Former head of Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivering remarks at the Center for American Progress in 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
For the second time now, there’s a crucial bill called the Trust Act sitting before California Governor Jerry Brown for approval. The bill would essentially put a halt to the way that immigrants are targeted and criminalized for deportation under a program called Secure Communities. That program grew into a major cog of the federal government’s deportation machine—largely under the leadership of Janet Napolitano, who headed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But Napolitano has left Washington and is currently enjoying an appointment as the head of the University of California. And now, she’s told a group of students that she supports the Trust Act.
Secure Communities requires that local officials turn over the fingerprints of everyone who is arrested or processed through a jail or prison to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. If that person is deemed a threat to national security or the public, the agency issues what’s called a detainer, which instructs local jails and prisons to hold the immigrant in question for up to forty-eight weekday hours, until that person can placed into ICE custody. Secure Communities was stared by the Bush administration in late 2008—but it didn’t really take off until President Obama came into office. As DHS Secretary, Napolitano made sure the program was made mandatory for all jurisdictions. Today, more than 3,000 counties have no choice but to participate. But the program is fraught with problems.
Although detainers are set to expire after two working days, that doesn’t always happen. These forty-eight-hour detainers last much longer—and can even take months. The cost to feed and house the immigrant that ICE has requested a detainer for is placed on the local jurisdiction, leaving cash-strapped counties alone to carry the financial burden of a federal request. And the nature of the crimes that the person for whom a detainer is issued for is nearly always negligible. According to the latest preliminary data revealed by TRAC, less than 11 percent of the people for whom ICE detainers are issued for present a threat to national security or to public safety. In fact, the overwhelming majority of ICE detainers have been issued for people who haven’t been convicted of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
The result on immigrant communities is devastating enough—but it’s not just non-citizens who are being directly affected. Although detainers are meant issued exclusively for immigrants, the practice has also been extended to hold citizens. Just this year Gerardo Gonzales, a US-born citizen, was held on an ICE detainer hold for six months. He was released only after he filed a lawsuit.
Although the name suggests that Secure Communities is about keep people safe, it’s had the opposite effect. At best, the program overwhelmingly targets immigrants who haven’t been convicted of any crime for detention and deportation, and it’s costly to counties that are still recovering from the recession. At worst, it’s a program that has violated the constitution by holding citizens without grounds—not for a day or two, but for months.
California’s Trust Act seeks to change the course of Secure Communities. Currently, ICE detainers are not warrants issued by judges, but requests issued by arbitrary standards. Under the Trust Act, counties will decline to hold people for whom ICE detainers have been issued for, unless that individual has been convicted of a serious or violent crime, such as child abuse or murder. When the Trust Act was passed by California lawmakers and placed before him a year ago, Governor Brown declined to sign it. His office apparently worked with lawmakers to craft a new version that would suit Brown’s criteria, and a new bill was passed. Brown, however, has so far failed to sign the bill into law. There is no solid indication whether he will or he won’t. In the meantime, California continues to needlessly cooperate with Secure Communities.
As DHS head, Napolitano gave Secure Communities teeth with which to tear families apart. But now, Napolitano says she’s supporting the Trust Act, and has even told Brown to sign the bill. But she has yet to make her statement public. Even if she does, it will only halt Secure Community’s disastrous effects in one state. If Napolitano truly wants to begin to repair her legacy on immigration and deportation, she can begin by publicly supporting the Trust Act—and publically condemning the program she worked so hard to create.
Laura Flanders looks at the implications of California’s new Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.
Yesterday, Harvard President Drew Faust issued a public statement explaining why the university will not divest from the fossil fuel industry. Renowned climate activist Tim DeChristopher, newly arrived at Harvard Divinity School after serving a two-year federal sentence for peaceful civil disobedience, is now a member of the “Harvard community” addressed by Faust. I wrote about Tim in an essay called “The New Abolitionists,” but we met in person for the first time only this week. We had a good conversation yesterday about divestment and Harvard, and just after we spoke, we learned that Faust had issued her statement. Tim immediately wrote a concise and powerful response to Faust, and I asked him if I could post it here. It’s worth noting that Tim indicts the industry in much the same terms I used in my divestment speech at Harvard on September 16: crimes against humanity.
* * *
Drew Faust seeks a position of neutrality in a struggle where the powerful only ask that people like her remain neutral. She says that Harvard’s endowment shouldn’t take a political position, and yet it invests in an industry that spends countless millions on corrupting our political system. In a world of corporate personhood, if she doesn’t want that money to be political, she should put it under her mattress. She has clearly forgotten the words of Paolo Freire: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral.” Or as Howard Zinn put succinctly, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
She touts all the great research on climate change that is done at Harvard, but she ignores the fact that the fossil fuel industry actively works to suppress or distort every one of those efforts. To seriously suggest that any research will solve the climate crisis while we continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to maintain a stranglehold on our democracy is profoundly naive. Faust never admits whether or not she agrees with the basic science of the carbon budget, which is the foundation of the understanding that the current reserves of the fossil fuel industry cannot be burned without condemning us to an unlivable future. If she accepts the science, she should explain how her plan of cooperation will convince the industry to leave those assets in the ground.
Faust’s claim that the university should not divest while it continues to consume fossil fuels obfuscates the fact that divestment is about undermining the political power of the fossil fuel industry. Energy is a market driven not by consumers but by political influence, yet Faust alludes to the worn out old argument that the consumers of fossil fuels don’t have a right to object to the crimes against humanity committed by an industry that uses political leverage to prevent alternatives. As a historian of the Civil War, surely Faust knows that the exact same argument was made to defend slavery, an energy source that was once every bit as vital to our economy as fossil fuels are today.
The students’ call for divestment was a call for help by the young people who will reap the consequences of the climate crisis. The industry committed to ruining our future simply asked Faust to stay out of it. There is no way for someone in a position of influence to not take a side in such a situation. That’s why leadership is no place for a coward. By turning her back on those calling for help, Faust absolutely took a side. I strongly suspect that time will show that she chose the wrong side of history. When our generation writes Drew Faust into the history books, being not as bad as Larry Summers will not suffice as a position of honor. Harvard needs leaders better able to see beyond their own time, and the students who will continue to push for divestment are a great example.
Wen Stephenson on why Harvard should divest from the fossil fuel industry.
Inmates are housed in three-tier bunks in what was once a multi-purpose recreation room at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“With 2.3 Million People Incarcerated in the US, Prisons Are Big Business,” by Liliana Segura. The Nation, October 1, 2013.
Liliana Segura calls attention to a new video series “Prison Profiteers,” a collaboration between Beyond Bars, the ACLU and The Nation that exposes the businesses and people who are most enriched by a thriving Prison Industrial Complex. She goes on to reveal some of the groups that have a vested interest in keeping prison cells full, including a callously exploitive telephone service provider, a criminally negligent prison healthcare company and—most outrageous of all—a private prison corporation that asks its clientele of governors to "keep their [prison] facilities up to ninety percent full" in exchange for its services.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“The Ethic of Marginal Value,” by Peter Frase. Jacobin, October 1, 2013.
Frase picks apart the mainstream-economics response to the conundrum, as formulated by David Graeber, that "the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it" (think of nurses versus advertisers). In so doing, he casts marginal utility theory as an ethical theory rather than the empirical description of the world it purports to be.
—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.
“If It Happened There ... the Government Shutdown,” by Joshua Keating. Slate, September 30, 2013.
This brilliant, thought-provoking piece parodies the way the American media portray events taking place in other countries by applying the same rhetoric they typically use exclusively when writing about others to the current crisis in Washington DC. It’s as entertaining as it is insightful.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“A Conversation With Meagan Hatcher-Mays About The ‘Baby Veronica’ Case,” by Mallory Ortberg. The Toast, September 27, 2013.
Co-editor of The Toast Mallory Ortberg interviewed law student Heather Hatcher-Mays about the backlash against an article she wrote about Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (a.k.a. the Baby Veronica case) for Jezebel a few months back that sided with the biological parents. The Jezebel article was published before the Supreme Court decision was handed down in June, but the interview gets into the dirty details of the transracial adoption case and ensuing custody battle between the Cherokee father of the child and her white adoptive parents. What is, perhaps, most surprising and nasty about the case was the public's championing of the adoptive parents. As Matcher-Mays points out, "the way the media has characterized ICWA as it relates to this case has been insane. Like it’s a 'loophole' or a 'technicality.' But this is exactly the type of situation ICWA is supposed to prevent."
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“Can Mayors Really Save the World?” by Emma Green. The Atlantic Cities, September 23, 2013.
Take this week’s government shutdown as the ultimate example: our national political system is broken. As a way around the morass of mass governance, a growing number of activist mayors (i.e. Bloomberg, Booker, Newsom) are working to address complex issues such as immigration reform, gay marriage and global warming by implementing concrete policies in their own cities. “Glocalists”—the unfortunate moniker for the theorists, scholars and politicians advocating this sort of smaller-scale local action—insist that because city residents are politically invested in their surrounding communities and share common concerns (rising sea levels in New York City, abandoned homes in Detroit, public education in Philly), it is easier to carry out positive change without getting bogged down in partisan squabbles.
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“Northwestern’s Journalism Program Offers Students Internships with Prestige, But No Paycheck,” by Kara Brandeisky. ProPublica, October 1, 2013.
Kara Brandeisky spearheads Propublica's #ProjectIntern this week with the first installment in a series that will dive deep into the US intern economy and attempt to personalize and problematize the current conversation. Northwestern's journalism program, Brandeisky finds, has channeled students towards internships as a graduation requirement since 1989. Yet how these on-the-job experiences compare to the academic training students are actually paying tuition for and consequently missing out on is at best a fuzzy question and at worst a source of crass exploitation. One of the more meta aspects of the investigation is that it's being designed and conducted by Propublica's own reporting interns, one of whom is about to embark on a cross-country trip to find out what interns really do and whether the financial payoff can be quantified.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Faces of Addiction,” Chris Arnade. Flickr.
“Ted Cruz and Obamacare critics clearly don't get it,” by Chris Arnade. The Guardian, October 2, 2013.
Former Wall Street banker (see his piece in this week’s Guardian about that here) turned activist photographer Chris Arnade’s Flickr page of photographs of addicts in the Hunt’s Point section of the Bronx is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. His October 2 piece in The Guardian is a reminder of the cruel realities of healthcare for many US Citizens, and especially those who are the most vulnerable: the poor and the addicted. He contrasts wealthy senators and congressmen who can afford great healthcare making legislation with the powerful story of a heroin addict’s attempt to get treatment in a place with “nasty doctors and nurses who treat you like shit.” Arnade’s work traces the lives of people who have been forgotten by society and live at the margins. This used to be one of the functions of traditional papers and magazines—to give us ‘slices of life’ different to our own. But now the stories of people who are not wealthy or powerful rarely break the surface, and I think this deficit has surely engendered much of the intolerance and intransigence we see in people’s political opinions.
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.
“Latin America's Pacific Alliance liberalizes trade,” by Manuela Badawy. Reuters, September 25, 2013.
Four key Latin American countries consolidated free trade agreements and encouraged Wall Street investment last week at a summit meeting in New York City. Embracing Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, the Pacific Alliance has moved towards breaking down commercial and financial barriers between member countries. The latest summit announced the elimination of 90 percent of all trade restrictions between member states, with much or all of the remaining tariffs to be eliminated in less than a decade. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that two days after the summit, and one after the official announcement of its results, Franklin Templeton Investments tweeted their enthusiasm, and a game plan, for opportunities in the region.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“My Detainment Story or: How I learned to Stop Feeling Safe in My Own Country and Hate Border Agents,” by Sarah Abdurrahman. On the Media, September 20, 2013.
On the way back from her cousin's wedding near Toronto, Sarah Abdurrahman was detained for six hours without explanation by US Border Patrol agents in Niagara Falls. As her account demonstrates, border agents regularly violate the civil liberties of both citizens and non-citizens alike, and the agency operates with virtually no oversight or accountability.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“Sex imperialism,” by Scott Long. A Paper Bird, September 24, 2013.
This important piece provides the context for the Equality Now campaign urging the UN to retract support for sex workers and their rights. With sex work and human trafficking being so often and erroneously conflated in policy, public understanding and even some women's rights communities, Scott Long's piece breaks down the power politics behind the "waning impulses of absolutist Western feminism" and how it endangers the freedom and safety of workers and activists.
For solvers, the hidden-word clue is simultaneously the easiest and (potentially) the hardest type of clue in the cryptic arsenal. Like the title document in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story “The Purloined Letter,” the answer is right before the solver’s eyes all along, which can make it either easy to spot or infuriatingly easy to overlook—or both.
That duality is what gives the solving of a hidden-word clue its unique emotional charge. Cracking other clues, after all, is generally a two-stage process—the solver has to figure out what type of clue he or she is dealing with, and then go ahead and act on that knowledge. That process can stall at any point. It’s very common, for instance, to be aware that a clue involves an anagram but still not able to come up with a correct solution right away.
Solving a hidden-word clue, by contrast, is all about detecting the clue type, through such indicators as “found in,” “runs through” or “concealed by.” Once you’ve done that, finding the answer is straightforward to the point of triviality. So when a hidden-word clue resists for any length of time, there’s a head-slapping moment that all cryptic aficionados are familiar with. The answer was right there all along!
From a constructor’s standpoint, a hidden-word clue—especially for a short answer of no more than 5 or 6 letters—can be seductively easy to come up with. So we generally try to use them in a handful of circumstances: when the answer word can be hidden in an interesting way, or when the clue gives a smooth surface, or as a last resort when other clueing strategies fail. Here are some examples of hidden-word clues from past puzzles:
ACTS OUT In fact, Southerner misbehaves (4,3)
AGITATO With a jittery manner, it’s essential to flag it at once (7)
ALPHA Beginning part of crucial phase (5)
NAURU Country on Argentina-Uruguay border (5)
PINTO BEAN Legume is ingredient of soup, in to be a nutrient (5,4)
Hidden-word clues can be done in reverse as well, as in these examples:
MADNESS Lunatics send a message back, concealing mental instability (7)
PENCIL Left-leaning Catholic nephew embraces writer (6)
VIRTUOSOS In retrospective, Picasso’s outrivaled masters of technique (9)
As you can see, most (though not all) hidden-word clues tend to be suitable for short answer words. But we did pull off one supersized hidden word, expressly aimed at Nation readers:
ERIC ALTERMAN INation columnist captivated by chimerical term: “Antineoliberalism” (4,8)
Do you have any favorite hidden-word clues? 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.
Representative Keith Ellison and other members of Congress rally outside the US Capitol against cuts to social insurance programs on October 3, 2013. Photo by George Zornick.
We’ve seen this movie before: Republicans force a showdown in Congress over funding the government, the debt ceiling or, in the present case, both. Then a “grand bargain” is proposed to solve the impasse—one that includes serious reductions to social insurance programs.
That’s just how the GOP would like the current drama to play out. Wednesday, National Review’s Robert Costa reported that House Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan are rallying nervous Republicans by telling them that while Obamacare may not end up getting defunded, GOP leadership is cooking up another big budget deal that includes cuts to the safety net so cherished by many conservative members. “It’s the return of the grand bargain,” one member told Costa. “Ryan is selling this to everybody; he’s getting back to his sweet spot,” said another.
In particular, Costa mentioned Chained CPI as one component of the emerging proposal. This, you may recall, is a cut to Social Security benefits dressed up as a ostensibly “more accurate” recalibration of the formula used to adjust benefits to inflation. (It’s not.)
Democrats, from the White House to Congress, are taking a hard line so far. President Obama reiterated this morning that he will not abide GOP hostage-taking, and wants a clean resolution to reopen the government and a clean increase of the debt ceiling. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi are on the same page.
This has left some progressives a little nervous—a debt-ceiling increase with the promise of a grand bargain and a grand bargain that includes a debt-ceiling increase is a distinction without much difference, except the notable removal of some leverage from the GOP side. And President Obama has repeatedly proposed Chained CPI in the past, and it would clearly be in play once during any broad discussions of a deficit reduction package.
Thursday morning, more than twenty liberal members of the House gathered outside the US Capitol, along with a large group of retirees and other activists. The message was simple: they will not support cuts to Social Security or other safety net programs.
The press conference took on the air of a campaign event, with passionate speeches and colorful placards, and culminating in a “human chain” of members of Congress and retirees holding hands across the Capitol lawn and singing protest songs.
“Folks are scurrying around here, trying to figure out how to end the shutdown. And sometimes I’ve heard [Democrats] say ‘You know, maybe we should give them something.’” said Representative Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Some folks say ‘We’ll give you Chained CPI.’”
“No way! No way!” Ellison shouted into the microphones. “Open up the government. Put a clean CR on. Stop this austerity…. The way we hang together here is we make sure nobody, but nobody, gets sold out in exchange for Republicans doing their job, which is funding the government.”
Many of the members, now veterans of repeated standoffs and grand bargain proposals, said they believe the real prize for the GOP is safety net cuts.
“There is a basic, basic attack going on in this country against so-called entitlements. That’s what this fight is all about. That’s what the budget fight is all about,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler. “This has got to be fought, and it’s shameful if any Democrats, no matter where he or she may be, buys into any of this.”
Their efforts are being bolstered by renewed pushes from outside advocacy groups. On Wednesday, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare released a study examining how much money Chained CPI might take away from seniors and people with disabilities—and also suck out of the economy. The study uses the Obama administration’s most recent proposal on Chained CPI, and found that it would reduce benefits nationwide by $23 billion by 2023. That translates to a loss of over $31 billion in economic output by that time.
The study also breaks down the benefit cuts each congressional district—and also projects what the economic cost would be. The idea is to use the numbers as a cudgel against wavering members.
For example, in the Maryland district of Representative Steny Hoyer, who did not take a position on Chained CPI when Obama proposed it in his budget this spring, the report shows that $38.3 million in benefits would be taken from his constituents by 2023. That translates to as much as $80.5 million in lost output in that district alone.
The relatively large number of progressive members present at the event was significant because any budget deal is almost certain to face a razor-thin vote, with a chunk of Republicans likely to vote against any sort of deal endorsed by the president. The votes represented at the rally will be needed. But the members said they will not be forthcoming, neither in the shutdown talks nor afterwards.
“I will oppose and I will urge my colleagues to oppose a switch to the Chained CPI,” said Representative Elijah Cummings. “We should not reduce the retirement income that our seniors, retired veterans, and public service have earned and deserved—for any reason whatsoever.”
Britain's opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband. (Reuters/UK Parliament via Reuters TV)
London—On the weekend before the Conservative Party conference, on a day when the Tory press would normally beat the drums for the latest tax cut for the rich or a new scheme to punish the poor, why would Britain’s Daily Mail instead focus its considerable firepower on the corpse of Ralph Miliband—an academic at the London School of Economics who has been dead since 1994? As the playground bully of British politics, the Mail’s editor Paul Dacre has long been famed for both his temper—his frequent resort to the “c” word during Mail news meetings caused staffers to dub them the “Vagina Monologues”—and his iron grip on the mentality of Middle England. Unlike Rupert Murdoch, who was perfectly willing to be courted by Tony Blair—and whose papers backed New Labour—the Daily Mail has always been a proud beacon of British reaction.
But there was still something odd about the paper, during a week when the Conservatives were desperate for press attention, launching a full-bore attack not on Labour party leader (and former Nation intern) Ed Miliband but on his father. Under the headline “The Man Who Hated Britain,” the Mail described Ralph Miliband, a Belgian refugee from the Holocaust who fled to Britain in 1940 at the age of 16 and served three years in the Royal Navy, as a man with “a giant-sized social chip on his shoulder” who loathed his adoptive country.
The article’s thesis—that “Red Ed’s pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father”—was laughable. Ralph Miliband’s 1961 classic Parliamentary Socialism is a savage indictment of the futility of trying to bring about significant change through the British Labour Party. By choosing parliamentary careers, both his sons rejected their father’s worldview. As Ed commented last week: “My father’s strongly left wing views are well known, as is the fact that I have pursued a different path and I have a different vision.” Nor would Ralph’s own politics—a blend of Marxist skepticism of the intellect and social democratic optimism of the will—actually make him much of a red bogey-man. As the more genteel, but equally right-leaning Daily Telegraph noted in Ralph’s obituary, “Though committed to socialism, he never hesitated to criticise its distortion by Stalin and other dictators.”
So what was the attack—which largely rested on a quotes from a diary entry written when Ralph was 17—really about? Politically, it seems obvious that after two years spent dismissing Ed Miliband as ineffectual, and a summer in which the right-wing press clung heroically to the fiction that the Labour Party was about to indulge in an orgy of schism and self-destruction, the attack represented a desperate attempt to dislodge the inconvenient truth noted by The Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan back in August: “Labour has had a poll lead over the Tories from the moment Miliband was elected leader.” And by any rational calculus Labour remain the clear favorites to win the next general election.
Recent weeks have only underlined the Tories’ difficulties. The British economy, though technically out of recession, still stubbornly refuses to behave as chancellor George Osborn promised it would. Instead of delivering growth in time for the May 2015 election, the Tories now have to sell the public on seven more years of austerity! David Cameron’s personal appeal remains reasonably strong—but even that minority of Britons who didn’t agree with Ed Miliband’s successful move to block Britain from rushing to war in Syria now see him as a strong leader. Perhaps most worrying of all for the Tories and their friends in the press, the two signature policies unveiled by Miliband at the Labour Party conference earlier this month—a freeze on energy prices for two years and a promise to force property developers to build on the land they’ve been holding or force losing it to government confiscation—have both proved wildly popular with the public. Despite valiant efforts by both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express to suggest that such measures would send Britain back to the darkest days of the 1970s, British voters, who have experienced an actual wage cut for as long as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government have been in power, simply weren’t buying. Even The Spectator’s exclusive revelation that Ed Miliband, when asked recently by a Labour activist “When will you bring back Socialism?” replied “That’s what we are doing. It says on our party card: democratic socialism” has not been enough to frighten the horses.
But if the politics of the smear are straightforward, the cultural meaning is more complicated—and much nastier. Miliband himself, feeling a line had been crossed (perhaps by the Mail’s use of a photo of his father’s headstone with the caption “grave socialist”), demanded a right to reply. The Mail duly obliged—only to re-run the offending article on the same page as his reply, along with an editorial attacking Miliband’s “evil legacy and why we won’t apologise.”
Paul Dacre was never going to back off. Indeed the paper followed up a few days later with a classic red-baiting attack on Stalin’s “left-wing British apologists” that struggled to link Ralph Miliband to the gulag. However even Dacre must have been surprised by the outrage his paper has provoked—not just among Labour supporters but by Tory grandees such as Michael Heseltine (John Major’s deputy prime minister) and John Moore, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. Lord Moore, a former student of Ralph Miliband’s at the LSE, accused the Daily Mail of “telling lies.” Even David Cameron, though careful not to criticize the Mail, said “if someone attacked my dad I would do the same thing,” while Liberal Democrat leader (and former Nation intern) Nick Clegg tweeted his support.
Interestingly, the Twitterverse was also the setting for a furious debate that has only broken into print today—namely about how much anti-Semitism was a factor in the Mail’s attack. The Jewish Chronicle, a paper that, like the bulk of its readers, tends to lean rightwards in British politics, detected “a whiff of anti-Semitism.” Perhaps I’m being touchy, but it seemed stronger than that to me. Of course the Mail was careful—the initial attack was written by a hack named Levy, and when it was challenged by the BBC the paper but up not Dacre but a Jewish deputy editor, Jon Steafel, to defend it. (Though even Steafel eventually admitted that the use of Ralph Miliband’s grave was “an error of judgement”).
Levy’s article may have looked like a political hatchet job, but it relied for its emotional force on an appeal to a set of tropes and associations—Jewish Marxist, refugee intellectual, rootless cosmopolitan—that come right out of Der Stürmer. Or, as several commentators have pointed out, the Daily Mail of the 1930s, when Viscount Rothermere, the current publisher’s great-grandfather, backed Oswald Mosley’s Fascist blackshirts in Britain, applauded Hitler’s rise in Germany, and penned a personal paean to “the sturdy brown-shirted young men—and their brown-frocked girl helpers—who have taken over the rulership of Germany”!
As the novelist Linda Grant observed: “For Ralph Miliband to fight for Britain was not enough (actually, it was barely mentioned in the original piece). He had to bend his knee in obeisance to his adopted country. Surrender free speech and opinion. And his son inherits his ‘bad blood’, as another old anti-Semitic trope has it.”
Does the Daily Mail’s reversion to type mark a daring new departure for the “dog whistle” racism long favored by David Cameron’s election strategist Lynton Crosby? Or will the backlash against the Mail campaign actually spike that once deadly weapon? Stay tuned…
(Licensed through Creative Commons. Courtesy of Wikimedia user haxorjoe.)
Early this week I posted here about a seemingly oft-kilter (and in some ways disgraceful) New York Times piece, which sat at the top of its homepage for quite a while.
The article carried a provocative headline and subheds (one claiming the damage was worse than that caused by Edward Snowden). And it was lightly, and anonymously, sourced. As I wrote:
Yesterday morning the top story at the New York Times site reported on US analysts feeling that the early-August leak to the media on how Al Qaeda communicates had done more to harm our anti-terrorism effort than anything revealed by Edward Snowden. You remember: we briefly closed some of our embassies, for starters.
And the Times quickly recounted how it refused to publish the names that were key in the information, at the request of the government, and only did so after our security folks had given them clearance—after the McClatchy news outlet went with it.
The next day I followed up with McClatchy’s heated response.
Now the Times’s fine public editor Margaret Sullivan has added her prominent voice, in a blog post at the paper that takes the reporter and editor to task. Its title: “An Unacceptable Headline Atop a Questionable Article.” (Yes, she links to my piece.)
It’s hard to know where to start with the lead article in Monday’s Times. In it, anonymous government sources—described in the vaguest possible way (for example, “one United States official”)—are unquestioningly allowed to play their favorite press-bashing hand, featuring the national security card. In so doing, they seem to take a swipe at a news organization that competes with The Times….
After all, I’m on the record, repeatedly and perhaps tiresomely, about: 1) the overuse of anonymous sources; 2) setting the bar too low for agreeing to government requests to withhold information (despite some recent encouraging signs to the contrary); 3) the tendency to treat non-Times journalistic efforts with a lack of respect.
The paper’s copy director admits in a note that the headline was a mistake. But Sullivan adds, “That’s a good start in addressing the problems of this article, its sourcing and its placement.” Perhaps that means she will return to that attack on McClatchy in an update or separate post. UPDATE: She has now received a comment from an editor claiming piece was not meant to be a dig at McClatchy.
Yesterday morning the top story at the New York Times site reported on US analysts’ feeling that the early-August leak to the media on how Al Qaeda communicates had done more to harm our anti-terrorism effort than anything revealed by Edward Snowden. You remember: we briefly closed some of our embassies, for starters.
And the Times quickly recounted how it refused to publish the names that were key in the information, at the request of the government, and only did so after our security folks had given them clearance—after the McClatchy news outlet went with it.
Greg Mitchell unpacks the increasingly heated New York Times-McClatchy leaks dispute.
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio holds up the hand of his wife, Chirlane McCray, as he pronounced her as the future New York first lady during an event with supporters in Manhattan, August 18, 2013. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)
After establishing that NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is a “Marxist communist with a history of supporting terrorism,” (as Glenn Beck did this week), how much farther can the right-wing media go?
Well, knowing them, they’ll be sorely tempted to go after de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, and paint her as an “angry black woman,” who has (as Beck once said of Barack Obama), “a deep-seated hatred of white people.”
The precedent is there: Remember how the right hammered Michelle Obama during the 2008 campaign for saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country,” (a remark she later put into context) and for supposedly spouting off about “whitey” in a video (which turned out to be a hoax).
In a front-page profile in yesterday’s New York Times, McCray comes across as a fascinating, dynamic woman. But to the right, the narrative of her life is ripe for distortion. Growing up, she was the victim of frequent, vicious racism; and for the Becks and Limbaughs of this world the real crime of racism is that it makes black people want retribution.
She was the seventh-grader too frightened to stand in front of the room because her white classmates would mock her, contorting their mouths to make their lips look big. She was the smoldering teenager who took to writing poems every day to wrestle with her isolation and anger. She was the eldest daughter of one of the only black families in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, who arrived home to see their new house scrawled with racist graffiti.
McCray goes on to become a poet and part of the “Combahee River Collective, an influential collection of black feminist intellectuals, many of them gay,” like her. She met de Blasio at City Hall, where they both worked for Mayor David Dinkins. Bill wooed Chirlane relentlessly. Reluctant to label her sexuality, she said late last year, “In the 1970′s, I identified as a lesbian and wrote about it. In 1991, I met the love of my life, married him, and together we’ve raised two amazing kids.”
Now in the mayoral race, McCray is a top dog, “a mastermind,” the Times writes, “behind the biggest political upset of the year.” Political meetings are planned around her schedule. She sits in on job interviews for top advisers. She edits all key speeches (aides are known to e-mail drafts straight to her).
McCray and de Blasio are as much a package deal as Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, a reality etched into the campaign hierarchy affixed to a wall of the de Blasio political headquarters. It lists “Bill/Chirlane” above a sprawling team of aides.
She may even one-up Hillary: She acknowledges feeling so passionately in 2002 about which way her husband would vote on the next City Council speaker she threatened to divorce him if he backed the wrong candidate.
He sided with his wife.
In other words, if the “angry black woman” charge doesn’t fly, the right could always reposition Chirlane as a ballbuster who controls Bill’s every move—which would neatly position the big guy as a major wimp.
Of course, such twisted depictions may not surface, or they may burp up only in the national media—Fox, hate radio, Drudge. The local wolves, like the New York Post, will have to tread more coyly. After all, this is New York, which will champion Chirlane and Bill’s equal relationship (though let’s hope not as “Billane”). Anyway, de Blasio won the Democratic primary in every borough and won big.
Oh, Glenn Beck has a theory to explain that, too. The Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, see, was “just a distraction,” used to divert media coverage so that “a guy that slipped in that nobody paid attention to, Bill de Blasio” could turn New York City into a communist terrorist utopia.
“I think this theory,” Beck says, “might, um, hold water.”
Leslie Savan calls out the media’s uneven reporting on de Blasio and Lhota’s ideological histories.
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibusters an abortion bill in June. (AP/Eric Gay)
Yes, Wendy Davis is making an uphill run for governor of Texas.
She’s a progressive, pro-choice woman with a dramatic personal story, who made her name fighting the powers that be. As such, she does not fit the currently accepted image of a winning statewide candidate in a place where, as Molly Ivins noted, there has been a tendency to elect “good ol’ boy” governors.
But Davis has some history on her side.
And that history counters the narrative of those who would write her off.
If Davis gets Texas voters excited, if she gets them to engage—and re-engage—her candidacy could change the politics of the Lone Star State. A win would be transformational. A strong showing would be transitional.
The key to the calculus is the excitement factor. Can the woman who this spring excited tens of thousands of Texans enough to get them to come to the state capitol to back her filibuster of an assault on reproductive rights now excite hundreds of thousands who don’t usually cast ballots in off-year elections to come vote?
It has happened before.
Less than a quarter-century ago, a populist coalition led by a bold Democratic woman who boldly promised a new politics and a “new Texas” won the governorship. And they did so by boosting turnout, especially among the historically neglected and disenfranchised voters that formed the candidate’s base.
In the gubernatorial election of 1990, Ann Richards replaced a two-term Republican governor, Bill Clements, and beat an exceptionally well-funded and well-connected Republican nominee, Clayton Williams.
The 2014 race to replace retiring Governor Rick Perry is the first open-seat Texas gubernatorial contest since 1990.
If 2014 is a Republican wave year—like 1994, when Richards was removed from office by a Republican upstart named George Bush, or like 2010—then Davis will have a very hard time. To deny that would be foolish.
But if 2014 is a more typical election year—and especially if it is an election year that sees turnout spike among young voters, African-Americans, Latinos and women—it would be foolish to dismiss Davis.
As foolish as it was to dismiss Ann Richards.
Back in 1990, Richards was—like Davis today—an outspoken state official who had made a name by challenging Democratic insiders and Republican money interests. She faced a tough primary to get the party nod, with fellow Democrats suggesting there was just no way Texans were going to elect a woman who absolutely and unequivocally defended the rights of women—especially their reproductive rights—and who was serious about empowering communities that had traditionally been neglected.
The Democratic primary and run-off in 1990 were vicious affairs, with opponents attacking Richards in the crudest and most personal ways. They didn’t just suggest that she was too liberal; one foe ran TV ads that suggested she was “soft” on capital punishment, while another accused her of having drug problems.
Richards won a brutal Democratic runoff race, but she went into the general election with a divided party and a deficit in her campaign treasury. Her Republican foe, Williams, was on the attack and, while he bumbled at several turns, he was rich enough to “own” the airwaves—outspending the Democrat two to one.
Yet, when the votes were counted, Richards won by a 100,000-vote margin, for a 49-47 finish.
What was her secret?
Ann Richards ran as Ann Richards. She was didn’t pull punches or tailor her message to fit the demands of campaign consultants.
Richards was proudly pro-choice. She promised to veto legislation that attempted to limit access to reproductive health services. Her campaign proudly circulated a letter from pro-choice activists that identified the Democrat as a champion in the struggle to defend abortion rights.
Richards defended voting rights. She advocated for low-income Texans and people of color. And she was blunt. Very blunt.
“Power is what calls the shots, and power is a white male game,” said Richards.
She made points that made sense to working women of every race and ethnicity.
“They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work,” explained Richards. “They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children.”
Ann Richards made so much sense, and she made it so boldly, so unapologetically, that voters who had grown frustrated with the process got engaged again. And new voters got excited.
Turnout was high on November 6, 1990—roughly 51 percent, as compared to 47 percent four years earlier. And the difference provided the margin by which Richards won.
Turnouts are nowhere near that these days. In 2010, just 38 percent of registered voters cast ballots for governor of Texas. In 2006, it was just 34 percent.
Richards got more people to the polls. And she got their votes, sweeping the communities she has spoken to, and spoken for. Sixty percent of women who came to the polls backed Richards, as did 65 percent of Hispanic voters and 90 percent of African-American voters.
“She represented all of us who have lived with and learned to handle good ol’ boys,” recalled Ivins, “and she did it with laughter.”
It is often suggested now that, at some point in the none-too-distant future, Texas will “tip” into the Democratic column as women and people of color form a new majority that beats the “good ol’ boys” at the “white male game.”
But the fact is that Texas tipped almost a quarter-century ago. And then it tipped back.
Of course, there are differences between Wendy Davis and Ann Richards.
And, yes, of course, a lot has changed since 1990. The old Democratic courthouse establishment in all those Texas counties has, in many instances, become the new Republican courthouse establishment. The population of Texas has grown dramatically, and the demographics have shifted dramatically.
Some old truths remain, however.
Politics is supposed to be exciting. It is supposed to mean something. It is supposed to present real choices—choices that matter enough to get people to the polls.
Ann Richards practiced the politics of high expectations and high turnouts.
There is good reason to believe that Wendy Davis can do the same.
Yes, of course, Davis will be attacked—crudely, viciously. And, though she has a significant fund-raising network in Texas and nationally, Davis will be outspent. Dramatically.
There is no way she will win by running a cautious or apologetic campaign.
There is no way she will win by trying to identify the mythical center of Texas politics. As Jim Hightower, who won two statewide elections in Texas in the 1980s, reminds us, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”
The key to the 2014 election in Texas is going to be turnout. And the key to turnout is excitement, drama, a sense that something new is possible. Or, perhaps, something old.
Texas Democrats have not prevailed in a gubernatorial race since Ann Richards won an uphill contest in which many suggested she did not have a chance. But Texas Democrats have not has a candidate with the record, the determination and the popular appeal Ann Richards since then. Now, perhaps, they do.
Katha Pollitt calls Wendy Davis her “superhero” after Davis’s bold abortion-bill filibuster.
Union members and supporters protest Governor Rick Snyder’s “Right to Work” laws in East Lansing, Michigan in December 2012. (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)
Writing Contest Finalist
We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editor
The 2011 protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, which gutted the collective bargaining rights of most public employees, were my first direct experience with democracy. It was exciting and memorable—and not just because I didn’t have to go to school for several days. I felt empowered, connected to the community, and truly hopeful. For the first time, it seemed, people were actually fighting for the rights of working-class families. But the bill passed, Scott Walker won the recall and the senatorial recalls failed to produce a Democratic majority, despite Democrats’ gaining two seats. Almost everyone in my hometown of Madison was dejected. How did we lose?
The answer, I’ve found, lies deeper than being outspent through out-of-state donations. Deunionization has yielded a disorganized and disempowered working class coupled with high wealth and income inequality. The result is a dangerous political imbalance where the wealthy hold too much leverage and few fight for the interests of the average American. A vicious cycle of voter disengagement, obstacles to participation and an unchallenged takeover by moneyed interests drives this imbalance further. That brief feeling of power and engagement I felt in 2011 is, sadly, the exception to the rule.
The decline of unions over the past forty to fifty years resulted from diverse factors including globalization, technological changes, industry deregulation and concerted attacks on union rights by corporate interests and conservative politicians. Over this same time period, inequality has risen dramatically with the top 1 percent of Americans receiving an ever-increasing share of the national income. Despite a 75 percent increase in productivity between 1980 and 2008, workers’ average wages increased only 22.6 percent, whereas up until the mid-70s workers’ income rose in line with their increasing productivity. Professors of sociology at Harvard and the University of Washington, respectively, Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld analyzed the growth in inequality in the private sector from 1973 to 2007. They argue that deunionization accounts for a fifth to a third of the growth in inequality. This discrepancy in wealth translates to an imbalance in political influence, recently exacerbated by the Citizens United ruling.
But the decline of organized labor reduces the political power of average Americans in more ways than just an inability to combat corporate spending. Working-class voters, oppressed by non-participatory work environments and economic hardship, too often become disillusioned with a political system that does not work for them and, resigned to their lack of representation, disengage politically. The participatory work environments that unionized employees are more likely to experience help develop civic skills and a sense of political rights and power, while more authoritarian work environments discourage political activism by reinforcing class power relations. Union members are significantly more likely to vote than non-union members, and Roland Zullo, a labor relations professor at the University of Michigan, argues that unionization increases voter turnout even among non-union members. According to a Dollars & Sense report, turnout among the less wealthy dropped sharply between 1980 and 2000, a period of marked declines in union membership. Voter turnout fell by 9.4 percentage points in the bottom two income quintiles, while increasing 10.1 percentage points among the top three quintiles.
Even those who still wish to participate in the discussion of the policies affecting all Americans may find it difficult to do so. Inflexible work schedules, unreliable or nonexistent transportation methods and burdensome voter ID laws are all obstacles to voting that disproportionately affect working-class and low-income voters. The fewer support systems workers have, the harder it is for them to overcome these odds, leaving corporate America free to consolidate its grip on government.
Together these phenomena conspire to strengthen and institutionalize a political system that works primarily for the wealthy elite, leaving the majority nearly powerless. They form a self-amplifying feedback loop: the more the wealthy elite influence politics and institute their policies, the less confidence working-class voters have in the system and the less likely they are to vote, allowing the wealthy to accrue ever increasing power. Sadly, the further this goes, the harder it becomes to stop, let alone undo. Unions, the strongest weapon the working class has against the elite, already struggling, will only become weaker in this undemocratic environment.
Regaining the lost ground to establish a vibrant participatory democracy will require reuniting labor into a cohesive movement, unions’ allying with other progressive groups, and all progressives’ exploring new methods of organization that take advantage of advances in communication and information technology. Only by returning the tools of government to average Americans through adequate representation can we fix our broken politics. In a New York Times interview, Warren Buffet said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class that’s making war, and we’re winning.” It’s time we fight back.