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The Nation - December 04, 2017

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Artistic Dispatches From the
Front Lines of Resistance
Trigger / Edel Rodriguez
Incantation for America / Iviva Olenick
A Hearty Issue
Wow! I’m a longtime small-market
gardener who sells at our local farmers’ market. I struggle in the summer
to get through all of The Nation’s
magazines; I barely have the time to
keep up with them. But the special
issue “The Future of Food” [Oct.
30] was like reading a copy of Acres
U.S.A. (This is an eco-agriculture
magazine that keeps us up to date on
what’s going on in the organic- and
sustainable-farming communities.)
The writing was as thorough as any
Acres article on the Monsanto and
GMO issues. All of the short articles
in the forum “The Future of Food”
were on target. The Kernza article
[“Hacking the Grain”] was superb
and, though we don’t grow grains,
had me wanting to try it! “What Is
the Recipe for Home?” was sad and
yet heartwarming, and I’ll be trying
the fatteh recipe. It was an amazing
issue of well-researched and welldocumented articles. Many, many
thanks for getting this information
out to an audience that might not
Jan Dawson
have been as aware!
bellefontaine, ohio
Bully Culprit / Robbie Conal
Shell Games
Repro Rights / Frances Jetter
A new
Nation series
David Dayen’s special investigation
“Jamie Dimon and Other People’s
Money” [Oct. 23] is fundamentally
flawed in its premise.
Dayen sings the praises of Larry
Schneider, a vulture debt buyer who
has filed a whistle-blower suit and
separate racketeering case against
JPMorgan Chase. My own report
shows that Schneider repeatedly
foreclosed on family after family.
He threw families from their homes
at Christmas, abandoned homes to
municipalities, and appealed one foreclosure all the way to the Minnesota
Supreme Court, where he lost.
Unmentioned in Dayen’s article is
that Schneider already lost the whistle-
blower case. Judge Rosemary Collyer
ruled that the loans in question were
written off years before the 2012 fine.
Therefore, it was impossible for Chase
to claim credits for the write-offs.
In an ongoing appeal, the Department of Justice adds, “The United
States declined to intervene in this
suit and does not take the position
that Chase failed to comply with
the terms agreed to in the National
Mortgage Settlement.” The DOJ’s
disagreement with the core assertion,
which is crystal clear, is also conspicuously absent in Dayen’s piece.
There were a small number of
cases where Chase did write off loans
it sold. Missing from The Nation’s
piece is that Chase offered to buy
back every erroneously forgiven loan
at a 50 percent premium. Also missing is that Schneider, the vulture debt
buyer, refused to sell.
Dayen interviewed one family, the
Warwicks. He omits that Schneider
purchased their $160,413 loan for
only $10,500. Chase mistakenly forgave it and told the Warwicks. When
alerted, Chase promptly offered to
buy the loan back from Schneider at a
premium so the bank could properly
forgive it. Schneider refused, and
Chase eventually repurchased the
loan at full face value, after the Warwicks had been paying Schneider for
three years.
Michael Olenick
paris, france
David Dayen Replies
I don’t think of Larry Schneider
as a saint. I do not endorse how he
chooses to run his business, nor did
I “sing his praises” in the article. But
his case illuminates the actions of a
far more powerful institution, which
I found newsworthy regardless of the
messenger. Whoever Larry Schneider is, he purchased a bundle of
loans from JPMorgan Chase, which
(continued on page 26)
The Nation.
since 1865
As Goes Alabama
he trick to mastering the constantly shifting American
political landscape is to get ahead of the changes that
are sure to come. That’s not always easy, as the evolutions have grown more erratic and more rapid. The last
three major off-year elections (2006, 2010, and 2014) produced “waves”
that resulted in dramatic shifts in Congress and the
states. In the first wave, Democrats surged with a House of Delegates, expanded its supermajorities
strength that foretold their reclamation of the White in New Jersey’s legislative chambers, and took comHouse two years later. But the second and third plete control of the Statehouse in Washington. But
waves locked in Republican hegemony in both Con- those were just the headline-grabbing victories that
gress and state legislatures.
prompted former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau
By many indications, 2018 is on track to be to declare on Twitter, “In case there was any doubt:
the next wave election, one that could produce a the Resistance is real.”
Democratic surge sufficient to disempower Donald
Equally instructive were the results from GeorTrump and disrupt the agendas of the billionaire gia (where three Republican-held legislative seats
Koch brothers and their conservative
were flipped to the Democrats, thereby
minions. For that to happen, however,
eliminating the GOP’s supermajority in
Democrats must stop playing on the marthe State Senate), and from historically
gins and start playing everywhere. While
Republican suburban counties in Colorathe party hasn’t won every contest in
do (where the Denver-area school-board
Trump’s first year—there were serious
contests saw incumbents who backed
stumbles in the spring special elections
voucher schemes swept from office by the
for House seats—it is now clearly on a
backers of public education) and Pennsylwinning streak in unexpected places.
vania (as Democrats won unprecedented
One example is Alabama, where Demvictories in areas like Delaware County,
ocrats could begin their 2018 campaign
where yard signs backing the party’s canearly by grabbing the Senate seat that Jeff Sessions didates read “Vote Nov 7th Against Trump”). Some
resigned to become Trump’s attorney general. The of the most significant Democratic advances this
December 12 election between a noxious Republi- year came in deep-red states such as Oklahoma,
can, Judge Roy Moore, and an appealing Democrat, where the party flipped three Republican legislative
former US Attorney Doug Jones, went national in districts with candidates running on slogans like
the first weeks of November, when The Washington “Elect a Teacher.” The Oklahoma pattern was so
Post revealed that Moore, as a lawyer in his 30s, had remarkable that a recent Washington Post headline
“dated” girls as young as 14. The news was so jar- noted: “Democrats in this state are doing something
ring that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell unusual: Winning their elections.”
withdrew his support for the scandal-plagued canOne year after Trump and the Republicans
didate. But Moore has refused to leave the race, set- won in places where no one gave them a chance,
ting up a contest that Jones could win. There’s every Democrats have reversed that calculus: They are
reason to campaign against Moore, but Democrats winning in places where the party struggled not just
should also campaign for Jones and have faith that in 2016 but in the election cycles that preceded it.
the party can compete in every state.
That’s giving Democrats a sense of what is possible.
Yes, every state. The spread of the Democratic After November 7, the Democratic Congressional
victories on November 7 was striking. The party Campaign Committee released an expanded list of
won governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, 91 House districts that it will target in the drive to
closed a yawning partisan divide in the Virginia win the 24 seats needed to take back the chamber.
4 DC by the Numbers:
Lack of Introspection;
6 Segregation: The HUD
fair-housing holdup;
8 Comix Nation: Tom
Tomorrow 10 Global
Justice: Imperialist
Criminal Court;
11 Snapshot: No Country
for New Fascists
3 As Goes Alabama
John Nichols
4 Lessons From 2017
Joan Walsh
5 Q&A: Tarana Burke
6 The Liberal Media
Acknowledging the Rot
Eric Alterman
10 Between the Lines
Partisanship and Assault
Laila Lalami
11 Deadline Poet
In Meeting With Trump,
Putin Denies Meddling
Calvin Trillin
12 The Hatchet Man
Adam Federman
A little-known administrator
named James Cason is
reshaping the Department
of the Interior—at the cost
of America’s public lands.
18 Black Power Matters
D.D. Guttenplan
Mayor Chokwe Antar
Lumumba has an audacious
plan to make Jackson,
Mississippi, the “most
radical city on the planet.”
Books &
the Arts
27 The Poet of
Ill Tidings
Noah Isenberg
30 Fathers and Sons
Kaya Genç
32 Shadow Worlds
Katherine Hill
34 Building the Boat
While Painting
Barry Schwabsky
December 4/11, 2017
The digital version of this issue is
available to all subscribers November 16
Cover illustration by Nurul Hana Anwar.
The Nation.
National parks
that could be
opened to
drilling thanks to
a recent Trump
executive order
Total square
miles in the
Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge, all of
which would
be opened to
oil and gas exploration under
Trump’s proposed policies
Total sentences
devoted to climate change on
the Department
of the Interior’s
Taxpayer cost for
a chartered flight
taken by Interior
Secretary Ryan
Zinke; a seat on
a commercial airline would have
cost just $300
—Glyn Peterson
“I’m a Teddy
guy. You
can’t love
public lands
more than
I do.”
Ryan Zinke,
secretary of
the interior
Among the 11 new districts on the list was that of House
Speaker Paul Ryan.
Before they get to 2018, Democrats need to win the
biggest race of 2017. A victory in Alabama would provide the ultimate signal that resentment against Donald
Trump, a growing awareness of just how cruel and
unusual the Republican Party has become, and a desire
for genuine change are putting the Democrats into competition everywhere. That will make it easier to recruit
candidates, raise money, and generate voter turnout. Yes,
keeping Roy Moore out of the US Senate is a big deal,
but for Democrats, electing Doug Jones should be seen
as just as big a deal—a win in Alabama that could chart
the wave that hits in 2018.
state-legislative seats under President Obama. We’ll be
teasing out the lessons for a while, but here’s a start:
§ We saw a rejoinder to the false binary that has afflicted Democratic Party debates for more than a year: the
choice between what’s stupidly called “identity politics”
and a class-based populist appeal. The winners last Tuesday tell us that we need—and can have—both. Roem, a
trans woman, campaigned on fixing her district’s hideous
traffic problems. Foy, a black woman, went out of her way
to cultivate voters in Stafford County, the more rural, Republican, white working-class part of her district. She only
lost there by only 500 votes; Democrats who ran for that
seat in the past had been slaughtered. We also saw a diverse slate of candidates pushing populist issues. Virginia
Governor-elect Ralph Northam ran on a $15-an-hour
minimum wage, free community college, and expanding
Medicaid. Foy held tight to her promise to give in-state
tuition to undocumented college students, even after getting slammed by her opponent for doing so. Why are we
Democrats are winning again—but why?
acting like we have to choose between these paths?
rogressives haven’t had much good news
§ The Democratic tsunami prevailed thanks in large
since the apocalypse of Nopart to the dozens of groups that have emerged
vember 8, 2016. So Election
in the last few years focused on local organizDiversity
Day 2017 felt fantastic. Demoing. They range from the relatively small
and economic northern Virginia group We of Action, to
crats took all of Virginia’s statepopulism ran
wide races (governor, lieutenant governor,
Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution, to Run for
and attorney general), and captured the govSomething, which was founded by former
ernorship in New Jersey as well. They gained
Clinton staffer Amanda Litman and grassroots
and won.
at least 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delorganizer Ross Morales Rocketto to encouregates (a few races are still being recounted),
age millennials to enter politics. I heard many
almost yanking control from the GOP despite the state’s good things from candidates everywhere about new orgaoutrageously gerrymandered districts. Republicans cur- nizations like Flippable, Indivisible, Swing Left, and Sister
rently control the Statehouse 66–34, so even a 51–49 District, as well as established groups like Emily’s List
split would be an unexpected victory.
and Emerge Virginia. “I give credit to the outside groups
At least 11 of those Virginia pick-up seats will be and my volunteers—period,” said Virginia Delegate-elect
held by women; five are women of color, and one, Kelly Fowler, who was on the verge of dropping out when I
Danica Roem, will be the first openly transgender profiled her in early August but got a crucial boost from the
person to serve in any state legislature. In another “pop-up” groups. There is much more to be learned from
first, a member of the Democratic Socialists of each of these new efforts, but something good happened in
America, Marine Corps veteran Lee Carter, beat Virginia, and these groups need to be supported.
the Republican majority whip, despite being given
§ Did official Democratic Party groups perform better
little chance by state Democratic party leaders. The than usual this time? Some observers say yes, but I’m not
new House roster includes the first Latinas, Hala sure yet. The much-maligned Democratic National ComAyala and Elizabeth Guzman (the latter is also the first mittee sent scores of organizers to Virginia, an unusual
AFSCME member to hold a seat), and the first public de- effort on its part. But one important post-mortem will
fender, Jennifer Carroll Foy, who was also among the first involve examining whether official party groups were able
women to graduate from the Virginia Military Institute. to help the unexpectedly large number of candidates who
That’s what I call diversity—on every level.
turned out to run. The number of Democrats challenging
And it wasn’t just in Virginia. We’ll see a female African- GOP incumbents this year jumped from 21 to 54. The
American mayor in Charlotte, North Carolina (Vi Lyles), party expected to win five to eight seats; instead, it won
and a Sikh mayor in Hoboken, New Jersey (Ravi Bhalla). 15. As Virginia House minority leader David Toscano
Also in New Jersey, a black woman, Ashley Bennett, ran confessed to me last August, the sheer number of new
against her local county freeholder—after the man had candidates “is stretching our resources, and it’s stretching
posted a Facebook meme asking if the participants in the our thinking about how to support so many candidates.
Women’s March would be home in time to make dinner— We wish we had unlimited resources.”
and defeated said Neanderthal. The list goes on and on.
That’s understandable, but will state Democratic parIt felt great, but we can’t lie on the couch savoring ties be up to the challenge in 2018? If it looks like they’re
the moment for very long. The 2018 midterms are com- not, we should funnel our money to those outside groups
ing up in less than a year, and Democrats have a shot at who have a proven track record of doing more with less.
gaining control of the US House and Senate, as well as We’ll see next year—not just in a few states but in all 50.
making inroads in statehouses, after losing roughly 1,000
Lessons From 2017
December 4/11, 2017
The Nation.
December 4/11, 2017
Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K.
The flood of sexual-assault allegations in
the entertainment industry shows no signs
of abating. Actress Alyssa Milano made
the #MeToo hashtag go viral,
and across the country, women
(as well as a few men) have used
it to share their own experiences
of rape, assault, and harassment.
But the origins of the movement
go back two decades, when
Tarana Burke, then a youthcamp director, met a black girl
who had been sexually abused.
Through their interactions, Burke
realized that the phrase “me
too” could release survivors from
the shame they felt and serve
to empower them—especially
in minority communities. Ten
years later, she launched the “Me
Too” campaign, and today, she
continues this work at Girls for
Gender Equity, a nonprofit devoted to helping young women
live self-determined lives.
—Elizabeth Adetiba
EA: You’ve mentioned that
you created “Me Too” to draw
attention to sexual violence
against women of color. What
did the movement look like
before Harvey Weinstein and
Alyssa Milano?
TB: Initially, it started very hands
on—I worked directly with
younger people or adults, doing
workshops or having conversations on sexual violence. Besides
being about women of color, it’s
about what happens after: What
does “survival” actually mean?
I think about being a black girl
from the Bronx. Nobody came
to me—I didn’t have any understanding or any language that
I could connect to that said,
“You’re normal.”
EA: When you learned that
white Hollywood had taken
#MeToo and run with it, did you
worry that the intent behind
your work—centering marginalized people—would be whitewashed?
TB: I did worry about that. My
initial fear was that what I was
seeing online was going to move
the conversation in a different
direction, that I would not be
able to amplify my own voice.
EA: When you say that the conversation would be moved in a
different direction...
TB: I mean moving away from
marginalized people. And to
some degree, it’s still happening: The conversation is largely
about Harvey Weinstein or other
individual bogeymen. No matter
how much I keep talking about
power and privilege, they keep
bringing it back to individuals.
EA: So far, many powerful white
men who have been accused
of assault are finally facing
consequences. But men like
R. Kelly, whose abuses toward
black women have long been
documented, have faced few, if
any, consequences. How do we
make sense of that?
TB: This is about how we’ve
been socialized to view black
women and girls. It’s internalized
and external oppression. When
we hear that a thirtysomethingyear-old man urinated on an
eighth grader on video, and we
still have space for him? That’s
problematic. And he’s not the
only one. That’s another reason
why I center black and brown
girls: There are nuances in
our community around sexual
violence that are informed by
centuries of oppression and
white supremacy. Across the
board, there’s shame, but in our
community, there’s shame on
top of fear on top of ostracization… there are layers we have
to unpack.
EA: Part of the reason many
marginalized people stay silent
on sexual violence is distrust of
law enforcement. How do we
confront that in the movement
to end sexual violence?
TB: We have to start talking
about nontraditional methods
No matter how
much I keep
talking about
power and
privilege, they
keep bringing
it back to
of pursuing justice. What does
“justice” look like for a survivor?
It’ll mean different things to different communities. What I’ve
found in my research is this: The
process was, you had to go to
the local police station, report
the crime, and then they would
make a referral to the rape-crisis
center. That’s a big hurdle for us,
because we don’t trust the police. So when I say we need to
look at alternative approaches
to justice, I’m talking restorative justice and transformative
justice. Because the other part
of this is that many perpetrators are themselves survivors
of sexual violence—particularly
child sexual abuse. We’ve got to
get a clearer understanding of
what justice is and what people
need to feel whole. If we’re ever
going to heal in our community,
we have to heal the perpetrators
and heal the survivors, or else
it’s just a continuous cycle.
December 4/11, 2017
The Nation.
coalition of civil-rights
groups sued the Department of Housing
and Urban Development in
late October for delaying the
implementation of a fair-housing
rule, alleging that the holdup
furthers racial segregation. The
Small Area Fair Market Rent rule,
first announced last November,
would have helped low-income
families who use Section 8 housing vouchers to move into better
neighborhoods. Currently, the
value of these vouchers is based
on a city’s average rent, which
means many poor families can’t
use them to move into safer and
more affluent neighborhoods. The
new rule would have made the
vouchers worth more in wealthy
zip codes and less in poor ones.
By blocking its implementation,
the coalition said, HUD is perpetuating segregation by preventing
(predominantly black) voucher
holders from moving into (predominantly white) middle- and
upper-class neighborhoods.
Although HUD claimed that
the two-year delay was “informed
by research” and doesn’t indicate
a policy change, the move aligns
with the department’s priorities
under Secretary Ben Carson. In
the past, Carson has described
HUD’s desegregation programs
as “failed socialist experiments” in
“social engineering.” An August
ProPublica investigation revealed
that, as secretary, Carson has
been dedicated to the “disembowelment” of the department.
It’s hard to say, then, whether
the delay of this fair-housing rule
is the result of malice or simple
incompetence, but either way
it will have real consequences
for low-income families.
—Jake Bittle
Eric Alterman
Acknowledging the Rot
Rupert Murdoch’s media properties are at the heart of the GOP’s moral decay.
ne of the precious few salutary
aspects of the Trump presidency is
that it has forced some members of
the mainstream media—and even
a few conservatives—to face up to
the rot inside the Republican Party and among its
boosters. Exhibit A of right-wing decay is Rupert
Murdoch, who, more than any single individual,
has plotted the course of the GOP for the past
20 years. Liberals, such as yours truly, have been
crowing for decades about the dangers of treating
his media properties as legitimate news sources
rather than as the purveyors of hatefilled lies and propaganda that they
clearly are. Now, finally, these arguments are getting some traction.
This welcome reality check began
with the campaign by Murdochowned media outlets to undermine
special counsel Robert Mueller. As
the independent prosecutor was
readying his indictments against
former Trump campaign manager
Paul Manafort and two others, The Wall Street
Journal’s editorial page demanded that Mueller
resign, and a pair of its op-ed writers suggested
that President Trump give everyone under investigation a blanket pardon. At the same time,
a New York Post op-ed insisted that Manafort’s
fellow indictee, onetime foreign-policy adviser
George Papadopoulos, had done “nothing illegal” when he apparently colluded with the
Russians during the election.
Meanwhile, it is all a mere coincidence, one
supposes, that Murdoch’s flagship property, Fox
News, found itself in the position of embracing
and excusing one right-wing sex offender after
another at the same time that it was revealed
to be a den of right-wing sex offenders itself.
With the recent accusations of child molestation against Alabama Republican senatorial
candidate Roy Moore, the network’s top-tier
“talent”—Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and
Laura Ingraham—have all questioned the veracity of the Washington Post report, which cited
four on-the-record victims and more than 30
sources, and then changed the subject to the
sins of either Harvey Weinstein or Bill Clinton.
The Fox News anchors might as well have been
taking their orders directly from Breitbart impresario Steve Bannon. Six advertisers abandoned
Hannity after his defense of Moore, perhaps
leading him to rethink his public position on
Moore’s “consensual” sex life. Still, Hannity
happily cheered on a campaign by his acolytes
to attack and destroy Keurig coffee machines,
following the withdrawal of the company’s advertising from his show. All of this demonstrates
the fact that Murdoch has decided to throw in
with the crazies, perverts, and Nazi sympathizers
who populate Trump’s base, with no limits as to
how low he will go. And lo and behold, it works.
During this period, Fox News secured its primetime ratings lead over MSNBC,
with Hannity handily beating Rachel Maddow, whose numbers had
surpassed Fox’s for three months
in a row.
Murdoch’s deep dive into the
gutter has forced the remains of
the conservative establishment to
choose between jumping on the
Trump bandwagon or forfeiting
their cozy sinecures. Those in the
latter camp have lamented the descent of The
Wall Street Journal into the same Trump-infested
sewers in which Fox and the New York Post have
long immersed themselves. But their expressions of outrage are more than a little late to
the party. The Journal’s editorial page has been
dishonest for decades,
even before Murdoch
bought its parent Murdoch has
company, Dow Jones,
now taken away
for $5 billion in 2007.
Witness the Journal’s the neocons’
shameless pimping for meal tickets on
supply-side economics, its hysteria about the op-ed page
Whitewater, and the and distributed
myriad falsehoods
it published in sup- them to Trumpport of the invasion friendly hacks.
of Iraq. But its dishonesty was of a kind
that was viewed as consistent with post-Reagan
conservatism, especially neoconservatism. Now
Murdoch has taken away the neocons’ meal
tickets on the op-ed page and distributed them
to Trump-friendly hacks. Even more important,
he’s apparently ordered the rest of the newspaper
to go along as well.
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Baker knows
who pays his
salary, and it is
not the “[d]ozens
of reporters,
editors, and copy
staff [who] have
left the paper in
the past year.”
December 4/11, 2017
The Nation.
Recent rumors had the Journal’s top editor, Gerald
Baker, on the outs, because he had lost the confidence of
the newsroom after instructing his staff to give Trump
and company the benefit of the doubt and Politico leaked
his suck-up conversations with the president, Ivanka,
and others in the administration. Politico quoted a former
Journal senior editor saying of Baker, “I think he puts his
thumb on a lot of things or makes it known that he didn’t
like certain stories or that kind of thing.” Another Journal
refugee told The Guardian, “Political editors and reporters find themselves either directly stymied by Gerry’s
interference or shave the edges off their stories in advance
to try to please him (and, by extension, Murdoch).” Baker
clearly knows who pays his salary, and it is not the “[d]
ozens of reporters, editors, and copy staff [who] have
left the paper in the past year” cited by The Guardian.
Times have changed, however. These days, onetime
neocon attack dog Jennifer Rubin mourns the passing
of what “was long thought to be the crown jewel of
fiscal conservatism.” She quotes neocon generalissimo
William Kristol and foreign-policy analyst Robert
Kagan, who calls the Journal’s editorial page “an angry
mouthpiece for an angry mob led by an angry demagogue.” This is certainly accurate today, but it was
also true 14 years ago when these same people led the
cheerleading for Bush’s ruinous invasion of Iraq and
smeared the war’s opponents as disloyal. The neocons
have now found their own country invaded by a lying,
depraved, psychopathic con man. I say: Good for them
for standing up to our common enemy, but I would
also suggest that they take a long, hard look in the mirQ
ror once it’s over.
Cambridge is Law and Politics
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Incitement on Trial
Prosecuting International Speech Crimes
R ic h a r d A sh b y W i l s o n
Federal Intervention
Incitement on Trial
in Amercan Police Departments
Prosecuting International Speech Crimes
Stephen Rushin
Richard Ashby Wilson
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The Nation.
December 4/11, 2017
Laila Lalami
Partisanship and Assault
If we pretend that only our enemies hurt women, we’ll never solve the problem.
n November 3, Fatou
Bensouda, the chief
prosecutor of the
International Criminal Court,
requested permission from the
court’s judges to investigate war
crimes in Afghanistan, including those that may have been
committed by US citizens. (Although the United States isn’t a
signatory to the ICC’s founding
Rome Statute, its officials can
still be prosecuted if they commit
crimes within the jurisdiction of a
member state, like Afghanistan.)
This is an important step
toward justice, but it’s worth
recalling a rarely acknowledged
truth: The ICC is not an antiimperial body. It can raise flags
about how wars are waged, but
has never questioned whether
a war should have been waged
in the first place. This distinction
explains why, in 2017, the ICC
is interested in prosecuting US
officials for torturing detainees
in Afghanistan, but not for the
regime-change wars that the US
launched against Iraq in 2003
and Libya in 2011. As long as a
war of aggression doesn’t violate
human rights too egregiously,
the ICC will steer clear of it.
In fact, under the ruse of
humanitarian intervention, aggressor states often justify their
actions on the grounds that the
countries they’re attacking have
committed the very crimes that
fall within the ICC’s jurisdiction,
as the United States did when
it condemned the “outrageous
human-rights abuses” of Saddam Hussein and the “gross and
systematic violation of human
rights” in Moammar El-Gadhafi’s
“campaign of killing.”
—Gunar Olsen
evolutions take people by surprise. Who could have predicted a
month ago, when Jodi Kantor and
Megan Twohey broke the Harvey
Weinstein story in The New York
Times, that we would see so many sexual predators publicly named and shamed? As it turned
out, Weinstein was just a drop in the bucket,
and that bucket had long ago been filled to the
brim. We’ve now seen hundreds of women come
forward about the sexual crimes they’ve suffered
at the hands of prominent men. The harrowing
violations they’ve described range from harassment to rape, and took place as far
back as the 1970s or as recently as
a few months ago, but these crimes
all have in common the fact that
they went unpunished. When the
women reported the assaults, they
were often told to stay quiet lest
they hurt their careers. And so they
maintained their silence. Until now.
The parade of horribles that
the Times report helped bring out
includes Hollywood executives (Roy Price of
Amazon Studios), film directors (Brett Ratner,
James Toback), A-list actors (Kevin Spacey,
Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck), popular comedians (Louis C.K.), media figures (Mark Halperin, Leon Wieseltier), and a former president
(George H.W. Bush). Because a single accuser
is often dismissed, the reporters who’ve been
working on these stories have gone to great
lengths to find multiple corroborative accounts.
Yet each time a new offender is named, we see
the same pattern of reactions: Fans express shock
and disappointment, while the offender issues a
denial. Only very rarely do we see an apology.
The men who have been named in these
scandals represent a very broad range of backgrounds: Republican and Democrat; Christian,
Jewish, and Muslim; gay and straight. You would
think that with such a wide spectrum of abusers,
we would finally understand and treat sexual harassment and violence as the systemic problems
they are. In reality, however, the issue has turned
partisan. For example, after the news broke that
Spacey had assaulted a 14-year-old actor, Donald Trump Jr. gleefully tweeted: “Why don’t we
simplify this greatly and publish a list of those
in Hollywood who aren’t creeps??? Apparently
a much smaller group.” So confident was he in
this smug assessment that he tweeted it again 10
days later: “Time to bring this back to the top.
It’s more true every day.”
Yet this same Donald Trump Jr. remained
stubbornly silent when The Washington Post reported that Republican Senate candidate Roy
Moore had fondled a 14-year-old girl in 1979,
when he was a 32-year-old district attorney.
Not only did Trump Jr. fail to condemn this
assault, he retweeted people who dismissed the
allegations for being 30 years old, compared
with the ones against Democratic Senator Bob
Menendez, which date from just
five years ago.
Some Republicans, like Maine
Senator Susan Collins, have said that
Moore should step aside from the
race if “there is any truth at all to
these horrific allegations.” On November 13, Senate majority leader
Mitch McConnell finally said: “I believe the women.” But many other
Republicans have remained silent,
in the hope that Moore will still win the special
election in December and that they will keep their
majority in the Senate.
It’s important to note
here that the original
You would think
Washington Post report
on Moore quoted four that with such a
women who shared wide spectrum of
similar stories about
his approaching them abusers, we would
when they were un- finally understand
derage, as well as an
additional 30 corrobo- sexual abuse
rative sources. Moore as the systemic
himself must have
been aware that he was problem it is.
engaging in illegal and
immoral behavior, because he allegedly asked the
14-year-old to meet him around the corner from
her house.
And let’s not forget that the entire Republican
Party has enabled a man who not only was repeatedly accused of sexual assaults but even bragged
about them: President Trump himself. So this is
where we are now: Sexual assault has become a
partisan issue. It falls under the category of crimes
that some people are willing to forgive and forget,
Turning a
Blind Eye
December 4/11, 2017
so long as they are perpetrated by those on their own side.
This is not just a problem for Republicans. Take the
case of the Swiss-born Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan,
who was accused of rape by two women. Ramadan hasn’t
spoken directly about these accusations, except to issue
a denial and to blame “a campaign of slander clearly
orchestrated by my longtime adversaries.” Since then,
several young women have come forward to say that he
made unwanted advances toward them when they were
his teenage students in Geneva. The cases are now being
investigated by the police, but Nadia Karmous, president
of a cultural association of Muslim women in Switzerland, defended the scholar by claiming that he was pursued by female fans at his conferences. “You would think
you were at a Beatles concert,” she declared. “These
women are fragile, they think that Tariq Ramadan has
the answer to their problems.” Meanwhile, Eugene
Warm Welcome
A day after Donald Trump’s arrival in the Philippines,
protesters burned a 13-foot swastika-shaped
effigy of the US president in the streets of Manila.
Riot police dispersed the demonstrators with
water cannons.
The Nation.
Rogan, the head of Oxford’s Middle East Centre, fretted about the effect that the accusations might have on
Muslim students, saying that the allegations could appear
like “just another way for Europeans to gang up against a
prominent Muslim intellectual.”
What we are witnessing at the moment is nothing
short of an uprising of women against sexual assault.
They are revealing its epidemic frequency in our society and all the ways in which it is enabled by a culture
of silence. If we allow sexual misconduct to become
a partisan issue, we risk obfuscating these causes and
leaving the problem to fester for the next generation. In order for this revolution to be successful, we
must listen to the victims of sex crimes whether the
perpetrators share our politics or not. We must call
out predators even when—especially when—they are
beloved or respected figures.
In order for this
revolution to be
successful, we
must listen to
the victims of sex
crimes whether
the perpetrators
share our
politics or not.
Denied it man-to-man, so Trump
Said Putin’s in the clear.
Ex-agents of the KGB
Are notably sincere.
The Nation.
ne day in mid-march, james cason, the associate deputy
secretary at the Department of the Interior, convened an
impromptu meeting of the senior staff of the Bureau of Land
Management. Cason, whose office is on the sixth floor, rarely
wandered the halls, and some career civil servants still had never
met him. A soft-spoken and unassuming man, Cason has cycled
in and out of Republican administrations since the early 1980s
and has largely avoided public attention. But people who have
worked with him know him as a highly effective administrator and a disciple
of some of the department’s most notorious anti-environment leaders in
previous years—a “hatchet man,” in the words of one former DOI employee
who worked with him during the George W. Bush administration.
About 30 employees were ushered into a conference room, where Cason
announced that Kristin Bail, acting director of the BLM, would be replaced
by Mike Nedd. The move itself wasn’t all that surprising: Bail, who came
from a conservation background, had been appointed in the final days of the
Obama administration to serve in a temporary capacity; Nedd, who had been
assistant director for energy, minerals, and realty management since 2007,
was viewed as better positioned to implement the new
administration’s pro-industry agenda.
But the way Cason handled the meeting sent a
stark message. According to two people who were
present, he delivered what appeared to be hastily
prepared remarks thanking Bail for her service but
telling her that she was no longer needed in the
position. One employee, who has since left the
DOI, said it was unclear whether Bail had been
told beforehand of her demotion. “It was one of
the most awkward, disrespectful things I’ve ever
seen,” the former employee said. The spectacle
amounted to a kind of public dismissal—and a
warning shot. The meeting ended as abruptly as it had
begun, with employees left staring at their seats. By the
The DOI is
end of the day, Bail was carrying her things out of her ofpoised to
fice in a box and looking for another place to sit.
Bail’s transfer was the opening salvo in an unprece- open up
dented restructuring of the DOI. Three months later, in
what some department staffers now call the “Thursday- millions of
night massacre,” Cason sent memos to more than two acres to
dozen of the DOI’s highest-ranking civil servants in- drilling and
forming them of reassignments; they had 15 days to
accept the new positions or retire. The Office of the mining, from
Inspector General is currently investigating how the Utah’s redtransfers were determined; some employees believe they
rock country
were designed to push out long-serving staff as part of
a department-wide purge, and that climate scientists in to Alaska’s
particular were targeted.
frigid coastal
Cason, who once described himself as the departwaters.
ment’s “regulatory czar,” has also overseen the dismantling of rules governing energy development on public
lands. The DOI is poised to open up millions of acres
to drilling and mining—from Utah’s red-rock country to
the frigid, perilous waters off Alaska’s coast—while strip- Adam Federman
ping away basic environmental protections and reducing is a reporting
transparency. Across the Trump administration, the new fellow with the
mantra is “energy dominance”—a vision of the world in
Fund at the
which the United States will amplify its influence with a Nation Institute.
dramatic expansion of oil, gas, and coal production, what- This article
ever the environmental costs.
was reported in
The axing of regulations and personnel is occurring partnership with
with remarkable speed. In contrast to other federal de- that outlet.
partments mired by inept leadership in the Trump era,
a small group of seasoned insiders has kept things humming along at the Department of the Interior, Cason
chief among them. In the early months of the administration, according to one former DOI employee, there
seemed to be few decisions, no matter how small, that
didn’t cross his desk.
“From what I can tell, Jim Cason is running the
show,” the former employee said. “I think he’s overseeing
everything.” In addition to orchestrating the personnel
reassignments and chairing the regulatory-reform task
force that has rewritten or eliminated many Obama-era
policies, Cason has been tasked with reviewing every
grant or cooperative agreement of $100,000 or more, as
well as any pending decisions with “nationwide, regional,
or statewide impact.” He wrote the Federal Register notice announcing the department’s controversial review of
27 national monuments, and he has been granted virtual
carte blanche to set policy as it relates to the Bureau of
Indian Affairs.
Cason’s return to the DOI doesn’t surprise Jim
Cubie, who was chief counsel to Senator Patrick
Leahy (D-VT) in 1989, when Leahy oversaw an
Agriculture Committee hearing on Cason’s nomination to a top environmental post in the George
H.W. Bush administration. Cason’s track record
so alarmed the committee that he was eventually
forced to withdraw his name from consideration.
Now he’s back in a position that doesn’t require
Senate approval. “He’ll do a lot of damage,”
Cubie predicted.
ason is one of only a handful of
political appointees with deep knowledge of the
Department of the Interior. (The DOI declined
to make Cason available for an interview.) He
faithfully carried out the agendas of two of
the most controversial interior secretaries in recent
memory—James Watt and Gale Norton. From 1985
to 1989, during the Reagan administration, Cason was
deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management; in that capacity, he worked closely with Steven
Griles, a former coal lobbyist and the chief architect of
some of the most environmentally destructive policies of
the Reagan years. Griles helped to engineer the regulatory changes that facilitated mountaintop-removal mining,
and he interfered with a Fish and Wildlife Service report
on the potential environmental damage caused by coastal
drilling. As head of the DOI’s Office of Surface Mining
in the early 1980s, Griles also failed to collect tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties owed by companies that
had broken environmental laws.
Throughout this period, Cason served as Griles’s
right-hand man, according to a former congressional staffer familiar with his record. “He learned well at
Griles’s knee about how to get stuff done,” the staffer
said. The two became close friends; Griles was best man
at Cason’s wedding in 1990. And in 2001, when Griles
returned to the department under George W. Bush after
more than a decade of lobbying for coal companies and
other special interests, Cason joined him as his associate
window into what has otherwise been a
veiled career opened in 1989, when Cason
was nominated to serve as assistant secretary
for natural resources and environment at the
Department of Agriculture under George H.W.
Bush. Few people had ever heard of Cason,
December 4/11, 2017
who was only 35 when his confirmation hearings took
place. The position is typically filled by noncontroversial
policy experts, and the hearings are rarely the stuff of
high-stakes political theater. But Cason’s nomination was
unusually contentious, in large part because of his former boss—James Watt, one of the most polarizing and
unpopular interior secretaries ever to hold the position.
As the DOI’s head under Ronald Reagan, Watt was
known for his staunch support of property rights and for
his attempts to sell millions of acres of public lands to
drilling and mining interests; he resigned in 1983, after
stating that a coal advisory commission he’d established
was balanced because it included “a black…a woman, two
Jews, and a cripple.” In his opening remarks at Cason’s
hearing, Senator Leahy wasted little time in drawing a
parallel between Cason and Watt. “Frankly, we do not
need a James Watt clone in this position,” Leahy said. Jim
Cubie, Leahy’s counsel, said they’d heard from a number
of sources that “this guy’s going to be a disaster.… Anybody who was a Watt acolyte was trouble.”
In written testimony, Cason said he’d barely gotten to
know Watt and “could not fairly or knowledgeably compare or contrast our philosophies.” Yet Cason revealed
that his philosophy was in fact closely aligned with Watt’s
when he faced a series of questions about his decision to
approve the transfer of tens of thousands of acres of public land at below-market rates in 1986. The episode involved the sale of oil-shale claims to energy companies at
$2.50 an acre; weeks later, some of the same land was sold
to private developers at 800 times the original price, reaping a windfall of $37 million for the energy companies.
Asked by Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) whether the sale
was “in the public interest,” Cason replied: “I think it is
in the public interest to assure that we properly address
private-property rights.” In that single sentence, Cason
summed up Watt’s worldview.
But the hearing wasn’t only a referendum on Watt—it
demonstrated that Cason put his own stamp on a number
of decisions that heavily favored industry. Cason’s involvement in the alleged suppression of a BLM report on the
dangers to the spotted owl dominated press accounts of
the hearings. At the time, there was great concern among
conservationists that the logging of old-growth forests in
Oregon would lead to the owl’s demise. Indeed, several
studies carried out in the 1980s demonstrated that the forests were key to the species’s survival. The BLM report
commissioned by Cason found that the spotted owl would
be imperiled if logging continued. Cason later claimed
that the report didn’t live up to the department’s scientific
standards—but several individuals involved in the review
testified that Cason simply disagreed with their conclusions
and had asked the DOI to bury the report. After news of
the report leaked to the press, Cason had the DOI release
what many felt was a watered-down version of the original.
(“Jim Cason is a seasoned Department of the Interior official who brings decades of government, private sector, and
personal experience to the position,” a DOI spokesperson
wrote in response to questions about his record, including
the owl report. “We are lucky to have him.”)
deputy. According to a former DOI employee who worked with Cason during
the Bush administration, “Griles would have whatever idea, and Jim would
figure out how to get it implemented. He’s quite effective at doing that. He
was known as Griles’s hatchet man.”
But unlike Griles, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison after lying
to Congress about his ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Cason has
largely avoided the public eye. His personal style is exceedingly restrained,
particularly in contrast with more flamboyant and controversial colleagues like
Griles, who was known for being a brash talker with a volatile temper. Cason
has a monotone way of speaking; he often dresses in a subdued blue suit and tie
and seems to go out of his way to be agreeable. In an appearance on C-SPAN
in 2005, as the Abramoff investigations were gaining momentum, a caller described Cason as a “Republican toady” and attacked the DOI for its policies
toward Native Americans. Cason replied evenly, “OK, well, that’s certainly a
good point of view too.”
Even when not behind
the scenes at the DOI, Cason maintained a low profile. He’s never worked as a
registered lobbyist. During
the Clinton administration,
he lived in Western New
York and was vice president
of risk management at a
company that manufactures ceramic-fiber products for industrial applications. More recently, he’s done consulting work for Booz One rule scrapped
Allen Hamilton and Kelly Anderson & Associates (now by Trump’s DOI
ensured that coal
KAA Federal Solutions), a business-management firm that companies don’t
works with federal and industrial clients. On his financial- cheat taxpayers on
disclosure form, submitted in July, Cason provided so few royalties from mining
details about the contracting work he’d done with the Qua- on public lands.
paw tribe in Oklahoma that, after queries by ProPublica,
the DOI was forced to submit a revised version. In it, Cason
revealed that over a five-month period in 2016, he’d earned
$50,000 doing “research” for the tribe. (The department’s
ethics lawyer called the omission an “oversight.”)
“The whole
KAA chief executive officer Tim Vigotsky, who hired
Cason in 2012, describes him as a policy wonk who department,
knows the DOI better than anyone. “There’s not a lot of and yourself
flash,” Vigotsky said. “He works long hours—whatever it
as part
takes.” Because Cason wasn’t registered as a lobbyist at
Booz Allen or Kelly Anderson, it’s unclear who his clients of that
in the energy sector might have been. Vigotsky called department,
Kelly Anderson’s list a “who’s who” of the industry but
were overly
wouldn’t reveal the names of private clients. Much of the
firm’s work involves providing assistance to companies solicitous
seeking federal contracts. On his résumé, Cason stated of business
that, in addition to providing consulting support for Native American, commercial, and federal clients, he helped and industry
points of
to “network access to government officials.”
Cason had also pushed through a series of industryfriendly measures in the final weeks of the Reagan administration. He lowered the royalties paid for coal mined on
public lands; authorized a rule that made it possible for
companies to mine in national parks or on Forest Service land (a rule considered so over the top that it was
quickly withdrawn); traveled to Colorado to encourage—
yet again—the transfer of thousands of acres of oil-shale
claims at rock-bottom prices; and brokered an agreement
with several major oil and gas companies that essentially
undermined the federal government’s authority to audit
royalty payments. Not only did Cason reach the latter
deal without consulting state or tribal officials, whose
constituents stood to lose out on millions in annual payments, but he also signed the agreement on letterhead
from the industry’s attorneys. R. Max Peterson, then the
executive vice president of the International Association
of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, described Cason’s actions
as “an inexcusable betrayal of the public trust.”
Even Republican members of the traditionally conservative Senate Agriculture Committee had their doubts.
Summing up Cason’s years at the DOI, Indiana Senator
Richard Lugar said: “The whole department, and yourself as part of that department, were overly solicitous of
business and industry points of view.” Several weeks later,
realizing that he didn’t have enough votes to secure the
nomination, Cason withdrew his name.
ll of that must have seemed like a distant
memory this past summer, when Cason
addressed a roomful of industry executives at
the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual
energy summit in Denver. He spoke alongside
Gale Norton, who had been the interior secretary for much of George W. Bush’s administration.
Cason’s current post is the same one he held under
Norton—but this time around, according to interviews
with more than a half-dozen current and former DOI
employees, he wields significantly more power. (Norton,
who took a position with Royal Dutch Shell after leaving office in 2006, now runs her own consulting firm—
Norton Regulatory Strategies—
and works closely with the oil and
gas industry.)
With a list of the summit’s major sponsors—BP, Anadarko, Noble Energy—projected on the wall
behind him, Cason explained that
Donald Trump’s win in November
marked a profound shift in direction. Though few would describe
the Department of the Interior,
even under President Obama,
as unfriendly to oil and gas producers, Cason declared that the
Trump administration had inherited “an anti-energy bias” and a
“preservationist thought process”
that needed rooting out.
not a lot of
flash. He
works long
it takes.”
Protesters confront
an offshore-drilling rig
bound for the Arctic,
which the Trump
administration wants
to open to further
While the DOI has often struggled to balance its dual
mandate of conservation and resource development, the
scales have now tipped decisively in favor of the oil and
gas industry. As a candidate, Trump promised to “unleash
America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural-gas
reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean-coal reserves”—a
grandiose statement that has nonetheless become a kind
of blueprint for his Department of the Interior. The longheld goal of “energy independence”—a stock phrase used
by every administration at least since the Carter years—has
been replaced by one of “energy dominance.” Trump officials believe that achieving it requires an aggressive push
for increased access to public lands, including national
monuments and offshore oil and gas reserves.
The DOI, as the largest landowner in the United
States—managing roughly 500 million acres, one-fifth
of the country’s landmass—is at the heart of this effort.
The department also administers millions of acres in offshore oil and gas reserves. Trump has already reversed
an Obama-era ban on drilling along part of the Atlantic
coast and in the environmentally sensitive waters around
Alaska. Now, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Republicans in Congress are seeking to fulfill one of the industry’s long-sought goals: opening up the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge, the largest unexplored and undeveloped onshore basin in the United States. In December,
the BLM will offer approximately 10.3 million acres of
land in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve for oil and
gas leasing. And next spring, the department will hold
the largest oil- and gas-lease sale in the country’s history
when it auctions off some 77 million acres of offshore
reserves in the Gulf of Mexico.
Recently, the DOI announced that it would be running its operations more like a business, with the primary
objective of generating revenue through energy production. According to a July report in Bloomberg News, Zinke
is pushing to “retool the agency into a federal profit center.” The DOI’s climate-change webpage has undergone
a makeover, too. Sometime between February and April,
the department replaced a lengthy informational page
with two short paragraphs describing the DOI’s preservation duties; the phrase “climate
change” appears just once. And in
April, the BLM—which is tasked
with overseeing oil and gas leasing on federal land—changed the
image on its home page from one
of a couple of backpackers looking out onto a scenic landscape
to a shot of a massive coal seam
in Wyoming (an image that has
since been removed).
In Denver, Cason reiterated
that the DOI was more interested in facilitating energy development than regulating it; he
told the roomful of oil and gas
executives that they represented
“a very important industry for
December 4/11, 2017
the Department of Interior and the administration.” About a month after the
conference, the DOI submitted a draft of its strategic vision for the next five
years to the Office of Management and Budget. According to a copy of the
plan obtained by The Nation, the department’s priorities include accelerating the exploitation of “vast amounts” of untapped energy reserves on public
lands. The outline makes no mention of climate change—a phrase that appeared dozens of times in the previous strategic plan.
In October, the DOI released a report detailing the burdens on energy
development and recommending sweeping changes that would undermine
its own basic regulatory authority. The high-profile targets included a 2015
rule requiring rudimentary safeguards for fracking on public lands, as well
as a conservation plan for the imperiled sage grouse. The report also raised
the possibility of eliminating the federally required land-management plans
that might limit drilling in certain areas; the conditions placed on development that affects endangered species or critical habitat; and even the collection of basic data related to energy production, which critics see as an attempt
to muddy an already opaque process. Jeremy Nichols of the advocacy group
Wild Earth Guardians called the proposed elimination of these commonsense measures “shocking even for this administration.”
he department of the interior is made up
of nine bureaus, including the BLM and the Fish
and Wildlife Service, with 70,000 employees
and state and regional offices across the country. Secretary Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and
one-term US congressman, has no experience
managing such a large, decentralized bureaucracy, and
he has relied heavily on his political appointees to run
the department’s day-to-day operations. With Cason
at the helm, a small circle of insiders orchestrated the
aggressive deregulatory agenda and the unprecedented
reshuffling of career staff.
“Cason is really an administrator,” a DOI employee who
has known him since the George W. Bush administration
told me. “He understands how to run an organization.” The
position Cason now holds—associate deputy secretary—
was created especially for him when he joined the Bush administration, most likely because of fears that he would not
make it through another round of confirmation hearings.
“They didn’t even try for a nomination, because they knew
it would be dead on arrival,” said another former DOI employee who worked closely with Cason at the time.
In his remarks in Denver, Cason said it was evident
from day one that career employees needed “an attitude
adjustment.” New leadership, he continued, would force
them to “adopt a different way of looking at things.” (In
a recent speech before the National Petroleum Council,
Interior Secretary Zinke described “30 percent” of DOI
employees as “not loyal to the flag.”) As a member of
the Executive Resources Board, which is responsible for
senior-executive-level reassignments, Cason has overseen a series of personnel changes that appear designed
to enhance the administration’s pro-oil-and-gas orientation. Under Zinke, the ERB is made up entirely of political appointees, despite strong recommendations from the
Office of Personnel Management that the board include
a mix of political and career employees “to provide…a
balanced perspective.” According to Elizabeth Klein, who
occupied Cason’s role in the Obama administration and
December 4/11, 2017
“What they
are doing
to hand the
keys over to
the energy
is pretty
served on the ERB for part of that time, there was a rough
split between civil servants and political appointees.
The “Thursday-night massacre” occurred on June 15,
when more than two dozen of the department’s Senior
Executive Service (SES) employees, from nearly every
agency, received memos informing them of the reassignments. None of the employees that The Nation spoke with
were consulted in advance, which is considered both a
common courtesy and responsible management. In most
cases, even agency directors were kept in the dark until
just before the memos went out. When one high-level supervisor asked if they were on the list, Cason reportedly
replied, “Not this round.” The reassignments sent shock
waves throughout the DOI. Dan Ashe, former director
of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the transfers were
clearly designed to disrupt the normal order of things and
to undermine the authority of senior civil servants. Cason, who had served as chief human-capital officer under
Bush, was intimately familiar with the SES and personally knew many of the employees who were transferred.
Among those reassigned was Joel Clement, a senior
policy adviser and widely respected climate scientist, who
was moved to an accounting office overseeing royalty collection from the fossil-fuel industry. Clement later filed a
whistle-blower complaint alleging that his reassignment
was politically motivated; he has since resigned. In his
departing letter, Clement blasted senior-level appointees
for being “shackled to special interests such as oil, gas,
and mining.” Virginia Burkett, who oversaw climatescience research at the US Geological Survey, was transferred to an undefined advisory role in the office of the
assistant secretary for water and science; she ended up
leaving the SES and returning to a lower-grade position.
Cindy Dohner, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s highly respected Southeast regional director, who oversaw restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP disaster,
was reassigned to serve as the agency’s director for international affairs. She resigned instead.
“It made people very afraid to make decisions about
things or to advocate for what we would call ‘good government,’” said Debra Sonderman, who was moved after
almost 20 years in her role as director of acquisition and
property management. Sonderman, too, has resigned.
According to numerous reports, the DOI is planning
another series of reassignments. Rumors have been circulating since June that they could be announced at any time.
One former DOI employee said that the list has already
been compiled, but the department is waiting for the inspector general’s investigation to conclude before pulling
the trigger. “Everybody is looking over their shoulder,”
said Ashe, the former Fish and Wildlife Service director.
nlike other departments that have displayed a shocking level of dysfunction—
a kind of embodiment of the Trump presidency
itself—the DOI is operating with ruthless efficiency. This is largely due to the presence of
experienced appointees like Cason and David
Bernhardt, Zinke’s deputy secretary, who was confirmed
in late July. A former corporate lobbyist whose clients included
major oil and gas producers, Bernhardt was once described by
Center for Western Priorities spokesman Aaron Weiss as a “walking conflict of interest.” (Cason served as acting deputy secretary
until Bernhardt’s nomination.)
A handful of other DOI officials from the George W. Bush era
have resurfaced after spending the past eight years working for farright think tanks or as industry lobbyists. Doug Domenech, most
recently director of the Fueling Freedom Project, which promotes
“the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels,” is now assistant secretary
for insular affairs, coordinating policy for American territories in
the South Pacific. Daniel Jorjani, a longtime adviser for several of
the Koch brothers’ groups, is helping to craft the department’s legal
policy. Scott Cameron, who spent the past several years advising a
lobbying firm whose clients include Shell Oil and the Marcellus
Shale Coalition, is now overseeing the DOI’s budget.
The oil and gas industry is now taking full advantage of the access offered by its allies at the department. Cason has described the
DOI as having an “open-door policy,” and in the first month and
a half of the administration—before Zinke was even confirmed—
met with top industry lawyers, corporate lobbyists, and industry
trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and
Peabody Energy. Zinke himself has had dozens of meetings with
energy executives and lobbyists, including those from ExxonMobil
and BP. He’s used taxpayer dollars to fly on a private jet owned by
an oil-and-gas-exploration firm in Wyoming, and as a member of
Congress he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign
contributions from the industry. So far, eight of the 12 secretarial
orders he’s issued have called for greater access to drilling on public
lands and in offshore waters.
In June, the Independent Petroleum Association of America
(IPAA) sent a midyear legislative agenda to its board of directors,
announcing that the playing field for oil and gas producers has been
“dramatically altered.” A copy obtained by The Nation shows that in
just the first few months of the Trump administration, the lobbying
group achieved an astonishing number of the regulatory rollbacks
on its wish list, including an elimination of the fracking rule and
another that would have closed a loophole allowing coal companies
to calculate their own royalties on coal sold at below-market rates.
There is still a great deal that energy interests hope to accomplish during the Trump administration. Ending a rule to limit
methane venting and flaring from wells is at the top of that list.
Undermining protections for endangered species on federal land is
another key item. A third is ensuring that future administrations are
unable to finalize what the IPAA calls “harmful” air-quality regulations that it says would limit offshore development.
Kate Kelly, former senior adviser to then–Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and current director of the public-lands team at the Center for American Progress, warns that it’s difficult to appreciate just
how radically the DOI’s policies have changed and what this means
for the environment. “In totality, what they are doing to open up
public lands to oil and gas development—to basically hand the keys
over to the energy industry—is pretty astounding,” she said.
Cason shares the industry’s sense of having a rare opportunity
to reshape the policy landscape. In Denver, he mused that the midterm elections weren’t too far off—and that the dynamic in the Senate, and possibly even the House, could change, making it more
difficult to advance a deregulatory agenda. “You think about having
four years to do things,” he said, “but for those of us who have been
on the federal-government side of the fence, you don’t really have
four years. And if you want to effect change, you have to have a
sense of urgency from day one.”
December 4/11, 2017
December 4/11, 2017
The Nation.
Jackson, Mississippi
he first thing i see when i walk into
the mayor’s office here is an easel with
an artist’s rendering of a movie theater.
At one time, this city had nearly a dozen,
including the Alamo, a Streamline gem on
Farish Street, the center of segregated Jackson’s
black business district, where a diet of westerns
and second-run features shared the stage with
B.B. King, Louis Jordan, and Nat King Cole. But
Farish Street today is deserted, and Jackson—the
capital of Mississippi, with a population roughly
the size of Fort Lauderdale or Providence, Rhode
Island—has not a single cinema inside the city
“Most people don’t see the value in what you’re
trying to build until you build it,” says Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Jackson’s mayor. “Once you build
it, then people see the value in it.” Tall and slender,
with a neatly trimmed beard, Lumumba explains
that while previous administrations have tried—
and failed—to entice national cinema chains back
to downtown, he plans to tackle the problem from
a different angle.
“My vision is that the city use its bully pulpit to encourage the development of cooperative
businesses,” he continues. “So it would be more
than just a movie theater. The city wouldn’t own
it—it wouldn’t be socialism in that sense. But we
can write a check that will go into a nonprofit
Elected in June with 93 percent of the vote,
Lumumba lit up the left press with his promise—
delivered later that month in a speech at the People’s Summit in Chicago—to make Jackson “the
most radical city on the planet.”
Black Power Matters
Chokwe Antar Lumumba has
an audacious plan to make
Jackson, Mississippi, the “most
radical city on the planet.”
December 4/11, 2017
When I tease the mayor about trying to build socialism
in one city, Lumumba laughs, then comes back with: “I
recently had the opportunity to go to Barcelona and talk
with the mayor there about the cooperative businesses that
they’ve developed over time.” FC Barcelona, as every soccer fan knows, is owned and operated by its supporters. It
also happens to be one of the most successful sports franchises in the world.
Lumumba tells me he’s more of an American-football
fan. His political inspiration, too, lies a lot closer to home.
“Cooperatives are not a new idea. Fannie Lou Hamer used
to talk about cooperative businesses, cooperative farms,
as one of the ways poor people could pool their resources
to further their goals. And when you look at the United
States, Ace Hardware is a cooperative. Land O’Lakes Butter is a cooperative. And what’s the greatest communityowned cooperative business? The Green Bay Packers!”
Green Bay, Wisconsin, Lumumba points out, is only
two-thirds the size of Jackson. “So my view is that if the
city of Green Bay can figure out how to own their own
professional football team, we can figure out how to own
a movie theater!”
Assuming that he gets his theater, what would “the
most radical city on the planet” look like in 10 years? “In
10 years,” he replies, “what we should see is a city that was
not only able to correct its ills, but one that could serve as
a model for other cities—by abandoning the traditional
model of how you develop a city.”
Jackson has many of the same resources that allowed
northern cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland to reinvent
themselves. The state of Mississippi itself is the city’s largest
employer, but Jackson is also home to several major hospitals and a half-dozen colleges, including Jackson State and
Tougaloo. Of course, the “eds and meds” magic might not
work when the colleges are historically black. Even where
it has worked, the price has been displacement—already an
issue in Jackson along the “medical corridor” that connects
the hospitals to the downtown area.
Nsombi Lambright, a Jackson native who used to be
executive director of the Mississippi ACLU, and who currently runs One Voice, a public-policy shop focused on
economic and community development, points to Atlanta
as another city where “you have a lot of development—
and a lot of displacement.”
“Traditional models speak to creating great edifices
and nice new housing and pricing people out,” Lumumba
says. “Moving people from one state of misery to the next.
Instead of moving people away, we’re going to lift them
up. As we look at initiatives,
we’re asking: How are we going
to create jobs in this process?
How are we going to match
an underskilled workforce with
the work that we need to do?
How do we turn our crumbling
infrastructure into an economic
frontier? How do we create incubator funds to support small,
homegrown businesses?”
Cooperation Jackson has
spent the past four years trying
The Nation.
Chokwe Lumumba
in November 2013.
He died in office just
three months later.
“The people
retain power,
which the
to. The
control the
my brother
sitting on the
— Rukia Lumumba
The Majestic Theatre
in Jackson, circa
1921. Not a single
cinema currently
operates inside the
city limits.
to answer exactly those questions. Kali Akuno, the group’s
co-founder, told me that his members have been slowly
taking over abandoned buildings and lots, planting crops,
and creating a community land trust.
“Black politicians in major cities had to go with the
neoliberal program to get resources—which left a lot of
folks disillusioned,” Akuno says. He, too, thinks Jackson
can become a showcase for a whole new economy, a Mondragon in Mississippi leading the way out of capitalism
and exploitation.
Alongside economic self-sufficiency, the other theme
that the mayor keeps coming back to is co-governance.
Rukia Lumumba, who co-chaired her brother’s election
campaign and now heads the “democratic visioning” committee of his transition team, explains: “The idea is that
the people retain power, which the government responds
to. So that the residents control the city—not my brother
sitting on the hill.”
According to both Rukia and her brother, the main
vehicle for achieving this is the People’s Assembly. Held
every quarter, these assemblies are meant to be an opportunity for the community to critique and inform their
elected officials. “Three minutes on a microphone does
not make community participation,” the mayor acknowledges. “Instead it should be an information exchange,
where we go to the community and say, ‘This is what’s
going on. This is what’s going to impact your community.’ And the community can say, ‘This is what is happening on the street. This is what you need to be concerned
about.’ It’s literally the process of connecting pothole to
pothole to pothole—and community to community.”
“Antar has very radical ambitions,” says Lambright,
who like all the mayor’s friends and colleagues refers to
him by his middle name. “But he’s not going to get there
without the support of the community.”
hokwe antar lumumba inherited his name,
and a lot of his political support, from his father,
Chokwe Lumumba, who changed his name from
Edwin Taliaferro when he became an activist with the Republic of New Afrika. In 1971,
Lumumba senior led a caravan from Michigan to Bolton,
Mississippi, a small town about 20 miles west of Jackson
where the RNA planned to establish a base from which
to spread its message: that African Americans should
resettle in the five Black Belt states of the Deep South—
Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South
Carolina—demand reparations for slavery, and eventually
seek recognition as an independent nation.
A police raid on the group’s
Jackson office later that summer left one officer dead, two
wounded—and much of the
RNA leadership in prison.
Chokwe Lumumba, who was
away that day, returned to law
school in Detroit, where he
worked in the public defender’s
office and eventually set up his
own practice. His clients were a
The Nation.
who’s who of black nationalism: Geronimo Pratt, a Black Panther who spent
27 years in prison before receiving a $4.5 million settlement for wrongful
imprisonment, as well as Assata Shakur and Tupac Shakur.
The Lumumba children were born in Detroit. Their mother, Nubia, was
a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines. “My mother wore high heels every day. She was very stylish,” says Rukia, adding that “Antar inherited our
mother’s fashion sense.” Which she regards as fortunate, since “my father
was still wearing an Afro in the 1980s.”
“When I was around 2 years old,” the mayor recalls, “my father moved us
to Brooklyn. He represented Mutulu Shakur, Tupac Shakur’s stepfather, in the
Brink’s truck robbery.” The family lived on DeKalb Avenue, in an apartment so
small that Rukia, five years older than her brother, told me “our dresser had to
be in the living room.” After the Brink’s trial ended, the mayor continues, “my
father said, ‘We have unfinished business in Mississippi,’ and the family moved
to Jackson.” For 10-year-old Rukia, the culture shock was intense. “Jackson
then was very segregated. There was an underlying fear that I recognized early
on. You couldn’t talk about race, because it was offensive.”
his is where medgar fell,” said frank figgers as we pulled up in front of the tan-andgreen bungalow where, on June 12, 1963,
Medgar Evers, the Mississippi field secretary of
the NAACP, was shot in the back by Byron De
La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council.
I met Figgers in the NAACP office. A fourthgeneration Jacksonite who had long been active in the
movement, he’d kindly offered to give me a sense of the
city’s racial geography. “See the way the houses here don’t
have sidewalks? That’s how you know this was a black
area,” he said. A block away, the lawns were all bounded by
a neat ribbon of concrete. “This is where the shooter was.
In 1963, white folks lived in all these houses.”
The white folks have mostly left. In May 1961, when
the first Freedom Riders arrived, Jackson was 65 percent
white. In 1970, when police fired on students protesting
the Vietnam War at Jackson State, killing two of them,
whites still made up 60 percent of the city. But since then,
whites have fled in droves. In the 1990s, Jackson lost
35,000 whites—mostly to the suburbs of nearby Rankin
and Madison counties. Middle-class and wealthy blacks
were leaving, too. By 1997, when the city elected its first
black mayor, Jackson was over two-thirds black. Today,
that figure is closer to 80 percent.
Mississippi’s white power structure reacted to the
change with malign neglect—perhaps best symbolized by
the perilous condition of the city’s roads. Driving along
Mill Street back to my hotel a few
blocks from the Governor’s Mansion,
I counted a dozen potholes, some
deep enough to swallow an entire
wheel—or a small car. In Belhaven,
the leafy, historically white neighborhood that served as a location for the
film The Help, the potholes even have
their own Facebook page.
The same Yazoo clay that undermines Jackson’s streets also wreaks
havoc on the city’s aging water pipes
and culverts. Throughout the fall,
residents regularly received “boil no-
“When I was
in junior
high, we had
Rosa Parks
eat dinner at
the house. I
used to talk
to Tupac
about Sega
— Chokwe Antar
Freedom Riders
arrive in Jackson,
May 24, 1961. The
city was 65 percent
white then; today, it’s
almost 80 percent
December 4/11, 2017
tices” from the State Department of Health warning them
not to drink the tap water. Back in 2012, Jackson entered
into a consent decree with the Environmental Protection
Agency that required $400 million in repairs to bring the
city’s water and sewer systems into compliance with federal
standards. According to the EPA, during the previous five
years Jackson’s sewers overflowed more than 2,300 times,
sending untreated waste into the Pearl River.
Five years—and a 100 percent rise in sewer rates—later,
the city is desperately trying to renegotiate both the time
allowed for the work to be completed and the method used
to pay for it. At the same time, Rankin County—which
has been paying Jackson upwards of $4 million a year for
access to the city’s water and sewers—recently won permission from the state to build its own treatment plant on
the Pearl River. Governor Phil Bryant, a Tea Party Republican, used to represent Rankin County in the Legislature.
Despite Jackson’s status as the state capital, it has been
left to the city’s shrinking tax base to remedy decades of
neglect and disinvestment. And the state has made things
more difficult—for example, by expanding the number of
exemptions to the 1 percent sales tax that Jackson voters
approved in 2014 to fund infrastructure repairs, cutting
the city’s expected proceeds in half. Of the 10 members on
the commission overseeing how the sales-tax proceeds are
spent, the city gets just three nominees, while the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the State House
of Representatives—all white Republicans—are given one
each. The remaining four places are filled by the Jackson
Chamber of Commerce.
The state also recently voted to seize control of the
Jackson–Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, which
contributed $3.7 million to the city’s bottom line in 2015.
The bill—signed by Bryant in 2016 but now the subject
of federal litigation—would give the governor, rather than
the city, control over the airport board, while also reserving
seats for appointees from Rankin and Madison counties.
The most bitter and most blatant instance of the way
that Mississippi’s long history of racial oppression continues
to shape events is the battle over Jackson’s public schools.
Before Brown v. Board of Education, Mississippi maintained
two separate and decidedly unequal school systems. Not
only were black students shunted into ramshackle facilities
with inadequate equipment, but the school calendar was
built around the cotton season, with black schools only in
session five months of the year.
Brown was handed down on May 17, 1954. The following December, the Mississippi Legislature voted to close the state’s public
schools. That year also saw the founding of the White Citizens’ Council.
In addition to pursuing “the agenda
of the Klan with the demeanor of the
Rotary Club,” as the historian Charles
Payne put it, the group opened Council McCluer High in Jackson, whose
graduates include Governor Bryant.
Though such schools were privately run, the state provided tuition
grants for white students. When the
1964 Civil Rights Act made it clear
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The Nation.
December 4/11, 2017
lot of people have gotten frustrated,”
Hollis Watkins tells me. In 1959, Watkins
was recruited by Medgar Evers to join the
NAACP Youth Chapter. Two years later, at 19,
he met Robert Parris Moses and became one
of the first Mississippians to join the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee. His memoir, Brother Hollis, is a
bracing corrective to anyone who believes that persuading white college students to come south for a “Freedom
Summer” was the pinnacle of SNCC’s success. Watkins
also refutes the caricature of the Black Power movement
as a historical curiosity, a blind alley off the road to the
cooperative commonwealth. “The term ‘black power’ was
as much a question as a declaration,” he writes. “Most
people don’t realize that…‘black power’ was aimed as
much at the old guard Negro leadership as it was aimed at
white America.”
When the Lumumba family moved to Jackson, they
joined a community of activists who had been working for
decades. “My parents didn’t force anything on us,” says
Rukia Lumumba. “You could go to the meeting—or not.”
Her brother tells it a bit differently, remembering
Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) coming to
their home. “When I was in junior high, we had Rosa Parks
eat dinner at the house. I used to talk to Tupac about Sega
Genesis. Did I make a conscious decision that I’m going to
be an activist? I don’t think that I ever felt I had a choice.
“The goal wasn’t: ‘One day, we’re going to run for
political office.’ In fact, you could say that we were kind
of antagonistic to the electoral piece.” It was the government’s treatment of Hurricane Katrina evacuees that
prompted Jackson’s activists to reassess that stance, leading Chokwe senior to run for the City Council. In 2013,
he was elected mayor. Nine months later, he was dead.
In the special election to complete his term, Lumumba’s
son, barely five years out of law school, ran and lost. After
three years of an administration dogged by allegations of
corruption, Antar ran again, endorsed by the Working
Families Party and Our Revolution. This time, he won.
And while his agenda may be similar to his father’s, now
the stakes are even higher. “People want to know he’s really
gonna fix those potholes,” says Safiya Omari, the mayor’s
chief of staff, who served in the same role for his father.
“We want to make Jackson an example of what government for the people can be.”
Kali Akuno served as director of special projects for
Chokwe senior. He worries that with so many fights on
the horizon—schools, infrastructure, the airport—the
son’s administration will be too pinned down to ever begin anything radical. Or, worse, that it might fall into “the
Syriza trap, which is having a left-wing government come
in to administer the worst forms of austerity.”
Yet the longer I spent in Jackson, the more I found
myself succumbing to moments of hope. Partly because
Lumumba clearly recognizes the scale of the challenge:
“When people ask me, ‘How do you feel about Donald
Trump being president?,’ I tell them, ‘On the Wednesday
after the election, I woke up in Mississippi.’ No matter
whether Donald Trump is the president or Barack Obama
was the president, we’ve always been at the bottom.”
But mainly it was because I kept meeting people who
made me ashamed of my own pessimism. Like Michelle
Colon, a clinic escort at Jackson Women’s Health, the last
thinks of
abortion provider left in the state, who told me: “We fight
Mississippi like hell in Mississippi. We don’t have the luxury of some
as being so other states.” She, too, felt a flickering of possibility from
new administration: “Everyone thinks of Mississippi
backwards. the
as being so backwards. It would be great if Jackson could
It would
be a model.” Or Rukia Lumumba, eager to “transform
way we deal with justice.” Or Frank Figgers, who took
be great
me on a tour of abandoned factories to demonstrate the
if Jackson
industrial base the city once had—and could have again.
A few days after I left, a small miracle occurred: The
could be a
and the governor announced an agreement—
by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation—that lets
— Michelle Colon
Jackson maintain control of its schools.
“It’s a war on many fronts,” says Hollis Watkins, who
after a half-century of beatings, arrests, death threats,
and bitter disappointments is still in the fight. “But
it’s not a war that can’t be won.” In the company of so
many people who had already accomplished the impossible once, it seemed unforgivably rude to insist that it
couldn’t happen again.
that de jure segregation was a hopeless cause, Mississippi adopted “freedom of
choice,” giving all students the right to choose which school to attend. Black
parents who tried to send their children to all-white schools were no longer
arrested. They merely faced the loss of their jobs, evictions or mortgage cancellations, cross burnings, and other “unofficial” violence, often at the hands
of police.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that the South had to desegregate
its public schools without further delay, whites in Mississippi simply abandoned
them. In 1963, there were only 17 private schools in the state; by 1970, there
were 263. Whites also did everything they could to avoid paying for public
education. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which mandates an
“adequate education” for every child in the state, has been fully funded just
twice in the past 20 years. In 2015, Proposition 42, a citizen ballot initiative that
would have given courts the right to enforce full funding, was defeated—thanks
in part to the group Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers,
which donated $239,000 to the campaign against it. While wealthy areas can
make up their funding shortfalls out of property taxes, pupils in Jackson schools
must continue to do without.
That hasn’t stopped the state
from declaring Jackson, Mississippi’s second-largest school system,
a failing district. Nor did the fact
that a previously agreed Corrective
Action Plan still had months to run
prevent the state from threatening
to take over Jackson’s schools.
To Nsombi Lambright, the
whole process is a sinister farce:
“For years, the state has been taking over majority-black districts, which have been given Mayor Lumumba
fighting for local
failing ratings while, at the same time, those districts have is
control of—and
never received full funding. What they want is some- adequate funding
thing like the Recovery School District in Louisiana,” for—Jackson’s
which turned public schools in New Orleans into charter public schools.
schools. In Mississippi, Lambright says, talk of charters,
vouchers, and “school choice” all adds up to “the same
thing”—a covert campaign to rig the system “so white
families won’t have to pay private-school fees anymore.”
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The Nation.
The Nation.
December 4/11, 2017
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(continued from page 2)
proceeded to continue to pursue collection on those loans
and keep payments intended
for Schneider for itself. Then
Chase forgave a number of the
loans as part of an attempt to
obtain credit for federal mortgage settlements. I don’t think
it’s worth dismissing that conduct because of the business
practices of the investor who
was subjected to it.
This pattern of facts was not
limited to Schneider; Chase’s
own internal documents identify 108 loans from 21 different third-party investors, out
of a sample of 500 (over one
in five). Contrary to Mr. Olenick’s assertion, Chase did not
offer to buy back nearly half of
the 108 erroneously forgiven
loans. Furthermore, the scale
of JPMorgan Chase’s erroneous
loan forgiveness exceeds that
initial population, as Schneider
identifies hundreds more of his
loans that Chase subsequently
forgave. Chase has only admitted to the first 108.
Mr. Olenick’s allegation
about Schneider’s whistleblower case is a complete
misreading of Judge Collyer’s
ruling. He’s referencing a part
of the ruling that involves the
Home Affordable Modification
Program, which I never referred
to in my story. In fact, we know
the date on which the forgiveness letters I reported on began:
September 13, 2012, several
months after the signing of the
National Mortgage Settlement.
The letters all reference “a recent mortgage servicing settlement reached with the states and
federal government,” i.e., the
National Mortgage Settlement.
Judge Collyer’s rationale for
dismissing Schneider’s National
Mortgage Settlement claim is
entirely a technical matter about
failing to follow certain disputeresolution steps. The Justice
Department found that reason-
ing so shoddy that it submitted
an amicus brief in the appeal
asking to throw out the ruling,
and sought time in oral arguments to make its case. So one
of the most deregulatory Justice
Departments in history found
the ruling to be dangerous and
overly generous to JPMorgan
Chase. Given Judge Collyer’s
history of accepting arguments
from financial institutions (see
MetLife v. Financial Stability
Oversight Council, among others), this is not surprising.
Finally, the idea that Chase
offered restitution for a portion of its conduct and should
therefore be absolved of all
blame is in fact Chase’s own
argument in legal pleadings.
I believe Chase’s actions here
were egregious: selling loans
and continuing to collect on
them, and then forgiving loans
it had no interest in whatsoever.
I think these actions should be
scrutinized, up to and including
Jamie Dimon’s involvement. I
have little expectation that this
will occur, but I thought it important to reveal.
David Dayen
los angeles
Stars and Semiautomatics
Stephen Kroninger’s “OppArt”
version of the US flag on
page 8 of the October 23 issue
hit me right in the gut and
our dominant culture right on
the nose. “OppArt” isn’t quite
appropriate, however: Kroninger’s “flag” is Op-Op-PopPop-Bang-Bang Art.
Steve Coffman
dundee, n.y.
A graphic on page 39 of the
“Future of Food” issue [Oct.
30] misrepresented the percentage of beef in the United
States that is packed by National Beef. The actual number is 13, not 15, percent.
Books & the Arts.
Bertolt Brecht’s poetry captured a
world torn apart by war and depression
lthough far better known internationally as a playwright than as
a poet, Bertolt Brecht had a supreme gift for language. He applied much of the same plucky,
rebellious spirit to his poems that he did
to his world-class theater productions of
the late Weimar years, which included
The Threepenny Opera and Rise and Fall
of the City of Mahagonny. Brecht began
publishing his poetry as a teen, around
the same time that Germany was gearing
up for the First World War. By the 1930s,
his work had taken on a decidedly antiNazi bent. In 1937, while exiled in Svendborg, Denmark, Brecht produced a cycle
of unrhymed epigrams that he called
Deutsche Kriegsfibel (German War Primer),
which he published in the Moscow-based
Noah Isenberg is the author, most recently, of
We’ll Always Have Casablanca. He directs
the screen-studies program at the New School.
German monthly Das Wort and later
included in his Svendborg Poems. Brecht’s
frequent collaborator from his Weimar
years, the composer Hanns Eisler—who,
in American exile, would furnish the
score for the anti-Nazi Hollywood film
Hangmen Also Die! (1943), co-written by
Brecht and directed by fellow European
transplant Fritz Lang—soon adapted the
epigrams into an operatic composition
titled Against War.
These same epigrams also served as
a blueprint for Brecht’s Kriegsfibel (War
Primer), a series of 85 poems—in this
case, rhymed quatrains—that he juxtaposed with evocative photos drawn
from the Swedish and American illustrated press (clippings of Hitler and his
henchmen, images of wounded soldiers
and refugees, landscapes of bombed-out
cities and battlefronts). Brecht assembled his photo-epigrams while living in
California in the mid-1940s, and he first
War Primer
By Bertolt Brecht
Edited and translated by John Willett
Verso. 112 pp. $19.95
published them in a truncated German
edition in 1955 in East Berlin, where he
and his wife, the actress Helene Weigel,
had returned in 1949. Verso has now
published a complete English-language
version of these poems, translated by the
late Brecht scholar John Willett with the
help of the American poet Naomi Replansky and Brecht’s son Stefan.
orn in the Bavarian town of Augsburg in 1898, Brecht first attained
political consciousness during the
Great War, when he began to rail
with intense fervor against the
corrosive forces of German bourgeois
society. In 1917, he moved to Munich to
study medicine, serving as an orderly in
a Bavarian military hospital during the final
year of the war, and quickly found his way to
the theater. His first plays, Baal and Drums
in the Night, were composed in Munich
in the immediate wake of the war. They
were also written against the backdrop of
the bloody revolutionary upheaval that accompanied the founding of the Weimar Republic. During these years, Brecht counted
among his close friends and collaborators
the Marxist theoretician Karl Korsch, the
anarchic Bavarian cabaret performer Karl
Valentin, and the politically minded dramatist Erwin Piscator.
Leaving Bavaria for Berlin in 1924,
Brecht continued his labors as a playwright
and poet, working at different points with
Piscator, Kurt Weill, and Max Reinhardt. In
1932, he collaborated with the Bulgarianborn communist filmmaker Slatan Dudow,
providing the script for Kuhle Wampe (released in English with the subtitle Who
Owns the World?), an anti-fascist talkie with
much the same didacticism of his earlier
Lehrstücke (literally, “learning plays”), bold
experiments in agitprop theater. After Hitler’s seizure of power in January 1933, there
was clearly no room for Brecht in Germany.
He fled first to Svendborg, where he had the
freedom—and the distance—to reflect upon
the world as it seemingly burst apart before
his very eyes, and then eventually, by way
of Finland and Russia, to the United States.
recht wrote the defiant epigrams
gathered in War Primer throughout these years. It was a time when
he harbored an increasing awareness of language’s inability to adequately capture the horrors of fascism
and war spreading across Europe. In the
spring of 1939, just months before the
Nazi invasion of Poland, he wrote a poem
titled “Bad Time for Poetry,” in which he
mused, almost in anticipation of Theodor
Adorno’s famous dictum on writing poetry
after Auschwitz, “In my poetry a rhyme
/ Would seem to be almost insolent.” He
nonetheless pushed ahead in crafting his
quatrains—for a brief time, it appeared that
was all he could write—beginning in 1939
and finishing the bulk of them in Southern
California in late July 1941. Brecht’s fellow
German émigré Hannah Arendt, long an
admirer of his work, once praised him for
his startlingly apt, lapidary definition of
the refugee as “a messenger of ill tidings.”
War Primer is nothing if not a refugee’s undertaking, a “literary report on my years in
exile,” as Brecht himself once characterized
it in his journal.
The Nation.
From the very first page, in a quatrain set
against a photo of Hitler gesticulating maniacally in front of a dark swastika, Brecht set out
to expose the odious lies and false promises
propagated in the name of National Socialism. “Like one who dreams the road ahead
is steep,” he wrote, assuming the voice of the
Führer, “I know the way Fate has prescribed
for us / That narrow way towards a precipice.
/ Just follow. I can find it in my sleep.” In a
somewhat later photo-epigram that showed
Hitler seated at a table at a time of extreme
scarcity with a plate full of sumptuous food,
Brecht ended his poem with the following
two lines: “World conquest. That is all I want.
From you / I have but one request: give me
your sons.” More than a mere leitmotif, an
underlying theme of unnecessary sacrifice
and intense savagery inflicted upon the innocent—those often unnamed casualties of
war—permeates the text and images.
The cover of the Verso edition features
a photo taken in Russia sometime in the
summer of 1943, on the battlefield of Orel:
It shows a German corporal seated with
his hands gripping his head in a gesture of
absolute grief and despair. The following
quatrain accompanies the photo inside the
book: “I’m left to sit here holding my poor
head: / Now the Misleader’s fleeing from his
troubles. / The cock that chokes on all the
corn he’s fed: / They’ll go up in bubbles.”
Scraps of artillery and other war detritus left
behind on the front fill out the center of the
frame, the torso of a dead soldier cut off by
the photo’s edge, the ominous gray sky and
barren field evoking an atmosphere later
rendered on the bleak canvases of Anselm
Kiefer. The unknown German publication
from which the photo comes has given it an
ominous caption: “Das Ende…”
or many years, Brecht had been impressed by the anti-fascist photomontages of John Heartfield, and he was
clearly aware of Deutschland, Deutschland über alles (1929), the Dada artist’s
collaboration with the writer Kurt Tucholsky, a biting political satire that employed a
similar text-image technique. Brecht himself had utilized the concept of montage as
a key principle of his “epic theatre,” which
also incorporated political slogans, placards,
film projection, and other interruptions to
puncture the dramatic illusion, all of it
aimed at eliciting a critical and politically
engaged response on the part of the audience. Likewise, in War Primer, the inherent
tension between the newspaper photos and
his epigrams is an opportunity to produce a
similar “alienation effect” in the reader.
December 4/11, 2017
Brecht occasionally had the opportunity
to try out his poems on an audience. Just
months after Brecht arrived in California
and settled in Santa Monica, the actor Fritz
Kortner—one of the many formerly famous
Weimar stars languishing in Hollywood—
gave a reading of some of the early epigrams at
a Jewish club in Los Angeles. In 1943, during
a three-month stay by the writer in New York
City, a “Brecht Evening” was held at the New
School, organized by an anti-fascist writers’
group and featuring readings of his poems by
the actors Peter Lorre and Elisabeth Bergner,
with a piano accompaniment by Paul Dessau.
Brecht soon published three of his epigrams
in the Austro-American Tribune, including one
with a photo of nearly a dozen seemingly
sleepwalking, utterly dejected German Army
recruits on the Russian front. “These are our
children,” the text read. “Stunned and bloodyfaced / Out of a frozen Panzer see them come.
/ Even the vicious wolf must have a place / To
hide in. Warm them, they are getting numb.”
One shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that
Brecht wrote the majority of the poems
in War Primer while exiled in the United
States—a place that he’d once admired from
afar during his Weimar years but that proved
difficult for him to embrace. Unlike quite a
few of his compatriots, who were enamored
of the ocean breezes and lush vegetation,
Brecht was no fan of Southern California.
“Almost nowhere has my life ever been
harder than here in this mausoleum of easy
going,” he wrote in his journal soon after his
arrival, rendering the expression in English.
“I feel as if I had been exiled from our era,”
he observed a little later, “this is Tahiti in
the form of a big city.” In a letter to Korsch,
he lamented: “My intellectual isolation here
is horrendous; compared to Hollywood,
Svendborg was a metropolis.”
These harsh sentiments weren’t kept
from his War Primer. In one photo-epigram,
a poem set against a Life magazine photo of
Jane Wyman wearing an “R.A.F. blue” dress,
Brecht ruminates on the bizarre, almost surreal world in which he found himself living as
an “enemy alien”: “A breast curves through
her military cut / Her parts are hung with old
war decorations: / It’s Hollywood v. Hitler.
Here we’ve got / Semen for blood, and pus
for perspiration.” Although Hollywood was
a safe haven for many refugees during the
war, in Brecht’s jaundiced eye it suffered
from its own version of spiritual delusion and
mendacity. As he wrote in a poem composed
soon after his arrival in Southern California:
“Every day to earn my daily bread / I go to
the market, where lies are bought / Hopefully / I take my place among the sellers.”
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December 4/11, 2017
The Nation.
For Orhan Pamuk, fatherlessness has always been
a condition of freedom. It has also frequently proved to be a curse.
unduz Pamuk was a Turkish businessman. In 1959, he was appointed as
IBM Turkey’s first Turkish general
manager. He had a cheerful disposition and a tendency to philander. In
his youth, he had wanted to be a writer, but
he found writing too tiresome, cutting him
off from Istanbul’s boisterous social scene,
and so he spent his time out on the town.
Regularly, he’d disappear without warning.
His wife, Sekure, and two sons, Sevket and
Orhan, would wait for his return, sometimes
for months. Orhan, the youngest, never
forgot his father’s absence. Now, at 65, with
The Red-Haired Woman, he has published
a novel about such absences—or, at least,
about the experiences of prodigal fathers
and the lonely sons they leave in their wake.
Many of Pamuk’s novels have been concerned with these familial tensions since his
debut, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, came out 35
years ago. But this one is different. Written in
the French tradition of the conte philosophique,
it deals predominantly with the themes of
patriarchy and patricide, and it comes with
the expected references to Freud and Oedipus
Rex. It is also a very personal book. Unlike
Kaya Genç is the author of Under the Shadow:
Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey.
The Red-Haired Woman
By Orhan Pamuk
Knopf. 272 pp. $26.95
his earlier works, which often experimented
with form, Pamuk’s latest is his most realist
and seems to come closest to depicting his
own relationship with his father. In his Nobel
lecture, “My Father’s Suitcase,” it seems that
Pamuk never forgave Gunduz for those disappearances, but he realized that they also set
him free, allowing him to mature as an adult
and as a writer. “I was so grateful to him,
after all: he’d never been a commanding, forbidding, overpowering, punishing, ordinary
father, but a father who always left me free,
always showed me the utmost respect.” In
The Red-Haired Woman, Pamuk puts both the
freedom and anger caused by fatherlessness
at his novel’s center. By doing so, he also, in
more ways than one, captures one of modern
Turkey’s central cruxes.
rhan Pamuk was born into a wealthy
Istanbul family in 1952. The Pamuks
were what is frequently known as
“White Turks”: affluent, secular,
educated, and with little relation
to Islamic culture or the urban poor. His
grandfather had helped build Turkey’s
espite their origins as a commentary
on World War II, and perhaps more
obliquely on Brecht’s unhappy life
in Californian exile, the poems transcend their original context. This
is certainly true of the volume as a whole,
but for me two of the photo-epigrams
particularly stand out in this vein. The first
is a poem that Brecht wrote in response to
a photo in Life of a Jewish mother and her
child, who had survived a shipwreck while
en route to Palestine (the image bears the
caption “Refugees Without Refuge”): “And
many of us drowned just off the beaches.
/ The long night passed, the sky began to
clear. / If they but knew, we said, they’d
come and seek us. / That they did know,
we still were unaware.” The second is a
poem that Brecht wrote after learning of
a US soldier who saved a black man from
a lynch mob in downtown Detroit in the
summer of 1943. The photo shows the man
hunched over, looking as if he’d been kicked
in the gut, being escorted by a soldier in
uniform, a whistle in his mouth and a look
of determination in his eye. Brecht, who
had hoped to stage an all-black production
of The Threepenny Opera, writes in the accompanying poem: “Outside the City Hall,
beaten and bloody / A GI rescued me. He
was my friend / And showed more courage
there than anybody / At Kiska or Bataan or
the Ardennes.”
Indeed, much as we may wish it otherwise, these wars aren’t quite over yet. And
that is precisely what makes War Primer so
remarkably timely. Brecht may continue
to be remembered today for his acclaimed
plays, several of which are still taught at
colleges and performed on stages across
the globe. But this long-neglected, littleknown volume of photo-epigrams deserves
a new audience. As the author writes in his
final poem, which is set against a photo of
young university students in Germany after
the war: “Never forget that men like you
got hurt / So you might sit there, not the
other lot. / And now don’t hide your head
and don’t desert / But learn to learn, and try
to learn for what.”
Late in life, Brecht is said to have considered compiling a Friedensfibel (Peace
Primer), and this final poem might have
offered him a potential beginning for that
elusive project. He died in East Berlin in
1956, before he got the chance to finish it,
or even to begin it in earnest. But one wonders how such a project might have looked
and, especially today, whether there even
would have been sufficient material from
which to draw.
December 4/11, 2017
railroads in the 1930s, and the family
sent Orhan to an elite school founded by
Americans. Most of the Pamuk men went
into business. But Orhan didn’t have a taste
for business and was more of a bookworm.
Reading Marxist thinkers and novelists
excited him; more than Istanbul’s social
life, he was interested in socialism, and he
at first had ambitions to become a painter,
before realizing, at the age of 22, that he
preferred writing.
Pamuk’s father couldn’t have been less
interested. The son was free to do as he
liked, and Pamuk set to writing a 600page bildungsroman in the vein of Thomas
Mann’s Buddenbrooks. In it, he chronicled
a family not unlike his own, tracking the
lives of three generations of an Ottoman
merchant family. Still in its manuscript
form, the novel won what was at the time
Turkey’s leading prize for fiction, but
Pamuk couldn’t find a publisher for it. One
editor feared that the length would scare
readers away. When Cevdet Bey and His
Sons was finally published in 1982, people
loved it. Critics praised the coolness of
Pamuk’s prose style; historians admired
his presentation of the birth of Turkish
capitalism in the hands of young Muslim
entrepreneurs. Nonspecialist readers were
attracted to the warmth of his family tale.
Cevdet Bey reminded many Turks of their
grandfathers. He was a particular type
of Ottoman gentleman: worldly, benevolent, always present—in many ways, the
perfect patriarch.
By the time Pamuk finished his second
novel, Silent House (1983), he had become
more interested in exploring the worlds
left behind by father figures like Cevdet
Bey. Silent House follows a family after
the death of a patriarch, Selahattin Darvinoglu, and Pamuk builds the narrative
around the streams of consciousness of
his widow, his grandchildren, and the
manservant who becomes responsible for
running the house. The eldest grandchild,
a historian, has lost his way in academic
life. Another, a university student, has
turned to communism. The youngest, a
confused teenager, seeks popularity and
easy money but lacks self-confidence. All
of their stories end in tragedy.
The absence of the father may mean
freedom, but it also entails new burdens:
One now needs to make one’s own way in
the world, a fate that Pamuk himself was
not spared. He spent much of his time
lost in a search for meaning, wandering
the streets of the former imperial capital
grappling with, as he recalls in his mem-
The Nation.
oir, Istanbul, “the most basic questions of
existence—love, compassion, religion, the
meaning of life, jealousy, hatred—in trembling confusion and painful solitude.” It
was during these solitary wanderings that
Pamuk came to realize that his spiritual
crisis echoed the nation’s own.
he Red-Haired Woman links the two
in a more explicit way. Set against
the backdrop of Turkey’s past four
decades, the novel tracks another lost
young man, Cem, whose father, a
Marxist pharmacist, disappears a few years
after the violent military coup in 1980. Like
Pamuk, Cem decides early in life that he
wants to be an author. But to attend a good
university, he first needs to raise money for
a cram school, and so he gets a job working
for a well-digger named Mahmut.
The manual laborer becomes a surrogate
father to Cem and tells him stories, something that, as Cem notes, his own father
never did. Mahmut also takes him to the
cinema “like a doting father” and develops
an interest in Cem’s life, asking him how
he spends his time after work. A devout and
disciplined man, Mahmut demands from
his young assistant a strict devotion to their
mission: to avoid all worldly distractions as
they dig for water in a small town on the
outskirts of Istanbul.
Their work takes many weeks, and during this time the world does find a way to
distract Cem: Forced to spend his nights
in the small town, he falls in love with an
attractive red-haired woman who works for
a left-wing theater troupe. Cem’s attraction
to such a woman would be frowned upon
by Mahmut, and so for a while Cem avoids
her: “According to Master Mahmut…it
was the apprentice’s duty to learn from his
master, to heed his instructions, and to treat
him with due deference.” But gradually,
Cem comes to despise Mahmut and his
piety. He fantasizes about rebelling against
him and summarizes the plot of Sophocles’
Oedipus Rex to Mahmut. In a fit of rebellious frustration, Cem also sleeps with the
red-haired woman, who is twice his age.
Overcome with memories of his first sexual
experience, he acts carelessly in the dig the
following morning, and Mahmut becomes
stuck in the well. Panicking, Cem runs to
town, but instead of returning with help,
he boards the first train to Istanbul and
abandons the man who in many ways has
become his father, leaving him in the dark
hole, dozens of meters beneath the ground,
convinced that he has murdered him. He
also abandons the red-haired woman.
In Istanbul, the patricidal son grows up
and becomes a failed author but a successful
businessman. Under Erdogan’s rule, Cem
makes a fortune as a property developer.
He gets married, but he and his wife remain childless. And then the world he fled
all those years ago suddenly comes back
to him when Cem is surprised by some
news: Before the military coup in 1980,
the red-haired woman had been a member
of the same Marxist cell that Cem’s father
belonged to. Not only that, but they had
been lovers. He is also surprised by some
other news: He learns that he has a child, a
son, from his encounter with the red-haired
woman. This isn’t exactly Oedipus Rex, but
it’s certainly something close.
Cem’s son, Enver, also seeks meaning
in literature, but growing up fatherless in
a small village, he turns to religion and to
publishing stories in right-wing literary
magazines; eventually, he decides to take revenge on the father who refuses to acknowledge him, even after learning about his
existence. In the past, Pamuk has excelled
at creating such angry characters, but Enver
is only sparsely imagined. Pamuk draws him
in outline, but the reader meets him too late
in the book, so by the time we realize that
he is Cem’s son, the Oedipal boy is minutes
away from committing murder. When the
two meet, Cem considers killing his son out
of fear for his own life, but decides against
it—and ends up being pushed into the same
well that his master, Mahmut, got stuck in
two decades before.
amuk is a clever writer. But sometimes, as in this book, he can be too
clever. He wants to outwit his reader.
In his 1985 novella, The White Castle,
he managed to do just that: The narrator of that book is a 17th-century Venetian intellectual who is taken prisoner by
Ottoman pirates. In Istanbul, the narrator
is sold to a Turk, who makes him his manservant. The master is eager to learn about
the Western mind, and the slave is ready to
teach him about it in order to gain his freedom. By the end of their relationship, the
master so strongly resembles the servant,
and vice versa, that no one can tell them
apart anymore. They change places and live
each other’s lives, and we are left to ponder
whether the narrator has been the Turkish
master all along.
A similar set of tricks are employed in
The Red-Haired Woman, but this time they
mostly fail: One just feels cheated, as if
having walked out of a poorly structured
film by M. Night Shyamalan. One possible
Jennifer Egan’s new novel maps the networks of power under New York’s surface
n Jennifer Egan’s The Keep, a former
New York club promoter boasts a sixth
sense for authority: “Danny could walk
in a room and know who had power
the way some people know from the
feel of the air that it’s going to snow.” It’s a
common trait among Egan’s characters, attentive people who pay particular attention
to power—which often means witnessing
their own defeat. Charlotte Swenson, the
jaded model who narrates much of Egan’s
Look at Me, sees almost every distinction
in New York’s social hierarchy, rendering
her exile after a car wreck even more painful than her physical wounds. Just about
every mover and shaker in A Visit From
the Goon Squad, Egan’s most celebrated
work of fiction, observes the accumulation
of power somewhere else. Some characters reach impressive heights, but never
in their own narratives, and each chapter
spotlights a different character in a moment
of sublime impotence. Though time is the
book’s titular “goon,” power is certainly its
accomplice. Trying to hold on to either is
as fruitless as trying to capture the sun—
something that one character actually does,
albeit in a wire circle in her window, fully
aware that it will slip from her grasp.
Katherine Hill, author of the novel The Violet
Hour, teaches English at Adelphi University.
Manhattan Beach
By Jennifer Egan
Scribner. 448 pp. $27
On the surface, Egan’s latest novel,
Manhattan Beach, is a tale of New York’s
forgotten waterfronts, offering that particular mix of melancholy, exuberance, and
danger we tend to associate with tales of
the sea. Yet it, too, is a study in power.
Set in Depression- and World War II–era
Brooklyn, Manhattan Beach focuses on a
Navy-shipyard worker named Anna Kerrigan; her father, Eddie, a go-between in
the dockworkers’ union; and Dexter Styles,
a racketeer with a literal goon squad. In
tracking the fates of these three characters, the novel also tells us something
about the hidden ways in which organized power worked in early-20th-century
New York.
he story opens with 11-year-old Anna
accompanying her father on a house
call in the South Brooklyn neighborhood of the title. Anna doesn’t know
the exact nature of her father’s association with Mr. Styles, but she knows that she
has to be on her best behavior. Standing on
the rich man’s private beach, Anna has her
first real encounter with her unconscious:
“What would be exposed if all that water
reason is that Pamuk is up to something
else here: He is trying to tell us something
about Turkey and its cycles of patriarchal
figures and rebellious sons. At the center
of his tale is not only Oedipus, but also
an Iranian myth collection, Ferdowsi’s
11th-century Book of Kings, that Cem reads
obsessively. If Oedipus Rex, in Pamuk’s
retelling, is the story of a young man
establishing his autonomy through the
murder of his father, then Book of Kings—
specifically the story of Rostam, a mighty
warrior who unwittingly kills his son on
the battlefield—provides a cautionary tale
about the dangers of father figures. Between these myths, we find contemporary
Turkey: controlling fathers (like Erdogan)
who are intent on quashing their sons, and
rebellious sons (like the Young Turks) who
want to supplant their patriarchs.
This dichotomy is schematic and lacks
nuance. But it does tell us something
about one of the central tensions found in
Turkish political culture: In the eyes of irreligious Turks, Erdogan is both Oedipus
and Rostam. He has dethroned the nation’s secularist father, Ataturk, with his
conservative politics, and he has imposed
his own will, often through force, on his
children. The frustrations in Turkey are
not caused by the personality, or politics,
of one authoritarian father or one rebellious son, but rather by competing ones.
The Gezi Park protests of 2013 were
an attempt to escape this straitjacket:
The activists pitching their tents in the
park were protesting gentrification, but
their Occupy-like demonstration also rejected Turkey’s reigning hierarchies and
attempted to transcend the binary of fathers and sons. But as we know, in the
absence of a set of leaders and a formal
political movement, such efforts are often
merely transient.
In the case of The Red-Haired Woman,
we discover one more twist: Cem’s patricidal son, who turns out to be the narrator of the book, has been locked up in
Silivri Prison, today associated with those
imprisoned for last year’s failed coup attempt. The reader is left in the dark about
what to make of this; Pamuk has intentionally blurred the allegorical possibilities. But this ambiguity is perhaps a fitting
end for a novel about Turkey, a country
whose political tribulations in the past five
years—the uprising in 2013, the attacks
by ISIS in 2015, and the coup attempt in
2016—have made it increasingly difficult
for its people to tell fact from fiction, what
is real from allegory.
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The Nation.
should suddenly vanish? A landscape of lost objects: sunken ships,
hidden treasure, gold and gems and the charm bracelet that had
fallen from her wrist into a storm drain.”
When we next meet Anna, in 1942, she’s 19—and while the sea
hasn’t vanished, her father has. Anna has become the family’s breadwinner, providing for her mother and her disabled younger sister.
Her job is inspecting battleship parts at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but
during a lunch break she glimpses a diver in training and discovers
a latent ambition: “She watched, spellbound, as the helpers lifted a
spherical metal helmet over the diver’s head, encasing him within it.
There was something primally familiar about the diving suit—as if
from a dream or a myth.”
Unfortunately for Anna, there are no female divers at the Navy
Yard—the work of repairing warships underwater is considered
too strenuous for women—but she can still dream. Part of her
ambition is physical: She wants to feel the weight of that suit, to
breathe underwater and walk on the bottom of the sea. But it also
seems to have something to do with her father, whose memory
keeps resurfacing. Then she visits a nightclub whose owner is none
other than Dexter Styles. Anna wants many impossible things—to
find a cure for her sister’s malady, to locate her father, to become
a diver—and, suddenly, in the powerful, ethnically ambiguous
person of Mr. Styles, a man she associates with the sea, she senses
a key to them all.
anhattan Beach is Egan’s longest book, and by far her most
traditional. Neither self-consciously ironic in style nor
particularly playful in form, it nevertheless continues her
long investigation of prefab genre plots. Egan’s first novel,
The Invisible Circus, is a variation on the coming-of-age road
novel; Look at Me is an identity thriller; and The Keep is a renovated
Gothic tale. Even the apparently unorthodox Goon Squad borrows
the fragmented, disordered form of the postmodern novel and plugs
in a range of other recognizable genres, from the suburban family
drama to the PowerPoint presentation.
Manhattan Beach is a more straightforward blend of noir and
historical fiction. Egan began her research for it in 2004, along
the way helping the Brooklyn Historical Society to compile an oral
history of the Navy Yard. The result is an impressively detailed
narrative that is as knowledgeable about wartime diving technology and the US Merchant Marine as it is about banking, nightclub
rackets, and disability care, all of which advance the patient plot.
But plot always serves several purposes for Egan. While Goon Squad
speeds through time, revealing personal and large-scale social
transformations in the leaps between chapters, Manhattan Beach,
devoted largely to 1942–43, is an exercise in slow narrative. Focusing closely on the war’s turnaround years, the book allows us to
watch Anna become an adult, and the United States a superpower
as it leaves the Depression behind.
In chronicling these massive changes, Egan is especially interested in those interactions in which a shift or exertion of power
occurs. In Goon Squad, a washed-up rocker named Scotty catches
a fish in the East River and brings it to the Park Avenue office of
his old bandmate Bennie. Bennie’s noblesse oblige appears to give
him the upper hand in their exchange until Scotty smiles, revealing
his missing teeth. “I saw the shock in Bennie’s face when he saw,”
Scotty observes. “And all at once I felt strong, as if some balance had
tipped in the room and all of Bennie’s power—the desk, the view, the
levitating chair—suddenly belonged to me.”
Manhattan Beach explores a similar dialectic of weakness and
strength. The novel’s power negotiations are constant, with the
craftiest underlings often getting the better of their bosses, even as
larger hierarchies remain intact. Anna leverages the support of one
male supervisor after another, eventually becoming the first female
diver and the most conventionally heroic of Egan’s heroines. Dexter,
meanwhile, navigates his own structures of power: Though a major
underground player, he regularly defers to his father-in-law, Arthur
Berringer, a retired rear admiral, banker, and personal friend of
Franklin Roosevelt, whose ancestors “were wearing top hats to the
opera when Dexter’s people were still copulating behind hay bales in
the old land.” And Dexter has to be even more careful with his own
boss, the shadowy Mr. Q, whose power is “pulsing through ordinary
life inaudibly as a dog whistle.”
As is typical of Egan’s fiction, these power players never narrate
their own stories, nor do we witness their greatest machinations.
Instead, power works almost invisibly in Manhattan Beach. This,
Egan seems to suggest, is where its genius lies: It can operate commandingly without being seen. Here’s Dexter taking in a late-night
view of the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island: “He’d
perceived a new, dynamic density in the darkness. All at once his
eyes had organized the mystery and he’d seen it: a procession of
immense ships slipping from the harbor at regular intervals like
beasts or ghosts. A convoy heading out to sea. There was something
profound, uncanny, even, in its muted passage.”
Dexter, who calls his underground organization “the shadow
world,” is the perfect figure to appreciate these silent maneuvers. As
Egan shows us, organized crime, like organized warfare, is a dizzying web of interconnected activities, some overt and others covert.
She makes these connections—between the Mafia and the military,
between underground and underwater—with the interpretive ambition of a historian and the artistic license of a novelist. Eddie Ker-
December 4/11, 2017
The Nation.
rigan, who watches the sea as much as Anna
and Dexter, discovers in a period of maritime travel that “much of his own speech
derived from the sea, from ‘keeled over’ to
‘learning the ropes’ to ‘catching the drift’ to
‘freeloader’ to ‘gripe’ to ‘brace up’ to ‘taken
aback’ to ‘leeway’ to ‘low profile’ to ‘the
bitter end,’ or the very last link on a chain.”
Using such language “made him feel close
to something fundamental—a deeper truth
whose contours he believed he’d sensed, allegorically, even while on land.”
Is it possible to view Dana Schutz’s work unbiased by the Whitney controversy?
n September 11, 2001, Dana Schutz
was an MFA student at Columbia
University. She was already making
the first of the paintings for which
she would soon become well-known:
images of a man she called Frank constructing a life for himself as the last survivor in a
postapocalyptic landscape—the last, that is,
except for whoever was painting him. After
the towers fell, Schutz told Robert Enright
of the Canadian magazine Border Crossings a
couple of years ago, she thought about abandoning the painting. “At that time any kind
of representation felt up for grabs and I didn’t
know how it would land,” she recalled, “or if I
could deal with certain subject matter.”
History shows that Schutz did continue
work on the painting, which the next year
became part of her first one-person show,
“Frank From Observation,” held at the nowdefunct LFL Gallery in New York. What
captured her imagination, she noted at the
time, was the idea of “a world without anyone
to check reality against.” This unverifiable
world was what Schutz called “an open space
for painting.” It allowed for an art neither
naturalistic, since it can’t be measured against
the standard of a visible model, nor abstract:
a kind of painting in which speculative ideas
could be followed through logically and experimentally. As Enright points out, Schutz’s
idea of the painter is of someone “who has to
figure out how to imagine and then render
a world.” But, to paraphrase Marx, she can’t
render it just as she pleases. It’s in the gap
between what can be imagined and what
can be represented that art’s capacity for
surprise is revealed, which is always related
to what Schutz calls “some problem within
the subject.”
“Subject” is a funny, ambiguous word—I
think Schutz was using it there in the sense
of “subject matter,” but it also means something like “self,” the bearer of subjectivity.
That ambiguity was apparent in her statement for “Frank From Observation” 15
years ago, where she observed that in her
work “the subject is composed and decom-
he sea in Manhattan Beach is, ultimately, a figure of the unconscious
for Egan’s characters to dredge. They
seek discoveries there, not just about
their parents and themselves—not
for nothing does Anna share a name with
Freud’s youngest daughter and protégée—
but also about the realities of power that
organize their lives.
The act of diving is part of Anna’s
psychic dredging. So are mystery novels,
which, for her, “had become trapdoors,”
leading to memories of her father and to
questions about his disappearance. “Was it
dangerous?” she wonders about the shadowy work she often witnessed him doing.
“Here was the mystery that seemed now to
have been flashing coded signals at Anna
from behind every Agatha Christie and Rex
Stout and Raymond Chandler she’d read.
Becoming aware of this deeper story made
it burn through the allegorical surface of
whatever plot she was reading until she
found herself not reading at all, but holding
the book and remembering.”
Manhattan Beach is one such trapdoor.
Through a deceptively conventional noir
plot, Egan not only uncovers the mystery
of Anna’s father; she also makes visible the
historical process of consolidating power,
both legal and illegal, that has long defined
New York City and the United States.
Anna dives because she craves a challenge
not traditionally granted to women. She
also dives because she wants to get beneath
the distracting surfaces of civilization, to
understand the foundations that undergird
her life. New York’s waterways are one such
foundation; another is the union of money
and the state. Both are hidden in plain sight,
and both have the terrible power to crush
people. But Egan’s restless New Yorkers
see the sea; they are attentive to sublimated
truths. As the haunting, shrewd, and immensely pleasurable Manhattan Beach reminds us, the power of perception belongs
to everyone—and with it can come the
power to demand change.
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posing, formed and formless, inanimate and
alive” and added that her interest was not in
narrative but “in the man as a subject.” And
that ambiguity is also entirely the point of
Schutz’s work, which looks for problems in
the realm of painting—problems about how
a painting is made and what it is made out
of—that are also psychological problems:
ones not necessarily specific to the painter as
an individual, but that might be encountered
by anyone trying to construct a life out of
the ready-made materials of the world we’ve
been thrown into.
one of those early “Frank” paintings are included in Schutz’s current
show (through November 26) at
Boston’s Institute of Contemporary
Art (ICA). Curated by Eva Respini
with Jessica Hong, this concise selection includes 17 paintings and four drawings made
between 2009 and this year. But it’s still true
that Schutz’s subjects (in all senses) and
the paintings themselves are simultaneously
constructing and dismantling themselves,
amalgamated from disparate parts and
consuming themselves at the
same time.
This becomes most
obvious in the 2012
painting Building the
Boat While Sailing,
which is what in the
19th century they
used to call a grande
machine, an elaborate
multi-figure composition of impressive scale.
But unlike the grandes
machines of the old Parisian
salons, this one isn’t meant to
give an appearance of plausibility
to a thing of extravagant visual rhetoric,
lending verisimilitude to fantasy. On the
contrary, Schutz puts the accent on the contradictions and disjointedness she’s built
into the work. She could just as easily have
called it Disassembling the Boat While Sailing; a painting on that theme might have
looked much the same. The crew hardly
seems to be engaged in a single coordinated
endeavor: Some seem to be just dreaming
of the boat they’d like to fare on, while
others appear frustrated in their attempts
to achieve something of use. There is a
blueprint being examined somewhere, but
one suspects it has little to do with whatever
construction happens to be taking place.
Nor do the boat’s pieces connect in any
coherent way—and yet this ramshackle
vessel does seem to be staying afloat. So it’s
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just possible to imagine it, with its unruly
personnel, eventually reaching port.
Then too, as poorly made as the boat may
be, the painting that it allegorizes is actually
quite securely constructed. (“Making a large
painting could feel like you’re building a
boat,” Schutz once observed.) It’s hard not to
be impressed by the way she has arranged so
many disparate elements while maintaining
the clarity and legibility of the whole. A dozen
times over the painting seems to undermine
itself, but it refuses nonetheless to be undermined. The boat doesn’t sink; the painting
holds. What might seem like messy improvisations proceed according to an implicit logic
that only becomes apparent in time.
Though rarely as explicitly spelled out
as in Building the Boat While Sailing, this
idea of painting as something that makes
and unmakes itself at once is recurrent in
Schutz’s work. Another piece from 2012,
Getting Dressed All at Once, shows what you
might think would be a less complicated
situation, but the painting’s single figure has
caught herself up in the storm of her own
simultaneous motions. Come to think of
it, trying to put all of your clothes
on at the same time would be
even more destined to end
in failure than setting out
from port with your boat
unfinished. In this case,
it seems that attempting it would demand
many more hands than
you have arms for them
to be attached to, as well
as a body fragmented and
recombined, like a parody
of Picasso.
The Boston exhibition’s second grande machine is Shaking Out the
Bed (2015). Like most of Schutz’s more
complicated compositions (and many of the
ostensibly simpler ones), it combines multiple viewpoints, but the main one is from
above, looking down on what one gradually
makes out to be a snuggling couple twisted
up in their covers. But did that slice of pepperoni pizza really spend the night in there
with them? That webbed flipper-like thing
reaching toward a colorful disk to the side
must be a hand grasping for a coffee cup on
its saucer. (Schutz has always seemed intent
on disproving some high-school drawing
teacher’s admonition that artistic skill shows
in the correct drawing of hands.)
Others among the strangely flailing elements shaking out of the sheets are less easily
named, perhaps thankfully. It’s the confusion
of being half awake, half asleep, and you
don’t know yet which half is which. Schutz
points out that the composition opens up
from the center like the pages of a book. It’s
as if being asleep were something like being
folded up inside a pop-up book, and the
process of waking is when you’re still half
in, half out, not yet a fully three-dimensional
being. And then it turns out, as she imagines,
that “you just missed the alarm and the
world is coming back to you in pieces.” Even
waking up is another way of building the
boat while sailing. Slow Motion Shower, also
from 2015, might be the sequel to Shaking
Out the Bed. No number of scrubbing hands
can wash away nighttime’s murky consciousness altogether, it seems. The body still can’t
quite pull itself together.
chutz’s idea of paintings and people
as entities pulled together out of fragments that don’t quite match—and, to
the extent that they do hold together,
it’s only because of their incompatibility—reminds me of one of the stranger
poems by that strange poet, Wallace Stevens. It’s called “Someone Puts a Pineapple
Together,” and it speaks of “This husk of
Cuba, tufted emerald,” this “double fruit of
boisterous epicures,” as “An object the sum
of its complications, seen / And unseen,” asserting: “This is everybody’s world. / Here
the total artifice reveals itself / As the total
reality.” Schutz’s sense of a painting that,
though made out of disparate elements,
“starts to become a real thing in the room,”
and in which “if you can see something then
it exists as fact,” shows her to be an inheritor
of Stevens’s poetics.
Even so, plenty of her works are relatively more direct. The earliest piece in the
show is Swimming, Smoking, Crying (2009),
whose title—through an evident nod to
Philip Guston’s 1973 masterpiece Painting,
Smoking, Eating—suggests, albeit more indirectly, that this is another of Schutz’s allegories of painting. The three self-evidently
incompatible activities are not juxtaposed as
broken fragments, but synthesized into an
expressive whole that is at once funny and
tragic—though, in the end, more tragic than
funny, especially since that pathetic little
hand straining agonizingly over a massive
head that’s mostly submerged in the water
barely looks like it could propel even the
lightest body forward.
Piano in the Rain (2012) shows a straightforwardly depicted figure—long-haired,
bell-bottomed, barefoot, of ambiguous
gender—hunched over her instrument outdoors during a downpour. What makes
the painting work is how the static quality
shared by the figure, monumentalized by
her weighed-down posture, and the piano,
perched there on its rickety legs but holding
fast, contrasts with the dynamic patterning
of the diagonal lines representing the falling
rain. It’s like two paintings superimposed
and miraculously making sense as one. But
an achieved simplicity is a tenuous thing
in Schutz’s world: In Big Wave (2016), for
instance, the two girls solemnly playing
with the sand in the painting’s foreground
remain oblivious to the tsunami that’s about
to cover them like a dark curtain, and which
has already engulfed any number of hapless
swimmers and sea creatures.
went to the ICA with high expectations—
I’ve been an admirer of Schutz’s work
ever since I first saw it—
but also with a bit of
trepidation. Would
it be possible to see
the show—which
I knew would not
include her nowinfamous
Casket representing the murdered
corpse of Emmett
Till—without having my view of her
entire oeuvre tinged
by the controversy that
flamed up when that piece
was exhibited last spring at the
Whitney Biennial? What I hoped was
that the context offered by the show would
help clarify Open Casket as a painting, and
that this, in turn, would give me a deeper
understanding of Schutz’s art—both its
strengths and its limitations—as a whole.
That’s something that the ICA show
mostly couldn’t do for me, as it turns out.
The selection of works on view, which
would have been planned out well before the
Whitney storm broke, doesn’t include those
that I suspected might be apt comparisons
to Open Casket. For one thing, it doesn’t
include any of her earlier depictions of real
people, among them Viktor Yushchenko,
then president of Ukraine (Poisoned Man,
2006); Bill Gates and Ted Turner (both in
Men’s Retreat, 2005); and the musician PJ
Harvey (50 ft Queenie, 2003). Neither did
it feature The Autopsy of Michael Jackson
(2005), another depiction of a black man as
a corpse, though in this case the painting’s
subject was still alive at the time. Autopsy
seems to have been Schutz’s speculative approach to the idea of self-construction. She
was fascinated, she told Enright, by how
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Jackson “had such a hand in the making of
his own physical image and his own body
that you’d never know how he would look
when he died. So he felt like a hypothetical
subject.” But it had an unexpected effect on
her: “I didn’t realize I would feel so horrible
when I was painting it.”
Nor does the show include any of the
few paintings in which Schutz has physically
manipulated the canvas rather than simply
painting on it—especially a group from
2007 with holes cut into them, including
one of a white man with his eyes closed, who
might look dead if it weren’t for the title,
Day Dreamer. These would be important to
reconsider because, in Open Casket, Schutz
also manipulated the surface of the painting
in an unusual way—one that’s worth looking at in more detail.
But the ICA show did shed
some light on a facet of
Schutz’s practice in general that connects to
Open Casket and the
rest of her work: The
curators’ wall labels
point out how she
uses paintings from
the past as clues to
the construction of
her own work. Big
Wave turns out to be
based on Max Beckmann’s
Lido (1924)—though no one
is playing in the sand in Beckmann’s painting—while, in a more obvious way, Building the Boat While Sailing takes
a hint from Théodore Géricault’s The Raft
of the Medusa (1818–19). Schutz, for all the
seeming brashness of her way with paint, is
erudite in the ways of painting—and learned
enough that she never needs to stick very
close to a given source, knowing (with Stevens) that art is “where the truth was not the
respect of one, / But always of many things.”
Much of what was written in the heat
of the moment about Open Casket missed
some of these aspects of the painting. In
“The Case Against Dana Schutz” in the
New Republic, Josephine Livingstone and
Lovia Gyarkye described how “The paint
of Till’s face dances like it is alive; he is
made decorative when he was brutalized.”
But at the Whitney, what I saw was a
face rendered in harsh and uningratiating
tones; it was hard to look at. I thought of
the inscription on plate 26 from Goya’s
The Disasters of War: “No se puede mirar”—
“You can’t look.” Of course, as with Goya,
one looks anyway, and the disquiet of that
looking is amplified by the way Schutz has,
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perhaps with modeling paste, built up the
surface of the painting in the passage representing the face. Both the face and the
painting itself look battered and gashed,
and the effect is hardly decorative. Livingstone and Gyarkye also observed that “The
colors of his coffin are bright and pretty
when in reality only a black-and-white
photograph of him survives.” Pretty is in
the eye of the beholder, of course, but to my
eye the painting’s palette (though it’s obviously not the grisaille of the photographs,
of which there are several) is also sober and
subdued, mostly shades of white, brown,
and black, laid on with a kind of exquisitely
tender lyricism: The pillow on which the
young man’s head rests is yellow and might
make you think of the golden halos around
the heads of saints in Renaissance art; a
single red rose lies at his waist.
But there’s something even more important that distinguishes Schutz’s painting
from a photograph: Its composition doesn’t
resemble any of them. The best-known
image, in The Chicago Defender, was shot at
an angle that puts Till’s head at the top of
the picture; Schutz shows him horizontally.
And there’s no rose in the photograph.
Where did that rose come from? Although Schutz had Till in mind as she was
painting Open Casket, her visual source (as
the painter Maya Bloch pointed out to
me) was completely different: Alice Neel’s
1946 painting Dead Father, which agrees
with Open Casket in every significant detail,
including the rose—actually a pair of roses,
in Neel’s case—except for the treatment of
the face. In order to translate her feelings
about the death of Emmett Till onto the
canvas, Schutz had to eschew the language
of photography and find a guide through
the language of painting. Who better to
turn to than Neel? This enabled Schutz
to risk broaching a theme that didn’t come
easily to her and to treat it with a solemnity
rare in her work: a man who was violently
prevented from becoming the person he
might have wanted to be. It’s not a work
of assuagement, let alone of irony, but
like most of Schutz’s work, it encompasses
contradictions. It contains ugliness and
beauty in equal measure—enough ugliness
to register the horror of what happened to
Till, while paying tribute to him as a human
being who deserves to be surrounded by
beauty even in death. To understand Open
Casket, and how it makes its uneasy meaning known, one has to see it as a painting in
person. And there are worse ways to start
looking at paintings than to study Schutz’s
work at the Boston ICA.
The Nation.
December 4/11, 2017
Puzzle No. 3449
1 Victory brings legal case against head of sorority
housing about 100 (7)
2 Pleads with outspoken flattery (5)
3 With nothing 23, roles can be distributed up to three
times (9)
4 Raising stake for mount (4)
5 Amounts to more than passé songs (10)
6 Henri, swimming in a river (5)
7 Synagogue member, leading Central American country,
announced anniversary celebrations (8)
8 Say hi again, without energy or remorse (6)
13 Conclusion of agreement with Santa’s staff overturned
favorite type of recovery program (6-4)
15 “Ego” is Latin translation for JK or HP (8)
16 Carol eats all over the place—that’s one way to move
up (9)
17 Have an influence on law featuring fluorine and iron (6)
1 It rules 27 in disarray (7,5)
19 Mark lies about unfinished embrace with professor (7)
9 Mostly, talk and smile in embarrassment (7)
21 TV host standing up for comedian (5)
10 Massachusetts college included in clichéd testimonial (7)
23 A young woman is wrong (5)
11 Result involves reverse guarantee (6)
24 Ultimate implement for a shoemaker (4)
12 In the end, toss our ripe bananas in a lake (8)
14 Birds weep bitterly in a trap (9)
16 Build terminals in advance for large Quebec airport (5)
17 Clay’s new name, for instance! (5)
18 I cry uncontrollably, absorbed by catalogs for some
songwriters (9)
20 Scare 3 in marsh (8)
22 Make white line in the sand (6)
25 One is guilty of thrusting Mexican politicians into sect (7)
26 An exciting sensation: dropping right in where bugs
live (7)
27 Surfer, perhaps, is reckless 1A (8,4)
ACROSS 1 P + ER(F)ECT 5 anag.
9 UR-G.E.D. 10 EX-PRES + [u]SED
11 T(E)LEP (rev.) + HONE 12 P(RIM)E
13 CAT + E + GORY 15 A(TOM)IC (CIA
rev.) 19 “cereal” 20 anag. 22 WHO + LE
24 I + MAG + IN A + R[eall]Y
26 anag. 27 LIAN A (rev.)
DOWN 1 anag. 2 REGUL + A + TOR
(rev.) 3 ENDU (anag.) + P 4 TH(EDO)
ORS (ode rev.) 5 DUP(L)E + X 6 C + LEO
+ PATRA (anag.) 7 initial letters
8 LED + GE (rev.) 14 G(LAZE)OVER[n]
16 M(IS + MAN)AGE 17 “bandy cars”
18 [p]ARK + [f]ANS + [v]AN 21 PIS + TOL
(rev.) 22 W + OMEN 23 OC (rev.) + TET
25 IS + LAM
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