Tag Archives: Chris Hayes

Next Week in Petraeusgate

12 Jul

Next week, Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter will be getting a second cache of Petraeusgate documents from CUNY. This batch will come from Macaulay Honors College; the first, which Trotter published in his Gawker story, came from CUNY Central.

What to look for in that second cache: the May 29 offer letter to Petraeus that Macaulay Dean Ann Kirschner allegedly drafted and shared with CUNY officials. (If you need a quick refresher on the significance of that letter, see below.)

Here are the two scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Macaulay cache does contain the May 29 letter

This scenario raises many questions. Seven to be exact.

First, if Kirschner did indeed draft and share that document with other “CUNY offices” on May 29, as the university maintains, why was there no evidence of it in the first batch of FOIL documents from CUNY Central? As Trotter has explained:

Records between campuses frequently overlap. The Central Office records contain correspondence not only between Petraeus and Ann Kirschner — who does not work in Central Office — but between Kirschner and other faculty members about Petraeus’s appointment. It would be extremely odd for the Central Office records to include these particular emails but not Kirschner’s May 29 letter, if in fact Kirschner circulated it among CUNY officials.

Second, to which “CUNY offices”—and more important, individuals—did Kirschner allegedly send the document to? Will those individuals confirm that they received it on or about May 29?

Third, by what vehicle—email, fax, interoffice mail, US mail, courier—was the document sent? In their explanation of the document, CUNY claims that Kirschner “sent” it to other CUNY offices. That’s a capacious, and ambiguous, verb. Originally, CUNY claimed that Kirschner had emailed the document. But an email would have to show up in a FOIL release, and it would have to have a time stamp.  Perhaps that’s why the university opted for “sent” instead. “Sent” could well have been a lawyer’s improvisation, designed to provide university administrators with enough wiggle room to say that Kirschner communicated the contents of the document without pinning themselves down as to how. Come to think of it, that might also explain that weird locution “CUNY offices.” An office can neither confirm nor deny that it received a document. It can’t even return phone calls.

Fourth, does the document have a time stamp on it, proving that it was indeed shared on May 29, as the university claims?  Without that time stamp, one could easily surmise that the university is merely inserting a document that it created after the fact into a FOIL release. That would, of course, be illegal, so I’d be surprised if the university were to take that route. But without the time stamp, it’s hard to resist that speculation.

Fifth, was there any response to the document? From whom? What did it say?

Sixth, after it was shared (and perhaps revised) with CUNY Central, why wasn’t the document immediately forwarded  to Petraeus or Petraeus’s attorney Robert Barnett? Why were its contents only communicated on July 1, just after the Gawker story came out?

Seventh, why, prior to July 3, which was when the May 29 letter first appeared, did several CUNY officials claim, repeatedly, to Trotter and to NYS Assemblyman Kieran Lalor that there were no more written documents related to the Petraeus hiring other than the ones that Gawker had published on July 1? How was it that this May 29 document was suddenly discovered after Lalor’s accusation (see below)?

Scenario 2: The Macaulay cache does not contain the May 29 letter

This scenario raises only one question: Why not?

If Kirschner sent the document on May 29, there has to be a record of it, and it has to be in the FOIL documents. So why is not there?

The only possible explanation I can come up with is: Kirschner typed the document, saved it on her laptop or some other portable electronic device, walked (or perhaps was chauffeured) to CUNY Central’s office, met with Goldstein or some other official, talked with him or her about the new terms, and then left. Without a trace.

Or perhaps CUNY administrators are more imaginative than I am.

We’ll find out next week.

Other News

The news coverage and commentary is starting to pick up.

Assemblyman Lalor hits all the right notes in an oped in today’s Daily News:

The average CUNY adjunct makes $3,000 per class. In 2009, Eliot Spitzer signed on to teach a political science class — and was paid $4,500 for the semester, an amount that the New York Times described as “the highest rate paid to the highest level of adjunct City University faculty.”

Can one man, carrying nothing close to a true professor’s workload, be worth 33 to 50 times that sum? And how engaged in the life of the university will Petraeus truly be, given that he’s also slated to be a professor at the University of Southern California, 51/2 hours away?

CUNY officials claim the salary is not a problem because the money is coming from private donations, not tax dollars. But earlier this week, they told my office that they have yet to receive any donations specifically made to pay for Petraeus’ salary.

Instead, they plan on using unearmarked donations to CUNY’s Research Foundation.

This means other projects will go unfunded. And even if CUNY does ultimately receive a donation for Petraeus, that donation might have gone to something else.

Alex Pareene is characteristically scathing in today’s Salon:
I know Barnett is doing his best for his client here, but has he really figured out all the ways Petraeus could monetize his influence? (Or “share his expertise” or however he justifies it to himself, if he bothers to?) There’s a million different jobs David Petraeus could pretend to do for a lot of money.
Major institutions of American life with money to burn, David Petraeus is waiting for your call! Why not hire the general as your new editorial cartoonist, or commissioner of the New York City public schools? Maybe he could do your taxes, if you pay him six figures and give him some help? He could design your next home, library or hospital, because how hard could architecture be for the man who won both of our most recent wars?

Chronicle of Higher Ed blogger—and New School historian—Claire Potter “can’t even count the levels of yuck” about this hire. But she does a pretty job!

As one wag pointed out on Twitter, all CUNY would have to do to make this right is appoint Petraeus as a football coach, and then everyone would agree that he was a bargain.

And last, Chris Hayes did a quick segment on his show when the story first broke.  His conclusion about Petraeus?

He’ll work about three hours a week with the help of a group of graduate students to take care of course research, administration and grading. That works out to approximately $2,250 per hour. Terrific news for David Petraeus, slightly less terrific news for the number crunchers.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has still not covered the story, despite jumping all over the Spitzer hire in 2009.

A Quick Refresher

On July 1, Gawker published Trotter’s story claiming that Petraeus was getting paid $200k. Several hours later, Kirschner sent an email to Petraeus saying that he would be paid $150k. The next day (July 2), Lalor accused CUNY of coming up with the lower figure only after they had been embarrassed by the Gawker story. The day after that (July 3), CUNY published a document, dated May 29, from Kirschner to Petraeus, which contained the lower salary offer. The point was clear: we (CUNY) did not make this new figure up after the story broke.

“Corey Robin, if he’s watching this, is losing his mind.”

23 Feb

On Up With Chris Hayes this morning, Chris offered some badly needed revisionist wisdom about conservatism. He mentions a certain book by a certain political theorist…Start watching at 5:40. And if you haven’t bought that certain book of that certain theorist, it’s now available, at last, in paperback, for $13, here. Maybe you should, um, buy it.

One politician doubles down, one politician backs down, and one student stands up

5 Feb

So much has happened today it’s hard to keep up.  So a quick round-up of the news (and some items from yesterday).

1. The major development of the day is that City Councilwoman Letitia James has publicly retracted her signature to that Fidler letter, which threatens to cut off funding to Brooklyn College and CUNY, a point Fidler doubled down on in an interview tonight.

2. This morning, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould delivered a powerful defense of our department and of academic freedom.

3. That defense has now been endorsed by the New York Times. In a strong editorial, the Times writes:

We do, however, strongly defend the decision by Brooklyn College President Karen Gould to proceed with the event, despite withering criticism by opponents and threats by at least 10 City Council members to cut city funding for the college. Such intimidation chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom.

The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests.

4.  This morning, Glenn Greenwald made the strongest argument for why this has become a classic showdown between the state and the freedom to propound heterodox and alternative views. We are now, as Glenn reminds us, reprising the battle between Guiliani and the Brooklyn Museum. Only it’s the City Council and Brooklyn College. And as I asked earlier in the day: Where does Mike Bloomberg stand on this? This article in the Forward also focuses us on the question of what will the state do.

5. My colleague Louis Fishman in the history department, who’s a specialist in the history of the Middle East, wrote a terrific post today. You should read it.

6. The story has made its way into the Los Angeles Times, SalonDaily Beast (again), and Huffington Post, among other places.

7. One small point that has gotten very little attention in all this brouhaha. Our department wrote a letter to our students over the weekend (which we also issued as a public statement). We reiterated our long-standing policy of entertaining requests for co-sponsorship from any and all student groups, departments, and programs, but we also made a point of noting that “since this controversy broke, no group has contacted the political science chair requesting the department’s co-sponsorship of a specific event or actual speaker representing alternative or opposing views.” To date, we still not have received any such request.

8. There is a petition out there, which has garnered more than 1500 signatures in less than 24 hours. Please sign and circulate it; there is a plan, I’m told, to present it at some point later this week.

9. I don’t have phone numbers or contacts, but I urge you to find them and call/email the city councilors on this letter, sans Letitia James, who are standing by their threat to de-fund CUNY if Brooklyn College does not meet their demands that we speak only the words they want spoken. I also urge you to contact any of the progressive officials who signed off on this letter, particularly the members of Congress—sans Nadler; he’s hopeless—and Bill de Blasio and Brad Lander.

10. If you haven’t had a chance yet to watch Chris Hayes’s magnificent summation of everything that’s at stake in this controversy, well, watch it. Here.

11. And now my favorite moment in this whole controversy. Zujaja Tauqeer, a former student in my modern political thought class and now a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, wrote a terrific letter to President Gould, laying out her position on this controversy. No matter how difficult things can get at Brooklyn College and at CUNY, it is students like Zujaja who remind me of what I’m doing and why I am doing it. She gets the last word.

Dear President Gould,

I hope this letter finds you well. As a Brooklyn College alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar, and the commencement speaker and class representative for the 2011 graduating class, I urge you to continue upholding the principles of academic freedom and to allow the Political Science Department to co-sponsor, as originally planned, the panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has been scheduled to take place at BC.

As you and Provost Tramontano are aware, I know all too well how fragile freedom of speech can be. As a beneficiary of political asylum by the US, I am horrified to see the kinds of perverse tactics used to marginalize minority communities and viewpoints in less developed countries being introduced in an American public educational institution for the express purpose of stifling the freedom of speech, and therefore the freedom of conscience, of students and faculty. Elected officials and trustees who hold the public trust are now trying to force you to join them in betraying that very trust. They are seeking to deprive the Political Science Department of its right—and responsibility—to sponsor discussions that may conflict with the convictions of those in a position of power.

As a Rhodes Scholar selected from Brooklyn College, I have tried my utmost to represent my alma mater as a progressive institution whose commitment to freedom and toleration vindicate the sacrifices students and alumni like myself have made to pursue a liberal arts education here. Though in the past BC has stumbled in its effort to preserve civil liberties on campus, I am confident that as president you will capably show that academic freedom, so crucial to critical scholarship and democratic citizenship, is non-negotiable.

I recall at this time the motto of our school—nil sine magno labore. We cannot ensure for future students and faculty the freedoms promised to them as citizens of this country if we as an institution back down from the effort needed to uphold those very freedoms now when they are threatened by vested interests. If I can support you in any way in helping to make this case to my fellow alumni, our elected officials, and our donors, please do not hesitate to call upon me.


Zujaja Tauqeer ‘11

When It Comes to Lincoln, We’re Still Virgins

28 Nov

One of the lines of argument about Lincoln that has intrigued me most is this one, which Will Boisvert states over at Crooked Timber:

But the movie’s focus is on…snakey retail politics. That’s what makes the movie interesting, in part because it cuts against the grain of Lincoln hagiography by making him a shrewd, somewhat dirty pol.

Will isn’t alone in this. I’ve seen David Denby, Anthony Lane, Geoffrey O’Brien, and Chris Hayes offer eloquent statements of the same thesis: that what makes Lincoln great is that it shows how his greatness consists in so many acts of smallness. Politicking, horse-trading, compromise, log-rolling, and the like.

What’s interesting to me about this line of argument is, first, that it hardly cuts against the standard historiography of Lincoln. Ever since David Donald’s Lincoln Reconsidered, which came out in 1947, and Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay in The American Political Tradition (1948), we’ve known about this Lincoln. When it comes to Lincoln, we lost our virtue a long time ago, yet somehow, in 2012, we’re all still virgins. (Pace Pauline Kael.)

But beyond the historiography, there’s a larger cultural question: What is it about this country that makes any description of the moral cesspool of politics seem like the  revelation of a brave new truth? Particularly among otherwise sophisticated cultural brokers like Lane et al? I mean these are men steeped in the Western canon; David Denby even wrote a book about that. Yet somehow they’ve never absorbed the lessons of Henry V? Or The Prince? Or Max Weber?

I think it was D.H. Lawrence, in his Studies in Classic American Literature (though my copy is in storage so I can’t know for sure), who first cottoned on to this peculiarly American dynamic whereby innocence gives way to cynicism, without ever achieving anything like a mature and stable or permanent sense of realism. So that every time we stumble across some banal item of reality—Lincoln was a politician! Politicians politick!—we draw back in shock and awe at the haunting truth of it all, as if we had just been handed the tablets at Mt. Sinai. (O’Brien speaks of our “authentic wonderment” at Spielberg/Kushner’s decision to set the saintly Lincoln against “a more detached and analytical surveying of circumstances.”)

Understood in this light, the realism of Lincoln is just the flip side of the hagiography of Lincoln. Only a country steeped in myths of innocence would find the most conventional and boring kind of realism about politics to be the trumpet blast of Truth, Brave Truth.

We see these quicksilver shifts, from innocence to cynicism or realism, in the culture all the time—though sometimes they go in the reverse direction. Think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, how the wise-cracking cynic Jean Arthur becomes a true believer. Or Dave, where the Sigourney Weaver character makes the same pilgrimage. (Interestingly, in both cases it’s a woman who loses her cynicism and discovers her innocence via falling in love with a man.)

But whether it’s the cynic discovering or recovering her innocence, or the innocent losing his innocence, the story of politics in this country is always the same, toggling back and forth between two positions that are little more than the competing wisdom of juveniles.

It’s basically the truth of the 5 year old set against the truth of the 15 year old. And any time the 15 year old speaks, we’re expected to murmur, in hushed wonder: brave, bold, true, wow. If you’re a 5 year old, I can see why that would be the case. If you’re a 45-year-old, as I am, it’s a bit tougher.  Or at least it should be.

How Could Mere Toil Align Thy Choiring Strings? A Breviary of Worker Intimidation

20 Oct

In the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of articles about employers coercing or intimidating workers to vote for their preferred candidates (usually Republican). This is not a new topic on this blog, but the brazenness of these efforts is beginning to get a fair amount of traction elsewhere (in part because of the election).

Anyway, here’s a quick roundup:

1.  Alec McGillis kicked off the most recent round of stories with this report in The New Republic on Murray Energy’s forcing its workers to support Romney. (Though I had already commented on this story back in August, McGillis has a lot of new details.)

2. Mike Elk then broke the story, in In These Times, of the Koch brothers trying to get their workers to vote for the right candidate. (In case you missed Gordon Lafer’s followup on the hypocrisy of the Kochs, check this out.)

3. Mike then followed up—again, in In These Times—his piece with a report on Romney’s own role in encouraging this kind of behavior.

4. George Zornick contributed to the Nation some additional reporting on Herman Cain’s role in all this. (The Nation also ran an additional piece summarizing some of these stories.)

Then there was a bunch of thoughtful analyses of what all of this means…

5. In Salon, Josh Eidelson placed it in some historical context (with some quotes from me).

6. In The New Republic, McGillis speculated that it reveals how vulnerable employers now feel.

7. At Gawker, the inimitable Mobuto Seko Seko—no, not that one—did what only he can do, which includes, in what may be a first, citing a Crooked Timber post at Gawker (the one I wrote with Chris Bertram and Alex Gourevitch last summer.)

8. And last weekend, Chris Hayes had a lengthy roundtable on the issue (though I think most of the panelists, especially Josh Barro, got the free speech implications of the issue almost completely backward.)

But if you really want to understand what this all means, and why it happens, you should buy my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea. Part II—”Fear, American Style”—explains not only how it is that a liberal democracy can tolerate all this employer intimidation and coercion, but why and how it actually encourages, even requires, it. You also get to see one my favorite lines from Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge” —”How could mere toil align thy choiring strings?”—put in the service of political analysis: to suggest how central work and the workplace are to the organization, coordination, and execution of political repression in America.

Update (11 pm)

For some idiotic reason, I forgot this excellent piece from Mark Ames on the same topic. I can’t think of anyone in the media who has devoted as much attention to this issue, throughout the years, both as a reporter and as an analyst. Mark was also one of the very few, from the very beginning, to take notice of my work on this issue, and he’s continually made sure to keep it right there in the spotlight.

Update (11:05 pm)

Steven Sherman, a FB friend, reminds me of this piece in Business Week, just one of several, on David Siegel’s instructions to his employees.

Update (11:07 pm)

Bill Moyers is on it!

I’m going to be on TV

24 Aug

I’m going to be on Up With Chris Hayes this Sunday morning, sometime between 8 and 10. Not sure yet on the specifics, so check back in.

Update (5 pm)

Looks like I’ll be on between 8:40 and 9:05. But these things can change, so…

My Appearance on Up With Chris Hayes

2 Jan

Here’s the video of my appearance on New Year’s Day on Up With Chris Hayes. I got to talk Reactionary Mind with Chris and a panel of guests that included Amanda Marcotte, feminist blogger extraordinaire; Noah Kristula-Green, managing editor of FrumForum; and Michael Brendan Dougherty, political editor of Business Insider. Amanda’s on the left, Noah and Michael are on the right. Politically speaking.


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