immorality by ensnaring them in the state’s draconian social prohibitions.
The two-pronged purpose of the “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,” also known as C-36, is to protect sex workers from victimization and also to police their industry. Workers’ advocates say that the law’s “end demand” hardline reform framework trades workers’ dignity for a false concept of public safety.
Though one stated aim of the law, which went into effect in early December, is “Protecting those who sell their sexual services from exploitation,” Robyn Maynard, an activist with the Montreal-based sex workers’ group Stella tells The Nation that C-36 “is just rendering working conditions more difficult and more dangerous, trying to get people to leave the trade by making it so dangerous. But it’s certainly not about protection.”
While stopping short of directly outlawing commercial sex, C-36 bans the purchase of sex. A buyer may be penalized with fines of $500 or more, and up to five years of jail time. The goal of reducing “demand” for sexual services is sometimes presented as a relatively “humane” alternative approach to banning prostitution (and has inspired some policy experiments in the United States as well). According to the advocacy group Pivot Legal Society, however, “Targeting clients will displace sex workers to isolated areas where prospective customers are less likely to be detected by police. Sex workers will have little or no opportunity to screen their clients or negotiate the terms of the transaction, as there will be pressure from clients to proceed as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, the law’s restrictions on “communications” related to the sale of sex, including online and print advertising, according to Pivot, “will significantly limit sex workers’ ability to work safely indoors.” This could especially affect older workers who tend to advertise in traditional print outlets, rather than more freewheeling online spaces.
Since many are now unable to place ads in publications and thus have fewer avenues for arranging work, Maynard says, workers are being pushed into riskier situations: “The economic deprivation that resulted immediately after the law was passed was something that we felt very strongly at Stella, because people who had been putting their ads in papers for sometimes decades [were] calling in…all of a sudden having no access to safe working, and talking about maybe working on the streets.”
The streets are more hostile to sex work now as well, since the law bans sex workers from areas where children could “reasonably” be expected to be present, such as a “playground or daycare centre.” This effectively walls off swaths of public space to avoid “exposing” kids to sex workers’ presence.
Despite narrowly tolerating the nominal “right” to sell sex as an individual, the law broadly restricts sex workers from collaborating in a business arrangement or working collectively, potentially destabilizing them further and weakening their control over their working conditions.
Pivot Legal says the law could cut off workers’ access to security personnel or support staff, who might also be criminalized, and could “capture many safety-enhancing relationships with third parties (such as managers, drivers, and booking agents).”
The workers most vulnerable to aggressive policing are the most marginalized, often poor, transgender, migrants, or people of color—people whose backgrounds make them socially invisible and who now face banishment from public space. In a letter of protest to Canada’s Minister of Justice, Pivot cited a climate of criminalization and stigma that has historically fostered “an epidemic of violence against sex workers in [British Columbia] communities.”
A recent report on the victimization of indigenous women in Canada, submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, detailed a string of murders of women, including sex workers, in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side during the 1990s. Risks of attack were reportedly exacerbated by police indifference.
Family members coming from small communities have described dismissive attitudes from police officers working on their cases…. many families of missing and murdered indigenous women complained that police officers did not take their reports seriously and frequently stereotyped the women as transient.
The investigators noted that “women, particularly sex workers, indicated that they don’t feel safe reporting assaults to the authorities.” The Vancouver police have since enacted reforms to ensure more respectful and sensitive treatment of sex workers. Recently, the Vancouver city government criticized C-36, stating that it “undermines the health and safety of sex workers,” and that the city would apply discretion in enforcing the law, in part to conserve resources for more serious cases—such as actual assaults or coercion of sex workers.
While sex-worker activists are heartened by local authorities’ resistance to C-36, activists are pushing for a formal legal review. For now, Monica Valiquette, a sex-worker advocate with PIECE Edmonton, says via e-mail, “we shudder at the thought that there will be some sex workers who will suffer and perhaps even pay with their lives while the slow machine that is our court system grinds through the process of striking this law.”
And naturally, the other side of discretion is the potential for abuse of power. “It is good news to hear that they’re not going to be applying C-36 in its entirety…but sex workers weren’t asking just for the police to have the discretion to apply the law as they wanted,” Maynard says. “What sex-worker organizations like Stella were asking for was for these laws not to be written.”
Sex work is a unique form of precarious labor, constantly demanded, but always invisible, and often culturally despised. The laws that criminalize sex workers demarcate the line between “their world”—of liminality and “transience”—and “ours”—of safe streets and warm homes. The government’s focus on policing that line limits workers’ power—the power they need to push beyond those boundaries, and secure their own economic and civic freedom.
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What looks like Code Pink getting pretty close to Kissinger in Chairman McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “global threats and national security strategy.” But they shouldn’t have let George Schultz and Madeline Albright off the hook. Schultz for bombing Libya, Albright for Iraq, Kissinger for, well, everything. The Three Bombardiers. Everybody is tripping over themselves claiming Kissinger as a “dear friend.” Albright in particular sounds like a parady of herself. H/T Paula Chakravartty.
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