Katrina vanden Heuvel endorses Eric Schneiderman’s “transformational politics,” Ari Berman resports on the GOP’s “vulture” capitalist, and John Nichols appreciates the “Palin Effect.”


FOR ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: “Transformational politics is the work we do today to ensure that the deal we can get on gun control or immigration reform in a year—or five years, or twenty years—will be better than the deal we can get today. Transformational politics requires us to challenge the way people think about issues, opening their minds to better possibilities.” Eric Schneiderman, then a New York state senator, wrote these words in a 2008 Nation article, “Transforming the Liberal Checklist.” He’s now running for attorney general of New York.

Over the years, Schneiderman’s commitment to transformational politics and progressive values has been tested, and he has proved that he is a steadfast champion of causes because they are right, not because they are popular or politically expedient. His advocacy for a smart and fair administration of justice is closely attuned to the times and the pressing need for serious judicial reform. He was the prime sponsor and a key leader in passing historic legislation that overhauled New York’s draconian Rockefeller-era drug laws, repealing harsh mandatory minimum sentences, which disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos. Schneiderman is also dedicated to protecting voting rights, having introduced legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering. And he offers a long history of fighting for a cleaner, more transparent state government. In fact, he wrote and sponsored the most sweeping ethics reform legislation to pass the New York Legislature in a generation.

Schneiderman has shown character, integrity and the ability to take on major national issues and put his own stamp on them. His independence, gutsiness and unwavering commitment to ensuring equal justice for all New Yorkers will serve the Office of the Attorney General well.   KATRINA vanden HEUVEL

GOP’S VULTURE CAPITALIST: The New York Times recently profiled conservative hedge fund tycoon Paul Singer, who has generously bankrolled the GOP and is known as a Republican George Soros. The article spotlighted the $500,000 Singer contributed in April to the Republican Governors Association and his push to thwart Wall Street regulation. Left unmentioned was how Singer amassed his fortune, in part by exploiting the debt of impoverished nations [see “Rudy’s Bird of Prey,” October 29, 2007].

In the 1990s Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Associates, pioneered a shadowy, lucrative and often ruthless form of investing whose products earned the not-so-generous moniker “vulture funds.” Vulture funds buy old defaulted debts, usually from the poorest countries in the world, and then drag the debtors into court, seeking a settlement far above what the funds originally paid for the debt (which has already been forgiven by rich nations like the United States or the World Bank) in a reverse–Robin Hood scheme.

Elliott’s targets have included the government of Peru and the tiny West African Republic of Congo, where 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line. “Pay us in full or be sued,” Singer demands. “They’re completely amoral,” says David Skeel, a professor of corporate law at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s almost a matter of pride to them.” It’s not surprising that someone like Singer would be a major benefactor of today’s GOP.   ARI BERMAN

THE PALIN EFFECT: Perhaps a “thank you” is in order for Sarah Palin. After all, the former governor of Alaska engineered the Republican primary defeat of a senator who was all but certain to win in November, replacing her with a potentially vulnerable, not to mention volatile, newcomer. Palin has for years nurtured a political grudge against the first family of Alaska Republicanism—the Murkowskis. She defeated father Frank for governor in 2006, and this year she gave high-profile, essential support to Senator Lisa Murkowski‘s wacky Tea Partisan challenger, attorney Joe Miller. Miller prevailed, albeit narrowly. Now Murkowski is furious, and mainstream Republicans are upset that their party’s nominee is an off-the-deep-end extremist who wants to privatize Social Security and questions the constitutionality of unemployment benefits. Fresh polling puts the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, just eight points behind the Republican.

If national Democrats are smart, they will recognize that Palin’s meddling has provided them with a rare opening. McAdams, a former commercial fisherman with experience serving on school boards and in local government, fits the mold of a Democrat who can win in Alaska—as did former Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who grabbed the other Senate seat in the 2008 election. McAdams is still facing an uphill race. But with Miller ranting and raving about national Republicans trying to steal the nomination from him, Alaskan politics just got a whole lot more interesting for Democrats, who could use an up-north upset.   JOHN NICHOLS

LAYOFF KINGS: A recently released study from the Institute for Policy Studies reveals that CEOs of the fifty firms that laid off the most workers since the onset of the recession received 42 percent more pay in 2009 than CEOs at S&P 500 firms. Part of the institute’s annual Executive Excess series, “CEO Pay and the Great Recession” found that in 2009 the fifty CEOs who laid off the most workers received $12 million on average, while their peers at S&P 500 companies averaged $8.5 million.

Among the fifty “layoff leaders” was William Weldon of Johnson & Johnson, who took home $25.6 million in 2009, a year in which the company cut 9,000 jobs and recalled well over 100 million bottles of over-the-counter medicine. Kenneth Chenault of American Express, a company that has laid off 4,000 employees since the company received billions in federal bailout funds in 2008, received $16.8 million in 2009, including a $5 million cash bonus. Mark Hurd of Hewlett-Packard collected a $28 million severance package when he was forced to resign in August amid a sexual harassment investigation. This was on top of a pay package of $24.2 million in 2009, a year in which he cut 6,400 jobs.

While the national unemployment rate has risen to nearly 10 percent, CEO pay in 2009 more than doubled from the average CEO pay for the 1990s, after being adjusted for inflation. Sarah Anderson, lead author of the study, lamented, “CEOs are squeezing workers to boost short-term profits and fatten their own paychecks.”   KATE MURPHY

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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