Richard Lingeman remembers Robert Bendiner, John Nichols laments Roland Burris, William Greider takes heart at the appointment of union man Ron Bloom to Obama’s economics team.



Robert Bendiner

, who was managing editor of The Nation from 1937 to 1944, died February 7 at the good age of 99. After a stint at The New Masses, he joined The Nation in 1937, which was then in the throes of some of its most economically and politically fraught years, shaken by the Depression, with the left riven by the great intervention debate. He could later say, “Grim as things were, there was an exhilaration, often a gaiety, sometimes even a giddiness in the offices of The Nation that wholly belied the times.” His daughter,

Peggy Margoshes

, called him “very witty, an optimist” who loved the

Marx Brothers

and sought to infuse humor into The Nation.

After service in World War II, Bendiner returned to the magazine as an associate editor. Disagreeing with editor

Freda Kirchwey

‘s editorial policies, which he considered too soft on the Soviets, he resigned in 1950. Later, he and his friend theologian

Reinhold Niebuhr

asked that their names be taken off the masthead amid the imbroglio over former art critic

Clement Greenberg

‘s calling foreign editor

J. Alvarez del Vayo

a Stalinist tool. In 1956 Bendiner became a contributing editor for The Reporter, and in 1968 he joined the editorial board of the New York Times. A liberal Democrat, he wrote campaign speeches for

Hubert Humphrey

. He remained politically involved to the end, rejoicing in Obama’s election while in the hospital, his daughter said.   RICHARD LINGEMAN


Former Illinois Governor

Rod Blagojevich

may have been impeached, but his alleged attempt to auction off

Barack Obama

‘s Senate seat to the highest bidder is the scandal that keeps on giving. Now it turns out that Blago’s appointee,

Roland Burris

, talked with key associates of the governor about his interest in the seat and that–at the request of gubernatorial brother

Robert Blagojevich

–he mounted a fundraising drive for the man who would make him a senator. Burris appears to have recalled these salient details only after a visit from federal investigators who may have some of the discussions on tape. Yikes!

With Burris defenders peddling the line that he was “simply negligent and had a failing memory,” the senator faces inquiries by the Illinois attorney general and the Senate Ethics Committee, as well as calls for his resignation. But the fundamental problem is not with Burris. It is with a system that allows governors to appoint senators to fill vacancies–a process that Senator

Russ Feingold

notes has generated a steady stream of controversy in recent weeks, not just in Illinois but in New York, Delaware and New Hampshire. “This is not the way to build confidence in government,” gibes Feingold, whose proposal to amend the Constitution to require that all senators be elected–as is the case with House members–has generated bipartisan backing (including a co-sponsorship from

John McCain

). Yet to sign on as co-sponsors: Burris and the other three senators appointed since November.   JOHN NICHOLS


Those nervous about

Barack Obama

‘s plans to rescue the banking system just got a kernel of good news they probably did not recognize.

Ron Bloom

of the

Steelworkers Union

, a brainy veteran of investment banking, has been asked to join the insiders–advising Treasury officials on the auto industry bailout. If

Tim Geithner


Larry Summers

will listen to Bloom, he might steer them away from disastrous errors. Bloom has the sophistication of a Wall Street financier but the head and heart of a labor guy. He knows how to “run the numbers” and close the deal, techniques he learned at

Lazard Frères

. When he left the world of capital, however, he went to organized labor. Bloom steers capital strategies for the Steelworkers and advises

Leo Gerard

, the union’s heads-up president. The Steelworkers have been aggressively using their financial power–the invested capital of pension funds–to force reform and worker-friendly policies on the corporate world. It takes smart strategies and hard-nosed negotiating to prevail in these tough fights. Bloom and Gerard have developed a reputation for both.

In the current financial fiasco, Bloom has been among the outsiders bombarding government with closely reasoned critiques. When

Henry Paulson

was handing out tens of billions to troubled banks and investment houses, Bloom called him on it. The terms of these deals were so lopsided, he explained, they amounted to a great gift from the taxpayers. The Treasury ostensibly purchased bank stocks in the largest financial firms but at prices deliberately inflated. We, the people, paid $125 billion for shares that a private investor could have purchased for $62.5 billion. The Steelworkers’ accusation was subsequently confirmed by others, though the precise numbers varied. The public needs someone like this on the inside, sitting at the table with administration officials but armed with a calculator and an independent mind. Let’s hope they listen to Bloom.   WILLIAM GREIDER


On February 7 the trustees of

Hampshire College

voted to divest from more than 200 companies that violate its social investment policies, including six–





United Technologies







–that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The college’s official statement couches the decision in the language of social responsibility, citing “unfair labor practices” and “environmental abuse.” But the action is an undeniable victory for

Students for Justice in Palestine

, which waged a two-year divestment campaign. It was SJP members who organized screenings and talks and staged mock checkpoints, collecting more than 800 signatures from students and faculty in the process. SJP members elected to the board of trustees researched the school’s investment portfolio and made the case for divestment to the investment committee. It is precisely this activism that

Alan Dershowitz

is targeting with his retaliatory Hampshire-divestment scheme. “What they [Hampshire administrators] have to do is make it impossible for the students to plausibly be able to declare victory,” Dershowitz said. But SJP has already received kudos from around the world, including from

Desmond Tutu

. And

Matan Cohen

, an Israeli, Hampshire sophomore and SJP leader, has received inquiries from students at Oberlin, Harvard, Columbia and the universities of Texas, California, Wisconsin and Michigan about SJP’s winning ways.   RICHARD KIM

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
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