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Ken Silverstein’s “Think Tanks in the Tank?” [ June 10/17] insinuates a lot, but the facts tell a different story. The inference at the heart of his article is that corporate donations shape or drive the content of CAP and CAP Action. That assertion is baseless and false. Silverstein’s argument relies on a junior staffer “flagging” a hardhitting piece we did on Goldman Sachs. But Silverstein fails to say that CAP’s leadership raised no concerns—indeed it pushed for additional coverage—and the original draft appeared verbatim and remains publicly available, along with more than two dozen other pieces of our reporting that are highly critical of Goldman Sachs. All that was required was a simple search of ThinkProgress. Silverstein also argues that CAP takes funds from Turkish interests and quotes an anonymous source: “as a result of the Turkish group’s support, CAP was ‘totally in the tank for them.’ ” Again, the author’s insinuation is refuted by CAP’s body of work. In fact, just days before the Turkish prime minister visited Washington recently, CAP published a piece critical of the Turkish government, “Freedom of the Press and Expression in Turkey.” Silverstein goes even further, insinuating that CAP’s growth over the year is attributable to our creation of our Business Alliance in 2007 and corporate donations. As the Huffington Post wrote in March, philanthropic giving is responsible for our growth. Only 6 percent of our funding in 2012 came from corporate donors, and it has never reached double digits. These are the facts—facts that undermine Silverstein’s preconceived conclusion. We are fiercely and proudly independ­ent and strongly refute any inference to the contrary. We expect more from The Nation, and we encourage readers to look directly at our work on corporate accountability and financial sector reform, clean energy, campaign finance reform, defense cuts and progressive tax reform to judge for themselves. Andrea Purse, Center for American Progress


Center for American Progress’s Beef New York City

Ken Silverstein, relying on anonymous sources, claims that “staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors, I was told.” I am not a CAP staffer, but I have been a senior fellow there almost since its inception. Beginning in 2003, I have either written or edited every iteration of the weekly “Think Again” media column for the CAP website. At no time during the writing or editing of these roughly 500 columns did I experience anything like what Silverstein describes (or anything else that would likely fall outside the purview of the editorial proc­ ess at any publication, including The Nation). Indeed, I don’t even know who’s on the development team or who CAP’s contributors are, and, thankfully, so far I have had no reason to care. I would have been happy to inform Silverstein of this had he contacted me. Eric Alterman, Nation columnist and senior fellow, Center for American Progress

Silverstein Replies Washington, D.C.

Gosh, along with not calling the billions of other people in the world who are not CAP staffers, I didn’t call Eric Alterman and called CAP staffers instead. This is just one of the many times in my life when I’ve thought, “If I had it all to do over again, I wish I’d called Eric to see what he thinks.” CAP was given plenty of time to reply before my article was published; it chose not to. Now it sends a letter that misrepresents what I wrote and shoots down arguments I didn’t make. There is evidence that CAP’s agenda has been influenced by its decision to take corporate money, but that is not the “inference at the heart of the article.” My main point is that CAP takes money from corporate donors without disclosing it, which is not an inference but a fact. Another fact is that in doing so, CAP sometimes acts as an undisclosed lobbyist for its donors. As I described, First Solar gave money to CAP, and (continued on page 34)

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Hezbollah’s Gamble Page 18: Plight of the Syrian refugee brides

On May 25, Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah confirmed what everyone in Lebanon and Syria knew: that the Shiite group’s fighters were deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, fighting alongside the bollah is now viewed not as a liberation army of Bashar al-Assad to regain territory movement but as a sectarian party suplost to Syrian and foreign rebels. Nasralporting an oppressor. Hezbollah’s role lah went further, committing Lebanon’s reversal is striking: a movement that had most powerful militia and political force long prided itself as an indigenous libto preserving Assad’s brutal rule. eration force committed to defending its “We will continue on this home is now fighting on foreign road until the end, we will take C O M M E N T soil. Nasrallah’s explanation for responsibility and we will make this shift was the classic casus belli all the sacrifices,” Nasrallah thundered, of foreign invaders. “If we do not go there speaking via a broadcast link to a large to fight them,” he said of the jihadists in rally of Hezbollah supporters. “We will Syria, “they will come here.” be victorious.” Nasrallah’s speech was After the US invasion of Iraq in timed to coincide with the anniversary of 2003, the traditional centers of power Hez­bollah’s greatest accomplishment: the in the Arab world—Egypt, Saudi Arabia withdrawal of Israeli troops from southand other Gulf states—became nervous ern Lebanon in May 2000, after a grindabout the growing influence of Iran: its ing eighteen-year guerrilla war. Nasrallah nuclear ambitions, its sway over the Iraqi used that symbolic anniversary to invoke government, its support for Hezbollah Hezbollah’s history of “resistance,” framand Hamas, and its alliance with Syria. ing the battle in Syria as part of his group’s Hezbollah’s strong performance against broader struggle with Israel. “Syria is the a far superior Israeli military during their back of the resistance, and the resist­ance summer 2006 war electrified the Arab cannot stand, arms folded, while its back world, and it offered a stark contrast to is broken,” he said. Arab rulers appeasing the United States. In Nasrallah’s telling, the fighting in Arab regimes feared that their Sunni Syria is not a Sunni versus Shiite conpopulations would be seduced by a new flict but part of a struggle to preserve and potent mixture of Arabism and Shiite the “axis of resistance”—Iran, Syria and identity—by Iran and Hezbollah’s mesHezbollah—against Israeli and US hesage of empowering the dispossessed. gemony in the Middle East. He branded When popular protests swept the Arab the foreign Sunni jihadists fighting in world in early 2011, Assad was confident Syria—from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, that he had nothing to fear because he Libya and other countries—as part of the had continued his father’s foreign policy: threat to this resistance. He went on to he did not depend on US tutelage like frame an argument intended to appeal to the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and the emotional core of Arab nationalists Yemen. Assad and his allies in the “axis of and Islamists: if Assad’s regime falls, he resistance” boasted that they were the true claimed, “Palestine will be lost.” representatives of the majority of people Nasrallah’s speech may have played in the Arab and Muslim worlds, who for well among his base in Lebanon’s Shiite decades had been stifled under regimes community, but his attempt to appropriate that “sold out” to the United States. the Palestinian cause did not resonate in But soon after the peaceful demonstrathe rest of the Middle East, where Hez­ tions in Syria turned violent in response

Inside   2 Letters

Editorials & Comment   3 Hezbollah’s Gamble MOHAMAD BAZZI

  4 Obamacare’s GOP Fans LEE FANG

  5 Noted   8 New York, New York, It’s a Hell of a Town EDWARD SOREL

Columns   6 Deadline Poet Adieu, Michele Bachmann CALVIN TRILLIN

10 Body Politic Abortion and Magical Thinking JESSICA VALENTI

Articles 11 The Battle for Aleppo JAMES HARKIN

18 Bartered Brides LAUREN WOLFE

20 John Lewis’s Fight for Voting Rights ARI BERMAN

26 How to Save a Sinking City ROBERTA BRANDES GRATZ

29 Will Obama End the Long War? ROBERT DREYFUSS

31 California’s Great Prison Experiment TIM STELLOH

Books & the Arts 35 Bloom and Martin: Black Against Empire STEVE WASSERMAN

40 Transient States


42 Steil: The Battle of Bretton Woods JAMES M. BOUGHTON

45 Pop & Circumstance JOSHUA CLOVER


The Nation.


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EDITOR & PUBLISHER: Katrina vanden Heuvel PRESIDENT: Teresa Stack MANAGING EDITOR: Roane Carey LITERARY EDITOR: John Palattella EXECUTIVE EDITORS: Betsy Reed, Richard Kim (online) SENIOR EDITORS: Richard Lingeman, Emily Douglas (online) CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Robert Best COPY DIRECTOR: Rick Szykowny COPY CHIEF: Judith Long ASSOCIATE LITERARY EDITOR: Miriam Markowitz ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Liliana Segura ASSISTANT COPY EDITOR: Matthew Grace COPY ASSOCIATE: Lisa Vandepaer MULTIMEDIA EDITOR: Francis Reynolds COMMUNITY EDITOR: Annie Shields RESEARCH DIRECTOR/ASSISTANT EDITOR: Kate Murphy ASSISTANT TO THE EDITOR: Barbara Stewart INTERNS: Alleen Brown, James Cersonsky, Catherine Defontaine, Andrew Bard Epstein,

Luis K. Feliz, Elana Leopold, Alec Luhn, Anna Simonton (Washington), Cos Tollerson, Sarah Woolf WASHINGTON: CORRESPONDENT: John Nichols; REPORTER: George Zornick NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: William Greider EDITOR AT LARGE: Christopher Hayes COLUMNISTS: Eric Alterman, Melissa Harris-Perry, Naomi Klein, Katha Pollitt (on leave), Jessica Valenti, Patricia J. Williams, Gary Younge DEPARTMENTS: Architecture, Michael Sorkin; Art, Barry Schwabsky; Corporations, Robert Sherrill; Defense, Michael T. Klare; Environment, Mark ­Hertsgaard; Films, Stuart Klawans; Legal Affairs, David Cole; National Security, Jeremy Scahill; Net Movement, Ari Melber; Peace and ­Disarmament, Jonathan Schell; Poetry, Jordan Davis; Sex, JoAnn Wypijewski; Sports, Dave Zirin; United Nations, Barbara Crossette; Deadline Poet, Calvin Trillin CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Kai Bird, Robert L. Borosage, Stephen F. Cohen, Marc Cooper, Arthur C. Danto, Mike Davis, Slavenka Drakulic, Robert Dreyfuss, Susan Faludi, Thomas Ferguson, Doug Henwood, Max Holland, Michael Moore, Christian Parenti, Richard Pollak, Joel Rogers, Karen Rothmyer, Robert Scheer, Herman Schwartz, Bruce Shapiro, Edward Sorel, Jessica Valenti, Jon Wiener, Amy Wilentz, Art Winslow CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Ben Adler, Ari Berman, William Deresiewicz, Lee Fang, Liza Featherstone, Laura Flanders, Dana Goldstein, Eyal Press, Lizzy Ratner, Scott Sherman, Wen Stephenson, Kai Wright BUREAUS: London, Maria Margaronis, D.D. ­Guttenplan; Southern Africa, Mark Gevisser EDITORIAL BOARD: Deepak Bhargava, Norman Birnbaum, Barbara Ehrenreich, Richard Falk, Frances FitzGerald, Eric Foner, Greg Grandin, Philip Green, Lani Guinier, Tom Hayden, Ilyse Hogue, Tony Kushner, Elinor Langer, Deborah W. Meier, Toni ­Morrison, Walter Mosley, Victor Navasky, Pedro Antonio Noguera, Richard Parker, Michael Pertschuk, ­Elizabeth Pochoda, Marcus G. Raskin, Kristina Rizga, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Dorian T. Warren, David Weir, Roger Wilkins ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER, SPECIAL PROJECTS/WEBSITE: Peter Rothberg ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER/DEVELOPMENT: Peggy Randall DIRECTOR OF FINANCE: Mary van Valkenburg HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR: Jeanne Perry VICE PRESIDENT, ADVERTISING: Ellen Bollinger ADVERTISING DIRECTOR: Amanda Hale VICE PRESIDENT, CIRCULATION: Arthur Stupar CIRCULATION MANAGER: Michelle O’Keefe AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT & DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER: Katelyn Belyus VICE PRESIDENT, PRODUCTION/MARKETING SERVICES: Omar Rubio PRODUCER/WEB COPY EDITOR: Sandy McCroskey PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: Mel Gray DIRECTOR OF NATION BUILDERS/INVESTOR RELATIONS: Joliange Wright NATION BUILDERS ASSISTANT/AD SALES PLANNER: Loren Lynch PUBLICITY DIRECTOR: Caitlin Graf CIRCULATION/BUSINESS ASSISTANT: Vivian Gómez DIRECTOR, DIGITAL PRODUCTS: John W. Cary DIGITAL PRODUCT MANAGER: Joshua Leeman TECHNOLOGY MANAGER: Jason Brown BOOKKEEPER: Maura MacCarthy ASSISTANT TO VICTOR NAVASKY: Mary Taylor Schilling DATA ENTRY/ MAIL COORDINATOR: John Holtz ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: Kathleen Thomas COMMUNITY COORDINATOR/BUSINESS ASSISTANT: Sarah Arnold ADVERTISING ASSISTANT: Kit Gross ACADEMIC LIAISON: Charles Bittner PUBLISHER EMERITUS: Victor Navasky LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: E-mail to (300-word limit). Letters are subject to

editing for reasons of space and clarity. SUBMISSIONS: Queries only, no manuscripts. Go to and click on “about,” then “submissions” for a query form. Poetry may be mailed to The Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003. SASE. INTERNET: Selections from the current issue become available Thursday morning at

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  June 24/July 1, 2013

to Assad’s ruthless crackdown, the leader of the “axis of accommodation,” Saudi Arabia, began sending money and weapons to the rebels. The Syrian uprising did not start out as a sectarian battle, but it quickly took on religious dimensions and descended into civil war. The conflict is now part of a larger struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of whom increasingly see their rivalry as a winner-take-all conflict: if Hezbollah gains an upper hand in Lebanon, then the Sunnis of Lebanon—and by extension, their Saudi patrons—lose a round to Iran. If a Shiite-led government solidifies its control of Iraq, then Iran will have won another round. So the House of Saud rushes to shore up its allies in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and wherever else it fears Iran’s nefarious influence. While Saudi Arabia and Qatar arm the Syrian rebels, the Iranian regime—and to a lesser extent, Russia—are providing the weapons and funding to prop up Assad. With so many powers playing out their proxy battles in Syria, the region is facing a conflagration worse than the one that accompanied the civil war in Iraq. The United Nations estimates that 80,000 have died so far, most of them at the hands of the Assad regime. Both sides are engaged in new levels of brutality, including the possible use of chemical weapons. “There is a human cost to the increased availability of weapons,” a UN independent commission reported on June 4. “Transfers of arms heighten the risk of violations, leading to more civilian deaths and injuries.” The first steps toward reducing the bloodshed are to stop the flow of weapons to both sides, restart negotiations and convince foreign powers to stop meddling in Syria. As the commission noted: “A diplomatic surge is the only path to a political settlement.” Unfortunately, that most rational prospect seems the most out of reach.  MOHAMAD BAZZI Mohamad Bazzi, a journalism professor at New York University, is a former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday.

Obamacare’s GOP Fans Even before President Obama signed the

Affordable Care Act into law, Republicans were vowing to repeal it. It’s no wonder, because polls showed that the basic elements of the ACA were quite popular, and there was a real danger that it would become more so as people found out that the plan denounced as a “monstrosity” by the National Republican Senatorial Committee would not trample on their COMMENT liberties so much as help protect their health. Desperate to avoid this, the GOP-controlled House has voted no fewer than thirty-seven times to repeal Obamacare in the three years since it was enacted. Now letters produced by a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that many of these same anti-Obamacare Republicans have solicited grants from the very program they claim to despise. This is evidence not merely of shameless hypocrisy but of the fact that the ACA bestows tangible benefits that even Congress’s most extreme right-wing ideologues are hardpressed to deny to their constituents. As I reported here last September, Congressman Paul Ryan,

June 24/July 1, 2013 

Noted. FAREWELL, FRANK LAUTENBERG: The son of a New Jersey silk mill worker and the last World War II veteran serving in the Senate, Frank Lautenberg took his cues from another political time—a time when liberals were bold and unapologetic, when it was understood that government could and should do great things. One of the few members of Congress who could remember listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio and going to college on the original GI Bill, Lautenberg served five terms in the Senate as a champion of great big infrastructure investments (especially for Amtrak and urban public transportation), as well as great big environmental regulations, consumer protections, and investigations of wrongdoing by Wall Street. It can fairly be said that the New Jersey senator, who died on June 3 at age 89, kept the New Deal flame lit. Indeed, among his last major pieces of legislation was a proposal to renew one of FDR’s greatest legacies: the Works Progress Administration, which provided public-works employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression that defined Lautenberg’s youth. A self-made millionaire, Lautenberg never forgot that government programs lifted him out of poverty. He refused to bend to the austerity fantasies of official Washington because he knew FDR was right: the country prospers when government serves the interests of all Americans—not just a privileged few. For more on Lautenberg’s legacy and the debate over his replacement, visit JOHN NICHOLS

PRISON ABUSE IN PENNSYLVANIA: In December 2011, the Justice Department announced that it would investigate allegations that the State Correctional Institution at Cresson, a medium-security prison in Pennsylvania, subjected “prisoners with serious mental illness to unnecessarily long periods of isolation,” failed to “prevent suicide and other self-harm,” and failed to “provide prisoners with adequate mental health treatment.” Months later, The Nation published an

The Nation.

in-depth investigation based on months of reporting and interviews with sources familiar with the prison’s inner workings [see Stroud, “Punishing Methods,” May 7, 2012]. It described a harrowing environment in which correctional officers denied prisoners food, water, toilet paper and access to psychiatric visits. Sources said COs routinely urged mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement to commit suicide and often fabricated charges to force them to stay in solitary for months, even years. On May 31, the Justice Department confirmed The Nation’s findings in a scathing thirty-nine-page letter delivered to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Not only did the report find that employees at SCI Cresson— which is slated to close at the end of June­— severely violated the civil rights of mentally ill prisoners, but the Justice Department announced that it will expand its investigation to the state’s “system-wide policies and individual instances that may reflect inappropriate placements of prisoners with serious mental illness into prolonged isolation,” among other civil rights violations. In other words, Pennsylvania prisons will now be under prolonged federal scrutiny. In response, Pennsylvania Prison Secretary John Wetzel issued a brief statement: “While we may not completely agree with every assertion in the U.S. DOJ’s findings, we certainly agree that we can always strive to do better.”  MATT STROUD

THE BRITS AND UNPAID INTERNSHIPS: Alarmed about “the number of companies recruiting young people to work for nothing,” British tax officials are forcing nine firms to pay some $300,000 in back wages to unpaid interns. The action by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, reported in a front-page article by The Times of London on June 3, cited the companies for “breaching minimum wage legislation.” Under British law, a position that has “set hours and set duties” is a job subject to the laws establishing a minimum wage. “Unpaid internships can provide valuable opportunities” to young people, said Michelle Wyer, assistant director of the government’s national minimum wage team, speaking to The Times. “However, we are clear that employing unpaid interns


instead of workers to avoid the national minimum wage is wrong.” The government has set up a “pay and work rights helpline” where interns can register complaints anonymously. Each of the fines announced thus far resulted from a complaint filed by an intern. The firms fined for minimum-wage violations included Arcadia, the country’s largest privately held retailer, which owns Topshop and other well-known British stores. Ben Lyons, co-founder of the group Intern Aware, told The Times that British tax officials “have only scratched the surface of Britain’s unpaid intern problem.” The government, he said, “needs to name and shame companies that refuse to pay their interns and use its powers to prosecute the worst offenders.” Several of Britain’s leading universities are now refusing to advertise unpaid internships because of what The Times called “growing concern over the exploitation of graduates.” Those joining the boycott include Oxford, York, Leeds, Liverpool, Essex, Sussex and Nottingham. More information can be found at JON WIENER

BRADLEY MANNING GOES ON TRIAL: On June 3, three years after Pfc. Bradley Manning was arrested for releasing a trove of sensitive materials to WikiLeaks, he finally went on trial in a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Maryland. Although he has already pleaded guilty to ten of the lesser counts (which themselves could carry up to twenty years in prison­), Manning is being tried on a number of additional charges—including “aiding the enemy”—that could result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty. For a case of such significance, Manning’s trial has received scant coverage. Among those who are shining much-needed light on the proceedings is civil rights attorney Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the WikiLeaks Whistleblower, who will be blogging the trial for The For starters, see his post “Seven Myths About Bradley Manning,” which Madar describes as “a quick debunking trip through the thickets of folklore that have sprung up around this case.” And be sure to follow his continuing coverage at THE EDITORS

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who as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 called for its repeal, sent a letter requesting ACA money for health clinics in his district two years earlier. The Nation has obtained documents revealing that at least twenty other Obamacare-­bashing GOP lawmakers have similarly pleaded for ACA funds on behalf of constituents. Among them are Kristi Noem, a Republican lawmaker from South Dakota likely to run for the Senate next year, as well as Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who has been touted as a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016. In one of two letters sent by Portman to the Department of Health and Human Services, the senator requested ACA funds to help a federal health center in Cleveland, where the money could help “an additional 8,966 uninsured individuals” to receive “essential services,” in his words. In Noem’s case, the congresswoman requested ACA funds to construct a community health center in Rapid City to provide primary services to the uninsured. Both Noem and Portman won office in 2010 campaigning vigorously against the law and have since worked to repeal it. Though notably less transparent, the behavior of these GOP lawmakers parallels that of GOP governors like Arizona’s Jan Brewer, who blast the president’s health reform package while embracing the millions in Medicaid funds that it provides. The letter writers include GOP rank-and-file Congress members, leaders and committee chairs, all of whom have supported the repeal effort. David Valadao, for example, a freshman representative who campaigned last year on his opposition to Obamacare, requested funds in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius two years ago for a program to improve “the general health” of the Fresno County area, which he then served as a California assemblyman. Congressman Jeff Denham, a two-term GOP lawmaker who won his seat with support from Tea Party activists, penned a letter recommending the same application for Fresno County. The county Department of Public Health won the grant. Valadao’s and Denham’s offices declined to comment. The Affordable Care Act authorizes an array of grants to local hospitals, community health clinics and doctor training programs, as well as public health initiatives to improve health and access to care. The billions of dollars in grants are awarded

Calvin Trillin, Deadline Poet Adieu, Michele Bachmann Gigantic tears into our eyes now well As we prepare to say farewell, Michele. We pliers of the small-joke trade are grieving. We so regret to hear that you are leaving. Oh, sure, we often managed to make merry With gaffes by Sarah Palin or by Perry. And Cain was grand; with Trump we had a ball. But you, Michele, were wackiest of all.

  June 24/July 1, 2013

on a competitive basis, and lawmakers on the state and federal levels have sent letters endorsing applicants. Texas Senator John Cornyn, the Republican whip, wrote to the Centers for Disease Control to recommend a grant for Houston and Harris County. Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican and the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a letter praising the same grant request, calling the effort a “crucial initiative to achieve a healthier Houston/ Harris County.” Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Thad Coch­ran of Mississippi also recommended grant request approval for public health or health clinic funding. House Republicans and the Senate Republican Policy Committee have trashed the ACA’s Community Transformation grants as an Obamacare “slush fund.” In the letters seeking these grants, however, GOP lawmakers have heaped praise on their potential. Cornyn writes in his letter that the grant would help “improve the health and quality of life of area residents.” Congressman Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois, congratulated a local nonprofit for winning a Community Transformation grant, noting that the program will give “people the tools to live healthier and longer lives.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee warns of Obamacare that “as this awful legislation gets ever closer to going into effect, the negative consequences are only becoming increasingly clear.” But the NRSC’s chair, Jerry Moran, has hailed programs that exist because of it. In August, he attended a ceremony announcing a $4.7 million expansion of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas. A picture posted on Moran’s official Facebook page shows the senator in a suit with his foot on a shovel to break ground for the health clinic. “That funding—that came from the Affordable Care Act, and he voted no,” says Krista Postai, CEO of the CHC-SEK clinics. She adds that Moran had been supportive of health clinics in the past, and she was disappointed to see him vote against the law that made her clinic expansion possible. Postai noted that her clinics are already improving lives with ACA funding, and that there are thousands of uninsured and disabled people in her community who now receive coverage and preventive care thanks to the law. Some of the letters obtained by The Nation are from lawmakers who are no longer in office, including Jerry Lewis, Bobby Schilling, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Robert Dold. The letters of support for ACA grants are a reminder (if one is needed) that some Republican claims against the bill reflect politics rather than policy preferences. GOP Congressman Hal Rogers, who rails against healthcare reform as “socialistic,” wrote a letter asking for an Obamacare health clinic grant almost as soon as the money became available. Federal health centers provide a range of healthcare services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. The ACA dramatically boosts spending on these centers, by about $11 billion, with the goal of reaching 1.25 million additional patients. Congressman Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican who has led efforts to repeal healthcare reform, stood next to a 6-foot stack of papers he dubbed the “Obamacare Red Tape Tower of Regulations” at a press conference in May. In October, Cassidy posed for a different type of press event, standing with school ad-

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ministrators in Baton Rouge, scissors in hand, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for three school-based health centers. The ceremony was a celebration of a $500,000 grant authorized by the Affordable Care Act to expand health clinics in area schools. Before healthcare reform made nearly every federal health program a political football, the Bush administration routinely requested greater funds for federal community health centers with little controversy. But health clinics once supported by the GOP are now on the chopping block. Republicans, led by Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas, have attempted to roll back the ACA’s expanded clinic funding. Also, several of the repeal bills in Congress have targeted the entire law, including funds for health centers and public health initiatives. The fact that they have sought grants for those centers has not stopped Republicans from voting against them. Louisiana’s Cassidy, for instance, voted for Burgess’s bill to shut down funding for clinics. Whether cutting a ribbon or signing a letter, no Republicans have acknowledged that the health programs they are endorsing are provided by Obamacare. Some GOP lawmakers have balked at the charges of hypocrisy. “Sen. Chambliss voted against the Affordable Care Act, just as he did the stimulus package. But the bill passed, and if the money is available, we want Georgians to be able to compete fairly with folks from other states for it,” wrote Lauren Claffey, the senator’s press secretary, in an e-mail. Similarly, Senator Isakson’s office e-mailed a statement from the senator claiming: “I voted against Obamacare and will continue to work to repeal it. However, one of the most important parts of my job as senator

  June 24/July 1, 2013

is to assist Georgia individuals, businesses and local governments in their dealings with the federal government. Any time one of my constituents has business with the federal government, I try to be as helpful as possible by supporting worthy projects.” If these grant letters—sent since the ACA’s implementation in 2010—are any guide, GOP opposition to the law will be seriously tested when the open enrollment period for ACA exchanges begins this fall. What will these Republican lawmakers say to their uninsured constituents who want to sign up? To the extent that the law is successful, it places its Republican critics in a bind, which is why they’re working so hard to undermine it. “The thing about reading these letters is that they’re well-drafted. If you were to read them as stand-alone, you would say, ‘Gosh, the Affordable Care Act is great,’ not ‘Let’s repeal the bill,’” says Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform advocacy group. Rome points out that Republican lawmakers are not “holding press conferences in front of a community health center saying, ‘I’m here to get this defunded.’” He adds, “Now that would be political courage.”  LEE FANG Lee Fang, a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, is author of The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right.


eaders will have noticed that our last issue started our biweekly summer schedule. We will resume weekly publication in mid-August. Happy summer!


New York, New York, It’s a Hell of a Town


s Billy Graham approaches his ninetyfifth birthday, hetero­ sexual Christians around the globe prepare to toast his never-ending crusade against sexual deviation. Although Billy has brought his ministry to the spiritually needy every­where, it wasn’t until he visited a New York City porn shop in the summer of 1969 that he fully realized how far America had descended into sin and depravity. As he subsequently told Time: “One day, I put on dark glasses and a hat and pasted on long sideburns, and I went to some of these stores in New York. I had thought Sweden was

bad, but Sweden hasn’t gone near to the depths of various sex deviations and obsessions that we have…. there are sections of this country that have sunk as low as anything in history.” This statement is curi­ous­ly at odds with the pho­to­­graph, taken at the time of his visit, and raises several questions. Why did he say he was in disguise when he wasn’t? Had he been in disguise on previous trips to such establishments? And how did he know these porno shops were worse than Sweden’s? Furthermore, what exactly was the hand in his pocket doing? EDWARD SOREL



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  June 24/July 1, 2013

Jessica Valenti Abortion and Magical Thinking It takes a special kind of willful ignorance to oppose legal abortion these days. In fact, being disconnected from reality has become the most definitive characteristic of the anti-choice movement. Pregnancy from rape? The body can “shut that whole thing down.” Birth control? Just another kind of abortifacient. Then there are the made-up “post-abortion syndromes” and unsubstantiated links between abortion and breast cancer. But no kind of anti-choice rhetoric is more dangerous than the fantasy that making abortion illegal will not hurt women. Like many other feminists, I spent a lot of time this past month sending out messages and petitions about Beatriz, a young mother in El Salvador who was fighting for a life-saving abortion. The 22-year-old has lupus, and the longer she remained pregnant, the greater became her chances of dying. (Making the decision even more clear-cut: her fetus had a severe birth defect that makes survival near-impossible.) Pro-choice groups across the globe condemned the rulings of the Salvadoran courts; more than 4,000 people have signed a petition asking Pope Francis to speak out on Beatriz’s behalf. After El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled that her death wasn’t imminent enough to warrant an abortion, Beatriz was finally granted a C-section—a riskier “solution” that meant delivering her doomed fetus. In the period when Beatriz’s fate was still undecided, I wrote on Twitter: “This is what pro-life looks like.” A woman tweeted back: “In El Salvador that may b the case but this is America & if truly life or death not all pro lifers would agree!” What struck me in particular was this woman’s certainty that what she “agreed” with had anything to do with the way laws are enforced. It’s magical thinking at its worst—but par for the course when it comes to legislating women’s bodies. Take the video of anti-choice protests that went viral in the political blogosphere several years ago. A man filmed himself asking protesters outside women’s health clinics whether they thought abortion should be illegal. Unsurprisingly, all said yes. But when he asked how much jail time women who had abortions should be punished with, the response was crickets. These activists—committed protesters—seemingly never realized that if abortion is made illegal, women who procure the procedure would become criminals. And no matter how much these protesters waxed compassionate about women being the pawns and victims of abortion providers, it doesn’t change the fact that women will go to prison if Roe is overturned. This isn’t even the most dangerous thing that anti-choice organizations go out of their way not to acknowledge. The Pro-Life Action League, for example, insists that before Roe, “there were not many illegal abortions, or illegal abortions

were relatively safe.” The truth? According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion was listed as the cause of death for almost 2,700 women in 1930—18 percent of maternal deaths. In 1965, abortion accounted for 17 percent of deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth—and those were just the reported cases. Even with Roe still in place, the way laws pertaining to pregnancy are enforced often has little to do with the purported spirit in which they were enacted. As Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates of Pregnant Women, pointed out on, feticide laws adopted after horrific incidents of violence against women—like Laci Peterson’s murder—are rarely used to go after abusers. Instead, Paltrow writes, “prosecutors in at least eighteen states have used their existing murder and feticide laws as a basis for arresting and prosecuting pregnant women who had abortions, or who suffered miscarriages, stillbirths or neonatal losses.” Indeed, that’s one of the many reasons pro-choice advocates oppose “personhood” measures that extend civil rights to fertilized eggs: they would not only give zygotes the same rights as the women who carry them, thereby making abortion illegal (which anti-choicers acknowledge); they could make birth control and emergency contraception illegal as well (which many don’t). The vast majority of wishful thinking happens on the anti-choice side, but pro-choicers can let politics obscure the realities, too. When the FDA announced that Plan B would be available over the counter only to women and girls over 15 (despite science showing it’s safe for women of all ages), some pro-choice activists called it a victory. But the law says the medication will be available to young women who can prove their age—an impossibility for most teens, who don’t have the necessary identification. In most states, you have to be 16 to apply for a driver’s license, and in 2010, only 28 percent of 16-year-olds had one. The short version? It doesn’t matter what the FDA says; in real life, young women will still be unable to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. No, this isn’t the same as the anti-choicers’ use of deception, but the failure to connect the dots between what the law says and how it affects women’s lives is still disturbing. The idea that what we believe is right will be taken into account when the laws are enforced is a nice thought. If true, it would mean that Ireland’s Savita Halappanavar would still be alive. But she’s not. She died of sepsis, after miscarrying, because a hospital refused to give her an abortion—even though she lived in a country that claims to allow the procedure if a woman’s life is at risk. Abortion is complicated, as are our lives and health—and the fact that these choices are so complex and nuanced is precisely why we can’t legislate them. Wishing otherwise will never make it so. n

The Nation. Abdul Kareem in the Salaheddine neighborhood of Aleppo




here’s a short stretch of main road on the drive into rebel-held Aleppo, when you pass a prison that’s one of the last holdouts for the Syrian Army in this area, where the cars speed up. “This bit is dangerous. Sometimes the army shoots at us,” barks Abdul Kareem, before jolting the accelerator. I haven’t seen Abdul Kareem for nearly a year. “I’m sorry for your loss,” is how I greet him. By this I mean his eldest son, Ayham, a 25-year-old battalion commander in the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Last July, on the day the rebels launched their assault on the city, Abdul Kareem brought both Ayham and his second-oldest son, Molham, from Zitan, the family’s village where they’d been fighting, for me to interview. Whereas Molham was a pensive, thoughtful




type and couldn’t wait to return to his architecture studies at Aleppo University, Ayham was more like his father—driven and brusquely authoritative, impatient to get back to the fray. We kept in touch on Skype, and two weeks later he let me know he’d been stationed in Salaheddine, the first district of central Aleppo breached by the rebels and the site of some of the thickest fighting. A week later, the news came that he’d been killed by sniper fire. “It’s OK,” replies Abdul Kareem, brushing off my outstretched hand with typical matter-of-factness. “Now I’m worried about the other one.” The “other one” is the reason for our journey. On a whim earlier that morning, Abdul Kareem had offered to take me from the refugee camp in Turkey where he and the remainder of his family live to see Molham at


the front line. The last time I came here, the rebels had just taken Azaz, a historic and strategically important town with twin minarets just five kilometers from the border. As Abdul Kareem walks me around it, however, I see that their prize is now a ghost town. Most of the civilians have fled, and the best buildings have been destroyed, first by airstrikes from the forces of Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime and then, a week before I arrive, by a ballistic missile. The hundreds of disparate battalions working under the loose umbrella of the FSA have made some progress here, but only inch by inch, and at incredible cost—and even then only with the help of Islamic fundamentalists like Jabhat al-Nusra, who recently pledged their fealty to Al Qaeda. At many of the checkpoints, rebels from the two different groups are indistinguishable. “Most of these lorries and pickup trucks are Free Army, you know,” says Abdul Kareem as we reach the edge of Aleppo City. “You can tell because they’re all broken down.” Shortly after that, a chunky four-by-four with tinted windows races past us, the black flag favored by Islamists hanging off its back. In addition to Ayham, seven of Abdul Kareem’s extended family members have been killed. Six were fighting with the FSA; the other was Khalil, a 5-yearold from the family village of Zitan, who disappeared a few months ago. The boy had been missing for a week when they got word from a neighboring village that someone fitting his description had been found in the river. It is impossible to know exactly who killed him, but Abdul Kareem has no doubt it was the work of the shabiha, the paramilitary forces of the regime, whose ruthlessness has made them infamous among the rebels. “They had cut his throat,” says Abdul Kareem. “The doctor said he’d been dead for five days.”

The Nation.



‘The hatred in our hearts is growing. I worry that one day it will be bigger than our dreams.’


n the constantly shifting landscape of syria’s armed rebellion, it takes only a few dozen men to establish a katiba, or battalion. Molham’s consists of 100 fighters; together, they occupy five different positions on the front line and hole up in three or four makeshift barracks between shifts. The last time I met him and his older brother, their battalion went under the name of Omar al-Mukhtar, an Arab anti-colonial hero. Now they’re known as the Abu Ayuub al-Ansari, after a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The name change might be significant. At the dilapidated school just behind the front line where Abdul Kareem takes me to meet them, I see none of the three-starred paraphernalia of the FSA; instead, there are black posters inscribed with the words “There Is No God but God” and batteredlooking posters of armed men in Islamist headgear. The only evidence of any politics is daubed in spray James Harkin writes for The Guardian and the Financial Times. His War Against All: The Struggle for Northern Syria was recently published as a Kindle Single e-book.

Salaheddine’s main mosque

June 24/July 1, 2013

paint on the wall outside: “Russia Is the Enemy.” Only 200 meters from Syrian Army positions in al-Izaa, it’s not entirely safe. Shortly after we arrive, I walk outside to use the loo and emerge to hear some commotion; a sniper, Abdul Kareem informs me, has just taken a chunk of concrete out of the front door. Last summer, the rebels here were hopeful they could take Aleppo in a matter of months, but now they’re bogged down in a gruesome stalemate. I join some of them in the school office. While Youness, a 22-year-old cousin of Abdul Kareem’s and the joker of the unit, sits behind the headmaster’s desk pretending to be the governor of Aleppo, I tell Molham that he looks tired and older than I remember him. “I am fatigued, but not from sleep,” he says, “but from everything that has happened.” I ask if he’s become more religious in the last year. “When we are so close to death, we all become more religious,” Molham replies. He confesses that the rebels shouldn’t have launched their attack on Aleppo until they were sure they could take it, and his expression suddenly becomes gloomy. “The dream is over,” he says, and then promptly qualifies it: “Now, nobody cares about the future of Syria. All we want to do is finish this regime, no matter what the cost.” He asks me if I’ve heard about the death of his 5-year-old cousin Khalil. “It is things like this that make us hate, and the hatred in our hearts is growing,” Molham says. “I worry that one day it will be bigger than our dreams.” It’s only when he sits cross-legged at the front of the large schoolroom and delivers a speech full of earthy humor that I realize he’s taken Ayham’s place as battalion commander. When Molham is finished, I ask about the rise of puritanical Sunni Islamists like Jabhat al-Nusra, who seem to want to turn Syria into a medieval caliphate. “I respect their beliefs. I don’t smoke when I’m around them, for example,” he tells me. Like all the rebels I spoke to, Molham insists that, regime claims to the contrary, the vast majority are Syrian, even if their leadership and expertise often come from Iraq and elsewhere. “Most of them are not radical and don’t agree with what their leaders say; they simply want to fight the regime. They don’t like the Alawites or the Shiites, but they don’t mind Christians. And because they’re not afraid of death, they are good fighters and very popular. We meet them and have talked about working together.” All the same, he worries about where this is headed. “When this is over, we will meet with them and discuss everything. If they take power, they will want to fight everyone. I hope we don’t have to fight them.” Abdul Kareem changes into a long Arabic cloak and, with a Kalashnikov over his shoulder, disappears to tend to a friend who’s been injured. With nothing








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else to do, I sit around on cushions and adjust to the ominous boredom of military life. Like Youness, just about everyone here is between the age of 20 and 24 and from Abdul Kareem’s extended family, the al-Akidi; it’s one of the largest clans in northern Syria. The rest are a motley bunch of trusted friends: one young man, his leg still in plaster, has come from the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs; another is a Palestinian with three years of medical training. One man, bedridden, turns over to take an injection in his rear end; four stand to pray in formation. The injured rebel from Homs stares intently at a bank of four CCTV cameras and talks into his walkie-talkie. Every so often, rebels go around the room shaking everyone’s hand before returning to the front. When a bearded young man stands up to go, everyone breaks into a romantic ballad in which they affect to be saying goodbye for the last time. It’s not altogether lighthearted; the battalion is losing someone almost every week. Only a few days before I arrive, a 22-year-old former economics student at Aleppo University was ambushed and killed by regime forces in al-Izaa. The last time I came here, much of the rebel fury was reserved for Alawite Muslims, the minority offshoot of Shiite Islam from which the Assad family and many of the regime’s senior functionaries and paramilitaries are drawn. This year, however, the Shiites themselves are the enemy. A television in the corner is blaring footage of the daily sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq, most of it directed against Shiites, and I ask Aleh, a wiry young man sitting beside me, whether he really wants Syria to end up like that. “I want it and I don’t want it. I don’t want it because it will kill very many. But the Shiites must understand that they don’t own Syria or Iraq. A very bad war is coming.” But surely, I say, he’s only talking about the irregular paramilitaries of the shabiha and not an entire religious group? “We don’t like all the Shiites, because all of them are killing us,” he insists. “They say bad things about our Prophet. When I kill a man in the Syrian Army, I am sad. But I enjoy killing Shiites or Alawites.” Every so often, the generator dies and the room turns pitch black. At one point I see a flashlight, and then Abdul Kareem is hovering over me with a dozen

The Nation.

Molham (far left) with his father (third from left) and rebels at their barracks

‘If Jabhat al-Nusra take power, they will want to fight everyone. I hope we don’t have to fight them.’



  June 24/July 1, 2013

conical steel tubes. The men in this unit, he tells me, have just welded it into a pipe bomb. “We throw it like a grenade,” he says, mimicking the act. “America sends us nothing.” Just as I’m about to fall asleep, I hear shouting from the street outside. Locals who double as police have brought in four men, accusing them of theft and possibly murder. One is a former member of the FSA, and all were pretending to be working for another rebel unit when they were caught. It’s a big problem, says Abdul Kareem; given the amorphous nature of the organization, anyone can claim rebel status and loot the area. “We can’t clean ourselves properly because we are too busy fighting,” he adds. The detainees are taken to a room at the end of the corridor, and late into the night I hear flesh being slapped and terrible screams. I get up and sit on the balcony with the other men, spitting out the shells of tiny Syrian nuts and listening to a regime helicopter hovering overhead; no one says anything. “Thieves,” shrugs Abdul Kareem. The next morning I’m awoken by a woman, apparently a relative of one of the alleged thieves, wailing and yelling at a rebel sentry in the street outside.


he previous evening, molham had offered to take me to the front line at Salaheddine; he’d even given me a military pep talk. For the rebels, he said, the battle for Salaheddine wasn’t really about strategy. It had been the first big engagement for them on their way into central Aleppo, so winning it outright was “a matter of honor,” he told me. On the way, however, he had other business to attend to; Youness had sustained a minor shoulder injury. We stopped at the street clinic of a local healer, a wizened old man in an Arabic headdress. Before he would treat Youness, however, he wanted to give everyone a piece of his mind. Some FSA units, he said, were nothing better than thieves and bandits; no one seemed to want to do anything about it. Eventually Abdul Kareem calmed him down, saying he’d see what he could do. Very little can prepare you for the epic scale of destruction in Salaheddine. In the worst-affected streets, barely a house has been left untouched; a weightless, otherworldly quiet obscures the fact that many poor Aleppans are still living here among the ruins. When the car can take us no farther, we get out and stumble through the wreckage. Just behind the pockmarked dome of the area’s main mosque, Molham shows me a grassy yard where the rebels bury their dead in shallow graves; the fighting here is so intense that they have no time to bury them properly. As the

June 24/July 1, 2013 

streets narrow, drapes hang on the upper floors to block the view of snipers. It’s only when we arrive that I realize they’ve taken me to where Ayham was killed last August. Molham, standing in the exact spot where it happened, points out the remains of a makeshift clinic where rebel-friendly doctors had been working when regime forces stormed the area. As we stand there, another group of rebels is preparing to go into battle: a white van packed with men wearing black Islamist bandannas fires itself up with cries of “Allahu Akbar!” before speeding off toward government lines. After we return to the car, I follow up on something Abdul Kareem had mentioned earlier: that his battalion had arrested an alleged perpetrator of one of Aleppo’s most appalling massacres and that the man had made a confession. Did they beat or torture him? I ask. “Just a little,” says Molham. The suspect had asked to see his children, and they were duly smuggled into rebel-held territory to meet him. “When they arrived, the man began to kiss their feet and cry,” Molham tells me. “They were telling him that they hated him for what he had done.” In the end, Molham and everyone else in the room was crying, too. Will he be killed? “Probably.” Molham says that his unit handed the alleged killer over to a secret rebel court, where his testimony was being checked by human rights activists and lawyers. There is no way to verify this, and no prospect of an interview with the suspect. Torture and criminality are rife on all sides in Aleppo; confessions extracted under such conditions have doubtful value. What’s clear, however, is that the disparate rebel factions are working hard to establish an alternative administrative and judicial system in the areas under their control. After we drop Molham off, Abdul Kareem takes me to the Al Shaar district to see it in action. In an open-plan office space above a factory humming with sewing machines, I find a long row of young men and women typing away at computers. Each table is responsible for its own municipal area: one for civilian defense, another for engineering projects, another for rebelheld hospitals and medical supplies. Everything is in embryo; the office has only been open a month, and the 25-year-old doctor who shows me around has only been working here for two days. At a longer table in the middle, Abdul Kareem introduces me to a stout, balding man dressed in a suit. His name is Yasin Hilal, and he is an administrative official in rebel-held Aleppo as well as a leading figure in a rebel association of lawyers and judges, many of whom have defected from government areas. When I ask what kind of legal system the rebels are setting up, Hilal responds that its principles are those common to many Arab countries, combining elements of Islamic and civil law. It also comes with two kinds of courts: one to settle civil disputes, the other a network of secret military courts to try those accused of

The Nation.



‘When I kill a man in the Syrian Army, I am sad. But I enjoy killing Shiites or Alawites.’

A boy plays in the street in the rebel-held neighborhood of Sheik Faris.


working for the regime. Though he doesn’t exactly say so, Hilal’s courts seem to have an uneasy working relationship with those of Jabhat al-Nusra, whose own heavily guarded Sharia court I’d passed on my way into the city. Would his government be more Islamic than Assad’s relatively secular Baathist state? Hilal seemed reluctant to comment but eventually said this: “The rules of justice are the same the world over. And there will be a charter to protect the rights of minorities.” I press him on how exactly his fledgling government would differ from the Baathist system. “It will be more Islamic, yes, but more modern.” Later, he shows me a montage of photos of rebel jurists who’d either been killed or are languishing in regime prisons.


he war in aleppo is never far away. mountains of rubbish line some of the larger streets; an old man serves coffee beside the remains of a burned-out tank; a boy of about 12 limps across the street, an intravenous drip feed trailing behind him. Many of the cars are festooned with bullet holes; a pickup truck we pass is carrying coffins made of cheap wood. Rebel-controlled hospitals, petrol stations and bakeries have been flattened by airstrikes and mortar rounds; at one bombed-out bakery, in the district of Kadi Askar, activists claim that forty people were killed waiting in the queue outside. In Ard al-Hamra, where a flurry of ballistic missiles in February killed scores, I see an entire residential area reduced to bricks. Smoke is still rising from the district of Sheik Maksud, where Kurdish militias, upset at the bombing of their areas, have for weeks been drawn into their own battle with the regime. In two days, I see a half-dozen armed men who plainly aren’t Syrian: one tall, angular Afghan stands guard outside a building, another speeds along on a motorbike, while a few North Africans share a moped and a Kalashnikov. What ordinary Aleppans make of this influx of freelance jihadis isn’t clear. When we approach areas thick with Jabhat al-Nusra, Abdul Kareem tells me to put away my camera. Given the scale of the damage, it’s surprising how

Reading Between the Lies Since 1865



June 24/July 1, 2013 

many residents are still going about their business. Even in impoverished neighborhoods, street vendors ply a roaring trade in fruit and vegetables; buses under rebel control ferry people around town, with traffic policemen doing their best to control the flow. Abdul Kareem stops in several neighborhoods to stock up on coffee and sheep’s cheese and to chew the fat with old friends. “Bashar al-Assad is a donkey,” barks the cherubic owner of a coffee house as he grinds our beans. “And his father is a donkey. Two donkeys.” Everyone laughs. “These areas are very poor,” Abdul Kareem says later. “The beautiful places in Aleppo we cannot see.” His own home in the neighborhood of New Aleppo is still firmly under government control; he has no idea whether it’s still standing. This was Syria’s richest city before the fighting, and many of its more prosperous residents are not yet convinced by this revolt of the pious, disenfranchised rural poor. Over there, on the other side of the city’s bridges, the war must look very different. In the evening, as we drive back toward the Turkish border, there’s barely a checkpoint around. We zip past the enormous, tree-lined army base at al-Moushat, one of Syria’s prestigious military academies before it was overrun by the rebels. “A hard battle was fought there,” says Abdul Kareem. “Hundreds of Syrian soldiers were killed.” Taking a detour, we bypass the rebel stronghold of Tal Rifaat, where last summer I interviewed a charismatic young battalion commander called Abu Nasr; he was killed the same day as Ayham. Abu Nasr talked about the threat from Menagh, the last remaining air force base in the area. Nearly a year later, the rebels are still battling for control of it; we meet some, fresh from the latest assault as they remove heavy guns from their trucks. In the past few weeks they’ve made some progress, even capturing some of the base, but they haven’t had everything their own way. The reason for our circuitous route, I discover, is that a militia from a neighboring Shiite village has arrived to reinforce the Syrian Army and has ambushed the rebels. Only as we near the border do I notice that Abdul Kareem has kept a pistol, wrapped in cloth, in the glove compartment.


leppo, like the rest of syria, is being ripped apart by bombs, but more difficult to solve is the fact that its once enviable mosaic of ethnic and religious groups is being torn into its constituent parts. Two years ago, Syria’s political awakening was the great hope of the Middle East; now it looks more poison than cure. The conflict, with its cycle of attacks and revenge massacres, is systematically robbing the country of its future; even if the war ended tomorrow, Syria would still be suffering the effects of so many killed or wounded. But with Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon and Iraq queuing up to support their Syrian brethren, the fighting seems sure to

The Nation.

‘The damage is not going to become Syria’s alone. Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey—the whole region is going to go up in flames.’

Free Army rebels queue up to have their weapons repaired in Salaheddine.




spread. “The damage,” Molham told me, “is not going to become Syria’s alone. Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey— the whole region is going to go up in flames.” Abdul Kareem had invited me to come and have dinner at his refugee camp, and the day after we get back I take him up on his offer. I arrive early and we spend the afternoon in his steel container, chatting, drinking strong Arabic coffee and, out of the corner of our eyes, watching a rebel-friendly news channel. The minaret from Aleppo’s most distinguished mosque, a thousand-year-old world heritage site revered by Christians and Muslims alike, has just been destroyed in heavy fighting. Another friend of Ayham, a young man called Serj, was killed the day before; Abdul Kareem shows me his picture on Facebook. “I knew him well,” he says. “We all did.” From the same Facebook account, he plays me a propaganda video from Molham’s unit. With Islamist battle music for its soundtrack, the video shows fighters clad in black balaclavas, cocking their rifles above a half-dozen burly, kneeling shabiha; they almost certainly executed the prisoners immediately after. A few weeks later, I would hear that Youness has been killed too, in the course of a raid on army positions at Al-Izaa. One of his fellow rebels would send me a picture of his bloodied body, wrapped in a white shroud, and then politely request a photo of Youness from when he was still alive. Over a delicious dinner of roast chicken and aryan, the yogurt-based drink popular among Syrians, I ask Abdul Kareem how long this can go on. “One month if you give us weapons,” he says, in the familiar rebel refrain, “ten years if you don’t.” The Shiites, he adds, unprompted, “are the worst people in the world. They’re killing us, with knives.” His two younger sons have joined us to eat, and Saleh, his clued-up 13-year-old, uses his finger to mimic the act of slitting someone’s throat. It’s what they did to 5-year-old Khalil, he says. The last time I came here, the rebel conversation was all about how the Syrian revolution was for everyone, how all of the country’s different denominations were playing their part, even if discreetly, to push it forward. Are there any Shiites at all in the FSA? I ask Abdul Kareem. “No.” Do they have a future in Syria? “Maybe not.” I wonder what he makes of Jabhat alNusra’s phenomenal rise as the rebellion grinds on. “Ninety-nine percent of them will lay down their guns when the regime falls; they are good people and don’t like what their leaders are saying.” Like every other Syrian rebel I meet, however, Abdul Kareem knows they are the coming thing. “Say there are 5,000 Nusra here now,” he says, spitting out the words. “Next year, I promise you there will be 50,000.”  n

BARTERED BRIDES Early marriage and domestic violence in refugee camps are a fact of life for girls fleeing Syria’s civil war. by LAUREN WOLFE


nside a furniture-free caravan in the jordanian desert, sixteen women and girls and a plump boy wedge themselves in a circle around a 15-year-old girl and a woman doing her hair. The hairdresser combs through one-inch sections, spraying on a fixative before twisting them into elaborate shapes. The girl, whom I’ll call Nada (I’ve changed her name as well as others’ to protect their privacy), is one of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to neighboring countries from Syria’s civil war. We are in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp—now the second-largest in the world—and Nada is getting married today. After Nada’s geisha-like makeup is done, three women will sprinkle her body with talcum powder, minus the parts covered by leggings and a bra. She will step into a rented dress and then spend three more hours waiting on a floor mattress in the heat before meeting her husband between caravans, in a field of pebbles that extends to the horizon in all directions. This is marriage, Zaatari-style. Unlike the custom in the Syrian town of Dara’a, where the couple is from, there will be no lavish spread of food, no music, no throngs of joyous relatives, few gifts. And since there is no light for an evening celebration, everything will happen before sundown. “We’re celebrating, but the joy doesn’t come from the heart,” the bride’s father, Mohamed, 35, tells me.



‘It’s like Somalia here. We are dying slowly.’

This is not a wedding Mohamed wanted just yet. But after five months in Zaatari and no better future in sight, he can no longer provide for Nada, so he’s decided to accept the bride price of 125,000 Syrian lira (about $1,280) and allow his daughter to marry an 18-yearold I’ll call Mazen. Mohamed has many other children to feed, including a 2-month-old girl whose shirt he yanks up, revealing more ribs than a baby should show. “It’s like Somalia here,” Mohamed says, pointing at his daughter. “We are dying slowly.” Like many men in the camp, Mohamed decided to hand over his eldest daughter early for marriage to protect her as well as to get a little money for his family. He says he worries about the girls Nada associates with: there are rumors that many are turning to prostitution to feed themselves. He worries that Nada will be raped if she remains single. And he fears she’ll lose her childhood no matter what he decides. While some media outlets have been reporting that early marriage is on the rise among Syrian refugees, most NGOs working on this issue in Amman told me that Syrians are simply carrying on the traditions they brought from home, where girls in rural areas often marry between the ages of 15 and 20. It’s difficult to count how many marriages are taking place at Zaatari, which houses more than 150,000 people, with 1,000 more arriving every day, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The weddings are held between tents and caravans, with contracts written by local sheiks and not filed with civil authorities. An October 2012 Mercy Corps report estimated that about 500 underage Syrian girls had been married in Jordan that year. A UNICEF representative in Jordan told Voice of America in April that the agency believes early marriages to Jordanian and other Gulf area men have risen. Whatever the actual number, a UN official recently condemned early marriage, saying, “It is an unfair thing to do to a child.” In fact, Nada and Mazen’s marriage is illegal. The age of consent in Jordan is 18, which means that Nada and Mazen are committing a crime if they don’t apply for a special waiver (according to the UNHCR, Jordanian law applies in Zaatari). It also means that any child they have will be considered illegitimate, which will damage the child’s social status and make it more difficult to acquire Jordanian nationality and documents. According to the US State Department, the minimum marriage age in Syria is


Nada, 15, after her wedding in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

June 24/July 1, 2013 

generally 18 for boys and 17 for girls, though exceptions are possible if both parties consent. There are also the health risks associated with early marriage: the World Health Organization reports that complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in low- and middle-income countries. Girls who marry early often leave school, stunting their potential for any work beyond manual labor. And while Syrian mothers and fathers told me they want to marry off their girls because they fear they will face violence if they remain single, the WHO says girls who marry before the age of 18 “have a greater risk of becoming victims of intimate partner violence than those who marry at an older age,” especially if there is a large age gap. At Zaatari, I met girls who, unlike Nada, had been or were about to be married to much older men, many from countries other than Syria who had come fishing for young brides.

The Nation.

of marriage. “It changes your life. When I went to Irbid, everything was so different from the camp. We’re not used to these circumstances at Zaatari. There’s so much dust; it’s so hot here. The bathrooms are so far—it’s not like being in your own house.” Reem’s mother, who has been sitting quietly a few feet away, leans forward, directing my attention back to the issue at hand: her daughter’s marriage. “Her life is better now,” she says, bringing the conversation to an abrupt end.

Nada in her honeymoon caravan


eem, 16, has a tiny voice diminished by illness brought on by camp dust. Like Nada and Mazen, Reem is from Dara’a, an agricultural area where the Syrian uprising began in the spring of 2011. Reem’s husband, a 25-year-old Libyan food distributor, came to Zaatari seeking a bride three or four months ago. He gave Reem a watch, perfume and water. They married in front of a couple hundred guests at a wedding hall in the nearby town of Irbid, staying there for a month before Reem returned to Zaatari. Now she’s waiting for him to return; he’s busy in Tripoli securing her a passport, she says. That he calls every couple of days may indicate he actually plans to return, but I’ve been told that many men pass through Zaatari taking on brides for just days or a month or two. Wearing only a dented gold wedding band for jewelry and with her hair covered by a pink leopardprint hijab, Reem shyly smiles when I ask if she wants to go to Libya. Yes, she says, she does—because her husband tells her it’s like Syria: “green, with lots of water.” Will she miss her family when she moves to Libya? “Definitely,” she says. But marriage, Reem says, is “better than being single.” Like many of the girls I met at Zaatari, she does nothing all day; she stopped school in ninth grade because of the war. And, again like many of the girls I spoke with, a veil of depression hangs over her face no matter what we talk about. “Because of the situation, it’s better,” she says flatly Lauren Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and the director of Women Under Siege, a project on sexualized violence in conflict, at the Women’s Media Center in New York. Previously, she was the senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists. She blogs at and is on Twitter at @Wolfe321.


I ask about the rape of women back home, and stories come pouring at me from several men at once.


efore nada’s wedding, as we wait for the completion of the marriage contract, I’m invited into a nearby caravan ringed with maybe a dozen men, including a local sheik. They pass around tiny cups of cardamom-flavored coffee and cellphones with videos displaying the war’s brutality: I’m shown scenes of men in fatigues stabbing a dead body repeatedly and dragging another with its scalp hanging half off. The men never smile. When I carefully ask about the rape of women back home, unsure if they’ll be comfortable talking about something so stigmatized, it’s as if a floodgate opens. Stories come pouring at me from several men at once—a baby raped and skinned alive, a girl kidnapped, a rape, another rape… Flies cluster on the thin mattresses we’re sitting on. The air is heavy with the mid-afternoon heat and concentrated masculine gloom. It’s as if the wedding preparations twenty feet away were taking place in a different world. A few of the men confide that they regret coming to Zaatari. One tells me he is seriously considering returning to Syria with his family. After an hour of horror stories, the men are pointing and grabbing at my notebook and pen, thrusting them into the hands of my translator. Before I realize what’s happening, she is copying down words spoken by the sheik, transcribing the wedding contract. The bride’s family, she writes, will receive 125,000 lira for the marriage and 125,000 more if there is a divorce. There is no romance or sweetness. Four men sign as witnesses. With that, the wedding is done. We emerge into the area between tents and caravans, still warm in the late afternoon sun, and wait for the bride to meet the groom at a gray Kia Sport van, which will “protect their honor,” Mohamed says, by driving them 500 yards to the borrowed caravan in which they will spend their honeymoon. Once the couple are squished alongside the bride’s mother in the back seat, a male relative gives money— gifts from the wedding guests—to the bride’s mother. He hands it to her one note at a time, shouting a brief prayer for each well-wisher as he does so. The total is about 20,000 lira ($205). The estimated cost of the wedding is 70,000 lira ($719).



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verywhere in zaatari, i meet young brides. marriages happen daily, and children, from the looks of it, are born in great numbers too. A young woman, 23, offers to tell me about her unhappy marriage. Requesting that her name not be used, she says that in the year she’s been here, her husband has taken up with “a different girl every week.” He’s about to take a second wife, but in the meantime, he comes to her tent and beats her “every single day.” She’s the first of a number of women I’ll meet in Zaatari whose husbands are taking second wives, and the first of many I’ll hear about who are enduring domestic violence. Without hope of escaping the daily assaults, and concerned for her four kids and the one growing in her belly, this woman refuses to report the violence to authorities; she fears her husband will kill her if she does. She tells me about a 15-year-old neighbor who just married an “old Jordanian man” who paid the girl’s family 100,000 lira. A Jordanian man also asked this woman’s family if he could marry her 12-year-old sister. Her mother said no, she tells me, but that’s not a choice many families feel equipped to make in the face of poverty and war. “Families have so many kids, they just marry off the daughter to whoever comes,” says Masarra Sarass, head of the Syrian Women’s Association in Amman, which processes 400 new refugee families a week. The stories come at me for days, not just in Zaatari but as I travel throughout the region interviewing Syrian refugees. One teacher in Zaatari says that men from Gulf countries have asked her where they can find young girls for marriage. A 15-year-old in Beirut tells me that an “old Lebanese man,” a local mufti, comes daily to ask her mother for her hand in marriage. Every day, he shows up and tells her sick father that he would be happy to take the burden of this daughter off the family’s hands; every day, her mother says no. Every girl I speak with between Amman and Beirut has either been considering early marriage or knows a friend or a neighbor who has.

  June 24/July 1, 2013

Early marriage has become so prevalent that it has caught the notice of Zaatari’s authorities. The UNHCR is now implementing a campaign to stop the practice, emphasizing the illegality of the marriages and pointing out that many don’t last more than a month. The idea, I was told, is to make it clear that smooth-talking older men are not necessarily filled with good intentions for underage girls.


s the sun finally nears the horizon, nada and Mazen are secure in their honeymoon caravan. A clump of henna is stuck to the door, symbolically gluing the couple together for life. A few dozen people continue to talk outside and nibble on pistachio-topped sweets. I return to the family’s caravan and find Mohamed in the dusty area outside the houses, where chickens wander around barrels, piles of wood and strung-up laundry. We sit on a flimsy bench with our backs to a UNHCR tarp. I ask him if he’s happy for his daughter. He tears up. “If we were in Syria, we would have gotten more money in gifts,” he says. What else was wrong with the wedding? “There would have been shooting…the contract should have been written on a bigger piece of paper,” he says. He quickly clarifies that he’s not focused entirely on the physical: “It’s about pride,” he says. I ask if he feels any joy. “No,” he answers. Does he approve of the groom? Mohamed grimaces. “I don’t know yet,” he says. He does think the groom’s family was a little stingy on the bride price. “I would have gotten more money for her if we were in Syria,” he says. I ask Mohamed why he allowed Nada to be married so young. He says he wished he could have waited longer but that she wanted it—she was excited. Also, there was a lot of pressure all around, he says. “Getting married is protection for her,” he says. “Now she’s her husband’s responsibility.” I ask Mohamed when he would like to marry off his 10-year-old daughter. He laughs sadly, shakes his head and says, “Inshallah, not for ten years.”  n

John Lewis’s Fight for Voting Rights The Supreme Court is threatening to overturn our most important civil rights legislation. by ARI BERMAN


n March 7, 1965, John Lewis threw an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, some toothpaste and two books into his backpack, and prepared to lead a fifty-four-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The impromptu march was organized to call national attention to the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the South and to protest the death of a young civil rights activist shot by police during a demonstration in a neighboring town. Lewis’s group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had been trying to register voters in Ari Berman, a Nation contributing writer, is working on a history of voting rights for Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Selma since 1963. They hadn’t gotten very far. At the time of the march, only 383 of the 15,000 black residents in Selma’s Dallas County were registered to vote. At 25, Lewis had already been arrested twenty times by white segregationists and badly beaten during Freedom Rides in South Carolina and Montgomery. On an overcast Sunday afternoon, Lewis and Hosea Williams, a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr., led some 600 local residents marching in two single-file lines. The streets of downtown Selma were eerily quiet. “There was no singing, no shouting—just the sound of scuffling feet,” Lewis wrote in his memoir. “There was something holy about it, as if we were walking down a sacred path. It reminded me of Gandhi’s march to the sea.” Lewis thought he would be arrested, but he had no idea that the ensuing events

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would dramatically alter the arc of American history. As they crossed the Alabama River on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, Alabama state troopers descended on the marchers with batons and bullwhips; some demonstrators were trampled by policemen on horseback, and the air was choked with tear gas. Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull from a clubbing, thought he was going to die. That evening, the primetime network news played extensive footage of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Those scenes “struck with the force of instant historical icon,” wrote historian Taylor Branch.


ight days later, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act before a joint session of Congress. “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country,” Johnson said. On August 6, 1965, a hundred years after the end of the Civil War, the VRA became law. It quickly became known as the most important piece of civil rights legislation and one of the most consequential laws ever passed by Congress. The VRA led to the abolition of literacy tests and poll taxes; made possible the registration of millions of minority voters by replacing segregationist registrars with federal examiners; forced states with a history of voting discrimination to clear electoral changes with the federal government; and laid the foundation for generations of minority elected officials, including Barack Obama. Lewis has the pen LBJ gave him after signing the VRA framed in his Atlanta home and a bust of the thirty-sixth president in his Washington office. “When Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act,” Lewis said on a recent trip to Alabama, “he helped free and liberate all of us.” Lewis, now a thirteen-term congressman from Atlanta, was a leading participant in nearly all of the pivotal events of the civil rights movement—the Nashville sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer. But his signature achievement is the VRA. Of all the surviving leaders of the movement, Lewis is most responsible for its passage and its overwhelming reauthorization four times by Congress. He is the soul of the voting rights movement and its most eloquent advocate. So many of his comrades from the civil rights years have died or drifted away, but Lewis remains as committed as ever to the fight to protect the right to vote. “I feel like it’s part of my calling,” he says. On March 3, Lewis returned to Selma for the fortyeighth anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Thirty members of Congress accompanied him—part of a pilgrimage to Alabama that Lewis has led since 2000—along with Vice President Joseph Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Lewis locked arms with Biden and Luci Baines Johnson, LBJ’s youngest daughter, and once again marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifteen thousand people followed, some of whom would continue all the way to Montgomery. “Woke up this morning with my mind/ stayed on freedom,” activists sang as they climbed the bridge. At the top, high above the Alabama River, Lewis grabbed a bullhorn and retold the story of Bloody Sunday. “You have to tell the story over and over again to educate people,” Lewis told me. “It is my obligation to do what I can to complete what we

  June 24/July 1, 2013

started many, many years ago,” he said in Selma. Every return to Selma is meaningful for Lewis, but this trip had special significance. Just four days before, Lewis had sat inside the Supreme Court as the justices heard a challenge to Section 5 of the VRA, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting, primarily in the South, to clear election-related changes with the federal government. (A decision in that case, Shelby County v. Holder, is expected at the end of June.) Lewis calls Section 5 the “heart and soul” of the law, and was deeply disturbed by the arguments from the Court’s conservative justices. “It appeared to me that several members of the Court didn’t have a sense of the history, what brought us to this point, and not just the legislative history and how it came about,” Lewis said afterward in his congressional office, which is decorated with iconic photographs of the civil rights movement. “They seemed to be somewhat indifferent to why people fought so hard and so long to get the act passed in the first place. And they didn’t see the need.” Justice Antonin Scalia said the law represented a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that the federal government is discriminating against states like Alabama more than Alabama is discriminating against its own citizens. Chief Justice John Roberts implied that Massachusetts has a bigger problem with voting discrimination than Mississippi. Clarence Thomas, who as is customary didn’t speak, had already declared Section 5 unconstitutional in a previous decision. Lewis called Scalia’s statement “shocking and unbelievable” and said he almost cried when he heard it. “So what happened to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments?” he asked, shaking his head. “What happened to the whole struggle to make it possible in the twentieth century, and now the twenty-first, for every person to be able to cast a free and open vote?” Forty-eight years after Bloody Sunday, Lewis is once again in the fight of his life, with conservative officeholders resurrecting voter suppression methods not seen since the 1960s and Supreme Court justices asserting that the federal efforts to combat historic discrimination in voting—reforms that Lewis nearly died to win—are no longer needed. In January, he filed an amicus brief with the Court opposing the Shelby County challenge. It noted “the high price many paid for the enactment of the Voting Rights Act and the still higher cost we might yet bear if we prematurely discard one of the most vital tools of our democracy.”


ewis grew up a hundred miles southeast of Selma, in the rural Alabama Black Belt near Troy. He was the third of ten kids; his parents farmed cotton, corn and peanuts. Their farmhouse had no electricity, running water or insulation. He was a bookish, devout child who wore ties and preached to his chickens, sneaking away from the fields to attend school. His life changed when, at 15, he heard about the bus boycott in Montgomery in 1955 and listened to Martin Luther King Jr. (who quickly became his idol) preaching on the radio. While at college in Nashville, Lewis played an instrumental role in the sit-ins and Freedom Rides that hastened the demise of Jim Crow. “I was like a soldier in a nonviolent army,” he says. He soon became the movement’s field commander, assuming chairmanship of SNCC in 1963. “John was probably

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Lewis saw the restrictions as an obvious ploy to suppress the power of the young and minority voters who formed the core of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant” in 2008. “It was a deliberate, well-greased and organized attempt to stop this progress,” he says. “They saw all these people getting registered as a threat to power.” In July 2011, when few were paying attention to the issue, Lewis delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor about the right to vote. “Voting rights are under attack in America,” Lewis told the nearly empty chamber in his deep baritone. “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.” He called voter-ID laws a poll tax—a year before Attorney General Holder would make the same comparison—and recalled how, before passage of the VRA, blacks who attempted to register in the South were required to guess the number of bubbles in a bar of soap or the number of jellybeans in a jar. “We must not step backward to another dark period in our history,” Lewis warned. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.” To combat voter suppression, Lewis sponsored the Voter Empowerment Act, which would add millions of voters to the rolls and increase turnout by modernizing registration, mandating early voting and adopting Election Day registration. On the last night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which took place just twenty-five miles from where Lewis was beaten as a Freedom Rider in Rock Hill, South Carolina, he implored the faithful to “march to the polls like never, ever before.” By that time, Seated, from left, at the Selma to Montgomery march, 1965: Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, Coretta Scott civil rights activists, the Obama administration King, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and the judiciary had heeded his warning on Lewis became known as “the conscience of Congress,” with an voting rights, as ten major restrictive laws were blocked in unmatched stature on civil rights. “I don’t think I’ve seen anycourt under the VRA and federal and state protections. “The body in the movement that carries the moral cachet that John election of 2012,” Lewis said on MSNBC, “dramatized…the Lewis has,” says Clyburn. need for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” Lewis initially endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2008, based on Lewis spent the pivotal Sunday before the election camtheir close friendship, but viewed Obama’s election as a culminapaigning in Ohio for Obama. The Ohio GOP had tried to tion of what he and so many others had put their lives on the line prevent early voting three days before the election, but the for. “Because of what you did, Barack Obama is the president of Obama campaign had successfully sued to reinstate those days. the United States,” Lewis said in Selma following Obama’s 2008 As he approached the Hamilton County Board of Elections in victory, on the forty-fourth anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Cincinnati, Lewis saw the line of voters stretching for nearly Lewis knew the president would be attacked because of his a mile around city blocks, with hundreds waiting for hours in race, but the full-scale assault on voting rights that followed the damp cold. “This is very, very moving,” Lewis said as he the 2010 midterm elections caught him and other movement walked the line. “This is living testimony that people who tried veterans off-guard. More than a dozen states, including critical to make it hard and difficult and who put up stumbling blocks battlegrounds like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and roadblocks—it’s just not working.” adopted new laws to restrict access to the ballot—all of which The successful resistance to voter suppression may be the disproportionately affected communities of color. “I was naïve most important story of the 2012 election. Compared with to think voting rights were untouchable,” says Bond, former 2008, 1.7 million more blacks, 1.4 million more Hispanics and chair of the NAACP. “I didn’t dream that Republicans would 550,000 more Asians went to the polls, versus 2 million fewer be as bold and as racist as they are.” whites. The turnout rate among black voters exceeded that of


the most committed person I’ve ever met,” says South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, who met Lewis at a SNCC conference in 1960. A lifelong adherent of peaceful resistance, Lewis saw his mission as “bringing the Gandhian way into the belly of the Black Belt.” Lewis became head of the Voter Education Project in 1970, which took the lead in registering black voters in the South after the VRA’s passage. The VEP registered 2 million voters from 1970 to 1977, including Lewis’s mother and father. The group distributed posters that read: “Hands that pick cotton…can now pick our elected officials.” In 1986, Lewis won election to the US House from Atlanta, defeating his close friend Julian Bond. “Vote for the tugboat, not the showboat” was one of his slogans.

  June 24/July 1, 2013

June 24/July 1, 2013 

The Nation.


Precision Diagnosis...

whites for the first time on record, according to the Census Bureau. While the turnout rate fell among nearly every demographic group, the largest increase came from blacks 65 and over. Those, like Lewis, who had lived through the days when merely trying to register could get you killed were the people most determined to defend their rights last year. Yet Lewis viewed Obama’s re-election as only a temporary victory, given the challenge to Section 5 before the Supreme Court. The mood in Selma during this year’s anniversary of Bloody Sunday was more somber than celebratory. “Here we are, forty-eight years after all you did, and we’re still fighting?” Biden said in Selma. “In 2011, ’12 and ’13? We were able to beat back most of those attempts in the election of 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.” After Holder cited the continued importance of Section 5 in combating discrimination, the crowd at the foot of the bridge chanted, in what had to be a first, “Section 5! Section 5!” “When it comes to voting rights,” says Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, “you realize the past isn’t the past.”


n May 20, 1961, Lewis and two dozen Freedom Riders traveling through the South to desegregate interstate bus travel were assaulted by a frenzied mob at the Greyhound station in Montgomery. Lewis was struck over the head with a Coca-Cola crate and left lying unconscious in a pool of blood. The Freedom Riders sought refuge at the First Baptist Church, disguising themselves as members of the choir to avoid police scrutiny. Three thousand white supremacists surrounded the church the next night and hurled Molotov cocktails through the stained-glass windows. “That night was unbelievable,” Lewis recalls. “I thought some of us would die.” After tortured deliberation, President John Kennedy sent in federal marshals to escort the Freedom Riders to safety. This past March 2, when Lewis returned to First Baptist Church with 200 guests, Chief Kevin Murphy, head of the Montgomery Police Department, unexpectedly apologized to him. “We enforced unjust laws,” Murphy said. It was the first apology Lewis had ever received from a law enforcement official, after forty arrests and countless near-death experiences. They embraced, as the congregation cheered and wept, and Murphy gave Lewis his badge. “Chief Murphy, my brother, I accept your apology,” Lewis responded. “I don’t think I’m worthy of this.” Then he joked, “Actually, do you think I could get another?” Lewis kept the badge in his pocket for days. “I want to say to all of you here, it shows the power of love, the power of peace, the power of nonviolence,” he said. The Montgomery Advertiser featured Murphy’s apology on its front page. Next to it, however, was a story about how, if the Supreme Court overturns Section 5, Republicans would likely dismantle the majority-black legislative districts protected under the act, which illustrates the South’s continuing racial divide. Obama, the article noted, won 95 percent of the black vote in Alabama last year, but only 15 percent of the white vote. “Whites won’t vote for blacks in Alabama,” said State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma. “That’s the state of race relations.” Indeed, despite powerful moments of reconciliation, the

or Scientific Fraud? Jet lag disorder, caffeine use

disorder and mathematics disorder... These are just a few of the 374 “mental disorders” that have literally been voted into psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual by a panel of psychiatrists. But did you know… 56% of the psychiatrists deciding which disorders to list in the DSM have personal financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.

There are no diagnostic lab tests such as X-rays, blood work, chemical analyses or brain scans that can confirm the presence of a “mental illness.”

The two most popular classes of psychiatric drug used to treat these “disorders,” antidepressants and antipsychotics, have both been shown to be no more clinically effective than placebo at best, and extremely harmful with severe side effects.

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South is far from a post-racial utopia. Six of the nine states fully covered by Section 5, all in the South, passed new voting restrictions after the 2010 election. “Section 5,” write law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer, “is remarkably well tailored to the geography of anti-black prejudice.” Of the ten states where anti-black stereotypes are most common, based on data from the National Annenberg Election Survey, six in the South are subject to Section 5. Racially polarized voting and “explicit anti-black attitudes,” according to an AP survey, have increased since 2008. Arkansas and Virginia have passed strict new voter-ID laws this year, while North Carolina is considering a slew of draconian restrictions. “Places like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, they forget recent history,” Lewis said. “We’re not talking about something that took place a hundred years ago, but a few short years ago. And

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some of it is still going on today. And if you get rid of Section 5 of the VRA, many of these places, whether it be state, county or town, will slip back into the habits of the past.” Against this backdrop, it’s shocking that the Supreme Court appears to be leaning toward overturning the centerpiece of the country’s most important civil rights law. Last year, Lewis found out that his great-great-grandfather had registered and voted after becoming an emancipated slave following the Civil War, during Reconstruction—something that Lewis could not do until 100 years later, after the passage of the VRA. He wept when he heard the news. It underscored how delicate the right to vote has been throughout American history. If the Court upholds Section 5, as it has in four prior opinions, Lewis’s legacy will be cemented. And if the Court eviscerates it, Lewis’s voice will be needed as never before.  n

How to Save a Sinking City Innovative land management in New Orleans could replenish wetlands and limit flood damage. by ROBERTA BRANDES GRATZ


ob Marshall stands atop the earthen levee at Myrtle Grove in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, about thirty miles south of New Orleans. We are in a community outside the system of levees that defend the city and surrounding parishes from the sort of storm surges and flooding that devastated the region when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers completed the $14 billion project to rebuild that system last summer. But despite the massive upgrade, the areas on both sides of the levees remain dangerously vulnerable. Marshall is a tall, handsome man with a thick head of graying hair and a winning smile. The former outdoors editor of The Times-Picayune and a Pulitzer Prize winner, he is now a staff writer covering coastal issues for the Lens, an online investigative journal in New Orleans. We are about to spend the day observing the rapidly crumbling Mississippi Delta. But even before we set out, we get a lesson in the complexity of the issue and the conflicts and contradictions that make attacking it so difficult. On one side of the Myrtle Grove levee is a network of canals leading to the Gulf of Mexico, most of which support oil and gas development, which began in Louisiana’s coastal wetlands in the 1930s. For decades, the oil and gas companies blatantly disregarded the environment as they dug canals for access to the wells; federal permits were not even required until 1972. To this day, new devastation is continuously revealed, most vividly following the 2010 BP oil spill, considered the largest in history, which discharged an estimated 210 million gallons Roberta Brandes Gratz is an award-winning journalist and urban critic whose most recent book is The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs (Nation Books). She is writing a book about the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

of oil into the already fragile delta. On the other side of the levee are rapidly sinking wetlands. It took 6,000 years for the overflowing sediment of the nearby Mississippi River to build these delta marshes. But, Marshall says, it has taken only seventy years for the levees and shipping canals to put the marshes in jeopardy. Without the river’s continuous nourishment of new sediment and fresh water, saltwater from the Gulf penetrates the estuaries, killing the plants that hold the soil and opening the way for rapid shoreline erosion. Since the 1930s those forces have turned nearly 2,000 square miles of cypress swamps and marshes into open water. In 2007, Congress approved the Myrtle Grove Diversion, a land-building project that would pipe in sediment to help replenish the wetlands, halt erosion and provide increased storm protection. Congress has not yet funded the project, and with each storm, more wetlands disappear. But even with adequate funding, significant obstacles would remain. Engineering the diversion would require approval from property owners to build across privately owned parcels of land. And the diversion would have an impact on all residents in the area because the salinity of the water would change from brackish to fresh, which would affect fishing. But residents disagree about what’s best for the region. Everyone agrees that erosion needs to stop. “They want the land rebuilt. About half said they don’t care what it takes to save the marsh, it should be done,” Marshall says of one nearby community. “The other half want only the slurry pipeline that would bring sediment to rebuild or fortify the wetlands, but they don’t want the brackish water to change because it may interfere with the fishing, oyster and shrimp business that they come here for.” Planners have been facing this sort of pushback for twenty years, Marshall says. And in a state where an estimated 80 percent of coastal wetlands are privately owned, the govern-

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vation to environmental design. After Hurricane Katrina, Waggonner traveled to the Netherlands with Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu to explore how that country survives and thrives below sea level. There, he saw the remarkable success of a government-funded strategy to manage excessive rainfalls and improve civic life at the same time. The features that contain the water during floods, he learned, can be transformed into recreational and visual assets during dry periods. Out of that trip came a partnership with the Dutch Embassy in Washington and a series of workshops that focused on how canals can serve as parks and pathways that are allowed to flood during storms, when the city needs greater water storage capacity. With a multi­ disciplinary team of Dutch planners, engineers, urban designers and soil experts, among others, Waggonner has adapted some of these ideas to suit New Orleans’s needs. The innovative approach he has developed, called “Living With Water,” could drastically reduce the subsidence of the city’s soil, save money and create new public amenities. Other US waterway cities are beginning to take notice. When you hear how difficult it has been to implement such common-sense ideas, it is easy to share Waggonner’s frustration. We drive along Napoleon Avenue, for example, one of the city’s several boulevard-like thoroughfares with a broad, grassy median known as the “neutral ground.” “Look at how high the ground is, which means water pours from it into the street,” Waggonner says. “It should be the reverse. It could retain water and be an attractive landscape at the same time. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers is building a giant culvert underneath, bigger than the existing one, to store and then pipe water out to Lake Pontchartrain without rebuilding the neutral ground atop it to reduce runoff and enhance surface storage.” There are several projects planned in the Uptown area, more expensive and less attractive than the alternative Waggonner proposes. This “lost opportunity” is compounded by what Waggonner calls a “criminal act”: drastically cutting back the long-limbed live oak trees that line the boulevard so that large cranes can come down the street to work on the culvert. The citywide canopy of trees, one of the most distinctive features of the city, has the practical benefit of cooling the streets in the summer. Why the project managers did not decide to preserve the trees by using the kind of cranes that fold down, and that are in use elsewhere in the city, has never been explained. The refusal to change the water and power paradigms will condemn New Orleans and other flood-prone cities to continued devastation from floods, Waggonner says. And with the rising sea level, such disasters will likely occur with greater frequency. “The Corps is a military organization doing civil works with a rigid chain of command,” he notes. “The bureaucracy is all-powerful. A discussion of alternatives is too limited within this framework.” A bit further toward the lake is the most blatant lost opportunity, which prompts even more anger from Waggonner. Costco, the giant retailer, is building a huge facility on Carrollton Avenue, between the neighborhoods of Hollygrove and Gert Town. The structure is elevated according to FEMA’s post-Katrina stand­ LEE CELANO / REUTERS

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Houses surrounded by wetlands in Myrtle Grove, south of New Orleans

ment also stands in the way of much-needed improvements. “On principle, this state hates to interfere with private property,” he says. “Eminent domain is time-consuming, complicated and can get stalled in courts anyway.” But what’s available is “quick-take authority,” a more streamlined way of expropriating property for a public purpose. The state doesn’t want to use this authority to advance any of these rebuilding projects, either. But it does allow the utilities and oil and gas companies to use it when it serves their private interests. Our boat ride takes us past houses that not long ago rested on an island but that are now on stilts in deep water. Small, rock-laden spits of land remain viable nesting places for pelicans, but only because they are constantly being sustained and rebuilt by dedicated private organizations. We also pass the Lake Hermitage marsh restoration project, a joint federal-state effort that replenishes a critical area with river sediment and water. Here, as in so many other places in the region, a small-scale strategy offers a solution to the crisis that is applicable on a wider scale, funding permitted.


nside the levees, there is a whole different set of complications. But despite the differences, conditions in the city are similar in important ways to those on the coast. And modifying entrenched paradigms is difficult here, too. The protected side sinks dramatically, just like the vast expanse of marshes. But here, this natural process of “subsidence” is accelerated by a highly engineered system of pumps and drainage canals created 100 years ago. Streets buckle, building foundations shift, walls crack. Worse, the city floods easily during periods of torrential rainfall. The system doesn’t have the capacity to handle such rapid intake, so the water has nowhere to go until the pumping process runs its course. That’s why you see kayakers moving through the streets after a heavy rain. If you drive around New Orleans with David Waggonner, you’ll hear the same kind of innovative thinking and deep frustration heard from Marshall. Waggonner, a bespectacled man with a soft voice, is a Louisiana-born architect with the New Orleans firm Waggonner & Ball, whose work ranges from historic preser-


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ards. This makes it higher than the surrounding neighborhood and guarantees unimpeded runoff “quickly and directly into the adjacent drainage canal already severely challenged to carry water from further ‘upstream,’” notes Waggonner. Despite a lot of controversy and community opposition, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu pushed the project through the City Council with generous tax breaks. He did this, Waggonner adds, “without extracting even a storm water runoff, flood abatement, landscape amenity in exchange. Instead, its design makes conditions worse at the canal and in the system for the next deluge.” Ryan Berni, a spokesman for the mayor, noted in an e-mail that mitigation is designed to “discharge storm water to historical locations”—in other words, into the adjacent canal. None of these “offenses,” Waggonner points out, are without alternatives that would “improve safety, represent a better economic investment and improve the quality of life.” Reports indicate that the amount of energy the city is consuming to expel storm water through the pumping system is off the charts. The Living With Water strategies would not replace the pumping system but would supplement and balance it, thus easing the strains already on it. Waggonner likens this approach to “adaptive re-use,” like modernizing an old building. With less pumping and a more stable water table, city land would subside less and the urban landscape would improve. The effects would be dramatic. Publicly, Landrieu has praised Living With Water, and although no demonstration projects have been funded, the city recently received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation’s new RE.invest Initiative supporting a proposal based largely on Waggonner’s work. New Orleans was one of eight cities selected to create a model for financing twentyfirst-century resilient public infrastructure by teaming up with private partners. It is too soon to know if this funding will lead to specific projects. The Living With Water project Landrieu has embraced with the most enthusiasm is the Lafitte Greenway, which would transform a blighted landscape into an appealing waterway. Currently, fenced-off grass fields sit adjacent to a cement-walled, litter-filled drainage canal. Waggonner’s face lights up as he describes his vision for a ribbon park that would extend three miles from the Lafitte Housing Development at the northern edge of the French Quarter through Bayou St. John, a waterway in the high-priced Uptown neighborhood, to Canal Boulevard. The plan would make room for waterfront parks, biking trails, kayaking and canoeing, and cafes. Vacant industrial properties along the shore would be ripe for development. Other benefits would follow. Water is a cooling medium, Waggonner explains, so new and enlarged water features such as those in the Lafitte Greenway plan would serve as a natural air-cooling system. So far, the city has agreed only to create a bikeway. But the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation organization, has stepped in to raise funds to advance the larger project. Although it is taking a while to get some big ideas funded and off the ground, at least one modest effort is inching forward. The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle in the Lower Ninth Ward, once a healthy cypress swamp and the only site

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in the city with a coastal landscape, is gradually regenerating. The reversal began with the closing of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which was opened in 1965 as a shipping shortcut from the Gulf to the port. Nearly four years after the MRGO was closed, salinity is down. Pelicans and fish are returning. Canoers are exploring. Purified effluent from a nearby sewage treatment plant will replenish underwater soil to which cypress roots can eventually attach. It is perhaps not surprising that this restoration project was initiated by the local community, advanced with volunteer efforts, and appropriately picked up by the city and state, with plans in the works to replant cypress. Like the Lake Hermitage marsh restoration project, the MRGO closure is an effective local strategy that can serve as a valuable model for larger restoration projects. Community efforts to build awareness of the solutions are key to generating funding support for such ambitious plans.


ne of the best things to happen on a wider scale has been the involvement of R. King Milling as head of the America’s Wetland Foundation, whose mission is to alert the nation to the severity and financial impact of coastal devastation. Milling, former head of the Whitney National Bank, is one of New Orleans’s and the state’s leading businessmen. He has also served as head of an independent commission, established in 2001 by former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, that brought together industry, environmentalists, scientists and cultural and community interests to reorganize the state’s plans and structures. Out of that came the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which brings “all interested agencies and parties” under the jurisdiction of one committed agency, notes CPRA director Garret Graves. There is now a master plan filled with good projects that could replenish the delta. Funding seems elusive, but, says Graves, “we have forty innovative funding sources,” including the BP oil spill settlement, to pull from. Despite strong encouragement from environmentalists, Milling was initially reluctant to become involved with the America’s Wetland Foundation. But he signed on in 2001 because, he says, “this is about business and the enormous potential loss to the country.” That is why the foundation, along with other organizations, is taking the issue up the Mississippi, to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and other places, to emphasize the national dimension of the Louisiana coast and ports. A broader understanding may help create more congressional support, especially within business communities up the river, for delta regeneration projects. According to Louisiana’s 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, 90 percent of the nation’s outer continental oil and gas, and about 20 percent of its maritime commerce, ships through Louisiana ports. This coast is also the winter habitat for 5 million migratory water fowl, and it accounts for 26 percent (by weight) of the US fisheries catch. “Everyone has a stake in the coast where five of the country’s fifteen largest ports are located,” Milling says. “Frankly, the worst thing about Katrina is that it became all about New Orleans. It’s much larger than that.”  n

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Will Obama End the Long War? There are some hopeful signs, including his new, less hawkish foreign policy team. by ROBERT DREYFUSS

Robert Dreyfuss is a Nation contributing editor.

But if that is Obama’s strength, it hides an underlying weakness. The United States certainly doesn’t need to deploy its armed forces every time trouble erupts, much less engage in pre-emptive, unilateral wars. But it does need a well-conceived approach to diplomacy, in which each piece of the world puzzle fits into a mosaic that makes sense. Building better relations with Russia and China, for instance, is indispensable for dealing with Syria, Iran and North Korea. And it’s impossible to make progress on those or other difficult problems without a diplomatic strategy that starts at the top and involves all the players. Thus far, Obama and his new team are just beginning to show that they understand how to use diplomatic clout in concert with other powers. The administration is certainly cutting down on the number of drone strikes. According to the Long War Journal, strikes in Pakistan—where the vast majority occur, under the control of the CIA—have declined from 117 in 2010 to sixty-four in 2011, forty-six in 2012 and just fourteen so far this year. John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief until February, when he took over at the CIA, is reportedly an advocate for cutting back on the strikes. In his NDU speech, Obama defended them, portraying drones as “effective…legal [and used] in self-defense.” But he acknowledged that the practice “can also lead a president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.” Nader Mousavizadeh, the author, with Kofi Annan, of a book about diplomacy, bemoans what he calls America’s “diplomatic detachment.” Mousavizadeh, who runs Macro Advisory Partners, says the administration has too often seen foreign policy as a binary choice between a hands-off approach and direct military action. “There are geopolitical crises out there that cannot be solved either by turning a blind eye and saying, ‘It’s someone else’s problem,’ or, on the other hand, making use of drones and targeted assassinations,” he says. He cites Syria, where the administration’s recent engagement with Moscow in search of a solution may be too little, too late. “There was no guarantee that sitting down with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would allow the parties to find a solution,” he says. “But not negotiating with Russia for the past two years ensured that it wouldn’t happen.” With the addition of Kerry and Hagel, Obama raised hopes that the balance between diplomacy and military action might improve. There were several reasons for elevated expectations. Kerry and Hagel seemed measurably less hawkish than Obama’s first-term team, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Clinton, who ran for president in 2008 to the right of Obama on national security, never seemed NEIL SHAPIRO


ast year, President Obama famously told Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev that he’d have more flexibility on foreign policy after the 2012 election, since he wouldn’t have to face re-election. So, several months in, with his new foreign policy team in place, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, it’s fair to ask how Obama is doing. The record so far is mixed, though there are some hopeful signs. Most encouraging, in a major speech delivered at the National Defense University (NDU) on May 23, the president called for an end to the long-running “war on terror.” He said Al Qaeda was all but defeated, adding that henceforth terrorism could be dealt with by law enforcement and intelligence rather than the military. Obama reiterated his call to shut down Guantánamo, demanded that the outdated Authorization to Use Military Force be rewritten on a smaller scale, and pledged to rein in drone warfare by restricting targets and taking greater care to avoid civilian casualties. Whether Obama’s words translate into significant policy changes remains to be seen. More broadly, he has a lot of catching up to do in international affairs. Facing an urgent set of challenges—civil war in Syria, a belligerent North Korea, stalled nuclear talks with Iran, a frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process, flare-ups across Africa, tense relations with China and Russia, and a stubborn economic crisis in Europe, just for starters—Obama will have to shake off his desire to focus primarily on problems at home. During his first term, he often appeared willing to let global affairs drift as he pursued his domestic agenda, only to be seized by nasty foreign surprises. The NDU speech began to right a balance that was lost in Obama’s February State of the Union address, which was overwhelmingly devoted to domestic issues. Even in that speech, however, Obama said Americans “believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” and he pledged to “reduce…wartime spending.” Indeed, since taking office, the president’s instinct has been anti-interventionist, the most recent exhibit being his reluctance to involve the United States directly in Syria’s civil war. Especially when measured against George W. Bush’s shoot-first, make-diplomacy-later attitude, that’s a good thing. “Obama’s great strength in terms of foreign policy is that he’s not impulsive, and he realizes that there are very few things happening in the world that can truly harm the United States,” says Stephen Walt, international affairs specialist at Harvard and co-author of The Israel Lobby.


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to mesh with him, while Gates, a GOP holdover from the Bush administration, teamed up with her on issues such as expanding the Afghan war. Leon Panetta, who succeeded Gates, also joined Clinton in advocating more hawkish policies, such as her proposal late last year to provide arms directly to Syria’s rebels, which was overruled by Obama’s White House team. In addition, Kerry and Hagel are personally close to Obama in a way that Clinton, Gates and Panetta were not. In the Senate, Kerry served as a mentor of sorts on foreign policy, and Hagel— both in the Senate and, later, as an informal “wise man”—has won the president’s trust. As Vietnam veterans, Kerry and Hagel were well positioned to challenge the military brass when Obama needed allies against their advice. Hagel, in particular, won plaudits from the left and from centrist realists for his willingness to question the lockstep relationship with Israel, his skepticism on using military force against Iran, and his openness toward relations of some kind with Hezbollah and Hamas. But the change may be more cosmetic than substantive. “There’s a more moderate tone,” says Chas Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former assistant defense secretary, but “there’s no proof yet that anything has really changed.”

on April 3, he said, “It is already clear to me that any serious effort to reform and reshape our defense enterprise must confront the principal drivers of growth in the department’s base budget, namely acquisitions, personnel costs and overhead.” But he didn’t outline specific cuts. “His speech was encouraging,” says William Hartung, a defense policy expert at the Center for International Policy. “He didn’t scream bloody murder about sequestration’s effect on DOD.” But Hartung notes with disappointment that the president’s military budget still allows for an increase, and he chides Hagel for not singling out programs like the expensive and unneeded F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for cuts.


here are indications that the administration is working harder to cooperate with Moscow and Beijing. After being caught by surprise over the war scare in North Korea, the White House managed simultaneously to deter North Korea and reassure South Korea and Japan. Most important, the White House and the State Department kept China’s strategic interests in the Korean peninsula in mind, says Daniel Sneider, Asia specialist at Stanford University. Eventually, Pyongyang calmed down, probably influenced by quiet, behindthe-scenes intervention from Beijing. Then, just weeks before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled meeting with Obama in California, China said it was willing to work with Washington on denuclearizing the peninsula. In Syria, where civil war threatens to spark a protracted Sunni-Shiite conflict from the Mediterranean to Iraq, Obama has so far avoided direct involvement, despite pressure from hawks and from within his own ranks. Perhaps because the administration realized that its policy of cheerleading the Syrian rebels and calling for regime change in Damascus was counterproductive, Kerry belatedly began working with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to organize a joint peace conference. But the administration has a long way to go in relations with Russia and China. On China, in particular, Obama’s muchballyhooed “pivot” to Asia, which includes beefing up the US air and naval presence in the Pacific, has alarmed Chinese strategists, thus complicating relations at a critical moment. “I don’t think they have a policy toward China yet,” says Freeman, a fluent speaker of Mandarin who visits Beijing frequently. With Russia, the administration has failed to overcome longstanding and accumulating suspicions in Moscow of America’s motives in the “reset” of relations. “The so-called ‘reset’ has been wrecked by Obama’s own policy,” says Stephen F. Cohen, a specialist on Russia at New York University. By continuing a version of the Cold War approach toward Moscow, including expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia, the administration has fueled the hostility of Russian factions already skeptical of the United States, Cohen says: “What Putin hears from the Russian elite is ‘Tell us one thing that we got from the reset.’” Still, by canceling the next phase of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, the United States created a better atmosphere for arms talks that could be the foundation for improved US-Russian ties. Both China and Russia, key partners in the P5+1 talks with Iran, will be crucial if Obama is to reach an accord over Tehran’s

‘There’s a more moderate tone, but there’s no proof yet that anything has really changed.’  —Chas Freeman, former ambassador One reason Kerry and Hagel may have less impact than some expect is that under Obama, foreign policy has always been controlled by a centralized White House leadership, with Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and the National Security Council—led since October 2010 by Tom Donilon—making nearly all important decisions. Kerry-Hagel may be less a “team of rivals” than Clinton-Gates, but the core White House machine is still very much in place. If anything, Biden’s role is stronger: his former top foreign policy aide, Antony Blinken, is now Obama’s deputy national security adviser. Biden ran interference for Obama on Hagel’s Senate confirmation, and he stood in for the president this spring with a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Donilon, for his part, has made several key trips on Obama’s behalf, meeting with top Russian and Chinese officials. Both Biden and Donilon reportedly reinforced Obama’s reluctance to intervene in Syria and his decision to speed the drawdown in Afghanistan. “I’ve seen no indication they’re going to depart from the model in which all foreign policy decisions are made in the White House,” says Walt. If anything, the fact that Kerry and Hagel are close to Obama will reinforce White House policy-making. They may also reinforce Obama’s anti-interventionist tendencies. One thing retarding positive change is the inertia on military spending. There is enormous pressure, fed by the arms industry lobby and hawks in Congress, to maintain the Pentagon’s bloated budget. This is an area where Hagel could have a major impact. Unlike his predecessors, Hagel didn’t ring alarm bells over current and projected Pentagon cuts. In a major address

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nuclear program. A major roadblock has been Washington’s refusal to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, in exchange for the latter’s agreement to more stringent international inspections. Russia, a key ally of Iran’s, and China, a major buyer of Iranian oil, could help coax Iran to accept a deal along those lines if Obama were to offer it. Here, perhaps more than on any other foreign policy issue, domestic pressure from hawks, neoconservatives and the Israel lobby has convinced the White House to slow-walk the talks with Iran. Parallel to its missteps there and in Syria, the administration has not yet seemed to grasp the tectonic shifts brought about by the Arab Spring. Dictatorships were overthrown in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya—though not in Bahrain, where a rebellion was suppressed with tacit support from Washington—but all three countries are now in turmoil. Too often, the administration has ignored the region’s underlying problems—food and water shortages and vast poverty, in addition to autocracy—while seeming to take sides in the Sunni-Shiite conflict by backing Saudi Arabia and its allies against Iran and Shiite Arab forces. In Latin America, Obama has intensified US involvement, in what Biden called “the most active stretch of high-level engagement on Latin America in a long, long time.” The president visited Mexico and Costa Rica this year, arranged meetings with the presidents of Chile and Peru in Washington in June, and dispatched Biden to Brazil and Colombia. In the past, the administration saw regional policy through the lens of drug trafficking and immigration. Obama has recently shifted his focus to economics, telling the president of Costa Rica that drug violence and immigration problems arise “because of [regional] poverty [and] because young people don’t see a brighter future ahead.” Yet the administration has built its approach chiefly around a neoliberal trade policy, highlighted by the Trans Pacific Partnership, currently in negotiation. The TPP seems designed not only to enhance corporate power but to counter China’s


growing clout in both the Pacific and Latin America. One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Obama administration is the president’s inaction on global warming. In his State of the Union address, Obama invoked Superstorm Sandy, wildfires and drought as evidence that climate change was worsening. Still, in his dealings with world powers like China, emerging as the world’s greatest polluter, Obama has yet to make it a priority, and he has abandoned international forums designed to cope with the crisis. Kerry and Hagel have also downplayed the issue. The area of least progress is Israel-Palestine. Since 2009, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rudely rebuffed Obama’s demand for a halt to settlement growth in the occupied West Bank, the White House has virtually ignored the issue. In the spring, Kerry revived US support for Saudi Arabia’s 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which all the Arab states promised to recognize Israel and establish diplomatic relations if it withdrew from the occupied territories and agreed to an equitable resolution of the refugee issue; and he proposed a $4 billion development plan for the West Bank, which he touted as the start of an intensive diplomatic push to renew talks. But progress seems unlikely. “The Arab peace plan goes back eleven years,” says Rashid Khalidi, a Middle East expert at Columbia University. “It was ignored then, and it will be ignored again. The Israelis won’t have anything to do with it.” Khalidi says that domestic pressures from AIPAC and its allies in Congress will continue to thwart any diplomatic effort by Obama. With the White House facing Republican stonewalling in Congress, you’d think foreign policy, where the president has a freer hand, would be one area where Obama could make a mark during his second term. Most observers believe that Obama sees his legacy primarily in terms of domestic accomplishments, including healthcare reform and pulling the economy out of recession. But as events have shown, he neglects world affairs at his—and the country’s—peril. n

California’s Great Prison Experiment The state faces a deadline to release tens of thousands of people from prison. Is it succeeding? by TIM STELLOH


n February 22, 1998, Pete Gallagher arrived at Building 13 at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, California. It was Gallagher’s thirteenth year behind bars, and he’d already done time in Chino, Folsom, San Quentin and, most recently, the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility outside San Diego. Building 13 was large, open, fluorescent-lit and crammed with double bunks. Inmates were everywhere. It reminded Gallagher of a warehouse or a military barracks. He took one look, then found a corrections officer. “I’m not going to live like this,” he told him. “Take me to the hole.” But for the next fourteen years, Gallagher, who is on parole and did not want his real name used, did live like that, and he Tim Stelloh is a freelance writer based in New York.

watched as conditions deteriorated further: triple bunks replaced doubles, and new bodies filled the new beds. No toilets or sinks were added. The law library became too cramped to use, and visiting hours were chaos. Men died from the miserable healthcare: one from an abscessed tooth, another from hepatitis C. “If you weren’t ambulatory, you didn’t go to the doctor,” Gallagher says. By 2006, the California prison system had reached a crisis point: built to house 80,000 inmates, it held more than twice that number. “It was like the USSR,” says Jim Mayer, executive director of California Forward, a nonpartisan government reform group. “It was going to implode on itself.” A few years later, a three-judge panel handed down a dramatic ruling in response to two federal class-action lawsuits filed by inmates: the first, from 1990, claimed that mentally ill prisoners did not

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have access to minimal care; the second, filed eleven years later, described similar conditions for regular medical treatment. The panel found that inmates had been subject to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The judges ordered California to shrink its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates. The state appealed, but on May 23, 2011, the US Supreme Court upheld the order in a landmark ruling, Brown v. Plata. By June 27, 2013, the Court ruled, California’s prisons would have to look very different. So began “realignment,” an unprecedented overhaul of California’s thirty-three prisons, described as the largest criminal justice experiment ever conducted in America. Tens of thousands of low-level offenders would be kept in their hometowns instead of being shipped to state prisons. Law enforcement would seek smarter, cheaper justice models. That, at least, was the theory. And while the Court’s deadline has since been pushed from June to December, the question remains: Is California doing enough to reverse its prison crisis?


ive months before the Plata ruling, in December 2010, California Governor-elect Jerry Brown summoned law enforcement officials to a conference room in Sacramento. It was his last month as attorney general, and for the second time in his career—he was also governor from 1975 to 1983— he was preparing to be inaugurated. As police and probation chiefs, district attorneys and others crowded around a conference table, Brown laid out the state’s most urgent criminal justice problems: a $26 billion deficit and a looming Supreme Court decision that could have vast implications. Then he introduced the broad outlines of a plan that would transform the state’s prison system. It was ironic that Brown was delivering this policy initiative. During his earlier terms as governor, he had overseen a very different kind of transformation of the prison system. Soon after his election in 1974 and into the next three decades, punishment flourished: the state passed a slew of tough sentencing measures, including, in 1994, the notorious three-strikes law (recently softened by a ballot measure). Rehabilitation programs were gutted. The prison guard union—and its political power—exploded, the “war on drugs” was declared, and as Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon has pointed out, a new generation of parole officers with little interest in rehabilitation sent waves of offenders back to prison for so-called technical violations. Between 1984 and 2006, California built twenty-one new prisons and, in roughly the same period, increased its prison population from 34,000 to 173,000 prisoners. The racial composition of the inmate population shifted from largely white to largely black, and the number of people incarcerated for drug sales and possession charges tripled. Corrections dollars from the state’s general fund quadrupled. One study found that within three years, 66 percent of parolees had returned to prison. Even Brown, whose office did not respond to requests for an interview, called the system a “scandal.” When Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor in 2003,

  June 24/July 1, 2013

he promised systemic changes. A panel of experts developed recommendations, beginning with a reduction in overcrowding, as well as a variety of rehabilitative programs. “Rehabilitation” was even added to the state corrections agency’s name. But as Stanford University law professor Joan Petersilia has pointed out, Schwarzenegger largely failed. He signed a bill that funded one of the largest prison and jail construction programs in state history. The cost of housing inmates rose, as did the prison population. Meanwhile, investments that might eventually reduce incarceration—toward things like education or substance abuse treatment—remained pitifully low: just $2,000 of every $49,500 spent annually to house a single inmate funded rehabilitation. On February 14, 2006, a district court judge appointed a federal receiver to take over the delivery of inmate healthcare. Behind the ruling was a startlingly bleak portrait of the prison system—one filled with feckless administrators, negligent doctors, and inmates who were dying at the alarming rate of one every six to seven days. One doctor refused to see a prisoner who was experiencing abdominal and chest pains. The inmate died two weeks later, and the physician, who was the subject of sixty-two grievances, later said that most prisoners with medical complaints were trying to take advantage of the system. “By all accounts, the California prison medical system is broken beyond repair,” the judge wrote. “The harm already done in this case to California’s prison inmate population could not be more grave, and the threat of future injury and death is virtually guaranteed in the absence of drastic action.” A few years later, and just three months after Brown’s December 2010 meeting, his plan for such drastic action would become law. It acknowledged decades of failed prison policy, and though it didn’t roll back some of the state’s toughest sentencing laws, as prison reformers had advocated, it offered a vision that was in stark contrast to the tough-on-crime years. “The law set out a statement of findings and legislative intent that read as though, literally, the ACLU might have written them,” says Allen Hopper, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. NEIL SHAPIRO



y the fall of 2011, Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones was frustrated. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to Brown’s ideas, but everything had happened too fast. He feared that prisoners would be released with little supervision, and told a reporter, “You add to that the statistical certainty of our recidivism rate, I think you can fairly well…predict that the crime rate in Sacramento County is going to go up.” A little farther south, the Los Angeles district attorney, Steve Cooley, was less circumspect. “Like a lot of revolutions,” he told a radio reporter, “there might be a lot of blood in the streets.” For all the fearmongering, realignment has proven to be a relatively peaceful experiment so far. There was a slight uptick in violent and property crimes in the first half of 2012 in most of California’s largest cities, according to the nonpartisan

June 24/July 1, 2013 

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Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, yet an analysis earlier this year by the center found no connection between those numbers and realignment. Many counties that once sent felons to state prison en masse have dramatically scaled back those numbers. All told, the state’s prison population has shrunk by more than 25,000 inmates since 2011. Like deinstitutionalization, the decades-long process that returned mentally ill people from psychiatric hospitals to communities, realignment was designed to keep thousands of thieves, addicts, and other “nonsexual, nonserious and nonviolent” inmates—as the state calls them—in their home counties. Instead of sending offenders to state prison, local law enforcement would figure out what to do with them: Should they be monitored with an ankle bracelet? Should they be in drug or alcohol treatment? Parolees would no longer be sent back to prison for technical violations, and judges and prosecutors would have more discretion in sentencing and charging low-level criminals. Realignment called for “evidence-based” corrections practices that cost less than prison, but there were no mandates to prove such practices were working. Counties were given wide latitude to decide how to implement the law. “The counties know how to run their business” is how Terri McDonald, undersecretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, explains it. In the months after the law passed, researchers at the ACLU of Northern California began reviewing every realignment plan from every county. While many of these counties professed a commitment to the principles laid out in the law, their plans contradicted its spirit: of the twenty-five counties that received the most state realignment funding, twenty-four planned to expand their jails or build new ones. “At its worst,” the ACLU warned a few months later, “realignment will reveal itself to be nothing more than a shell game, simply moving bodies out of California’s dangerously and unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons to local jail facilities.” Was California’s county-empowering reform little more than the old mass incarceration model writ small?


I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he told me. Kern County, where Cantrell lived, is mostly rural and was once known for its lock-’em-up philosophy. The county jail, which holds about 2,700 people, is one of eighteen in the state now operating under a court-ordered population cap. Before realignment, it had a recidivism rate of 70 percent, and about three-quarters of the people sent to state prison were lowlevel felons. Kern County Sheriff Chief Deputy Francis Moore explains the old thinking this way: “We’re the cops—we put them in jail, we house them while they’re in jail, then we kick them out the door. What happens out the door… who cares?” Last year, Cantrell faced a maximum of fourteen years in prison on drug charges. But under realignment, after serving six months in jail, he started renting a room at New Life with the monitor strapped to one ankle and a GPS device strapped to the other. Cantrell was one of more than a thousand people who, by last December, were enrolled in the Kern County sheriff’s “virtual jail,” a combination of programs created or dramatically expanded under realignment. Today, the county jail is “almost like a re-entry center,” according to Lt. Gregory Gonzales of

Many counties that once sent felons to state prison en masse have dramatically scaled back those numbers.


ne day last December, 45-year-old Bart Cantrell got up around 4 am and marched down a fluorescent-lit hallway, through the kitchen, and into a small room where a little black machine and a cylindrical magnet sat on a metal shelf. As he did every day, he swiped the magnet across a black monitor strapped to his ankle and watched for a green light. Seconds later, Cantrell’s blood-alcohol level was measured and the authorities notified. Cantrell had been an oilfield worker, truck driver and commercial fisherman, and had once lived in a half-million-dollar home. By the time I met him, he lived in a small room in a former motel on the dusty edges of Bakersfield, an oil and agricultural city at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley. The facility had reopened as the New Life Recovery and Training Center last year. Cantrell was there because he had been using methamphetamine and other drugs since he was 14. After decades of cycling through county jail and state prison, he was done. His ex-wife was dead— killed by an overdose. He’d lost his house. “I’m to the point where

the sheriff’s office. “Everybody we’re talking to, we’re trying to figure out: How can we get you to not come back next year?” As a result, the jail now offers classes on domestic violence and food safety. There’s a new drug program and an expanded GED course. Inmates found not to pose a risk to the community are released with monitors. A sheriff’s supervision program has more than quadrupled in size. Centers like New Life have received state funding to expand their services, and the probation department has doubled the size of a day reporting center that offers counseling, job training, parenting classes and more. For people like Cantrell, effective rehabilitation programs can mean the difference between returning to a cell or not. Yet such spending in Kern County represents just a sliver of its realignment budget: only 15 percent of the county’s nearly $11 million in state funds for 2011 and 2012 were set aside for these programs, according to data collected by researchers at Stanford Law School’s Criminal Justice Center. Moore argues that Kern County doesn’t need to spend more on rehabilitation. If prisoners “fail the programs and we have no jail beds to send them back to for failing, what’s their incentive to be successful?” he says. The county is expanding its jail system with a $120 million, 700-bed facility that is expected to open in 2017. Kern County is far from unusual in its approach. Most counties set aside less than 20 percent of their new state money for rehabilitation, according to the Stanford data. Fifteen counties budgeted nothing. Instead, they retrofitted jails, refurbished beds and hired deputies to staff those jails, along with other traditional law enforcement expenditures, says Petersilia.

The Nation.


Do these numbers confirm the ACLU’s warning? Petersilia says they do—but only up to a point. “The sheriffs were the knee-jerk reaction,” she says. “When nobody else had a plan, they had built facilities. They were right there at the ready.” Despite that initial binge in jail spending, a closer look at Stanford’s research reveals a recent shift: counties are beginning to use the money as it was intended. For Cantrell, that shift offered a bit of hope. He had seven months of sobriety, and he believed facilities like New Life were critical to keeping people like him out of a cell. “If a guy is serious and he wants to do something and wants to change, they provide an atmosphere for that,” he told me. Sadly, for Cantrell, that chance was fleeting. One morning in February, a few days before his birthday, a truck ran a stop sign and collided with his vehicle. Cantrell died at the scene.


oday in Sacramento, Jerry Brown insists that his state’s prison crisis is long gone. In January, state lawyers filed documents in federal court challenging the population reduction order, arguing that federal authorities should stop meddling with the prison system’s health services. “We’ve gone from serious constitutional problems to one of the finest prison systems in the United States,” Brown said at a press conference in January. He called the reduction goal “arbitrary,” dismissing federal oversight as benefiting “people who fly across the continent” to “denounce how bad everything is.”

  June 24/July 1, 2013

But lawyers for the class-action plaintiffs say that lethally inadequate medical care is still a problem. Raymond Patterson, the court-appointed expert charged with evaluating suicides, points out that in 2012 the rate of inmate suicides was twentyfour per 100,000—considerably higher than the national average and on par with a decade ago. In his last annual report, filed in federal court in March, Patterson concluded that a large number of those deaths were preventable. He has written more than a dozen such reports, and virtually none of his recommendations have been followed. So he ended with a farewell: “It has become apparent that continued repetition of these recommendations would be a further waste of time and effort,” he wrote. Then there are the nearly 9,000 prisoners who remain in five out-of-state facilities run by Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company. The cost of incarceration has continued to rise—to almost $52,000 per person annually—while rehabilitation funding has plummeted from the Schwarzenegger era, to just over $1,000 per year for 2011 and 2012. Criminologist James Austin describes the effect of realignment thus far as “not insignificant.” Still, he says, to meet the reduction goal, the state must reckon with the tens of thousands of other inmates who likely pose little risk to their communities but remain incarcerated under harsh sentencing rules. These include many lifers and aging inmates convicted of violent crimes. “If you look at the prison system, that’s what’s wrong,” Austin says. “There are a lot of low-risk people in there.” n

Letters (continued from page 2) CAP’s staff advocated for First Solar before Congress and in articles on CAP’s website without disclosing that pertinent piece of information. Maybe the 6 percent figure for corporate contributions is true; but we have only CAP’s word for it. It should publish and make available an annual report or otherwise disclose at least some basic financial information, as most major think tanks do. Furthermore, if CAP gets only 6 percent of its budget from corporations, that’s purely a function of its failure to close the deal, not for lack of trying (see the wonderful perks it offers to big corporate donors, as I describe in the article). It’s good that CAP sometimes criticizes its donors, but I found numerous instances where it praised them. But that’s not the point. Wall Street companies gave a lot of money to President Obama not because they expected his support all the time, but to get more than they would if they gave him no money (I’d say they got a pretty good return on their investment). I expect that’s the same impulse that prompts companies to give CAP money, unless you believe the explanation Boeing gave me that its contributions are purely “educational in

nature.” Oh, yeah, and Chris Belisle, whom Purse dismisses as a “junior staffer,” mysteriously had the title “senior manager” of CAP’s Business Alliance. Ken Silverstein

Gore Vidal Lives!—On e-Book

Vidal to write for The Nation for pennies on the dollar of what he was offered (and refused) elsewhere, as readers will see when they read Lingeman’s and Navasky’s versions of the tale. To purchase the Gore Vidal e-book (for pennies on the dollar), visit  —The Editors

Oakland, Calif.

Art Appreciation and a Correction

The point remains that the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky was able to get

Alert readers and art buffs undoubtedly recognized that last issue’s cover illustration was a reproduction of Eugène Dela­croix’s Liberty Leading the People, which celebrates the July 1830 revolution in France. In David Cole’s “The AP’s Privacy, and Ours” [June 10/17], the first two sentences of the paragraph starting at the bottom of the left column on page 5 should have read: “Since the Supreme Court has essentially bowed out, our protections depend on Congress. Current law requires, for example, that the government obtain a court order that evidence is relevant to a criminal investigation in order to obtain real-time phone records of whom one calls and for how long. It imposes a somewhat higher standard, requiring ‘specific and articulable facts,’ for stored e-mail addressing data.”

I thank The Nation for making Gore Vidal’s State of the Union: Nation Essays 1958– 2005 available as an e-book. I’ve gotten through Richard Lingeman’s introduction and Victor Navasky’s foreword and am unable to resist sharing an observation. As the son of a mathematician father and journalist mother, my heart belongs to words, but my head to numbers. My mother always said there was never anyone in the newsroom who could do even the most basic arithmetic calculations. Reading these two pieces together, one’s heart is gladdened to see that this tradition is upheld at The Nation, where no one seems to be able to divide 50,000 by 25. Bruce Boer

Books & the Arts. Rage and Ruin by STEVE WASSERMAN

The Panthers showed up armed and in uniform and closed off the street. Steve Wasserman is editor at large for Yale University Press.



n the early morning hours of April 1, 1967, in North Richmond, California, a small, impoverished, all-black town near Oakland, Denzil Dowell lay dead in the street. The police said that Dowell, a 22-year-old construction worker, had been killed by a single shotgun blast to the back and head; they claimed that he had been caught burglarizing a liquor store and, when ordered to halt, had failed to do so. The coroner’s report told a different story. His body bore six bullet holes, and there was reason to believe Dowell had been shot while surrendering with his hands raised high. His mother said, “I believe the police murdered my son.” An all-white jury found that Dowell’s death was “justifiable homicide.” Many people in North Richmond didn’t agree. Only six months before, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, brash upstarts from Oakland, had established the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. They had quickly garnered a reputation for their willingness to stand up to police harassment and worse. They’d made a practice of shadowing the cops, California Penal Code in one hand, twelve-gauge shotgun in the other. Soon they were meeting with the Dowell family, investigating the facts of the case, holding street-corner rallies, confronting officials, arguing that only by taking up arms could the black community put a stop to police brutality. Newton and Seale were fearless and cocky—even reckless, some felt—and itching for a fight. One Sunday, the police came knocking on Mrs. Dowell’s door while Newton was there. When she opened the door, Newton later recalled, “a policeman pushed his way in, asking questions. I grabbed my shotgun and stepped in front of her, telling him either to produce a search warrant or leave. He stood for a minute, shocked, then ran out to his car and drove off.” Emboldened, Newton and Seale planned a rally that, in the event, would prove unforgettable. A new history of the Black Panther Party, Black Against Empire, tells what happened next:

Bobby Seale speaks at a “Free Huey!” rally on July 14, 1968, in West Oakland, California.

Word had spread and almost four hundred people of all ages came. Many working-class and poor black people from North Richmond were there. They wanted to know how to get some measure of justice for Denzil Dowell and in turn how to protect themselves and their community from police attacks. People lined both sides of the block. Some elderly residents brought lawn chairs to sit in while they listened. Some of the younger

Black Against Empire

The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party.

By Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. California. 539 pp. $34.95.

generation climbed on cars. Several police cars arrived on the scene, but…kept their distance. A Contra Costa County helicopter patrolled above. According to a sheriff’s spokesman, the department took no other

The Nation.


action because the Panthers broke no laws and, as required, displayed their weapons openly. Neighbors showed up with their own guns…. One young woman who had been sitting in her car got out and held up her M-1 for everyone to see. The Panthers passed out applications to join their party, and over three hundred people filled them out. According to FBI informant Earl Anthony, he “had never seen Black men command the respect of the people the way that Huey Newton and Bobby Seale did that day.” Several days after Dowell’s death, alarmed by the Panthers’ growing prominence, California legislator Donald Mulford introduced a bill to ban the carrying of loaded weapons in public. Newton responded by upping the ante and in early May dispatched thirty Panthers, most of them armed, to Sacramento, the state capital. They were to show up at the capitol building as the bill was being debated. The police confiscated their guns soon after they arrived but later returned them, as the Panthers had broken no laws. The Mulford Act passed. The Panthers were instantly notorious, and images of their armed foray were splashed across the nation’s newspapers and shown on television. It was a PR coup. Soon thousands of young blacks joined the party, and by the end of 1968 seventeen Panther chapters had opened across the country. One enthusiast, quoted in a major feature story in The New York Times Magazine, spoke for many when he said: “As far as I’m concerned it’s beautiful that we finally got an organization that don’t walk around singing. I’m not for all this talking stuff. When things start happening I’ll be ready to die if that’s necessary and it’s important that we have somebody around to organize us.”


he rise and fall of the Black Panther Party is a heartbreaking saga of heroism and hubris, which, in its full dimension and contradiction, has long awaited its ideal chronicler. The material is rich, some of it still radioactive. A good deal of it can be found in a clutch of memoirs, inevitably self-serving but valuable nonetheless, that have appeared sporadically over the years by ex-Panthers, including Bobby Seale, David Hilliard and Elaine Brown among the better known, but also such lesser figures as William Lee Brent, Flores Forbes and Jamal Joseph. There are also accounts by David Horowitz, Kate Coleman and Hugh Pearson. All are to be read with care. The Panthers were controversial in their day and remain so. Their

history is swaddled in propaganda, some of it promulgated by the party’s enemies, who sought assiduously to destroy it, and some by its apologists and hagiographers, who, as often as not, have refused to acknowledge the party’s crimes and misdemeanors, preferring to attribute its demise almost entirely to the machinations of others. Peopled by outsize characters—starting with its magnetic and headstrong founder, Huey P. Newton, eulogized at his 1989 funeral as “our Moses”— the party’s complicated history, replete with Byzantine political schisms, murderous infighting and a contested legacy, has eluded sober examination. Now two scholars, Waldo Martin Jr., a historian at the University of California, Berkeley, and Joshua Bloom, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UCLA, after more than a decade of work, offer a corrective. They demolish the canard that the Panthers were anti-white. What distinguished Newton and Seale’s approach was their refusal to go along with the narrow cultural nationalism that had appealed to so many African-Americans. They fought tremendous battles, sometimes turning deadly, with those who thought, as the saying went, that political power grew out of the sleeve of a dashiki. Bloom and Martin rightly emphasize the Panthers’ steady embrace of a class-based politics with an internationalist bent. The party was inspired by antiimperialist struggles in Africa, Latin America and Asia. They began by emphasizing the local but soon went global, ultimately establishing an international section in Algiers. Their romance with the liberation movements of others would eventually become something of a fetish, reaching its nadir in the bizarre adulation of North Korea’s dictator Kim Il-Sung and his watchword juche, a term for the self-reliance that the Panthers deluded themselves into thinking might be the cornerstone of a revolutionary approach that would find an echo of enthusiasm in America. In the beginning, little about the party was original. Even the iconic dress of black leather jackets and matching berets was inspired by earlier Oakland activists, like the now all-butforgotten Mark Comfort who, Bloom and Martin note, “had begun appealing to young African Americans with militant style.” As early as February 1965, the month Malcolm X was assassinated, Comfort had launched a protest “to put a stop to police beating innocent people.” Later that summer, Comfort and his supporters demanded that “the Oakland City Council keep white policemen out of black neighborhoods” and took steps to organize “citizen patrols to monitor the actions of the police and document incidents of brutality.”

  June 24/July 1, 2013

This wasn’t enough for Newton and Seale. Inspired by Robert F. Williams’s advocacy and practice of “armed self-reliance”—for which he’d had to flee the country in the early 1960s, seeking sanctuary in Castro’s Cuba—Newton and Seale decided to break entirely with “armchair intellectualizing,” as Seale would later call it. Propaganda of the deed, they believed, would arouse the admiration of, in Newton’s words, the “brothers on the block.” They’d had it with bended-knee politics. It was time, as a favored slogan of the Party would later urge, “to pick up the gun.” Drawing up a ten-point program stuffed with demands for justice and selfdetermination, the Panthers represented a rupture with the reformist activism of the traditional civil rights movement. It wasn’t long before the party saw itself as a “vanguard,” capable of jump-starting a revolution. For some—and here I do not exempt myself—it was an intoxicating fever-dream.


n early November 1969, I left Berkeley for a few days and went to Chicago to support the Chicago Eight, then on trial for the bloody police riot that had marred the anti–Vietnam War protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I knew some of the defendants: Jerry Rubin, whom I’d met four years before while organizing one of the first junior high school protests against the Vietnam War; Tom Hayden, who’d taken an interest in my rabble-rousing posse at Berkeley High School during People’s Park; and Bobby Seale, whom I’d encountered through my close friendship with schoolmates who’d joined the Panthers and let us use the party’s typesetting machines in its Shattuck Avenue national headquarters to put together our underground newspaper, Pack Rat. Seale had been bound and gagged in the courtroom— a “neon oven,” Abbie Hoffman had called it. The country was riveted by the appalling spectacle. I arrived at the apartment that Leonard Weinglass, one of the defense attorneys, had rented. It served as crash pad and general meeting place for the far-flung tribe of supporters and radical nomads, unafraid to let their freak flags fly, who sought to muster support for the beleaguered defendants. Sometime around midnight, Fred Hampton, clad in a long black leather coat and looking for all the world like a gunslinger bursting into a saloon, swept in with a couple of other Panthers in tow. You could feel the barometric pressure in the room rise with Hampton’s entrance. At the time, the favored flick was Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, an epic western revenge fantasy that inflamed the overheated imaginations of a number of

In the latest New Left Review


he american political scene since 2000 is conventionally depicted in high colour. For much native—not to speak of foreign—opinion, the country has cartwheeled from brutish reaction under one ruler, presiding over disaster at home and abroad, to the most inspiring hope of progress since the New Deal under another, personifying all that is finest in the nation; to others, a spectre not even American. What remains unchanging is the monochrome ideological universe in which the system is plunged: a mental firmament in which the sanctity of private property and superiority of private enterprise are truths taken for granted by all forces in the political arena’—Perry Anderson, ‘Homeland’, nlr 81

Also in nlr 81: Nancy Fraser on the politics of the crisis; Franco Moretti on metamorphoses of ‘the bourgeois’; Yonatan Mendel on Jerusalem; Francis Mulhern on Hobsbawm’s cultural criticism; and more.



Mike Davis Obama’s Battalions

81 may/june 2013

80 mar/apr 2013

79 jan/feb 2013




G. M. Tamás Vive la Commune!

Perry Anderson Brave New World?

Peter Nolan Carving up the Sea

Christopher Johnson Structuralist Virtualities

Nancy Fraser Crisis Politics

Kozo Yamamura The Great Slowdown

Jiwei Xiao Antonioni in China

Franco Moretti The Bourgeois Vanishes

Asef Bayat Revolution in Bad Times

Robin Blackburn Finance for Anarchists

Yonatan Mendel Jerusalem Syndrome

Benedict Anderson On Literary Laurels

Kevin Gray The Dictator’s Daughter

Tariq Ali Arabia Felix?

Bolívar Echeverría Peoples of the Book

Hung Ho-fung China’s Rise Stalled

Ian Birchall Age of the Three Worlds

Adam Tooze Empires at War

Jacob Collins On Bio-Security

Kheya Bag Delhi’s Dynasts

Gregor McLennan Charting Radical Theory

Francis Mulhern Hobsbawm’s Choice

Sven Lütticken Mutant Feedback

Claude Lévi-Strauss The Setting Sun


Joachim Jachnow

Régis Debray Decline of the West?

What’s Become of the German Greens

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unindicted co-conspirators like my friend Stew Albert, a founder of the Yippies. Hampton was already in the cross-hairs of the FBI and Mayor Daley’s goons, to whom he’d been a taunting nemesis. He had an open face, and his eyes flashed intelligently. He had the Panther swagger down pat, yet his voice was soft, welcoming. He radiated charisma and humility. He seemed tired, and somehow you knew he was already thinking of himself as a dead man walking. He was famous for having proclaimed: “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” You could see how people could fall for him, and you could well imagine how his enemies hated and feared him. A month later he was murdered, shot dead by police while sleeping in his bed. He was 21. Hampton seemed destined for greatness, having already eclipsed in his seriousness Eldridge Cleaver, the party’s minister of information and an ex-con who’d written the bestselling Soul on Ice. Cleaver was regarded by many of the younger recruits within the party as their Malcolm X. A strong advocate of working with progressive whites, Cleaver was a man of large appetites, an anarchic and ribald spirit who relished his outlaw status. After years in prison, he was hellbent on making up for lost time and wasn’t about to kowtow to anyone—neither to Ronald Reagan, whom he mocked mercilessly, nor, as it would turn out, to Huey Newton. He was the joker in the Panther deck and a hard act to follow. Like so many of the Panthers’ leaders, he had killer looks, inhabiting his own skin with enviable ease. (The erotic aura that the Panthers presented was a not inconsiderable part of their appeal, as any of the many photographs that were taken of them show. And in this department, Huey was the Supreme Leader, and he never let you forget it.) Eldridge was the biggest mouth in a party of big mouths. He especially loved invective and adored the sound of his own voice, delivered in a sly baritone drawl. He was a gifted practitioner of the rhetoric of denunciation, favoring such gems as “fascist mafioso” and given to vilifying the United States, at every turn, as “Babylon.” He was a master of misogynist pith, uttering the imperishable “revolutionary power grows out of the lips of a pussy.” He was fond of repeating, as if it were a personal mantra: “He could look his momma in the eye and lie.” He was notorious in elite Bay Area movement circles for his many and persistent infidelities and for his physical abuse of his equally tough-talking and beautiful wife, Kathleen. About these failures, however, a curtain of silence was drawn. He was, all in all, a hustler who exuded charm and menace in equal measure.

Cleaver would ultimately flee the country, rightly fearing a return to prison following his bungled shootout with Oakland police in the immediate aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968. The debacle had given the Panthers their first martyr, 17-year-old Bobby Hutton, the nascent party’s first recruit, gunned down by the cops as he sought to surrender. His funeral was front-page news; Marlon Brando was a featured speaker. Cleaver was arrested, released on bail and then disappeared, heading first to Cuba and then to Algeria. Newton was still in prison, awaiting trial for killing an Oakland cop. Now Bobby Seale was fighting to avoid a similar fate in Chicago. David Hilliard, the party’s chief of staff, was left to try to hold the group together. Hoover’s FBI, sensing victory, ratcheted up its secret COINTELPRO campaign, in concert with local police departments across the country, to sow dissension in the party’s ranks and to otherwise discredit and destroy its leaders. Hoover was a determined foe. He too had seemingly embraced Malcolm X’s defiant slogan “By any means necessary.” He cared a lot about order and about the law not a whit. With King gone, he worried, not unreasonably, that the Panthers would widen their appeal and step into the breach. The suppression of the urban rebellions that erupted in many of the nation’s cities in the hinge year of 1968 underscored the Panthers’ fear that the United States had entered a long night of fascism. Nonviolent protest struck a growing number of activists as having run its course in the face of unsentimental and overwhelming state power. The Vietnam War, despite the upwelling of the Tet Offensive, seemed endless. Richard Nixon’s election on a platform of “law and order” made a generation of reform-minded progressives seem hopelessly naïve. Fires were being lit by a burgeoning and increasingly despairing discontent. For some time, Jim Morrison had been singing of “The End.” Soon, Gil Scott-Heron would intone that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and from his California prison cell, Huey P. Newton began to dream of “revolutionary suicide.”


loom and Martin have written about as close to an official history as can be imagined. Cornel West has praised it as “definitive,” and Tom Hayden thinks it “should become a standard historical work.” It would be surprising if it did: Bloom and Martin have chosen, oddly for scholars, to adopt the worldview and sometimes the language of their subjects. Empathy, for them, goes a long way—too far, I would

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argue. Objectivity, of course, is the fool’s gold of historical writing, but, like perfection, it is a virtue worth pursuing. Bloom and Martin, however, are more activists than traditional historians, even dedicating their book to, among others, “young revolutionaries everywhere.” When it comes to the Panthers, they are as close to their subject as lips are to teeth. In a note on how they went about writing the book, they trumpet their decision not to use material from the many conversations they had in the late 1990s with surviving former Panthers, including such luminaries as Seale, Hilliard, Elaine Brown and Ericka Huggins, among many others. The authors say that they came to distrust such accounts as “highly contradictory” and so decided to avoid “using retrospective interviews as a principal source of evidence.” They preferred to trust “many thousands of firsthand accounts of historical events offered by participants shortly after they occurred.” Did it not occur to them that contemporaneous accounts might be hostage to particular agendas and interests, thus reducing their usefulness as a reliable guide to the reality they purport to reflect? Bloom and Martin are proud to have “assembled the only nearcomplete collection of the Party’s own newspaper, The Black Panther,” an archive that includes 520 of the 537 issues published. This record, they assert, “offers the most comprehensive documentation of the ideas, actions, and projections of the Party day to day, week to week,” and it is the foundation stone upon which the edifice of their history of the Black Panther Party is built. This is perverse. It’s as if they had written the history of the Nation of Islam by mainly quoting Muhammad Speaks, or assembled a serious history of the American Communist Party by relying on back issues of The Daily Worker. Do Bloom and Martin not realize that such unabashed organs of propaganda are deliberate exercises in spin, often pushing this or that favored political line while seeking to conceal innerparty squabbles, as well as fierce clashes, large and small, over personalities and politics? Too often there is an airless quality to their prose, and the human factor, sadly, is sometimes lacking. Thus, the story’s inherent drama is diminished, inert. Bloom and Martin have inexplicably chosen to ignore much that illuminates but which lies hidden in plain sight in the memoirs of several former Panthers, works they cite in the book’s endnotes but whose most revelatory nuggets remain buried. For example, among the things you will not learn from Black Against Empire, but would from Elaine Brown’s hairraising account in her indispensable A Taste

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of Power (1992), is how Newton viciously turned on Seale, his comrade and peerless organizer. You will not learn in detail from Bloom and Martin how Newton succumbed to his cocaine-and-cognac-fueled megalomania; how he ordered Big Bob Heard, his six-foot-eight, 400-pound bodyguard, to beat Seale with a bullwhip, cracking twenty lashes across his bared back; nor how, when the ordeal was over, Newton abruptly stripped Seale of his rank as party chairman and ordered him to pack up and get out of Oakland. Hilliard, too, Newton’s friend since they were 13, would be expelled, as would his brother, June. As would Seale’s brother, John, deemed by Newton to be “untrustworthy as a blood relative of a counterrevolutionary.” Newton became what he arguably had been from the start: a sawdust Stalin. You won’t learn from Bloom and Martin the hard truth about Flores Forbes, a trusted enforcer for Newton, a stalwart of the party’s Orwellian “Board of Methods and Corrections,” and a member of what Newton called his “Buddha Samurai,” a praetorian guard made up of men willing to follow orders unquestioningly and do the “stern stuff.” Forbes joined the party at 15 and wasted no time becoming a zombie for Huey. Forbes was bright and didn’t have to be told; he knew when to keep his mouth shut. He well understood the “right to initiative,” a term Forbes tells us “was derived from our reading and interpretation of Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.” What Forbes took Fanon to mean was “that it is the oppressed people’s right to believe that they should kill their oppressor in order to obtain their freedom. We just modified it somewhat to mean anyone who’s in our way,” like inconvenient witnesses who might testify against Newton, or Panthers who’d run afoul of Newton and needed to be “mud-holed”— battered and beaten to a bloody pulp. Newton no longer favored Mao’s Little Red Book, preferring Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which he extolled for its protagonists’ Machiavellian cunning and ruthlessness. Nor will you learn from Bloom and Martin how Newton admired Melvin van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the tale of a hustler who becomes a revolutionary. Military regalia was out, swagger sticks were in. Newton dropped the rank of minister of defense. Some days he wanted to be called “Supreme Commander,” other days “Servant of the People” or, usually, just “Servant.” But to fully understand Huey’s devolution, you’d have to run Peebles’s picture backward, as the story of a revolutionary who becomes a hustler. Several years ago, I spent an afternoon with Seale, renewing a conversation we’d


begun some months before. He’d moved back to Oakland, living once again in his mother’s house, and was contemplating writing a book—the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as he put it to me, about the rise and fall of the Panthers—on the very dining room table where almost a half-century ago he and Newton had drafted the Panthers’ Ten-Point Program. No one was getting any younger, and he felt he owed it to a new generation to come clean. At his invitation, we jumped into his car and, with Bobby at the wheel, drove around Oakland, visiting all the neighborhood spots where history had been made: here was the corner where Newton had shot and killed Officer Frey in October 1967; and there was the former lounge and bar, the notorious Lamp Post, where Newton had laundered money from drug deals and shakedowns; and over there were the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse, where thousands, including myself, had assembled in August 1970 to hail Newton’s release from prison and where, beneath the blazing summer sun, Huey, basking in the embrace of the adoring crowd, had stripped off his shirt, revealing his cut and musclebound torso, honed by a punishing regimen of countless push-ups in the isolation cell of the prison where he’d done his time, a once slight Oakland kid now physically transformed into the very embodiment of the powerful animal he’d made the emblem of his ambitions. As Seale spoke, mimicking with uncanny accuracy Huey’s oddly high-pitched and breathless stutter, virtually channeling the man, now dead more than two decades— ignominiously gunned down at age 47 in a crack cocaine deal gone bad by a young punk half his age seeking to make his bones— it became clear that, despite everything he’d endured, Bobby Seale was a man with all the passions and unresolved resentments of a lover betrayed. There could be little doubt that, for Seale, the best years of his life were the years he spent devoted to Newton, who still, despite the passage of time, loomed large. Seale, like the party he gave birth to, still couldn’t rid himself of Huey’s shadow.

Hoover’s COINTELPRO: it exacerbated the worst tendencies among the Panthers and did much to deepen a politics of paranoia that would ultimately help hollow out what had been a steadily growing movement of opposition. It sowed the seeds of disunity. It cast doubt on the very idea of leadership. It promoted suspicion and distrust. It countenanced murder and betrayal. But the Panthers were not blameless. Newton, for his part, provided fertile ground for reckless extremism and outright criminality to grow and take root. Cockamamie offshoots like Donald DeFreeze’s so-called Symbionese Liberation Army and even the lethal cult of Jim Jones’s benighted People’s Temple owed an unacknowledged debt to Newton’s

Bobby Seale is a man with all the passions and resentments of a lover betrayed.


mong the challenges in grappling with the Panthers and their legacy is keeping in reasonable balance the multiple and often overlapping factors that combined to throttle the party. The temptation to overemphasize the role of the FBI is large. It should be avoided. There is no doubt about the evil that was done by

example. His responsibility for enfeebling his own and his party’s best ambitions, gutting its achievements and compromising its ability to appeal to the unconvinced majority of his fellow citizens, is too often neglected in accounts of this kind. Yet it is precisely this sort of postmortem and historical reckoning that is necessary for any proper and just understanding of the party’s politics and history. It is work that remains to be done. Bloom and Martin barely concern themselves with the party’s swift descent into thuggery, consigning only six paragraphs in the closing pages of their book to a section called “Unraveling.” They prefer to dwell on the party’s glory years from 1967 through 1971. They deny that the party’s end was rooted in its undemocratic character, and instead attribute its defeat largely to what they believe was the deft way the political establishment undercut its base, by initiating reforms and awarding concessions that won over the Panthers’ allies. “The costs of appeasing allies,” they conclude, “thus made continued insurgency impossible, and the national organization defanged itself.” While they allow that after 1971, the party “became increasingly cultish…with a mafioso bent,” they blame the erosion of the party’s image on journalists and critics like Kate Coleman and David Horo­witz. They excoriate both as “right-wing activists,” which in Coleman’s case is calumny. In no instance do they dispute the accuracy of either Coleman’s reporting or Horowitz’s cris de coeur. Coleman, a veteran of the Free Speech Movement and a longtime muck­raking

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reporter, published, together with Paul Avery, a scrupulously reported and damning indictment of the Panthers’ criminal practices in New Times magazine in 1978. For this sin, she incurred death threats and castigation from former party stalwarts. Horowitz, a former editor of Ramparts magazine in its senescence, broke with Newton when he learned that the Panthers had very likely murdered Betty Van Patter, a white woman who had loyally served as the party’s bookkeeper and had discovered suspicious irregularities in the accounting ledgers. Horowitz felt responsible, for it was he who had recommended Van Patter for the job. He has spent the years since atoning for the blood he feels still stains his hands. But what matters most to Bloom and Martin, apparently, is not whether Coleman’s reporting is accurate or Horowitz’s criticisms and self-flagellations are warranted. Rather, they are most exercised by the damage they believe was done to the party’s image by Coleman and Horowitz in making the charges public. They concede that “retrospective accounts from a range of sources add some credence to these accusations,” but insist that “few of the accusations have been verified.” Bloom and Martin’s research is impressive— yet somehow they have missed or omitted accounts that might detract from or unduly complicate their overly generous portrayal. For example, the late Ken Kelley, a gifted and honest reporter, wrote courageously about Newton, whom he knew well and for whom he once worked. In a story published in the month following Newton’s death, which appeared in the East Bay Express, Kelley revealed that Newton had admitted to him shooting 17-year-old Oakland prostitute Kathleen Smith and ordering the killing of Betty Van Patter for refusing to clean up the party’s books. Van Patter’s end was gruesome, according to Kelley: “They didn’t just kill her. They kept her hostage, they raped her, they beat her up, then they killed her and threw her in the Bay.”


t would be unjust to allow the supernovas of the Panther elite to overshadow the unsung heroes whose audacity and tenacious commitment to change was sparked by the party. That would miss the larger, less obvious story, which is one of persistent idealism. It owes almost everything to the wellspring of activism that the Panthers, at their best, summoned into being. Bloom and Martin are alive to this crucial point, and it is here that they make their strongest and most convincing contribution. The collapse and destruction of the party, occasioned by the unremitting enmity of the state as well as by

its numerous self-inflicted wounds, should not be permitted to overwhelm the good work that it engendered in the many who enrolled in its cause. I remember especially my old high school comrade Ronald Stevenson, who at 16 joined the party, inspired by its program of resistance and empowerment. There were thousands like him across the country. With the party’s encouragement, Ronnie organized a Black Student Union, going on to be elected its first chair. Together, we launched a campaign to establish a black history course and department. Our only disagreement was whether the course should be elective or mandatory, he favoring the former, I the latter. I felt that if the class were voluntary, only the black kids would be likely to enroll. I believed that such history was arguably even more important for white people to know in order to challenge racial stereotypes and to grasp the essential contribution that black people had made to American history and culture. After all, how could you consider yourself an educated and serious person if, say, you only knew about Abraham Lincoln but not Frederick Douglass? Or about John Brown but not Nat Turner? All this may seem self-evident today. In 1968, it was not. We fought hard, mobilized fellow students and their parents, and issued our “nonnegotiable demands.” We won, and the Berkeley Board of Education agreed to establish such a course. It was among the first in the nation to be offered in a high school, and Ronnie and I were eager to enroll. Forty-five years later, Lerone Bennett’s Before the May-

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flower and Basil Davidson’s The African Genius, two of the books we were assigned to read, still have pride of place on my bookshelves. A year later, 17-year-old Ronnie was on the run, accused of having shot and killed a former member of the Black Panther Party outside its Shattuck Avenue headquarters. For the next decade, I’d occasionally hear that he was in Cuba or Algeria. The truth was that he’d gone underground and changed his name, but instead of fleeing to Havana, he’d gone to Mahwah, New Jersey, where he’d gotten a job in an auto plant. There, ever the organizer, he’d become a member of the United Auto Workers, eventually elected to represent 300 of his fellows as their district committee man. But after eight years in the plant, Ronnie and the other workers found themselves out of a job; the plant had closed. He told me all this when he showed up at our tenth-anniversary high school reunion, having decided to return to California and face the music. The charges against him were eventually dismissed, and he re-enrolled at UC Berkeley in 1983, where he founded a program called Break the Cycle that hired undergraduates to tutor local at-risk elementary and middle school students, with an emphasis on mathematics. The program was a success, running for more than twenty years. Ronnie would graduate with a degree in African-American studies in 1990 and became a lecturer in the department. He also started a community program that put kids from South Berkeley together with police officers each week to discuss racial profiling. He died in 2010 of a brain aneurysm. He was 58. n

Transient States by BARRY SCHWABSKY


ary Cassatt could have been a char­ac­ ter in a Henry James novel: the spir­ ited young American woman who goes to Europe seeking her des­tiny. In 1979, Adelyn Dohme Breeskin, who compiled the catalogues raisonnés of Cassatt’s work, evoked the artist’s background in suitably Jamesian tones, conjuring for her read­ ­ers “that legendary period when art had as yet no firm foothold in this country, when artists were set apart as strange eccentrics, and even the thought of a woman artist was considered preposterous.” That period may be more of a legend than Breeskin presumes: Cas­­satt was neither the only female student in her time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, nor the sole woman among the thou­sands of aspiring American artists trooping to Paris in

those days to pursue their studies. But still, her father’s first response to her plan to go abroad was one that would have required a far less artful novelist than James to imagine: “I would almost rather see you dead.” Yet Cassatt got her way (as it seems she usually did) and, chaperoned by her mother, went to Paris. Eventually her parents also pulled up stakes, leaving Philadelphia in order to live near their unmarried daughter, who had persevered with lessons until she was ready to teach herself, studying the old masters at the Louvre for untold hours. She understood that the great tradition was not being taught in the schools, and when she caught wind of Manet and Degas, she could recognize the real thing. Seeing a Degas pastel in a dealer’s window, she later recalled, “I used to go and flatten my

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nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it.” The admiration was mutual. Degas had already seen a painting of hers, remarking, “Here is someone who feels things as I do.” It was Degas who invited Cassatt to exhibit with the Impressionists, and it was in his studio that she began her experiments as a printmaker. Later, she would obtain her own press. Although she was a remarkable painter, her work in prints was at times more radical. The title of the New York Public Library’s present exhibition, “Daring Methods: The Prints of Mary Cassatt” (on view through June 23), is altogether justified. Unfortunately, the prints are not done any favors by being shown in the library’s Print Gallery and Stokes Gallery, a couple of passageways more than rooms suited to the display of art. But it’s worth putting up with the people making their way to the restrooms to see these works. They are all from the library’s own holdings, thanks mainly to Samuel Putnam Avery, who in 1900 donated more than 17,000 Under the Horse Chestnut Tree (circa 1898), by Mary Cassatt prints. “His mission was to collect examples giving it a new title. Cassatt seems to have of the work of every contemporary artist he been most fascinated by the way printmaking met or of whom he had heard,” according to allowed her to record the process of revision. the library’s print curator, Madeleine Viljoen. Prints are typically thought of as a means assatt’s biographer, Nancy Mowll for making multiple impressions of the same Mathews, attributes the artist’s affinity image, which can be disseminated more for printmaking to her impatience with widely than unique paintings or drawings. academic drawing. That’s a shrewd obThis was certainly what Degas had in mind servation; Cassatt used printmaking to when he proposed to some friends that they keep the image in play, to evade the demand put out a journal based on their etchings in for finish. In the exhibition, there are several order to gain more exposure for their work opportunities to see two or three versions of and make some money. (The journal never the same image and study how Cassatt revised saw the light of day.) The Degas etching Mary a composition as she worked through her Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery, thoughts about it. And any single image can 1879–80 demonstrates the oblique view of also disclose the restless exploratory nature modern life that beguiled both artists, as well of Cassatt’s immersion in her subject matas the relentlessness of Degas’s print revisions. ter. The earliest of her prints at the NYPL It is the nineteenth of the twenty states that is a costume study after Paul Gavarni from he put the print through. Although Cassatt around 1878. In its first state, there is a rather wasn’t as incessant, she did treat printmaking conventional figure against a nearly blank as an arena for experimentation more than ground; in the second, the ground has been dissemination. She made editions of rela- filled in with dark mottling, and details have tively few of her prints, reworked them several dropped out of the figure. In the third, the times, and often went back to have another go figure has become a vaporous near-absence at the image on a different plate, sometimes amid a nocturnal space. All three versions



were still in Degas’s studio at his death. In the first version of The Sick Child, circa 1889, Cassatt has adjusted the angle of the elbow of the woman cradling the toddler, while in the second she essays the woman’s shoulders and forearm in various positions. A stable, potentially even monumental form—a seated woman holding a child in her arms— is revealed in each individual print. But in the sequence as a whole, the form is subject to endless modification, with Cassatt being faithful to many approximations of the truth of perception rather than a single declarative truth. The baby’s expression is woozy in the first two, distressed in the third. In the first version, its body seems stiff; in the second and third, rather limp. Presumably, Cassatt would not have known of Edvard Munch’s 1885–86 painting of the same name, which gave rise to five more paintings and numerous prints by him over the next four decades—but Munch, too, is one of those artists who kept redoing his works in order to keep them unfinished. But whereas it is implicit that Munch’s sick child is dying, with Cassatt illness is just another transitory state. The artist’s work is an investigation that is essentially dynamic and open-ended. I can’t help but think of what Thomas Hess wrote in the 1950s about Willem de Kooning’s twoyear struggle with his Woman I: “The stages of the painting…are neither better nor worse, more or less ‘finished,’ than the terminus…. Some might appear more satisfactory than the ending, but this is irrelevant. The voyage, on the other hand, is relevant: the exploration for a constantly elusive vision.” As odd as it might be to compare the intimist Cassatt to an Abstract Expressionist like de Kooning, the supposedly macho paintslinger, the two had more in common than you’d think. In 1959, de Kooning explained to an interviewer how his paintings came about: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, MIRIAM AND IRA D. WALLACH DIVISION OF ART, PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

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When I was painting those figures, I got a feeling like I came into a room someplace—and I was introduced to someone—just for a fleeting second, like a glimpse—I saw somebody sitting on a chair—I had a glimpse of this

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thing—you know, this happening. And I got interested in painting that—it’s like [a] frozen glimpse.… I watch out of the window, and it happens over there. Or I can sit in this chair—sit and think, and I have a little glimpse of something. That’s the beginning, and I find myself staying with it—not so much with this particular glimpse— [but] with the emotion of it.… Each new glimpse is determined by many, many, many glimpses before. Far from the cliché of “action painting” as a rough and tumble of muscular effort, de Kooning thought that his painting was based on the perception that a person sitting in a chair might have of another person likewise seated, and realizing that amid all this sitting, the activity of perception encompasses all sorts of fugitive “glimpses.” In this, he was only following the insights of Cassatt and her friends. The preponderance of seated figures among the more than sixty Cassatt prints on display should not delude one into imagining that her art celebrates passivity or ease. The probing, critical, self-revising edge of her testing lines and robust masses—her impatience with what has been done, and her tireless persistence in what is to be done next—was above all relentlessly active.


assatt is best known for her depictions of women with small children. The first book about her, published 100 years ago, was subtitled Un peintre des enfants et des mères, and the current exhibition does not stint on les enfants. But they are nothing like the infant Christ of Renaissance art: upright, alert and making gestures of blessing toward the devout beholder. They are squirmy, floppy, recalcitrant, sometimes cranky beings. Although Cassatt never depicts them spitting up or having their diapers changed, such episodes could transpire at any moment. And their inability to stay still and hold a “proper” pose, or to allow their caretakers (whether mothers or nannies) to do the same, makes them ideal subjects for a painter out to catch little glimpses of things, transient states of being. Cassatt said the reason she liked to paint children was that they are “natural and truthful. They have no arrière-pensée.” In this, they embodied everything the new painting of her generation was seeking— sincerity and ingenuousness—and that academic convention opposed. To call a painter “naïve” could be a compliment. In an early state of Baby’s Back, from around 1890, which shows a woman holding a naked child on her arm, its face half-

concealing her own, the emphasis is on the two heads, and above all on the dissimilarity of their gazes: the baby stares ahead wide-eyed while the woman’s eye is all on the baby, at whom she seems to be looking questioningly, even distrustfully. In a later version of the same print, the heads are less heavily emphasized and the infant’s body is rendered in greater detail. One senses the weight of it on the woman’s arm, which itself is only vaguely indicated, and the downward pull of its little legs hanging down, which are not in the first version. It’s as if the boundaries between adult and child are subject to constant revision. The intimate woman/child dyad would be for Cassatt what haystacks were for Monet or Mont Sainte-Victoire for Cézanne. It was a subject almost unknown to European painting outside a now-archaic devotional context, although after Cassatt took it up others, including Renoir, would follow suit. The art historian Griselda Pollock has speculated that it was specifically Cassatt’s experiments with printmaking that showed her how she could make this theme a basis for formal experimentation. The “quality of childishness with its struggle to master movements,” Pollock writes, is in Cassatt’s work “tracked down by diligent artistic processing.” In 1890, Cassatt saw an exhibition of ukiyo-e prints at the École des Beaux-Arts. Thunderstruck, she determined to make color prints in emulation of the Japanese, and not with traditional woodblocks but instead by using a mixture of drypoint and aquatint. Although the different states of Cassatt’s color

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prints continue to show the development of her thinking, the individual images no longer reveal much of the processes of revision that underlie them. The formal closure of these works creates a very different effect from that of the monochromatic prints Cassatt had been making up till then. The force of concision in the color prints can be astonishing, but I find a lessening of visual suggestiveness, of the sense of possibility. As Cassatt’s art entered the new century, it became more stolid, more conservative, less daring, and while those characteristics are absent from her color prints of the 1890s, I can’t help thinking that the prints are leading her in that direction. In contrast to Cassatt’s previous practice, the later states of her color prints really are more finished, more “satisfactory” than the earlier ones. It’s notable that in this period Cassatt tried to revive Degas’s old idea of a collective effort at popularizing art through prints. “I should like to feel that amateurs in America could have an example of my work, a print or an etching for a few dollars,” she explained. She imagined a series of color etchings by leading artists such as herself and John Singer Sargent, which could be “within reach of the comparatively poor.” The last works in the present exhibition date from 1898, when Cassatt still had sixteen years of artmaking ahead of her, before failing eyesight would force her to stop in 1914. Cassatt died in 1926. Being childless and estranged for some time from her remaining family (partly on account of their opposition to her activities on behalf of women’s suffrage), she willed her estate to her maid. n

Dirtying White by JAMES M. BOUGHTON


he modern world economy materialized in the mountain air of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in July 1944. Three weeks after the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, delegates from forty-four Allied countries gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel to devise institutions meant to foster multilateral cooperation, financial stability and postwar economic reconstruction. Their expressed goals were not just economic; the delegates were convinced that the success of the Bretton Woods conference would ensure world peace as well as prosperity. In the words of the most famous of the attendees, John Maynard Keynes, their James M. Boughton is a historian of the International Monetary Fund.

The Battle of Bretton Woods

John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order. By Benn Steil. Princeton. 449 pp. $29.95.

efforts could create a world in which “the brotherhood of man will have become more than a phrase.” But first they had to overcome deep divisions rooted in national interests. Two men dominated the planning for Bretton Woods and the negotiations at the conference. On one side, representing the declining power of Great Britain, was Lord Keynes, the most famous economist in the world and an unpaid adviser to the UK Treas­ ury. For several years, he had been refining

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his plan to create an International Currency Union, a kind of global central bank that would create its own money (“Bancor”) to lend to indebted countries like Britain so they could import more goods than they were able to export in the lean postwar years. On the other side, representing the ascendant power of the United States, was an obscure Treasury Department official named Harry Dexter White. Although he was hardly known outside Washington, White was a brilliant, Harvard-trained economist who was empowered and completely trusted by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., in turn a close friend and trusted adviser of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For three years, White had been working on his own plan for an International Stabilization Fund that would steady foreign exchange rates by persuading countries to peg their currencies to the US dollar, while pegging the value of the dollar to a fixed price for gold. White’s fund would lend dollars—and, potentially, other convertible currencies or gold—to debtor nations, but on tighter terms than were envisaged by Keynes. These two plans were reconciled at Bretton Woods to create the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The “battle” between Keynes and White was a tense and occasionally explosive but mostly collegial negotiation conducted in the midst of World War II. It was a struggle between two vastly different men on behalf of two countries that were immensely powerful in vastly different ways. White had the upper hand, and only partly because the United States held most of the world’s gold and was the only creditor country of any relevance. Circumstances also gave White the high moral ground. Britain was desperate to hold on to its empire, its system of “imperial” trade preferences and its “sterling area” of countries pegging their currencies to the pound. In the United States, the Roosevelt administration was eager to tap into markets in the British orbit, and it therefore favored a more rapid and complete opening up of trade and finance. In White’s plan, lending by the fund would be secondary to its focus on creating an open multilateral financial system. Because Roosevelt and Morgenthau saw the greater purpose of Bretton Woods as promoting a lasting opportunity for peace, White also viewed Great Britain as a secondary player in this scheme. Of far greater portent was the US relationship with the Soviet Union. Although the USSR, like Britain, was a US ally that was being impoverished by the war, White foresaw that it would hold the key to world security in the aftermath of the conflict. A prosperous Russia would provide


a counterweight in Europe to Germany (still the enemy), and trade with Russia was potentially valuable for the West. White spent some five months in the runup to Bretton Woods in a series of meetings in Washington with a high-level delegation of experts from the Soviet Union, explaining the benefits of joining the proposed international agencies and responding to their concerns about the apparent capitalist nature of the enterprise. His efforts succeeded to the point of getting the Soviet delegation to sign the Articles of Agreement at Bretton Woods, but at the end of 1945 Joseph Stalin decided not to join the IMF, which he feared (not without cause) would be controlled largely by the United States. The history of Bretton Woods and the creation of the postwar international financial system has been told often and well in numerous books and articles. The latest contribution, The Battle of Bretton Woods, by Benn Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations, purports to add to our knowledge but gets the history consistently wrong. It would be tempting to ignore it, except that Steil’s account creates a dangerously misleading history not only of how and why today’s financial system came into being, but also of the motives that guided White’s efforts.

He criticizes Keynes—the father of macro­ economic theory—for not understanding gold’s monetary role. “Keynes blamed much on the gold standard,” Steil writes, “that he might just as well have blamed on the weather.” He concludes that Keynes favored controls on financial capital flows only because he failed to appreciate what a return to the gold standard could have offered: “Keynes argued that speculative capital would, without controls, periodically wreak havoc…. Yet speculative capital does this precisely because of the lack of a credible anchor for the exchange rate, such as gold provided during the late nineteenth century.” In truth, Keynes

Steil’s analysis of Bretton Woods is colored by his own nostalgia for the gold standard.


art of the problem is confusion about the economics. A central element of what Keynes and White were trying to create was a way to have stable exchange rates and prices and economic growth. That required limiting—or in Keynes’s view, eventually abolishing—the international role of gold as a base for money. No one at Bretton Woods was arguing for a return to the classical gold standard that had prevailed before World War I. That system suffered not only from its inflexibility but also from large, arbitrary and capricious changes in the supply of gold. In the gold-standard era, prices were stable on average over the decades, but they rose and fell in response to the presence or absence of new discoveries. Nations prospered or suffered depending on where and when gold might be found. The delegates at Bretton Woods wanted a new system that would depend importantly on the cooperative management of money by central banks. The only dispute was over how best to discipline the system by circumscribing central bankers’ scope for discretionary policies. Steil’s analysis of the role of gold in the Bretton Woods negotiations is colored by his own nostalgia for the classical gold stand­ard.

understood exactly what the problem was, and he knew that a return to gold would not solve it. A system without the gold standard requires a means of allowing flexible policymaking within real constraints. Keynes never found a fully effective solution, but he was surely on the right path. The second, and larger, problem is political. Steil accepts the belief—long propagated on the right—that White’s negotiations with the Soviets amounted to espionage and were motivated by his secret admiration for the Soviet economic system. Steil makes much of a handwritten document that he claims to have discovered, but which he has simply misunderstood and misinterpreted. The document, which resides among White’s personal papers in the manuscript library at Princeton University, is an incomplete first draft for an article on the postwar political arrangements that would soon be enshrined in the UN Security Council. Though undated, the draft was written soon after the publication of Walter Lippmann’s bestselling 1943 book U.S. Foreign Policy, to which it refers admiringly, and probably before the formalization of the proposed United Nations organization at Dumbarton Oaks in October 1944. In this unpublished draft, White argues— as he regularly did in public—that the best way to prevent a postwar resurgence of military aggression by Germany or Japan would be to maintain the alliance among the four great powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and (Nationalist) China. That, of course, is exactly what was envisaged in the creation of the Security Council in 1945. (White omits France, which seldom


got any respect in those days.) He notes that the main objection in the United States to continuing this Grand Alliance after the war is repugnance for the Soviet economic system, and he therefore dismantles that objection and argues that the Soviet system is not so different from every other country’s as to make it unfit for cooperation with the West. Nowhere— either in the unpublished draft or anywhere else—does he suggest a preference for the Soviet system over that of the United States. Although Steil acknowledges correctly that “there is no evidence that [White] admired communism as a political ideology,” he hints that heretofore dubious accounts of White’s “secret” admiration for the Soviet economy are now “wholly credible.”


teil devotes a good part of his book to rehashing old charges that White spied for the Soviets by conveying documents and general information to them, and he suggests that the Bretton Woods agreements were skewed to favor the Soviet economy. In other words, the IMF was a Communist plot! Steil presents no new evidence for the charge, and his argument is dangerously misleading. Yet it’s worth a closer look. White was not a Communist and had no obvious motive, so why do some people think he was a spy? Three reasons have been suggested, and each is suspect and weak. First, White had several friends and associates who were involved with the US Communist Party. He certainly knew they were sympathetic to communism and the Soviet Union, and he seems to have been indifferent to their political views and activities. Those relationships fed accusations of guilt by association during the McCarthy era. More seriously, they exposed him to charges of complicity in specific crimes committed by people around him. At least one of his subordinates at the Treasury supplied documents, some drafted by White, to a cell of American spies known as the Silvermaster group. (Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, the alleged head of this group, was a longstanding friend of White’s.) Whether White knew what they were doing is purely a matter of speculation. How much credibility does one grant secondhand accounts claiming that these spies said that a document came “from Harry,” when one of their number had personal access to a copy of the document in the normal course of Treasury business? Second, after the end of the war, when White had become famous as the author of the Bretton Woods agreements, two notorious fabulists told the FBI, and later the general public, that White was a spy for the

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Soviets. One, Elizabeth Bentley, had been a member of the Silvermaster group. She turned informant for the FBI and eventually linked White to Silvermaster through the people who had conveyed Treasury documents. She never met White and had no direct knowledge of whether he was involved in the Silvermaster ring other than by having such people working in his office. Even the FBI had serious doubts about her credibility. The other informant, a Time magazine journalist named Whittaker Chambers, may have met White in the late 1930s; Chambers was in the Communist Party and at the time associated with many people on the left. When suspicions arose a decade later, White denied having ever met him, but Chambers habitually used a variety of aliases, so the truth is obscure. Chambers dramatically produced a microfilm for the FBI, dubbed the “Pumpkin Papers,” literally pulling it out of a pumpkin on his farm in 1948. The film contained, among other items unrelated to White, images of four pages of lined paper on which White had scribbled notes on various topics. Anyone who has worked in a bureaucracy like the Treasury Department would recognize these pages as the kind of notes taken during the meetings that consume so much of an official’s day. Chambers claimed, to the FBI and later in his autobiography, that White had given him the notes to convey to Soviet intelligence. But when called to testify before a grand jury, Chambers admitted that White had never personally given him any documents. As with almost every aspect of Chambers’s stories, the truth is elusive: how he obtained the notes and why he never gave them to his friends in the party are unanswerable questions. Third, in the 1990s, the US government declassified several thousand Soviet cables from the ’40s that it had intercepted, partially decrypted and translated in a project known as VENONA. Some fifteen or so of those cables include references to White. Taken out of context and accepted as literal truth, these reports from Soviet intelligence agents appear to confirm White’s complicity in espionage. In context, however, the story is more benign. Although the VENONA interceptions lasted throughout the war and into the early postwar years, all of the cables mentioning White date from April 1944 through June 1945. Several refer or relate to two meetings in April and August 1944 between White and a Soviet agent code-named Kol’tsov, or to Soviet efforts during that period to gain better access to White and even to recruit him as an agent. At that time, White was meeting regularly and with full public disclosure—the Treasury even

  June 24/July 1, 2013

issued a press release—with a delegation of Soviet officials in preparation for the Bretton Woods conference. At least one of those delegates was periodically reporting back to Moscow, suggesting that he was succeeding brilliantly at gaining access to White. (Kol’tsov was most likely N.F. Chechulin, the deputy head of the state bank.) Those cables look incriminating until you realize that they are a one-sided and self-serving depiction of conversations with a US official who was simply doing his assigned job. Moreover, the seemingly nefarious implications of the cables have never been corroborated.


n May 1945, during the conference in San Francisco to establish the United Nations, White granted an interview to a Russian named Vladimir Pravdin, who was accredited to the conference as a journalist for Tass, the Soviet news agency. Pravdin cabled his gleanings to Moscow in terms similar to Kol’tsov’s. In each of these cases, it looks suspicious that White was freely discussing US policy issues, including matters such as how strongly the United States might object to a proposed veto for the Soviet Union over Security Council discussions. (If the transcription is correct, White was wrong in implying that the United States might yield on that issue.) But even if one accepts Pravdin’s report as gospel, the revelations were, at worst, indiscreet gossip and far from espionage. To understand Steil’s aim in this book, consider again the “eureka” document that is supposed to reveal White’s secret longing for a Soviet-style economy. White noted there, with some satisfaction, that every modern economy—Soviet, American or what have you—relies on a mix of government and private sector activities. The differences in economic systems are important and large, but not so fundamental as to deter the United States and the Soviet Union from continuing to cooperate in an alliance with other major powers. To Steil, White’s position is heresy because it elevates government alongside the private sector as an important actor in the economy. White’s “private views on the inevitable global spread of Soviet-style planning,” Steil writes, “suggest he was far more interested in locking the United States and Russia into political alliance than in the creation of a system to revive trade among private enterprises.” Not only does this passage distort White’s views, it also reveals Steil’s politics. Get government out of the way, eliminate bureaucracies like the IMF, bring back the gold standard, and the world will be a better place. White had a different view, and that was all it took to set the hatchets in motion. n

June 24/July 1, 2013 

The Nation.

Pop & Circumstance by JOSHUA CLOVER

White wigs, black masks: Camover swag in Germany

better than most, andy warhol

grasped the mutations in the image world of hypercapitalism, an empire compelled increasingly to survive on appearance. Eventually we would all be seen, gaudy, glorious and without depth. This dream is coiled within the extraordinary screen tests taken in Warhol’s Factory of Billy Name, Bob Dylan, Ingrid Superstar and others, reel beyond reel. Fame became universalized and hollowed out, no longer Hollywood exception but every­day equivalence. This was the future, circa 1965. The advance toward the condition of the icon and the logotype was not charged with dread. It was the opposite, even: we would be stars, objectively. This epochal transformation would be enabled by the industrialization of appearance, its mass production. It is a peculiar idea of democracy, visible only from the glinting recesses of the downtown scene—but an idea nonetheless. We would fix the Gini coefficient of fame. The cameras would not look at us because we were famous; we would be famous because the cameras looked at us. This has all come true, but inverted in the camera obscura of our days. The screen test is a chronic condition: traverse any selfrespecting traffic intersection, government or corporate building, the subway. There are 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom; according to Forbes, approximately 30 million surveillance cameras have been sold in the United States since 2001. There have been, too, the recent revelations of government spying on journalists, and the knowledge that every phone conversation

and e-mail is now preserved for loving attention. We need no longer imagine a future in which we are everywhere and always appearing. Everybody is a star. Warhol must have understood fame, absolute appearance, to be a kind of deathin-life; he was himself a walking memento mori, rictus grin and wig pale as Carrara marble, the signature of the visible on the dead letter of modernity. Surveillance pop moves toward death. Drones are only its most obvious manifestation, as are services for the management of one’s digital afterlife. What then could life be in the thicket of lenses launched by state and capital— especially for those caught up in the meshes of power, which is increasingly bent on disciplining people toward compliance, once the direct purchase of social peace becomes too expensive for staggering economies? Surely this must explain the extraordinary delight so many people took in Pussy Riot’s pop art balaclavas brightening the soleas of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was thrilling even for those of us with little understanding of the political significance of the Russian Orthodox Church, and its partnership with Putin’s corporate security state. It was scarcely a bid for invisibility, however. “Punk Prayer” was entirely invested in appearance, albeit of a different kind. The iconic masks reappear all too swiftly, now with unicorn appliqués, in Spring Breakers. The film’s young miscreants match them with “DTF” sweatpants borrowed from MTV’s Jersey Shore, a different story of ubiquitous cameras, pure image and celebrity.


That this pairing makes sense is a verdict. It reserves some skepticism for Pussy Riot, for the global fame of attractive, camera-ready rebels, and how appearance was on their side in a way that it will not be for the subjects of your average stop-and-frisk. The common understandings of pop culture pit it against daily life, against concrete political struggles that exist beyond the play of images. It is escape, relief, opiate, at best a test where the contradictions of reality seem briefly to admit of resolution while cash changes hands offscreen. And yet: we are all famous now. The technologies of total celebrity, as well as the social forces that have made them profitable and desirable, unfold into habits and expectations of how to be. Pop as worldview, as the baseline experience of expecting always to appear, provides an opening for the remaking of public space, private space, political space. Take Camover. As millions of BioShock Infinite and Red Dead Redemption players know, anarchism is haunting videogames lately. Camover is a bit different: set first in Berlin and then one city after the next, it requires neither console nor controller. It is a videogame brought back to life; players go into the streets with the goal of disabling and collecting actual surveillance cameras to be displayed later in online videos (so the game is scored; so proceeds the commingling of daily life and pop). Gameplay, as you would expect, still requires certain equipment, such as black masks. Thus we might come to understand the tactic of the black bloc, which has achieved such infamy these last years, as itself a kind of pop culture. Not because those who don the anonymizing balaclavas are famous, or believe in a struggle in the realm of images, but because this is an inevitable position within the universalized fame of surveillance. It is Warhol’s wig in negative. From the moment that daily life becomes a screen test, the black mask is inevitable. Every surveillance camera makes anarchy more compelling, more joyous. Pussy Riot’s Day-Glo glory adds a flourish, but the logic is immpeccable. It matters little whether you like black bloc or not, whether you harbor perfervid fantasies about who is under those masks. It is a relentlessly sensible response. It is remarkable, in fact, that it is not far more prevalent, that we are not every day surrounded by growing armies of anti-Andys wheeling like swallows through the twilight of empire. Remarkable, that is, if we are to believe in the human urge toward escaping the mesh, eluding the compulsion to be a complicit and productive citizen. You know, that thing about which movies are made. n

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  June 24/July 1, 2013

Puzzle No. 3286 JOSHUA KOSMAN



1`2`3`4~~56`7`8 `~`~`~`~9~`~`~` 0````````~-```` `~`~`~`~`~`~`~` =`````~q``````` `~~~`~~~`~`~`~~ w`e``~r```````t `~`~~~`~`~~~`~` y```u````~i```` ~~`~`~`~~~`~~~` o```````~p``[`` `~`~`~`~]~`~`~` \````~a```````` `~`~`~`~`~`~`~` s`````~~d`````` ACROSS

 1 Burned money in sack (7)  5 Smacked lips very loudly with a joint (6) 10 Money leads to that man’s enthusiasm to start a business (9) 11 Gossip from graduate student going after money (5) 12 Make an observation about money (6) 13 The first unit of money sent back in 100s (they’re green) (8) 14 Basic principle: cut ten meters (5) 16 Physicist prepares to pray with someone tiresome on the radio (5,4) 18 Reach sixteen? No, that’s ridiculous (9) 20 Emphasize missing front lock (5) 21 Money separates nephew’s opening from sib, resulting in disorder (8) 22 Money conceals trace of bomb debris (6) 25 Originally, the money is a challenge (5) 26 Money carried by one who reconnoiters and examines (6,3)

27 Smart doctor with written report missing opening of argument (6) 28 Attacked money, assuming extremities of crime (7) DOWN

 1 A truce FBI violated in split (9)  2 Frighten nearly every member (5)  3 What’s proper in 1930s-style liquor? (7)  4 Trickle-down: rest in peace (4)  6 Woman promoted inane tech company (7)  7 Skipping the onset of champions’ cheer to find part of a shoe (9)  8 Spoken idiom gets worn out (5)  9 Poem: “Cutting Into Fruit With Instrument” (8) 15 Snoopy’s fashionable comic virtues (9) 16 Most clangorous thing that’s charged up cut short nap (8) 17 Honorable creed: “Step lively!” (9) 19 Tip O’Neill has plentiful quantities of pasta (7) 20 Greek character kidnaps uncouth prime minister (7) 21 Bad grade at English school raised and recorded (5) 23 Howard is in British Columbia with a horse (5) 24 Very animated course (4) SOLUTION TO PUZZLE NO. 3285 ACROSS  1 BEN(JAM)IN + BRIT + TEN  9 anag.  10 TOS (rev.) + TA-DA  11 hidden  12 anag.  14 MULL + IGAN (anag.)  16 KIM + ONO  19 anag.  20 GOLF (rev.) + CLUB  22 anag.  24 [ma]/AM-PLE  27 T(RUMP)ET  28 SPIN + A + C[rawfis]H  29 pun  DOWN  1 anag. (&lit.)  2 rev. hidden  3 [t]ALLER + GIST  4 “I scream”  5 BET + IDE[a]  6 init. letters  7 T(O) ADSTOOL (Lotto ads anag.)  8 NO A.M.  13 pun (chin-chin)  15 anag.  17 IN + FLATI[r]ON  18 anag.  21 rev.  23 G + APES  24 “plain”  26 rev.


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