A fractured death penalty ruling, the Pentagon’s pimping pundits, campus antisweatshop campaigns and Guggenheims for Nation poets.



The Nation is holding its annual

Student Writing Contest

. We’re looking for original, thoughtful student voices to answer this question: what have you learned from a personal experience that the next President should know before setting the agenda for the country? Winners will receive $1,000, and their essays will be published in The Nation. The contest is open to high school and college students. Deadline is May 31. Go to for info.


Amid a grueling presidential primary season and an especially brutal week in Iraq, the Supreme Court’s ruling in

Baze v. Rees

was a one-day news blip. Kentucky’s lethal-injection protocol has been found legal; executions around the country may resume. No presidential campaign issued a statement; no reporter asked the candidates for their views on whether a medical cocktail banished by veterinarians as too cruel for animal euthanasia is suitable for killing humans.

Yet there was real importance in Baze. Start with Justice

John Paul Stevens

, who in 1976 was part of the seven-vote majority who restored capital punishment. Stevens took the occasion of Baze to declare that thirty-two years ago he was wrong: the death penalty is, in fact, “patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment.” At age 88, Stevens has joined two of his colleagues from 1976 in a twilight conversion:

Harry Blackmun

, who renounced “the machinery of death” in one of his last rulings, and

Lewis Powell

, who came to the same conclusion after he retired. Why it took them so long is a matter for biographers, but the curious historical fact is that–with Stevens’s change of heart–if the 1976 Supreme Court were resurrected and asked to vote again, the death penalty would lose, 5-4.

Maybe historical what-ifs don’t matter much, but the fractured ruling–no more than three Justices signed on to any single opinion–left plenty of what-ifs about the future too. What if executions in other states bring more data about the failures and flaws of lethal injection? What if, as Chief Justice

John Roberts

suggested, states concoct yet another method, with less risk of pain? More litigation is one of the few certainties of this knotted case. Then add the troubled concurrences of Justices Stevens and Breyer, the dissents of Ginsburg and Souter and the likelihood of changes on the Court, and another what-if presents itself: what if the next Justices to join Stevens, Blackmun and Powell don’t wait until they are 88?   BRUCE SHAPIRO


Laurels to

Forrest Gander


Rae Armantrout

, whose translations and poems have appeared in The Nation in the past year and who were recently honored with 2008 Guggenheim Fellowships in Poetry. As a translator, Gander has been drawn to Latin American poets–recently, the Bolivian

Jamie Saenz

and the Mexican

Coral Bracho

–whose lyrics mint idiosyncratic languages. In Gander’s renditions, the relentless talk of the poète maudit Saenz veers jaggedly and happily from reticence to flamboyance, from supplication to swagger, while the meditations of Bracho, with their languid, impetuous and sultry descriptions of the depths and textures of language and the physical world, surge and twist across the page. Over the course of three decades and more than ten volumes of work, Armantrout’s poems, with their short lines, clipped syntax and terse phrases, have been spare and uncompromising–and also vertiginous and lush–as they unstintingly examine the mirages that surround and deceive us. For all their tonal and topical differences, Gander’s translations and Armantrout’s poems imagine absence and loss in all its terrifying and mysterious forms. They call to mind, in their own ways, the spooky words uttered by Odysseus upon seeing the deranged behavior of his enemy Ajax (in John Tipton’s new translation of Sophocles’ Ajax): “If you stare hard at life/you see we’re nothing but shadows.” Stares can be like stars–a fusion of elements that’s incandescent. Theirs are.   JOHN PALATTELLA


While fans of the Tar Heels were cheering the University of North Carolina baseball team to a season-best ninth consecutive victory on April 20, the two dozen student activists camped out in the historic South Building were seeing only red. It was the fourth straight day they had occupied chancellor James Moeser’s office, demanding that the university purchase 75 percent of its light-blue logo gear from factories where workers are paid a living wage and can form unions.

The UNC students are part of a nationwide campaign, led by the campus-based

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)

, to force universities to adopt the Designated Supplier Program, which requires garment producers like Champs, JanSport, Nike and Adidas and their overseas suppliers to guarantee living wages and labor rights. Students at Appalachian State, Penn State and the University of Montana, where school administrators have opposed the DSP, also organized office occupations in April, and forty-two other universities around the country have already signed on to the program. Reached in the chancellor’s office, Montana student

Kendra Kellevig

sounded optimistic. “They definitely don’t want the press coverage of students occupying their office and getting arrested,” she said of the administration.   YASMIN MADADI


“War is a racket,” retired Marine Corps Gen.

Smedley Butler

warned in 1935, and as an April 20

New York Times

front-page exposé of the Pentagon’s war-hawking media apparatus shows, nothing’s changed. Under a veneer of objectivity, more than seventy-five former officers-cum-“military analysts,” many with current ties to defense contractors cashing in on the Iraq debacle, have sold the Bush Administration’s line on the war’s progress, regurgitating Pentagon talking points on cable news shows and op-ed pages. The Nation had part of this story in the April 21, 2003, issue, when we uncovered the relationship between two NBC News military analysts and a well-connected Washington lobby beating the drums for war. But other outlets are so far ignoring the Times report, despite what

Norman Solomon


Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

calls the “outrageous relationship” it reveals between the Pentagon and compliant media. “These are people being paid to impart expertise on military issues, whose opinions are being shaped by the Administration,” says

Karl Frisch


Media Matters

. A racket indeed.

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