James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Rikers Island Prisoners Left Behind to Face Irene

| Sat Aug. 27, 2011 12:09 PM EDT
Rikers at night (center).

"We are not evacuating Rikers Island," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference Friday. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter's question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.

New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city's evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

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Brother, Can You Spare a Job?

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 1:39 PM EDT
WPA photo from Depression-era soup kitchen.

Among the latest attacks on President Obama's policies are claims that his economic stimulus created few jobs, and at exorbitant cost to taxpayers: $278,000 per job, to be exact. Fuzzy math aside, what his foes fail to mention is that the stimulus, like all else these days, operated under the conservative creed that everything must be done through the private sector. This ethos, which Obama has firmly embraced, prevents the federal government from taking the far more efficient route of simply employing people, which might have created many more good jobs at the same cost.

Had Obama had heeded FDR's experience during the Great Depression, we could have put unemployed people to work rebuilding American infrastructure—bridges, tunnels, railroads, roads—not to mention restoring and shoring up wetlands and carrying out other environmental projects. That's what Roosevelt famously did with his Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps.

Such an initiative might have been possible, on some scale, prior to the midterm elections. But with the gridlock in Congress and diminishing confidence in the president and government, that course now is hard to imagine. Instead, the austerity imposed by the debt deal will further impede any chance of real job growth—as Roosevelt discovered in 1937 when he briefly adopted austerity measures, only to see a falling unemployment rate spike once again.

But even at this dismal stage, there remain a handful of realistic projects that ought to appeal to some fiscally minded conservatives, and Democrats as well.

Anders Breivik, Stieg Larsson, and the Men with the Nazi Tattoos

| Tue Jul. 26, 2011 7:30 PM EDT

Stieg Larsson is the best-known novelist of the past decade, his Millennium Trilogy read by tens of millions of people worldwide. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two successors are beloved for their thrilling plots and compelling title character. But Larsson also embedded in his novels the abiding cause of his life: his crusade against the far-right movements that he saw as the scourge of Scandinavia and a threat to modern European society. Yet this part of his message never quite got through. Instead, the world stood in shock this weekend as Norway fell victim to precisely the kind of extremist violence Larsson had warned about.

The trilogy that has been met with such an enthusiastic but curiously apolitical response was written by a consummately political man: Raised by a grandfather who had been imprisoned during World War II for his anti-Nazi views, Larsson was in his youth a member of the Communist Workers Party and editor, for a time, of the Swedish Trotskyist journal Fjarde Internationalen. He later became the Scandinavian correspondent of Searchlight, the British anti-fascist and anti-racist magazine, and in 1995, amid an uptick in neo-Nazi violence in Sweden, he founded its Swedish equivalent, Expo—the model for the Millennium magazine featured in his trilogy. In the US, both Expo and Searchlight have maintained ties with another group that tracks the far right, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. As an expert on the neo-Nazi movements, Larsson was once invited to lecture on the subject at Scotland Yard.

As Expo grew, the neo-Nazis in Sweden targeted it, threatening Larsson (who died in 2004) and his partner of 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson. According to Gabrielsson's book, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me, both of them were placed on hit lists and were in enough danger to barricade their apartment doors and arrange for special police protection. "Stieg would receive bullets in the mail, and once someone was waiting for him outside the entrance of the TT building [where he worked]. Warned in time, Stieg slipped out a back door," Gabrielsson writes.

"Our answering machine was set permanently on 'record' to keep evidence of the threats we received," she continues, "and they were always in the same vein: 'Piece of shit, you Jew-fucker…Traitor, we'll tear you apart…and we know where you live.'" At the sign of the slightest provocation on their apartment block, police cars would descend on the street. The danger was undeniably real: Two journalists who once worked for Expo and were later employed by Aftonbladet, one of Sweden's largest newspapers, wrote an expose of the neo-Nazi black-metal music operations. One of them was seriously injured when his car was bombed. A labor union leader who revealed neo-Nazi names was shot dead.

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