The Nation

Subway Arrests Are Up 300 Percent Under de Blasio and Bratton. Why?

Bill De Blasio and Bill Bratton

Police Commissioner William Bratton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Under the new mayor and police commissioner, New York City is arresting fewer people overall, but way more panhandlers and peddlers. According to Joseph Goldstein and J. David Goodman in The New York Times:

In the first two months of the year, arrests of peddlers and panhandlers on subways have more than tripled over the same period last year, with the police recording 274 such arrests as of March 2. By this point last year, they had made 90 such arrests.… Police statistics also indicate a noticeable spike in arrests for low-level violations in public housing developments. On New York City Housing Authority property, arrests for felonies are down nearly 5 percent and arrests for misdemeanors are nearly flat. But arrests for violations—a category of infractions that includes drinking beer in public and riding a bike on the sidewalk—has increased by more than 21 percent.

The Times also points out that stop-and-frisk encounters, which decreased dramaticallty in 2013, fell by an incredible amount so far in 2014, from 5,983 year-to-date last year to 353 so far this year. Overall arrests are also down. And the information on subway busts is public only because Commissioner William Bratton decided to be more transparent than his predecessor, Ray Kelly, had been.

Given that stops and arrests are down overall, and that crime is lower so far this year compared to last, what does the uptick in peddler/panhandler arrests mean?

When there’s a pronounced increase in a particular kind of enforcement, sometimes it’s a response to what cops call “conditions”—problems that have been identified in a command (e.g., there’s a slew of complaints about bar patrons getting rowdy on their way home, so the cops establish a presence near the watering holes at closing time). That could be what’s behind these numbers, though subway crime overall was down last year.

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On their face, of course, the numbers conjure up memories of Bratton’s first stint as top cop, in the first years of the Giuliani administration, when mass arrests around so-called “quality of life” crimes were explained as reflecting a “broken windows” theory of urban disorder, in which tolerance for minor crimes was thought to create an atmosphere in which more serious offenses were more likely to occur.

Some, of course, look back on that era of policing fondly. Others—namely the people who have protested de Blasio’s decision to bring Bratton back to One Police Plaza—recall the “broken windows” surge in arrests as the start of an era of aggressive, racially targeted policing, eventually encompassing Howard Safir’s street crime unit and evolving into the mass-arrest, stop-and-frisk strategy of the Bloomberg years.

Here’s where a little communication by the mayor would be handy. During the campaign, he made many legitimate criticisms of the Bloomberg NYPD but had little to say about what his own approach to fighting crime would be. The VisionZero effort is an ambitious redirection of some police resources. But what’s the overall approach, and how do record arrests of people asking for change or selling candy (not for any basketball team, but just to do something positive and put money in their pocket, you might say) fit into it?

Read Next: Tom Hayden dismantles the myth of Bill Bratton’s LAPD.

Bernie Sanders: ‘I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States’ [Updated on March 19]

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Bernie Sanders says he is “prepared to run for president of the United States.” That’s not a formal announcement. A lot can change between now and 2016, and the populist senator from Vermont bristles at the whole notion of a permanent campaign. But Sanders has begun talking with savvy progressive political strategists, traveling to unexpected locations such as Alabama and entertaining the process questions that this most issue-focused member of the Senate has traditionally avoided.

In some senses, Sanders is the unlikeliest of prospects: an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate but has never joined the party, a democratic socialist in a country where many politicians fear the label “liberal,” an outspoken critic of the economic, environmental and social status quo who rips “the ruling class” and calls out the Koch brothers by name. Yet, he has served as the mayor of his state’s largest city, beaten a Republican incumbent for the US House, won and held a historically Republican Senate seat and served longer as an independent member of Congress than anyone else. And he says his political instincts tell him America is ready for a “political revolution.”

In his first extended conversation about presidential politics, Sanders discussed with The Nation the economic and environmental concerns that have led him to consider a 2016 run; the difficult question of whether to run as a Democrat or an independent; his frustration with the narrow messaging of prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton; and his sense that political and media elites are missing the signs that America is headed toward a critical juncture where electoral expectations could be exploded.

John Nichols: Are you going to run for president in 2016?

Bernie Sanders: I don’t wake up every morning, as some people here in Washington do and say, “You know, I really have to be president of the United States. I was born to be president of the United States.” What I do wake up every morning feeling is that this country faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and there is a horrendous lack of serious political discourse or ideas out there that can address these crises, and that somebody has got to represent the working-class and the middle-class of this country in standing up to the big-money interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country. So I am prepared to run for president of the United States. I don’t believe that I am the only person out there who can fight this fight, but I am certainly prepared to look seriously at that race.

When you say you are “prepared to run,” that can be read in two ways. One is to say you have the credentials, the prominence, the following to seek the office. The other is to say that you are making preparations for a run. How do you parse that?

If the question is, am I actively right now organizing and raising money and so forth for a campaign for president, I am not doing that. On the other hand, am I talking to people around the country? Yes, I am. Will I be doing some traveling around the country? Yes, I will be. But I think it’s premature to be talking about (the specifics of) a campaign when we still have a 2014 congressional race in front of us.

I want to push back at some of what you are saying. Political insiders define presidential politics, and they are already hard at work, in both major parties and in the broader sense, to erect barriers to insurgent, dissident, populist campaigns. Don’t progressives who come at the process slowly run the risk of finding that everything has been locked up by the time they get serious about running?

Obviously, if I run, both in terms of the positions that I’ll be advocating, and the process itself, it will have to be a very unconventional campaign. I hear what you are saying, and I think there is truth in what you are saying. But, on the other hand, I think there is profound disgust among the American people for the conventional political process and the never-ending campaigns. If I run, my job is to help bring together the kind of coalition that can win—that can transform politics. We’ve got to bring together trade unionists and working families, our minority communities, environmentalists, young people, the women’s community, the gay community, seniors, veterans, the people who in fact are the vast majority of the American population. We’ve got to create a progressive agenda and rally people around that agenda.

I think we’ve got a message that can resonate, that people want to hear, that people need to hear. Time is very important. But I don’t think it makes sense—or that it is necessary—to start a campaign this early.

If and when you do start a full-fledged campaign, and if you want to run against conventional politics, how far do you go? Do you go to the point of running as an independent? That’s a great challenge to conventional politics, but it is also one where we have seen some honorable, some capable people stumble.

That’s an excellent question, and I haven’t reached a conclusion on that yet. Clearly, there are things to be said on both sides of that important question. Number one: there is today more and more alienation from the Republican and Democratic parties than we have seen in the modern history of this country. In fact, most people now consider themselves to be “independent,” whatever that may mean. And the number of people who identify as Democrats or Republicans is at a historically low point. In that sense, running outside the two-party system can be a positive politically.

On the other hand, given the nature of the political system, given the nature of media in America, it would be much more difficult to get adequate coverage from the mainstream media running outside of the two-party system. It would certainly be very hard if not impossible to get into debates. It would require building an entire political infrastructure outside of the two-party system: to get on the ballot, to do all the things that would be required for a serious campaign.

The question that you asked is extremely important, it requires a whole lot of discussion. It’s one that I have not answered yet.

Unspoken in your answer is the fact that you have a great discomfort with the Democratic Party as it has operated in recent decades.

Yes. It goes without saying. Since I’ve been in Congress, I have been a member of the Democratic caucus as an independent. [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid, especially, has been extremely kind to me and has treated me with enormous respect. I am now chairman of the Veterans Committee. But there is no question that the Democratic Party in general remains far too dependent on big-money interests, that it is not fighting vigorously for working-class families, and that there are some members of the Democratic Party whose views are not terribly different from some of the Republicans. That’s absolutely the case. But the dilemma is that, if you run outside of the Democratic Party, then what you’re doing—and you have to think hard about this—you’re not just running a race for president, you’re really running to build an entire political movement. In doing that, you would be taking votes away from the Democratic candidate and making it easier for some right-wing Republican to get elected—the [Ralph] Nader dilemma

You’re not really saying whether you could run as a Democrat?

I want to hear what progressives have to say about that. The more radical approach would be to run as an independent, and essentially when you’re doing that you’re not just running for president of the United States, you’re running to build a new political movement in America—which presumably would lead to other candidates running outside of the Democratic Party, essentially starting a third party. That idea has been talked about in this country for decades and decades and decades, from Eugene Debs forward—without much success. And I say that as the longest serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. In Vermont, I think we have had more success than in any other state in the country in terms of progressive third-party politics. During my tenure as mayor of Burlington, I defeated Democrats and Republicans and helped start a third-party movement. Today, there is a statewide progressive party which now has three people in the state Senate, out of 30, and a number of representatives in the state Legislature. But that process has taken 30 years. So it is not easy.

If you look back to Nader’s candidacy [in 2000], the hope of Nader was not just that he might be elected president but that he would create a strong third party. Nader was a very strong candidate, very smart, very articulate. But the strong third-party did not emerge. The fact is that is very difficult to do.

You plan to travel, to spend time with activists in the Democratic Party and outside the Democratic Party. Will you look to them for direction?

Yes. The bolder, more radical approach is obviously running outside of the two-party system. Do people believe at this particular point that there is the capability of starting a third-party movement? Or is that an idea that is simply not realistic at this particular moment in history? On the other hand, do people believe that operating in framework of the Democratic Party, getting involved in primaries state-by-state, building organization capability, rallying people, that for the moment at least that this is the better approach? Those are the options that I think progressives around the country are going to have to wrestle with. And that’s certainly something that I will be listening to.

You have always been identified as a democratic socialist. Polling suggests that Americans are not so bothered by the term, but it seems to me that our media has a really hard time with it. Is that a factor in your thinking about a presidential race?

No, that’s not a factor at all. In Vermont, people understand exactly what I mean by the word. They don’t believe that democratic socialism is akin to North Korea communism. They understand that when I talk about democratic socialism, what I’m saying is that I do not want to see the United States significantly dominated by a handful of billionaire families controlling the economic and political life of the country. That I do believe that in a democratic, civilized society, all people are entitled to health care as a right, all people are entitled to quality education as a right, all people are entitled to decent jobs and a decent income, and that we need a government which represents ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful.

The people in Vermont know exactly when I mean, which is why I won my last election with 71 percent of the vote and carried some of the most conservative towns in the state. If I ran for president, and articulated a vision that speaks to working people, I am confident that voters in every part of this country would understand that.

The truth is that, very sadly, the corporate media ignores some of the huge accomplishments that have taken place in countries like Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. These countries, which have a long history of democratic socialist or labor governments, have excellent and universal health care systems, excellent educational systems and they have gone a long way toward eliminating poverty and creating a far more egalitarian society than we have. I think that there are economic and social models out there that we can learn a heck of a lot from, and that’s something I would be talking about.

What you seem to be saying is that, as a presidential candidate, you would try to make the very difficult combination of not just being a personality that people would like, or at least want to vote for, but also educate people about what is possible.

My whole life in politics has been not just with passing legislation or being a good mayor or senator, but to educate people. That is why we have hundreds of thousands of people on my Senate email list, and why I send an email to all Vermonters every other week. It is why I have held hundreds of town meetings in Vermont, in virtually every town in the state.

If you ask me now what one of the major accomplishments of my political life is, it is that I helped double the voter turnout in Burlington, Vermont. I did that because people who had given up on the political process understood that I was fighting for working families, that we were paying attention to low and moderate-income neighborhoods rather than just downtown or the big-money interests. In fact, I went to war with virtually every part of the ruling class in Burlington during my years as mayor. People understood that; they said, “You know what? Bernie is standing with us. We’re going to stand with him.” The result is that large numbers of people who previously had not participated in the political process got involved. And that’s what we have to do for the whole country.

I think one of the great tragedies that we face today politically, above and beyond the simple economic reality of the collapse of the middle-class, more people living in poverty, growing gap between the rich and poor, the high cost of education—all those objective, painful realities in American society—the more significant reality from a political perspective is that most people have given up on the political process. They understand the political deck is stacked against them. They think there is no particular reason for them to come out and vote—and they don’t.

So much of what [media-coverage of] politics is about today is personality politics. It’s gossip: Chris Christie’s weight or Hillary’s latest hairdo. But the real issue is how do you bring tens of millions of working-class and middle-class people together around an agenda that works for them? How do we make politics relevant to their lives? That’s going to involve some very, very radical thinking. At the end of the day, it’s not just going to be decisions from Washington. It really means empowering, in a variety of ways, ordinary people in the political process. To me, when you talk about the need for a political revolution, it is not just single-payer health care, it’s not just aggressive action on climate change, it’s not just creating the millions of jobs that we need, it is literally empowering people to take control over their lives. That’s clearly a lot harder to do than it is to talk about, but that’s what the political revolution is about.

One of the things that I find most disturbing—in fact, beyond comprehension—is that the Democrats now lose by a significant number the votes of white working-class people. How can that be? When you have a Republican Party that wants to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, ect., ect., why are so many people voting against their own economic interests? It happens because the Democrats have not been strong in making it clear which side they are on, not been strong in taking on Wall Street and corporate America, which is what Roosevelt did in the 1930s.

So, to me, what politics is about is not just coming up with ideas and a legislative program here in Washington—you need to do those things—but it’s about figuring out how you involve people in the political process, how you empower them. It ain’t easy, but that is, in fact, what has to be done. The bad news is that people like the Koch brothers can spend huge sums of money to create groups like the Tea Party. The good news is that, once people understand the right-wing extremist ideology of the Koch brothers, they are not going to go along with their policies. In terms of fundamental economic issues: job creation, a high minimum wage, progressive taxation, affordable college education—the vast majority of people are on our side.

One of the goals that I would have, politically, as a candidate for president of the United States is to reach out to the working-class element of the Tea Party and explain to them exactly who is funding their organization—and explain to them that, on virtually every issue, the Koch brothers and the other funders of the Tea Party are way out of step with what ordinary people want and need.

You have made it very clear that you have no taste for personality politics. But a part of why you are thinking of running for president has to be a sense that the prospective Democratic candidates are unlikely to do that or to do that effectively.


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Is it your sense that Hillary Clinton, the clear front-runner at this point, is unlikely to do that?

Look, I am not here to be attacking Hillary Clinton. I have known Hillary Clinton for a number of years; I knew her when she was First Lady a little bit, got to know her a little bit better when she was in the Senate. I like Hillary; she is very, very intelligent; she focuses on issues. But I think, sad to say, that the Clinton type of politics is not the politics certainly that I’m talking about. We are living in the moment in American history where the problems facing the country, even if you do not include climate change, are more severe than at any time since the Great Depression. And if you throw in climate change, they are more severe.

So the same old same old [Clinton administration Secretary of the Treasury] Robert Rubin type of economics, or centrist politics, or continued dependence on big money, or unfettered free-trade, that is not what this country needs ideologically. That is not the type of policy that we need. And it is certainly not going to be the politics that galvanizes the tens of millions of people today who are thoroughly alienated and disgusted with the status quo. People are hurting, and it is important for leadership now to explain to them why they are hurting and how we can grow the middle class and reverse the economic decline of so many people. And I don’t think that is the politics of Senator Clinton or the Democratic establishment…. People want to hear an alternative set of policies that says to the American people: with all of this technology, with all of this productivity, the truth of the matter is that the average person in this country should be living better than ever before—not significantly worse economically than was the case thirty years ago. That’s what we need. That’s what I want to talk about… I think that the class message, that in this great country, especially with all kinds of new technology and increased productivity, that we can in fact provide a decent standard for all people, I think that resonates in fifty states in America. I think what people are looking for is leadership that is prepared to take on the big money interests (to deliver that message). That’s not what we’re seeing, by and large, from most Democrats.

Are they missing something?

I think so. My experience and my political instinct tells me that a lot of the discussions about 2016 are minimizing the profound disgust that people are having now with the status quo—and they’re desperate for a message that addresses that disgust. If I run, I’m not going to be raising hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. I think I have the capability of raising a lot of money and that’s important, but that at the end of the day is not going to be what’s most important. What’s most important is this idea of a political revolution—rallying the working families of this country around a vision that speaks to their needs. People need to understand that, if we are prepared to stand up to Wall Street and the big-money interests, we can create a nation that works for all Americans, and not just the handful of billionaires.


Editor's Note: The following additional material was added to this blog post on March 19, 2014:

You speak frequently about this idea of a “political revolution.” What do you mean by that?

We have to take a deep breath and look at what politics in America today is all about.

First of all, in off-year elections—nonpresidential elections—you’ll have 50 to 60 percent of the people not voting. So the first thing, the obvious argument about the need for a political revolution, is that in a democratic society, we need the vast majority of the people to participate in the political process. If we had an 85 to 90 percent voter turnout, as countries like Denmark do, the nature of politics would be fundamentally different—because lower-income and working-class people would be involved and would be fighting for their interests.

Second of all, when you look at politics today, you have the absurdity of any billionaire, any millionaire out there saying, “I want to run for office.” You hire a consultant, you put some TV ads on and you are, according to the media, a serious candidate because you’re rich. Very few campaigns now revolve around candidates who have strong grassroots support.

When we talk about a political revolution, we have to talk about political consciousness, which is abysmally low. You do polling and you find out that people do not even know the name of the person who represents them in Congress…. If you don’t know which party controls the House and Senate, how do you form a judgment, how do you evaluate what’s going on in Washington?

Furthermore, all of us take for granted the fact that when you turn on talk radio, it is overwhelmingly right-wing, and some of it is incredibly extreme right-wing. There are parts of America today where if you turn on the radio, you cannot hear anything vaguely representing a progressive voice. In addition to that, of course, we have a major television network, Fox, that is an adjunct of the Republican Party.

So when I talk about a political revolution, what I am referring to is the need to do more than just win the next election. It’s about creating a situation where we are involving millions of people in the process who are not now involved, and changing the nature of media so they are talking about issues that reflect the needs and the pains that so many of our people are currently feeling.

Essentially, what a political revolution means is that we organize and educate and create grassroots movements, which we certainly do not have right now.

Do you believe a campaign can be the catalyst for developing the consciousness and the movement that can achieve that change?

A campaign has got to be much more than just getting votes and getting elected. It has got to be helping to educate people, organize people. If we can do that, we can change the dynamic of politics for years and years to come. If 80 to 90 percent of the people in this country vote, if they know what the issues are (and make demands based on that knowledge), Washington and Congress will look very, very different from the Congress currently dominated by big money and dealing only with the issues that big money wants them to deal with.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson ran an outsider campaign in 1988 that talked about trying to open the process. You were a part of that. Do you see a connection to what you are talking about now?

Absolutely. I think Jackson has not gotten the credit he deserves. His campaigns were revolutionary: we had an African-American minister going to states like Iowa—predominantly white states—and rallying farmers. He came to Vermont; I remember I introduced him, and we had hundreds and hundreds of people out to hear him speak in a state that was then virtually all-white. The idea of bringing together people—the Rainbow Coalition concept of whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays and lesbians—is absolutely right, and the emphasis, in my view, can be on economic issues. I happen to believe that the frustration and disgust with the status quo is much, much higher now—much, much higher than many “pundits” understand. The job right now, the main focus, is to bring people together from an economic perspective, on class lines, and talk about an America that works for the vast majority of our people and not just the top 1 percent.

John Nichols is the author, with Robert W. McChesney, of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), for which Senator Bernie Sanders wrote an introduction.


The Dark Side of the Ukraine Revolt

Svoboda rally

The Svoboda (Freedom) Ukrainian nationalist party holds a rally in Kiev, January 1, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

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

The April 6 rally in Cherkasy, a city 100 miles southeast of Kiev, turned violent after six men took off their jackets to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beat the Kikes” and “Svoboda,” the name of the Ukrainian ultranationalist movement and the Ukrainian word for “freedom."
– Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 12, 2013

While most of the Western media describe the current crisis in Ukraine as a confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy, many of the shock troops who have manned barricades in Kiev and the western city of Lviv these past months represent a dark page in the country’s history and have little interest in either democracy or the liberalism of Western Europe and the United States.

“You’d never know from most of the reporting that far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings,” reports Seumas Milne of the British Guardian. The most prominent of the groups has been the ultra-right-wing Svoboda or “Freedom” Party.

The demand for integration with Western Europe appears to be more a tactic than a strategy: “The participation of Ukrainian nationalism and Svoboda in the process of EU [European Union] integration,” admits Svoboda political council member Yury Noyevy, “is a means to break our ties with Russia.”

And lest one think that Svoboda, and parties even further to the right, will strike their tents and disappear, Ukrainian News reported on February 26 that Svoboda party members have temporarily been appointed to the posts of vice prime minister, minister of education, minister of agrarian policy and food supplies, and minister of ecology and natural resources.

Svoboda is hardly a fringe organization. In the 2012 election won by the now deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, the party took 10.45 percent of the vote and over 40 percent in parts of the western Ukraine. While the west voted overwhelmingly for the Fatherland Party’s Yulia Tymoshenko, the more populous east went overwhelmingly for the Party of Regions’ Yanukovych. The latter won the election handily, 48.8 percent to 45.7 percent.

Svoboda—which currently has thirty-six deputies in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament—began life in the mid-1990s as the Social National Party of the Ukraine, but its roots lie in World War II, when Ukrainian nationalists and Nazis found common ground in the ideology of anti-communism and anti-Semitism. In April 1943, Dr. Otto von Wachter, the Nazi commander of Galicia—the name for western Ukraine—turned the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army into the 14 Grenadier Division of the Waffen SS, the so-called “Galicia Division.”

The Waffen SS was the armed wing of the Nazi Party, and while serving alongside the regular army, or Wehrmacht, the party controlled the SS’s thirty-eight-plus divisions. While all Nazi forces took part in massacres and atrocities, the Waffen SS did so with particular efficiency. The postwar Nuremberg trials designated it a “criminal organization.”

Svoboda has always had a soft spot for the Galicia Division, and one of its parliament members, Oleg Pankevich, took part in a ceremony last April honoring the unit. Pankevich joined with a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church near Lviv to celebrate the unit’s seventieth anniversary and rebury some of the division’s dead.

“I was horrified to see photographs…of young Ukrainians wearing the dreaded SS uniform with swastikas clearly visible on their helmets as they carried caskets of members of this Nazi unit, lowered them into the ground, and fired gun salutes in their honor,” World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder wrote in a letter to the Patriarch of the Ukrainian church. He asked Patriarch, Filret, to “prevent any further rehabilitation of Nazism or the SS."

Some 800,000 Jews were murdered in Ukraine during the German occupation, many of them by Ukrainian auxiliaries and units like the Galicia Division.

Three months after the April ceremony, Ukrainians re-enacted the battle of Brody between the Galicia Division and Soviet troops, where the German XIII Army Corps was trying to hold off the Russians commanded by Marshall Ivan Konev. In general, going up against Konev meant a quick trip to Valhalla. In six days of fighting the Galicians lost two-thirds of their division and the XIII Corps was sent reeling back to Poland. The Galicia Division survivors were shipped off to fight anti-Nazi partisans in Yugoslavia. In 1945, remnants of the unit surrendered to the Americans in Italy, and in 1947 many of them were allowed to emigrate to Britain and Canada.

The US press has downplayed the role of Svoboda, and even more far-right groups like Right Sector and Common Cause, but Britain’s Channel 4 News reports that such quasi-fascist groups “played a leading role” in organizing the demonstrations and keeping them going.

In the intercepted phone call between US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, the two were, as Russian expert Stephen Cohen put it to Democracy Now, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

At one point in the call, Nuland endorsed “Yat” as the head of a new government, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party, who indeed is now acting prime minister. But she went on to say that Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok should be kept “on the outside.”

Her plan to sideline Tyahnybok as a post-coup player, however, may be wishful thinking, given the importance of the party in the demonstrations.

Tyahnybok is an anti-Semite who says “organized Jewry” controls the Ukraine’s media and government, and is planning “genocide” against Christians. He has turned Svoboda into the fourth-largest party in the country, and, this past December, US Senator John McCain shared a platform and an embrace with Tyahnybok at a rally in Kiev.

Svoboda has links with other ultra-right parties in Europe through the Alliance of European National Movements. Founded in 2009 in Budapest, the alliance includes Svoboda, Hungary’s violently racist Jobbik, the British National Party, Italy’s Tricolor Flame, Sweden’s National Democrats and Belgium’s National Front. The party also has close ties to France’s xenophobic National Front. The Front’s anti-Semitic former leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was honored at Svoboda’s 2004 congress.

Svoboda would stop immigration and reserve civil service jobs for “ethnic Ukrainians.” It would end abortion and gun control, “ban the Communist Ideology” and list religious affiliation and ethnicity on identity documents. It claims as its mentor the Nazi-collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose Ukrainian Insurgent Army massacred Jews and Poles during World War II. The party’s demand that all official business be conducted in Ukrainian was recently endorsed by the parliament, disenfranchising thirty percent of the country’s population that speaks Russian. Russian speakers are generally concentrated in the Ukraine’s east and south, and particularly in the Crimean Peninsula.

The US and the EU have hailed the resignation of President Yanukovych and the triumph of “people power” over the elected government—Ambassador Pyatt called it “a day for the history books”—but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Before the deployment of Russian troops this past week, anti-coup, pro-Russian crowds massed in the streets in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, and seized government buildings. While there was little support for the ousted president—who most Ukrainians believe is corrupt—there was deep anger at the de-recognition of the Russian language and contempt for what many said were “fascists” in Kiev and Lviv.

Until 1954, Crimea was always part of Russia until, for administrative and bureaucratic reasons, it was made part of Ukraine. At the time, Ukraine was one of fifteen Soviet republics.

Ukraine is in deep economic trouble, and for the past year the government has been casting about for a way out. Bailout negotiations were opened with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, but the loan would have required onerous austerity measures that, according to Citibank analyst Ivan Tchakarov, would “most probably mean a recession in 2014.”

It was at this juncture that Yanukovych abandoned talks with the EU and opened negotiations with the Russians. That turnaround was the spark for last November’s demonstrations.

But as Ben Aris, editor of Business News Europe, says, “Under the terms of the EU offer of last year—which virtually nobody in the Western media has seriously examined—the EU was offering $160 million per year for the next five years, while just the bond payments to the IMF were greater than that.”

Russia, on the other hand, “offered $15 billion in cash and immediately paid $3 billion.… Had Yanukovych accepted the EU deal, the country would have collapsed,” says Aris.

The current situation is dangerous precisely because it touches a Russian security nerve. The Soviet Union lost some twenty-five to twenty-seven million people in World War II, and Russians to this day are touchy about their borders. They also know who inflicted those casualties, and those who celebrate a Waffen SS division are not likely to be well thought of in the south or the east of Ukraine.

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Border security is hardly ancient history for the Kremlin. As Russian expert Cohen points out, “Since the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the US-led West has been on a steady march toward post-Soviet Russia, beginning with the expansion of NATO…all the way to the Russian border.”

NATO now includes Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and former Soviet-led Warsaw Pact members Albania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s comment that the IMF-EU package for Ukraine would have been “a major boost for Euro-Atlantic security” suggests that NATO had set its sights on bringing Ukraine into the military alliance.

The massive demonstrations over the past three months reflected widespread outrage at the corruption of the Yanukovych regime, but they have also unleashed a dark side of Ukraine’s politics. That dark side was on display at last year’s rally in Cherkasy. Victor Smal, a lawyer and human rights activist, said he told “the men in the T-shirts they were promoting hatred. They beat me to the ground until I lost consciousness.”

Svoboda and its allies do not make up a majority of the demonstrators, but as Cohen points out, “Five percent of a population that’s tough, resolute, ruthless, armed and well funded, and knows what it wants, can make history.”

It is not the kind of history most would like to repeat.


Read Next: John Feffer and Foreign Policy in Focus on the clash of partnerships in Ukraine.

RT Anchor Quits On-Air, Hits ‘Putinist Propaganda’—TV Network Replies

Vladimir Putin practicing judo

Vladimir Putin practicing judo (Flickr/Jedimentat44)

Just one day after an RT anchor spoke out against Russia’s invasion of Crimea, a second anchor closed her show Wednesday by denouncing the same aggression, among other actions, and quitting right on the air. Then both of them appeared on CNN to explain and defend their moves.

RT, formerly Russia Today, is widely available on cable in the United States and in 100 countries abroad. It’s funded by the Russian government and rarely strays from the official line.

Probably by now you’ve read and heard a good deal about the first anchor, Abby Martin, and if not, you can catch up here. In short order, after her critique, RT said it would send her to Crimea to maybe learn more about what the troops from the home country were doing there, a kind offer she immediately refused. Then many media outlets, including The New York Times, published pieces on Martin’s history as a 9/11 “truther.” In any case, she was back on the air the next day.

Then the second anchor/reporter, Liz Wahl, dropped her bombshell, and went further (see video below). She said she can’t work for a TV network that “whitewashes the actions of Putin.” Many in the US applauded, while some pointed out that she had to know where the RT funding was coming from all this time.

Wahl, interviewed by The Daily Beast, claimed she’d been “disgusted” by what she had to report. While trying to stay “objective” she’s often been overruled by superiors. “It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there,” Wahl said. “It’s not a sound news organization, not when your agenda is making America look bad.”

She then went on CNN’s Anderson Cooper show (watch) and detailed pressure from management—and just today she had part of her interview with Ron Paul cut. As a reporter you need to “seek the truth,” she said, but RT is “not out for the truth” (though she knew that when she signed on) and merely “Putinist.”

Asked how RT will likely respond, she said she hadn’t seen an “official response.”

Well, she didn’t have to wait long. RT responded to Anderson Cooper’s people, who posted it on his site. Excerpt: “When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt.”

Wahl then went on on Piers Morgan’s CNN show and again accused RT of presenting “Putinist propaganda.” Piers asked why she went to work for RT to begin with. She replied, “That’s a very good question.” (No kidding.) She said she didn’t think there would be that much “propaganda” and “pressure.” Asked if she thinks Abby Martin should quit, she demured, saying Martin is allowed to speak out—because her “line” in her show is one RT likes (and can count on her backing).

Then Abby Martin went on Piers’s show and said she backs whatever Wahl chooses to do but she is not tempted to quit. Claiming she has full “independence,” she accused all of the TV networks in the US of being just as compliant with US policy and officials. “Corporate media” in US is no different than government-funded network, she claimed. Piers pushed back just a bit, suggesting that he spoke out often against US policy.

Well, Abby Martin has a point, to be sure, but apparently did not watch MSNBC in the final years of the Bush reign or Fox News every night of Obama’s two terms. Roll the video tape: Let’s see a few examples of more than a sliver of Putin criticism on RT (before this week).

The better point is how the American networks have gone along with so many US official lies and other nonsense—when, unlike RT, they didn’t really have to.

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UPDATE Lengthy, and angry, response posted at RT.com by the network’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. After hitting the US media reaction, it concludes:

I can see very clearly why I continue to work for a channel that stands alone (!) face-to-face with thousands and tens of thousands of Western news outlets, showing everybody the other side of the story, under daily attacks from the media against which it can hardly fight back. It’s my country. There is no other choice for me. But the foreign journalists who work for RT across the globe do have a choice. Some of them might be asking themselves, “Why would I have to defend Russia at the expense of my career, my future, my reputation, why would I tolerate humiliation by my fellow journalists?” Few can say “Because I’m telling the truth, and there’s no one else to tell it.” Some will fail to find the answer and quietly resign. Others will perform their resignation on air in a self-promotional stunt, perhaps securing fantastic career prospects they wouldn’t have dreamt of before.

By the way, CNN is now covering the leaked phone call on speculation about the deadly snipers in Kiev mentioned in the post.

Read Next: Stephen Cohen on how the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine

Diplomacy Is ‘Key’ for Resolving the Crisis in Ukraine

The US and Russia have been locked in a rhetorical tennis match since President Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine’s Crimea region late last week. Calling for “some sober perspective” from politicians in all three countries, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel appeared on CNN’s Amanpour to discuss the recent upheaval in Ukraine. According to vanden Heuvel, reasoned diplomacy will be critical for securing the territorial integrity of Ukraine, stabilizing the country’s faltering economy, and organizing free and fair elections. For more of vanden Heuvel’s thoughts on what must be done in Ukraine, listen to her interview with Uprising Radio’s Sonali Kolhatkar.

Allegra Kirkland

Tufts Students Say Fear Held the University Back From Fossil Fuel Divestment

Tufts University

Tufts students call for divestment. (James Ennis/Flickr)

This was originally published as an op-ed in the Tufts Daily and is reprinted here with permission. 

“This is the year to take action on climate change. There are no more excuses,” proclaimed Jim Yong Kim, current president of the World Bank, at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. “We can divest [from carbon-intensive assets],” he continued, saying that investing in the fossil fuel industry betrays investors’ “responsibility to future pension holders who will be affected by decisions made today.”

Less than three weeks later, Tufts University’s Board of Trustees voted to not divest from fossil fuels, citing “significant anticipated negative impact on Tufts’ endowment.”

As members of President Monaco’s Tufts Divestment Working Group, it quickly became clear to us that the group hadn't been created for “open discussion” about the possibility of divestment from fossil fuels, as Monaco claimed. Instead, it existed to generate financial models supporting the administration’s expectation that it was financially impossible.

In one of our committee meetings, Patricia Campbell, the executive vice president of our university, admitted that divestment could indeed be feasible—but it was clear to us that the administration wasn’t willing to consider the changes to Tufts’ investment strategy that divestment would entail. It was this lack of consideration given to fossil fuel divestment that colored the working group process and left us disappointed by our administration’s utter lack of good faith in its approach to the issue. In his Davos address, Kim said, “Corporate leaders should not wait to act until market signals are right and national investment policies are in place,” yet our administration continues to claim that Tufts should wait for the carbon bubble to burst before taking action.

Meanwhile, many corporate and institutional leaders are already taking leadership. Mayors of cities including Seattle, Madison and our own Somerville are pursuing divestment. Norwegian financial services firm Storebrand, which controls more than $60 billion in assets, has announced its intention to pull its investments out of coal and tar sands companies to ensure “long-term stable returns” because they know that those stocks will be “financially worthless” in the future. In January, the CEO of Google joined sixteen other managers of charitable foundations in divesting their assets from the fossil fuel industry. The list goes on.

Our administration and trustees declined to join these other institutions not because they are unintelligent or misinformed but because they are afraid. Perhaps some of our trustees are afraid to consider that the profits they have gained from their investments in fossil fuel companies have accumulated at the cost of a stable climate and human lives. We have heard both President Monaco and trustee Laurie Gabriel admit that divestment is the moral choice, but they are afraid to challenge one of the largest, most powerful industries in the history of the world. They are afraid to take leadership.

We, like so many of our fellow students, chose Tufts because we believed it was a place that valued ambitious leadership, bold innovation and active global citizenship. These are the values that Tufts promotes to us throughout its admissions process, in the classroom and ultimately, in the paths we take after graduation. We are expected to lead, make moral choices and improve our society. But the recent announcement that Tufts will not divest showed that our administration is failing to live up to its own values.

In his letter to the Tufts community, President Monaco wrote: “We are committed to meeting ambitious sustainability goals for Tufts’ operations,” and cited new projects in building energy metering and cogeneration. These are important steps, but compared to the scale and urgency of combating climate change, Tufts’ “sustainability goals” are not in any way “ambitious.”

We have seen this lack of ambition from our institution many times before. It took forty years for Tufts to create an Africana studies department. It took more than a decade to divest from apartheid South Africa. We don’t have a decade now. We do not have the luxury to be anything short of ambitious. Not when too many communities are already fighting for their lives, for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and food to eat. Not when the fossil fuel industry imperils our generation’s ability to live, work and raise children in a stable and just world.

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The student body showed its support for divestment last semester in a referendum. We know that we, the student body, have the moral clarity and ambition that our administration has failed to show. Tufts will not change unless we fight for that change. So we ask that as this campaign moves forward, you stand with us to make Tufts a place that we can be proud of, for the sake of our future.

Read Next: Will Yale make the same decision on fossil fuel divestment as Tufts?

DOJ Drops Most of the Charges Against a Journalist Indicted for Sharing a Link

Barrett Brown

Barrett Brown (Photo courtesy of Barrett Brown’s YouTube channel.) 

Federal prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against a journalist and Internet activist who faced decades in prison for publishing a hyperlink containing hacked information, The Guardian reports.

A US attorney for the Northern District of Texas filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss eleven of twelve charges against Barrett Brown in a case accusing him of trafficking data and credit card information stolen from private intelligence firm Stratfor. The hack was carried out by members of the Internet collective Anonymous. Brown, who was not found to be involved with the hack himself, allegedly republished a hyperlink to the Stratfor file in a chatroom.

The government’s motion for dismissal comes a day after Brown’s attorneys formally requested the link-sharing charges be dropped. In a forty-eight page memo, Brown’s attorneys argued that their client did not make the Stratfor file “available to other persons online” because it was already publicly available at the time. They also argued that charging Brown for merely sharing a link violated his free speech rights, calling the indictment “unconstitutionally overbroad” and warning that the case could “chill speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

Brown’s case galvanized lawyers, Internet activists and free speech advocates who feared that convictions on his link-sharing charges could set a dangerous precedent for journalists that source from hacked data.

“By the US, government’s theory, journalists can be held criminally liable merely for linking to a publicly-available file that contains sensitive information, whether or not they had any part in actually obtaining the data in the first place,” wrote Geoffrey King, Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, before Brown’s charges were dropped. “This theory threatens the nature of the Web, as well as the ethical duty of journalists to verify and report the truth.”

Brown is still accused of access device fraud related to the Stratfor case. He also faces separate charges of obstruction of justice, threatening a federal agent and conspiracy to disclose information about a federal agent.

According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, the dismissals in Brown’s case removed thirty-five years from a maximum prison sentence of 105 years.

How Economic Inequality Kills


A father teaches his son how to ride a bike as a homeless man reads his book outside a Los Angeles shelter. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Economic inequality—as a political cause, as an issue of social and moral concern, as a subject of academic research—is at long last, having its moment. World leaders from President Obama to Pope Francis are giving speeches and sermons about it. Political candidates like Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren have scored upset victories with campaigns that emphasized themes of economic inequality. The Democratic Party, taking its cue, is adopting economic inequality as the theme of the 2014 midterm elections. Perhaps the most intriguing recent development is that economic elites are showing distinct symptoms of unease and even panic at the country’s growing populist mood.

The timing could hardly be better for the publication this month of several important new books about economic inequality, which I plan to discuss in this space. But first, I want to write about another notable book on the subject that was published toward the tail end of 2013. The Killing Fields of Inequality (Polity) is by the eminent Swedish sociologist Göran Therborn (author of What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules? and other classic works). Comprising just 185 pages, it’s a short book that packs a powerful punch.

Therborn’s book is a panoramic survey of inequality across the globe in its various dimensions: theoretical, historical, empirical. Like other recent works, Killing Fields looks at the causes of the dizzying rise in economic inequality we’ve seen in recent decades in most of the developed world. But its greatest strength lies in the succinct but compelling answers it provides to three of the most important inequality-related questions. First: what, exactly, do we mean by “inequality”? Second, what is inequality doing to us? And finally, why should we care about it?

First, let’s deal with the “what do we mean by inequality?” question. Therborn finds the definition of equality developed by economist Amartya Sen to be most helpful. Equality, according to Sen, is “equality of capability to function fully as a human being. Such a capability clearly entails survival, health (and aids for disability), freedom and knowledge (education) to choose one’s life-path, and resources to pursue it.”

Inequalities, then, are “multidimensional barriers to human functioning in the world” which are “violations of human rights.” According to Therborn, there are three main types of inequality: vital inequality, which refers to inequalities regarding health outcomes and life expectancies; resource inequality, which refers to economic inequalities of various sorts; and a concept he calls he calls existential inequality, which he defines as “the unequal allocation of personhood, i.e., of autonomy, dignity, degrees of freedom, and of rights to respect and self-development.”

The most eye-opening, and disturbing, passages of the book are those that concern “vital inequality,” or the impact of inequality on life and health. This is where the “killing fields” of the title comes in. “Inequality kills,” states Therborn in the book’s first sentence. Consider these statistics:

§ Between 1990 and 2008, life expectancy of white American men declined by three years, and low-educated white American women saw their life expectancy decline by five years.

§ The life expectancy between the richest and poorest neighborhoods in Glasgow, a difference of twenty-eight years, is the same as that between the UK and Haiti.

§ The UK’s famous Whitehall studies indicate that the odds of poor health and premature death increased as the employee’s status in the civil service bureaucracy decreased—even controlling for use of alcohol, tobacco and other factors.

§ The restoration of capitalism to the former Soviet Union is associated with a stunning 4 million excess deaths there.

§ A number of studies show that unemployment is associated with a significant number of excess deaths, even when controlling for other health indicators.

Those examples and many others that Therborn cites, which make “the correlation between hierarchy and death” all too clear, are harrowing. (Therborn wields a masterful command of an array of fascinating statistcs). Yet high inequality societies are far from inevitable. Therborn argues that “capitalism and capitalists can, under certain circumstances, be taught how to behave.” Income inequality in the Nordic countries in the early 1980s was about the same as it was in the Communist bloc. Egalitarianism, he claims, continues to hold a powerful appeal, and there are at least three major reasons why high levels of economic inequality tend to be deeply troubling to many people.

First, Therborn notes, there is the illegitimacy of today’s rentier capitalism. Many among the one percent derive their wealth “not from hard productive work, thrift and honest exchange, but from connections—parental and/or political—from gambling and from sidestepping existing norms and regulations.” Secondly, he says, the “positive lure” of egalitarian, enlightened societies “where nobody is outcast or humiliated, and where everybody has a chance to develop his/her capabilities.” Finally, there is what he calls “the social cost of other people’s misery”:

Without support from any representative-sample surveys, I would venture the proposition that most middle-class Kolkatans, Cairenes, Kinois, Angelenos, or Paulistas would prefer to walk (or drive) the cities or, say, Paris or Stockholm, where they will not get confronted with abject misery, where streets and public spaces are clean—not because the miserable have been chased away, but because society itself is cleaned of abject misery. Most middle-class people are likely to be happier without walled-in seclusion, barbed wire and armed body guards, without whom the happy middle classes of Northwestern Europe are living.

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Therborn has a gift for crafting paragraphs like the one above, capable of awakening the reader like a jolt. And so, upon reading that passage, I reflected upon how much abject human misery I take for granted every time I step outside my apartment for a cup of coffee—the obstacle course of panhandlers I dodge, the dazed-looked homeless woman with the shopping cart whose gaze I avoid. Yet, just blocks away from this terrible human suffering loom the gleaming offices of the highest-paid university president in the land (the University of Chicago’s Robert Zimmer pocketed $3.4 million in 2011, the year for which the most recent figures are available).

Therborn’s elegant, eloquent book is perhaps most valuable in the way it forces us to take a fresh look at the social order around us and its mounting and appalling human costs. He closes the book with these sentences:

The battle is about to start. Nobody knows how it will end. Which side will you be on?

It’s a very good question.


Read Next: Mary Bottari explains how pro-austerity groups lost the deficit wars.

David Jolly’s Clients Won Earmarks From His Old Bosses, Bill Young

David Jolly

David Jolly speaks during a candidate forum in Clearwater, Florida, February 25, 2014. (Reuters/Brian Blanco) 

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.com

David Jolly, the Republican congressional candidate vying for the special election in Florida next week, has not only made a career out of lobbying. Records reviewed by Republic Report show that Jolly’s clients won millions of dollars in taxpayer earmarks from his old boss, the late Representative C.W. “Bill” Young (R-FL), an appropriator known for his lavish use of the earmarking process.

These earmarks contrast sharply with the claims made by Jolly that he did not build his business career through political connections to his former employer.

“I did not build my practice around Mr. Young, not in any stretch,” Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times.

Two of the firms that hired Jolly as a lobbyist—BayCare Health Systems and Alakai Defense Systems—won lucrative earmarks from Young while paying Jolly to influence the committee where Young was a senior member.

In 2009, BayCare Health Systems retained Jolly and another former Young staffer named Douglas Gregory. Later that year, Young secured a $1 million earmark for BayCare Health Systems for “facilities and equipment.”

From 2008 through the beginning of 2010, Alakai Defense Systems, a sensor technology company for the military, retained Jolly as a lobbyist. Records indicate that during this period, Young awarded Alakai with over $2 million worth of earmarks.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act prohibits certain former staffers in Congress from lobbying their former employers for a period of time. As The New York Times recently reported, many former staffers have flouted the “cooling off period” ban by taking advantage of an array of loopholes in the law.

Jolly, who left Young’s staff to join the lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates in January of 2007, became a lobbyist just before the ban came into effect.

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“Yes, there are concerns raised when a former staffer appears to use his or her ties to his employer for personal gain,” says Jessica Levinson, associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. ”The cooling off period prohibition is designed to prevent people from using their connections in government to obtain unfair or preferential treatment or access for private clients.”

“The idea,” says Levinson, is that “everyone, regardless of whether or not they are represented by former staffers or officials, should get a fair shot to persuade their officials.”

Read Next: Lee Fang writes that Obama’s newest pick for TPP trade post is a former SOPA lobbyist.