Donald Sterling is not going to go gently into that good night. In fact, the 81-year-old multibillionaire looks like he wants to leave the NBA with a titanic bang. After hinting to Anderson Cooper during his instantly infamous CNN interview that he would gracefully exit (“I love [the other owners] and I respect them. And whatever their decision is with regard to the disposition of my terrible words, then I have to do it, I think”) his attorneys have announced that they would be fighting the collective desire of the planet to remove him as owner of the Clippers. In addition, his lawyers have made clear that he would not pay the $2.5 million fine he has been ordered by the league to fork over for racist comments and a “pattern of behavior” that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver states, has brought tremendous harm to the league.
This decision by Sterling to fight it out is entirely unsurprising. Throughout this process one would be excused for thinking that “Donald” is this man’s middle name and his first name is “The Very Litigious” given that his every description has been “the very litigious Donald Sterling.”
Yet if the Slumlord Billionaire goes forward beyond a lawyer’s threats, he will not win this lawsuit. Once we do away with the pomp and circumstance, being a pro-sports owner is basically being the same as being a franchisee. Like any franchisee in any business, Sterling’s claim of private property over his franchise has massive legal limitations. If I started a Quiznos and served up rat sandwich wraps served in a dirty ashtray, Quiznos HQ would—I sincerely hope—close me down. This is what Donald Sterling has done with the Clippers. Over the course of decades he’s been serving up those rat-wraps and calling it an NBA franchise. His personal behavior has been beneath contempt. His business practices as a slumlord as well as his misogyny would shame all but the shameless. He is a liability and, by every analysis that I have read, the NBA constitution have it within their power to “disenfranchise” him.
Yet despite his meager chances for success, we should hope Donald Sterling does take his fellow owners to court, because while any of us would probably last less than an hour selling Quiznos rat-wraps, Donald Sterling was sheltered for over thirty years in the NBA suites. Let the NBA answer these questions in court: If Donald Sterling was such a liability, why has he been an owner in good standing since the days of disco? If Adam Silver wants to argue that a “pattern of behavior” is at the root cause of his expulsion, then why is it only a problem now? If Sterling is such a liability, why was he handed one of the five best players in the NBA—Chris Paul—in a direct intervention by former NBA Commissioner David Stern? If his reputation as a monster is so well-known, why did Doc Rivers sign up to coach this club? Why did Paul re-sign with this team? If this is really about racist statements, then maybe Donald Sterling will elucidate for us some of the things he has heard in smoke-filled back rooms over the last three decades. I’m sure many of us would love to know what, say, OKC Thunder owner Clay Bennett has said over the course of that time.
By taking them to court, Donald Sterling also ensures that, at least in name, he will still be the owner of this franchise come the start of the 2014–15 season. Doc Rivers has said he may not return to coach if a Sterling’s name is profiting from his labors. All-Star forward Blake Griffin has said that his future with the team may not be for long as well. What is the NBA prepared to do? In the best interests of the game, could they declare every player on the Clippers an unrestricted free agent? Will players from other teams go on strike and refuse to play against the Clippers? Will fans show their support by not going to the damn games? A lot of people—owners, media, players—have talked a lot of high-minded rhetoric about why racism has no place in the league. Sterling is now playing “chicken” with their threats, daring them to walk it and not just talk it. Will all of the “shareholders” in the NBA put principle ahead of profit?
This lawsuit may actually provide answers to some, if not all, of these questions. One thing it can certainly do is finally put a punctuation mark on the end of the David Stern reign as Grand Poobah of the NBA. It’s time to air out the room. It’s time to open the blinds. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If that sunlight is provoked by the twisted, litigious mind of Donald Sterling, then so be it.
Read Next: Just before the World Cup, Brazil is on the brink.
The realization came to me later than it should have: getting a job is not the same as applying to college. After I graduated, I assumed for a long time that the work world operated the same way as the school world. If I wanted a job, I would comb through hundreds upon hundreds of job postings. If there were jobs that sounded interesting and I seemed to have the right qualifications, I would send in a cover letter and resume, then wait for a call to come in for an interview. About 98 percent of the time, a call never came.
Little did I know that by the time a company posts a job listing, in particular a journalism job, it’s often already all but filled and the posting is an HR formality. The people getting the jobs weren’t following the instructions as laid out on the “Work for Us” section of companies’ websites. They were having informal meetings with friends of friends.
School was all about following the directions and reaping the rewards. Getting ahead outside of school, I eventually figured out, meant figuring out rules that weren’t written down.
This real world lesson is a harsh one for girls especially. On the whole, we excel in school. We have for one hundred years. We nearly always get better grades. We are better behaved. Tell us to do our homework, raise our hand and sit still, and girls are much more likely to obey than boys. We’re also now attending college and completing degrees in higher numbers than young men.
This has some observers—from conservative Kay Hymowitz to centrist David Brooks to contrarian Hanna Rosin to mainstream David Leonhardt—worried that there is a boy crisis. If today’s boys are falling behind on self-control as well as grades, while women race ahead and get more degrees, will tomorrow’s flounder in the workplace?
But while we socialize girls to be better students, we do little to prepare them for a workplace that is not an even playing field. They leave school, a world full of clearly laid out rules and rewards, and move into a workplace that is tilted against them from the very beginning. Young women fresh out of college will make less than their male classmates in their first job, no matter what school they went to, major they chose, grades they got or job they took. That wage gap will continue to grow as their careers advance. They’ll make less than men in virtually any job they pursue. Even if they decide to go back to the structured world of academia and gain an extra credential like an advanced degree—something that the on-paper rules tell us should help them advance—they’ll still make less than a man with the same credential.
And that’s just when it comes to pay. Advancing up the ladder, which should be easier than asking for more money, is just as tricky. In my first jobs, I assumed that if I worked hard, I’d get promoted. And at some jobs that has been true. In others, I’ve been denied the boost even when I did the work. Studies have found that even when women do everything right, they more often than not won’t advance. The research organization Catalyst reports that among MBA graduates who hadn’t taken any breaks from their career paths—highly ambitious individuals—women were more likely than men to seek skill-building experiences and training as well as to make their achievements known by asking for feedback and promotions. But even so, twice as many men advanced to a senior executive level as women. As the organization notes, “[W]hen women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less.”
Women may not even be able to get hired into the jobs they want just because of their gender. When prospective employers only knew someone’s gender, they were twice as likely to hire a man for a job in mathematics, assuming that the women would perform worse on a test problem without even seeing the results. This is despite the fact that women perform just as well on solving a simple math equation. If women decide to instead become their own bosses and start businesses, they’ll get less backing from investors even if they give the exact same pitch as a man. Study after study after study shows that men get the benefit of the doubt, doubt that is heaped in extra portions on women.
Women of color are facing even more daunting odds. When we talk about well-behaved girls excelling in school, we leave out the racial achievement gap as well as the fact that black children are far more likely to be harshly disciplined in school. Nearly 40 percent of black and Hispanic girls won’t graduate from high school on time. Black students overall are three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white ones, and more than one in ten black girls receives an out-of-school suspension. All the challenges that women face are compounded by the racial economic barriers, starting with a larger wage gap with men and even a gap with white women.
Women today still have to contend with everything from the glass ceiling to the glass cliff. But we call them “glass” because, while they are measurable, they’re still invisible. It takes a while to bump into them and figure them out.
And what of boys who struggled in school? While Leonhardt sees a connection to fidgety boy behavior and the long decline in male wages, he doesn’t offer up any research to tie them, nor mention that women’s wages have also stalled for about a decade, which means the gender wage gap has soldiered on. “[I]n an economy that rewards knowledge,” Leonhardt worries, “the academic struggles of boys turn into economic struggles.”
And yet the struggles don’t actually seem to stay with them. “Move fast and break things” is a mantra in Silicon Valley, but it also does well for entrepreneurs, who are more likely to have broken the rules as teenagers—and also to be male. Those entrepreneurs end up making lots of money later in life. Boys may be making mistakes and getting in trouble while they’re in school. But then they’re unleashed into a world that assumes the best of them even when it shouldn’t. Take the story of Lucas Duplan, the 22-year-old white male CEO of the failed startup Crinkle. He raised $30 million, but has floundered without even putting out a product. As Zoë Schlanger relates in Newsweek, he was funded not because his idea deserved the money but because he got the benefit of fitting a certain mold: as one former employee put it, “He sells the vision of what every investor wants, which is a 20-year-old, white, male Stanford computer science major.”
There are certainly behavioral and academic skills learned in school that translate well into the workplace, ones that young girls seem to master more easily than their male classmates. But those skills still can’t contend with an economy that remains hostile to women just for being women. If the workplace truly were a meritocracy that looked like the meritocracy of grade school, it might be worrisome that boys are falling behind girls in sitting still. Until then, we might need to start educating girls earlier on what lies ahead after graduation day.
Read Next: Zoe Blumenfeld on standing up for girls’ education in Nigeria
Forty years ago, at a point when Americans were profoundly concerned about declining voter participation, democracy advocates proposed a fix: “instant voting.”
To remove barriers and increase participation in elections, the argument went, officials should make it possible for citizens to show up at a polling place, register to vote and then cast a ballot.
Instead of jumping through registration and participation hoops over a period of weeks, even months, people could just vote.
A handful of states—Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin—began to implement the idea and something exciting happened: turnout soared.
But the approach was controversial.
In my home state of Wisconsin, then-Governor Pat Lucey implemented the reform.
Lucey, who died last week at age 96, was a remarkable figure. He helped build the modern Democratic Party of Wisconsin, ushering an an era of two-party competition for a state where in the mid-1950s virtually every top official was a Republican. He was close to the Kennedys, playing especially important roles in the John Kennedy’s 1960 presidential run and Bobby Kennedys 1968 race. He bid for the vice presidency in 1980 as the running mate of liberal Republican John Anderson on a “national unity” ticket. As a prominent realtor in Wisconsin, he championed open housing as a part of a broad commitment to civil rights. As governor, he forged a strong university system, established fair and equitable funding for public schools, reformed criminal justice and the courts, fostered labor-management cooperation and economic growth, and appointed the first woman to the state Supreme Court.
But some of Lucey’s greatest accomplishments were as a political reformer, who championed open government and campaign finance reform—and who fought to make it easy to vote.
Pat Lucey believed in high-turnout elections. And Lucey was enough of a structural reformer to recognize that policies could contribute to making lofty rhetoric about popular democracy into an Election Day reality. Indeed, his support for Election Day voter registration was so significant that it helped to make this particular reform central to a national debate about how to expand the electorate.
In the mid-1970s, Lucey and his legislative allies moved to enact what the national media referred to as “instant voting”—a new set of rules designed to allow citizens to simply show up at a polling place, register and cast a ballot. This was a radical change from the restrictive rules that were in place in much of the country, many of which had their roots in the machinations of big-city bosses and Southern segregationists who were disinclined toward expanding the electorate.
When Wisconsin enacted rule changes to remove barriers to voting, it was national news. The New York Times highlighted Wisconsin’s 1975 plan for “easy and instant voting.” Critics screamed that this was a recipe for fraud, expressing particular concern about language that allowed for registration with a Wisconsin driver’s license, a student ID or fee card “or any other ID judged to be acceptable by local election officials.” There were demands for monitoring of elections by the US attorney’s office in Milwaukee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But after a review of the 1976 election, officials confirmed that the FBI “found no evidence of fraud or voter theft.”
What was found was high turnout. In November 1976, 210,000 Wisconsinites—11 percent of the total electorate—registered at the polls. The Times reported that “in Milwaukee, for example, registration in 1974 was at the comparatively high level of 65 percent. After Wisconsin adopted Election-Day registration in 1976, registration jumped to 86 percent.” Hailing the Wisconsin accomplishment, along with more modest advances in Minnesota (which also embraced Election Day registration), the paper argued that all America should “trust democracy by enlarging it.”
President Jimmy Carter agreed. He tried to take the Wisconsin model national, with a proposal for universal Election Day registration. It never quite happened. This country continues to have a patchwork of different registration rules, some of them absurdly restrictive. And there have been efforts in a number of states, including Wisconsin, to eliminate Election Day registration and limit related reforms such as those allowing for early voting.
These are moves in the wrong direction. So wrong that they have frequently been blocked by responsible legislators and the courts. But Maine Governor Paul LePage and his allies actually did eliminate Election Day registration in that state in 2011—only to have it restored by a 60-40 popular vote in November of the same year. Former American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Director Shenna Bellows, who helped get the issue on the ballot and who now is a US Senate candidate, said at the time, “Maine voters sent a clear message: No one will be denied a right to vote.”
Voters like Election Day registration, and for good reason—Election Day registration works.
As Demos notes:
Voting rights advocates have long argued that no voter should lose their access to the ballot just because they missed a registration deadline, or because a paperwork error left them off the rolls. Any number of studies have found that turnout will get a boost if people can register on Election Day, and that argument is backed up by the (data analyzed Nonprofit VOTE, a nonpartisan group that encourages nonprofits to engage voters).
Among states that allow residents to establish or update their registration the same day they vote, turnout was 71.3 percent on average—far above the 58.8 percent for the remaining states. Five of the Same Day Registration states appear in the top 10.
This effect can’t be explained away by other factors. For example, one useful predictor of voters’ inclination to participate was the margin in the presidential race—turnout was highest in the 10 swing states where the Obama and Romney campaigns battled most intensely. But even among these 10 swing states, the three that allow Same Day Registration easily beat out the others in turnout, with Colorado the only exception.
Unfortunately, Election Day registration is not universal, as Pat Lucey, Jimmy Carter and the reformers of the 1970s hoped it would be.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, less than a third of US states “currently offer, or have enacted laws which provide for Election Day registration, allowing eligible citizens to register or update their records on Election Day.” Several states have moved recently to create the option, including California, Maryland and Hawaii. But most Americans, especially those in Southern states with historically low turnout patterns, don’t have it.
So Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, has proposed a Same Day Registration Act, which would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require states with a voter registration requirement to make same-day voter registration—or revision of an individual’s voter registration information—available at the polling place on the date of election itself. The Ellison proposal would also make those options available during early voting periods. The congressman says the United States can and must “ensure [that] our nation lives up to its ideals and protects the most fundamental right in our democracy.”
That was what Pat Lucey did almost four decades ago with his push for “instant voting.” History has proven Lucey and the voting advocates of the 1970s right. They recognized, as we all should, that the promise of democracy is made real when voting is easy and turnout is high.
—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.
"The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," by John Jeremiah Sullivan. New York Times Magazine. April 13, 2014.
At the beginning of this piece, the facts known about its putative subjects—two black, female blues musicians who, in 1930, recorded a handful of haunting, virtuosic songs on 78rpm vinyl, now among the most sought-after pre-war blues recordings in the world—could be contained within a single short paragraph. By the end, the verifiable truths uncovered by John Jeremiah Sullivan could fill three, maybe four. Why then, asks the inquisitive but busy reader, should I spend any of my limited time slogging through 13,000 words? For one, there's Sullivan's potent prose, which goes down so easy you won't realize you're drunk until you're on the floor. And two, because the piece is ultimately just as interested in the pursuit of elusive facts as in their capture—and fascinatingly so. Dogged in his determination to fill in the ghostly outlines drawn by the music and myth of Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley, Sullivan winds up confronting some very basic questions about who owns the past (sometimes answering them in journalistically dubious ways), infusing the quest for esoteric historical knowledge with the urgency of a police procedural—and the deep humanity of a very satisfying novel.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“Canadian mining doing serious environmental harm, the IACHR is told,” by David Hill. The Guardian, May 14, 2014.
A damning report that reveals the human rights abuses committed by Canadian mining companies in Latin America—where up to 70 percent of mining is done by Canadian firms—was recently presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The report insists that these companies' profit-seeking policies are "destroying glaciers, contaminating water and rivers, and cutting down forest...as well as forcibly displacing people, dividing and impoverishing communities, making false promises about economic benefits, endangering people’s health, and fraudulently acquiring property. Some who protest such projects have been killed or seriously wounded, it states, and others persecuted, threatened or accused of being terrorists," as is currently the case in Peru. However, the part of the report that seemed most insidious to me was the role that the Canadian state played in promoting these mining companies, weakening processes of law in host countries, shielding firms from legal action and denying the abuses all together. Just further proof (as if we needed any) that under capitalism, the state is beholden not to people or the planet's well-being, but to profit-seeking companies that fund their re-election campaigns. We continue to plod on towards environmental collapse for the financial benefit of the few.
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“Adjusting to Apocalypse,” by Peter Frase. Jacobin, May 14, 2014.
This is the kind of week when my nagging worry that it's absurd and irresponsible to be writing about anything other than the colossal danger posed by impending climate change comes to the fore (had it not, I'd be talking about "Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women," also worth a read). You have probably heard the recent news that a massive expanse of Antarctic ice has collapsed, "irreversibly." The question is what to do with this information besides despair or ignore it. Peter Frase manages at least to write clearly about the necessity of rejecting these two options. The exact ratio of apocalyptic alarm to hopeful survival planning that needs to be hit on to move people to create meaningful change is impossible to determine, I think, but What do we do, how do we organize ourselves in the face of the change that's already happening and that's going to continue? is certainly what we need to be discussing. Some of the articles that Frase links to, in this and his previous article on the topic, provide further useful context (and a fascinating, albeit old, discussion of the rise and significance of positive thinking). Yes, the impending (already beginning) destruction is vast: what are the next steps?
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
"Prescription for Disaster," by Rachel Aviv. The New Yorker. May 5, 2014.
Rachel Aviv chronicles the story of an arguably well-meaning, though criminally naive, Wichita doctor and his transition from beneficent Dr. God, the go-to pain doctor in town, to a man looking at a thirty-year jail term. Though he wasn't a cash-for-pills kind of guy, Dr. Schneider prescribed highly addictive opioids to patients who couldn't get them elsewhere—for the simple reason that he thought his patients needed them ("Schneider asked his patients to rate their pain on a scale from 1 to 10...many patients scored their pain a ten or ten-plus.") It turns out, Schneider's practice—to his surprise—was responsible for the deaths of sixteen patients. Who is culpable: the patients exaggerating their symptoms to score some downers, or the doctors who didn't require psychological screenings before prescribing the drugs? We have an opiate problem in this country, and Aviv's narrative sheds light on the range of problematic approaches doctors take toward pain patients, spanning from overly skeptical to dangerously lenient.
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“Direct Democracy as a Disciplinary Device on Excessive Public Spending,” by Patricia Funk and Christina Gathmann. Journal for Institutional Comparisons, Spring 2014.
Why does direct democracy produce more fiscally conservative public budgets? Are citizens more fiscally conservative than representatives? Funk and Gathmann study Switzerland, a country with historically low government spending and heavy use of direct democracy, to find some answers. In Switzerland, political responsibilities remain at the canton level unless granted to the federal government via referendum. Sixty percent of cantons have mandatory referendums for large public spending projects (like bridges). As 86 percent of such projects gained citizen approval between 1980 and 1999, we can safely say that this influence of direct democracy has a fiscally conservative affect. Such forms of direct democracy only strike down public spending—little in the way of proposing spending takes place.
There is more than what meets the eye, however. The authors found that the correlation between direct democracy and more fiscally conservative budgets has a few causes. Not only does direct democracy reduce spending by offering fiscally conservative citizens an outlet for self-expression, high spending, it was found, increases the “likelihood of adopting stronger direct democratic institutions.” It is possible, the authors deduce, “that public spending results in institutional reforms rather than the reverse.” Might US fiscal conservatives take notice?
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.
"Haiti Strikes Back," by Fran Quigley. Foreign Affairs, May 13, 2014.
There are lots of themes tied up in human rights lawyers' class action lawsuit against the United Nations on behalf of thousands of Haitians who caught cholera introduced by UN workers. There's the broad issue of aid that doesn't aid; speculation about the future of international cases in the US after the Supreme Court effectively neutered the Alien Tort Statute last year; the issue of whether the UN forfeited legal immunity when it breached its agreement to itself address complaints against its employees. To me, one of the most noteworthy points is the contrast between UN and US rejections of this suit and their will to intervene in violent conflicts. A professor that Quigley cites contrasts UN statements that it should have done more in Rwanda and Srebrenica with its unwillingness to acknowledge responsibility on Haiti. Others have juxtaposed the White House's consideration of military intervention in Syria with its flat rejection, on the grounds of UN immunity, of the case seeking UN reparations to ease Haiti's cholera crisis. These contrasts are particularly striking because unlike with intervention in armed conflicts, the costs of commitment here would be only financial.
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
"Qaeda Affiliate Steps Up Video Propaganda Push," by Saeed Al Batati and David Kirkpatrick. The New York Times, May 12, 2014.
That US counterterrorism actions like drone strikes exacerbate the very problem they're intended to address is a truism being heeded—by Yemen's Ansar al-Shariah. The extremist group is actively backing off operations targeting Yemenis as US drone strikes in the region continue. The US has an image problem, and it's two-sided. Abroad, military strikes and the accompanying unrepentence over their compounding, horrific aftermath is creating an angry citizenry and a new recruitment strategy for terrorist organizations. At home, the politics that govern US foreign policy, with the premium placed on toughness, Rambo-like theatrics and military actions, are what in many cases inhibit the effectiveness of our policies abroad. And yet, the idea that an effective CT strategy should look like a big-budget action flick persists because hawkishness looks right. And for our politicians, when it comes to getting votes, looking right is better than being right.
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
"A Simple Theory, and Proposal, on H.I.V. in Africa," by Donald G. McNeil, Jr. The New York Times, May 10, 2014.
Could exposure to parasitic worms be part of the answer to the HIV crisis in Africa?
Some researchers are skeptical, others exited, about new work coming out of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa that suggests that women with genital schistosomiasis (otherwise known as schisto and caused by parasitic worms common in river water across Africa and parts of Latin America) may be more vulnerable to HIV infection. The theory makes sense: gentile schisto results in lesions in the vaginal area, making women more prone to cuts, providing a direct pathway for the virus to enter the bloodstream. Having a parasite also excites a body's immune system, thereby attracting CD4 cells, which are also happen to be the cells that HIV attacks
Whether or not genital schisto is the reason so many women are vulnerable to HIV in Africa, the parasite should be more readily prevented and treated. USAID considers it a "neglected disease" because little research and development is done and few medical devices are made to target the parasite, which kills more than 200,000 people a year (some vaccines are in the pipeline, but will take several years to become available). The New York Times notes that "the worms can be killed by a drug that costs as little as 8 cents a pill," but that high-priced patented versions are only available in South Africa for $4 a pill. According to the World Health Organization, only 8 percent of people with schistosomiasis had access to the drug in 2008. Continued high rates of schisto point to low access to clean water, low access to medical care and a broken pharmaceutical system in which drugs that are needed are not produced, and those that are produced are not made available to those who need them.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“How public spaces make cities work,” by Amanda Burden. TED, March 2014.
Paley Park in midtown Manhattan is one of the many reasons I love New York City. It has not walls but vertical lawns of ivy and a twenty-foot waterfall that drowns out the din of the adjacent street. I can spend hours here, reading or writing in a comfortable chair under a canopy of locust trees. Amanda Burden has a special connection to Paley Park. Her stepfather financed its construction in 1967 and spending time here nurtured in her an appreciation for the value of public space.
Years later, as chief city planner, she fought to revitalize and protect, among other urban oases, the Brooklyn waterfront and the High Line. “Claiming these spaces for public use,” she says, “was not simple, and it’s even harder to keep them that way.” Today 4 million people enjoy the High Line annually, but public space advocates spent years battling developers who wanted—still want—to put the 1.45-mile aerial greenway to more profitable use.
Public spaces are fundamentally democratic and efforts to establish and preserve them will often conflict with commercial interests. As New York City’s population grows to 9 million, there will need to be more housing and more employment opportunities, of course. But Burden reminds us why urban planners need to take the long view: people come to New York from all over the world not only for financial gain, and they stay not only out of necessity. “A successful city is like a fabulous party,” Burden says. “People stay because they are having a great time.”
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
“The Domino Sugar Refinery and the Art of Real Estate,” by Kyle Chayka. The Baffler, May 13, 2014.
Kara Walker's installation in the former Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg received widespread coverage when it opened last weekend (see Hilton Als' typically astute commentary at The New Yorker.) The piece features an approximately seventy-five feet long by thirty-five feet high sphinx made of white sugar surrounded by small sculptures made of sugar candy. Kyle Chayka puts a political spin on the project at The Baffler's blog, Zero Tolerance, arguing that the installation, despite its clear reflections on race, gender and economics, doubles as an advertisement for the condos that are soon to be built on the site and is part and parcel of the gentrification that has transformed Williamsburg. While I think that Chayka underestimates the power of Walker's work, he's right to make explicit the question (already posed, I think, in Walker's piece) of how art interacts with commerce and to highlight the difficulty in transcending systems of oppression.
Read Next: Intern Justine Drennan on the fight to save San Francisco's public college.
Who is Narendra Modi, and why should we be afraid?
Modi, of course, is the leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, a rightist, Hindu nationalist party, which won big in India’s weeks-long national election, and Modi will become India’s next prime minister now that 550 million ballots have been counted. In ousting the Congress party, the BJP will drag India much farther than it has ever been into a sectarian and even militant view of the role of Hindus in India and beyond, and it’s very possible that relations between India and Pakistan will get a lot worse under Modi. Because Modi is, above all, a pro-business advocate, he’ll be careful not to rush into a confrontation with either Pakistan or China. But those relationships, already not good, are certainly not likely to improve under the BJP. (Markets were sharply higher in India after Modi’s win was confirmed.)
Not only would worsening ties between India and Pakistan threaten to revive those two countries’ proxy war in Afghanistan, but if they lead to tensions in Kashmir (beyond the long-simmering crisis that plagues that divided region), then they could even threaten to spark a war between New Delhi and Islamabad—and both countries are nuclear-armed. And Modi’s involvement in horrific sectarian, anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat signal that Modi may not be welcomed by India’s vast Muslim minority.
There’s also a danger that the United States, where some neoconservatives and other hawks see India as a counterweight to China, might seek to build military ties with the new BJP government as part of Washington’s “pivot” toward Asia.
The BJP is the political heir of the 1970s-era Janata party, which ruled India for a few years under Morarji Desai. Aside from, and parallel to, the role of the BJP and Modi in sectarian strife putting Hindus against Muslims in India, the BJP and its allied organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have forces within them that believe that India under the Congress party and the Gandhis has lost sight of India’s glorious role as defender of Hindu interests. The RSS—whose name translates as “National Volunteer Organization”—is a right-wing, paramilitary group founded in 1925, which has long been involved in anti-Muslim violence and which has been banned several times in India’s history, including after one of its adherents assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. And though the leaders of the BJP have, lately, been careful to keep the RSS at arm’s length, the RSS jumped into the fray during the election with strong support for the BJP.
The BBC, in its profile of Modi, says in regard to the RSS:
Analysts say the reason Mr Modi remains unscathed is the strong support he enjoys among senior leaders in the right-wing Hindu organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS, founded in the 1920s with a clear objective to make India a Hindu nation, functions as an ideological fountainhead to a host of hardline Hindu groups—including Mr Modi’s BJP with which it has close ties. The RSS has a particularly strong base in Gujarat, and Mr Modi’s ties to it were seen as a strength the organisation could tap into when he joined the state unit of the BJP in the 1980s.
Recently, a rising tide of Hindu nationalism in India has led to worrying developments, especially for Muslims and secularists, including the banning in India of a recent book by Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History. Indian journalists who’ve reported on the role of Modi, the BJP and the RSS in recent sectarian violence have been threatened. And critics have felt the violent wrath of BJP supporters.
BJP supporters, of course, were blamed for Hindu-vs.-Muslim sectarian violence of 1992 and 2002 in Gujarat—where the population is about one-seventh Muslim—in which thousands died. In an interview with The New York Times after the riots, in which Hindus rampaged against Muslims, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, Modi—then Gujarat’s chief state minister—was brazenly unapologetic. In 2005, the United States banned Modi from traveling to the United States, though in February—having figured out that Modi and the BJP were likely to win the election in May—the US embassy reached out to Modi once again. (Modi also had reconciliation meetings with Britain, the former colonial power, and with the European Union.)
Writing in The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria edges dangerously close to the notion that the United States can now rebuild ties with India under Modi, who is likely to reject, according to Zakaria, India’s “old, Third World, anti-colonial impulses” for the “obvious requirements of a new Asia in which China is emerging as the dominant power.”
And making little of Modi’s Hindu nationalism and the RSS, Fortune magazine was bullish about the new government:
[It] offers an opportunity for the U.S. to shore up a central part of the relationship that has frayed over the last two years. An Indian government more focused on trade and investment would provide a welcome opening, and U.S. corporations are eager to get back to business. Washington can respond with convening long-delayed trade meetings, and championing Indian interest in deeper economic partnership throughout Asia, including a path to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and inclusion in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.
The issue of relations with Pakistan wasn’t a major factor in the election, but it’s now being raised as a major question for Modi. As the BBC reports:
Mr. Modi’s reputation as a no-nonsense leader standing for muscular nationalism has led to suggestions that India would be more assertive diplomatically under his rule. In its election manifesto, the BJP says it believes political stability, progress and peace are “essential for South Asia’s growth and development.” But the party’s leader has also hinted at a tough stance on talks with Pakistan, saying “the sound of dialogue is drowned by the noise of bombs and guns.”
And the BBC adds:
Mr. Modi’s status as an international pariah—cut off by the US and UK after the 2002 riots—came to an end in the last two years. He must now convince India’s Muslims—the country’s biggest minority community—and others that his Hindu nationalist party will not pursue an overtly majoritarian political and social ideology. He has reassured Muslims that they will be protected under his leadership, but some Hindu nationalist leaders reportedly made anti-Muslim speeches while campaigning for the election.
Read Next: Shubh Mathur and Foreign Policy In Focus on terror and impunity in Kashmir.
A Missouri death row prisoner on Friday requested for a videographer to record his upcoming execution, which he claims is likely to bring him tortuous pain due to a medical condition.
Russell Bucklew, 45, has a congenital defect called hemangioma, which causes clumps of malformed blood vessels to grow in his neck, throat and head. Bucklew’s lawyers say his condition will likely cause him to hemorrhage and choke during his execution by lethal injection, scheduled for May 21. Dr. Joel B. Zivot, an anesthesiologist who examined Bucklew, supported this claim in a written affidavit.
Bucklew was convicted of the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders, as well as kidnapping and raping his ex-girlfriend.
Attorneys say taping Bucklew’s execution would provide key evidence “to better examine whether Missouri’s lethal injection procedures are ‘sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering’ in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
“If Missouri officials are confident enough to execute Russell Bucklew, they should be confident enough to videotape it.” Cheryl A. Pilate, one of Mr. Bucklew’s attorneys, said in a statement. “It is time to raise the curtain on lethal injections.”
Bucklew is also challenging a Missouri law that shields key information about the state’s execution procedure. Missouri’s secrecy statute protects the anonymity of anyone serving on an “execution team,” including the state’s lethal injection drug supplier. Other states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, recently passed similar laws. Bucklew’s attorneys cite Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett last month, which caused him to writhe and gasp in pain, as the “inevitable” consequence of carrying out the death penalty under a shroud of secrecy.
Bucklew’s motion comes one day after several prominent news organizations filed a landmark lawsuit challenging Missouri’s execution secrecy statute. The Guardian US, the Associated Press and three local newspapers—The Kansas City Star, the Springfield News-Leader and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—say citizens have a First Amendment right to know the “type, quality and source of drugs” used to execute prisoners in their name.
According to The Guardian US, the lawsuit is the first known First Amendment challenge to a death penalty secrecy statute.
Read Next: Watch Eric Holder blast the “excessive” use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.
This past January, when Governor Chris Christie fired Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager and top political aide, many wondered why. Following Christie’s November 2013 re-election, Stepien was tapped by Christie to lead the New Jersey GOP and to serve as a leading consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie heads—and which the governor intended to use as his platform for his 2016 presidential bid. So why was Stepien fired? He wasn’t directly implicated in the lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge—at least not by the e-mails released in January—but he was ousted anyway, along with Bridget Anne Kelly, the author of the infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” e-mail to David Wildstein, a top official at the Port Authority.
But Stepien may hold the key to finding out whether and how the governor was involved—or not—in the decision to close the lanes and then perhaps to cover it up afterwards. That’s why Stepien’s decision this week to respond to Christie and to his chief spokesman, Michael Drewniak—who testified in front of the legislative committee investigating Bridgegate on May 13—is important. In a letter he released this week, Stepien’s lawyer stopped just short of accusing the governor of lying last year, when Christie told reporters at a press briefing on December 13, 2013, that his senior staff had no prior knowledge of the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. The truth, according to Stepien’s lawyer Kevin Marino, is that Stepien admitted to Christie the day before that press briefing that he had discussed the lane closure idea before it happened with Wildstein, the Port Authority official who shut down the bridge lanes.
The accusation by Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, doesn’t add to the public knowledge of whether Christie himself had anything to do with the lane closures. But if it’s true that Christie “misspoke” to reporters, as Marino put it delicately to the Bergen Record, it at least raises the question of whether Christie was engaged in a cover-up designed to minimize political fallout.
Stepien’s accusations followed on the heels of testimony the day before from Drewniak, Christie’s press spokesman, to the New Jersey legislative panel investigating the bridge scandal. On May 13 Drewniak told legislators that the governor’s senior staff knew last fall that Stepien and Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly may have had advance knowledge of the lane closings. Drewniak testified he personally told the governor’s chief counsel, Charlie McKenna, in late October or early November that might be the case.
Drewniak said he was told by David Wildstein that both Kelly and Stepien knew about the lane closures before they occurred. McKenna, according to Drewniak, said he was already aware of the accusation. This information “was in the bloodstream of the administration,” as Drewniak put it, when he went to talk with McKenna, telling legislators that’s why he didn’t need to bring it up again later with senior staff.
Christie’s senior aides did not make much effort to get to the bottom of the lane closure, according to NJSpotlight, in part because the Christie administration was stalling until the subpoena authority of the legislative committee investigating it expired:
Yet it was not until four or five weeks later, when Drewniak told Christie and Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd on December 5 that Wildstein was adamant that he had told Stepien and Kelly in advance about the lane closures, that Christie and O’Dowd questioned the pair. Christie already had his suspicions, Drewniak said. He recalled the governor saying at the time, “I always wondered if Stepien knew more about this.”
Nevertheless, Christie and O’Dowd accepted their disavowals without bothering to interview Kelly’s subordinates.… “It calls into question what has been enunciated in the past about what the governor’s office knew and when it knew it. They knew our subpoena power would expire in a short period of time,” [Assemblyman John] Wisniewski [co-chairman of the legislature’s select committee on investigations] said, contending that the Christie administration’s failure to mount a full internal investigation represented “an effort to run out the clock.”
At the time Wisniewski was investigating the issue in the transportation committee under authority he had to look into toll hikes and other issues at the Port Authority.
The letter released by Stepien’s lawyer was written in April to Randy Mastro, the lawyer hired by Governor Christie to investigate the lane closures, and demanded that Mastro retract key statements in the report he issued in March. The report was widely discredited as a whitewash designed to exonerate Christie and allow him to renew efforts to become a leading presidential contender. It lays the blame for Bridgegate at the feet of Wildstein and Bridget Kelly but also stated that Stepien lied about having prior knowledge about the lane closures. Stepien’s lawyer said he was making the April letter public because Mastro had not acted on his request.
The letter wanted corrections to such statements as:
The Governor, having been “assured” that his senior staff and Stepien had no involvement, told the press that day that none of them had any prior knowledge of the lane realignment. … The Governor and his senior staff accepted Kelly’s and Stepien’s assurances, which were later revealed to be false.
Marino argued that Stepien had nothing to do with “the origination, planning, execution, or concealment,” of Bridgegate, and criticized Mastro for tarnishing Stepien’s reputation. He claimed the report’s false accusations are unfairly being used to justify Stepien’s ouster as head of the New Jersey GOP and from acting as a top consultant to the Republican Governor’s Association.
But the Newark Star-Ledger said, in an editorial, that it has lost patience with Christie’s “well-timed Bridgegate amnesia”:
According to Tuesday’s testimony from Michael Drewniak, the governor’s pugilistic press secretary, Christie wondered aloud during a Dec. 5 meeting whether Stepien was deceiving him by hiding what he knew of the lane closures.
“I always wondered if Stepien knew more about this,” the governor said, according to Drewniak.
That revelation is potentially damaging to the governor. For one, he claimed unequivocally during a Dec. 13 press conference that no one in his inner circle knew about the lane closures. Drewniak’s testimony indicates that the governor had his suspicions, but decided to keep them secret. It is also revealing, and a bit revolting, to note that Drewniak watched the governor make this misleading statement without making a peep.
So how can the governor explain this one away? Another convenient memory lapse. Asked about it on his 101.5 FM radio show Tuesday night, the governor said he has “very little recollection of that conversation.”
Wisniewski told reporters after the hearing, “What this testimony says to me is it calls into question the timeline that has been enunciated in the past about what the governor’s office knew and when they knew it.”
Yes, what did he know, and when did he know it?
Read Next: Christie Watch reports on the governor’s other bridge scandal.
I don’t know that there’s a writer out there who can release a trailer for a new magazine article as if it’s promotion for their new mixtape aside from Ta-Nehisi Coates. He has the Internet buzzing with this one. Behold, “The Case For Reparations”:
And why shouldn’t we be excited? The last time any prominent figure made an argument in favor of reparations, it was Dave Chappelle doing a sketch on his Comedy Central TV show. The idea has become more of a punch line than a serious policy debate.
Hopefully, Coates will be able to change that. If Thomas Piketty has us all thinking about massive wealth redistribution as an answer to growing inequality, let’s also put reparations back on the table. The descendants of enslaved Africans in America have endured a particular type of inequality, one based on an ideology of white supremacy and borne out in a racial caste system, that requires a particular type of corrective. The un- and underpaid labor of generations of black bodies created massive amounts of wealth for everyone but the peoples whose work was exploited. And we’ve continued to suffer the consequences.
The least the American government can do is cut a check.
Read Next: The tactics change, but the police state stays the same.
In late 2012, a group of New York City fast-food workers walked off the job for a day, not knowing that they were taking the first steps in a movement that’s now circumnavigating the globe. The unprecedented coalition of fast-food service workers workers, organized labor and community advocacy groups has gone international with its demand for higher wages and union rights under the banner #Fastfoodglobal.
As we reported last week, the city that hatched the first fast-food strikes hosted an international conference of fast-food workers and labor organizers. Yesterday the international wing of the movement debuted in about thirty countries (and more than 150 US cities) with demonstrations ranging from strikes to marches to flash mobs, massing in the tens and the hundreds, branded with slick social media messaging like worker trading cards and Hunger Games spoofs, inverted golden arches and the slogans “Low Pay is Not Okay” and “Fight for 15.”
Like the catalytic flash of Occupy Wall Street, Fast Food Forward’s seemingly sudden explosion might make it seem more like the latest media-driven campaign-of-the-moment than an organic labor uprising. But for the New Yorkers who have been mobilizing for the past year, recruiting fellow workers and coordinating campaigns with their chief sponsor, Service Employees International Union—on top of the constant struggle to scrape by on poverty wages, as Zoë Carpenter reports—the global upgrade of the movement is a taste of victory.
Naquasia LeGrand of Brooklyn, who works a cashier at a Park Slope KFC and earns about $8 an hour, reflected with amazement on how the movement has unfolded since she began campaigning in 2012. “You’re talking to somebody who was on the first strike. I can remember like it was yesterday,” she recalled in an interview with The Nation ahead of Thursday’s global strike day. “And now, knowing that it’s going global, I would have never thought… So just to see not only my country coming together, but all of the countries coming together, I mean, it’s amazing to me. It’s like ‘Oh, we don’t gotta go to war, we can come together.’”
The global influence is mutual. At last week’s conference, LeGrand discovered common ground between the plight of US fast-food workers and their counterparts overseas—workers in KFC kitchens in Thailand, she noted, toiled under harsher conditions for less pay—as well as some hopeful points of contrast. In some other wealthy countries, working at a McDonald’s is not seen as the quintessential “crap job” but a real livelihood. The Danish McDonald’s employees, for example, have had collective bargaining power for years and earn more than $20 an hour.
(Ironically, according to The Huffington Post, the Danes who make about $21 an hour are in large part unmarried teenagers, whereas their American counterpart is typically in her late 20s, often supporting a family on wages so low they must rely on public benefits—also far less generous than those of Denmark’s ample welfare state.)
LeGrand says that hearing the stories of organized fast-food workers overseas steeled her determination to push for a full-fledged union in her workplace. With a union that can help workers challenge the management directly, LeGrand said, “if you do something to my coworker, we’re all gonna make sure that this gets solved… especially when the manager is in the wrong.” Conversely, the penurious wages and degrading treatment endemic to fast-food work shows that the corporations “don’t want the workers to come together, they don’t want the workers to have some power, to have a voice, to actually have an input on what’s going on in the store.… The companies just don’t want to see workers getting rights, because they know there’s more of us than there is them at the end of the day.”
That “more of us” grew even bigger on the morning of May 15. Scores of fast-food workers and labor activists gathered at Manhattan’s Herald Square, carrying vuvuzelas and red signs that were also displayed at parallel protests overseas, displaying the words “#fastfoodglobal” and “Respect for Our Rights. For All Workers.” The sounds of marching band players and chanting in Spanish and English gave the strikes and protests the air of a global carnival. Meanwhile, transnational protests stretching from Chicago to San Diego rallied under the slogans “15 Y Un Sindicato” and “Lucha Por 15,” echoing similar slogans in San Salvador and Bogotá.
Protests had already started hours earlier on Kiwi time, as workers in Auckland rallied to demand higher pay. Echoing LeGrand’s internationalism, Unite union organizer Taylor McLoon told One News that New Zealand fast-food workers, who are covered by a rare collective bargaining agreement, were “showing both solidarity with fast food workers in the United States and around the world, and also showing McDonald’s they should be improving their conditions in New Zealand as well.”
And procession of menacing Ronald McDonald weeping-clown masks streamed through Tokyo’s Shibuya shopping district, alongside demonstrations led by workers and unions in São Paulo and Seoul, against unstable part-time scheduling, low pay and wage theft.
The day of action also provided a platform for local policy campaigns: in central London, protesters rallied at McDonald’s to protest zero-hours contracts, the on-call scheduling system that keeps low-wage workers impoverished. And at a Manhattan McDonald’s, local activists called for state legislation to allow the city to raise the local minimum wage toward the coveted $15 an hour.
That number means a lot to Anthony Roman, who went to Herald Square on Thursday instead of his $8-an-hour job at a Lower East Side McDonald’s. He and his coworkers struggle to scrape by, working punishing night shifts, sometimes coming to work sick. Without a living wage or a union, “that’s no respect,” he said. “And they just keep putting the pressure on us. And we’re not little kids, we’re grown adults.”
But over the past year, he’s been protesting and organizing with the movement, and he sees his hard work paying off for once. “It’s not only about me, it’s not about our parents, it’s about the next generation,” he says. “Because if we don’t do this now, our children and our grandchildren are gonna suffer a lot more than what we’re going through. I don’t care where you’re from.… Everyone has problems, and we all gotta stick together and work for a better future. And the best thing for the future is change.”
Read Next: Fast-food workers explain why they’re striking.
As often the case, Michael Shaw’s BagNewsNotes has posted an extensive, illuminating, not to mention shocking, compilation and analysis of visual evidence concerning a hot-button recent or historical event.
In this case it’s related to the recent trial, conviction and brutal sentencing of Occupy activist Cecily McMillan, which has been covered widely here at The Nation in past days. No need to rehash the New York City episode—the BagNews posting goes through it step by step, in the most revealing and coherent visual way yet, using a variety of videos and photos.
From Shaw’s intro:
As much as the issue in the courtroom was censorship, the problem with the enormous amount of imagery outside of it suggested that, sometimes at least, the more eyes we put on something, the less we can see. What is curious about Cecily McMillan’s ordeal—her sentencing scheduled for Monday—is that, in spite of the mountain of critical fragments that were captured and published, it never came together as a significant whole—the visuals failing to focus the public mind around a smoking gun.
Mindful of the gaps, what we’ve tried to do—working with photo and video journalist, Zach D. Roberts, who has spent a great deal of time documenting Occupy Wall Street and who was using multiple cameras the night of M17 –is a break down the critical events into four chronological “chapters” to try and get closer to that whole.
Go there now to see the visual evidence in four separate “chapters.”
Also: When I was covering Occupy here every day over its first six months of prominence, I often referred to or posted the photos of Annie Appel, who was documenting the movement in wonderful black and white portraits, starting in LA and then other cities. She now has a Kickstarter campaign for a hoped-for book that includes text by Carne Ross and Chris Hedges. Check it out.