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Losing to Germany Wasn’t Actually the Worst Thing to Happen to Brazil This World Cup

Brazil fan World Cup

A Brazil fan reacts while watching a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup Semifinal. July 8, 2014. (Reuters/Uselei Marcelino)

The key numbers in Brazil are not 7-1, the score of yesterday’s historically lopsided World Cup semifinal loss to Germany. Yes, those numbers matter. Yes, it was a dark day in the history of Brazilian sports that will be remembered in shocked silences for as long as a soccer ball is kicked around in the country. Yes, it may even sway a presidential election in the country this October. But these are still not the key numbers.

Here are some other numbers that will have much more bearing on both Brazil’s present and future. These are the numbers that animate far more debate and discussion inside of Brazil than the US media, with their view from Copacabana beach, have portrayed.

$11-14 billion. That is how much the World Cup is going to end up costing the country. No one in government, when asked, is actually even sure as to what the final bill is going to be. This is not unique to Brazil by any means. Mega-events produce this kind of economic uncertainty and graft wherever they nest. But in a country where health and education are pressing issues, it stings.

250,000. That is the number of people—overwhelmingly poor—who may be displaced by the time all the confetti has been swept away. Many of those losing their homes live in Brazil’s favelas. These communities, under constant attack by real estate speculators and the military police, have formed the backbone of Brazil’s urban culture for over a century. Several of these communities have been under military occupation during the Cup leading to brave, albeit uncovered, protests far from the public eye.

2016. That’s the year the Olympics are coming to Rio de Janeiro. If people in Brazil were this upset about hosting a soccer tournament, how will they feel about paying for Olympic golf? Also if people in Brazil found FIFA to be imperious, wait until they get a load of the IOC. One of their lovely aristocrats in charge will undoubtedly say some variant of “Let them eat horse dressage” before it’s all said and done.

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Yes, a 7-1 loss is a brutal way to exit the World Cup. But masses of people throughout the country have already committed themselves to fighting a different kind of brutality: the hosting of mega-events on their backs. That anger isn’t going anywhere. The question will be whether Brazil can sustain the level of militarization that has muted the protests during the World Cup. It is probably economically unsustainable to maintain the FIFA police state for the next two years. That will open more space for dissent, and these dissenting voices must be heard. It’s Brazil now. FIFA and the IOC have both stated their desires to return the Olympics and World Cup to the United States. Unless we want to experience this brand of weaponized gentrification-on-steroids, we would do well to amplify Brazil’s fighting voices and encourage those around us to listen. It’s not about solidarity. It’s about common survival.

Read Next: Dave Zirin on the truth about militarization and the World Cup

It’s Official: Corporations Are Religious People

Tom Tomorrow

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ABC News Helps Dinesh D’Souza Hype His Latest Conspiracy Theory

Dinish D'Souza ABC

Dinesh D'Souza and Michael Eric Dyson on ABC News

In yet another of the MSM’s misbegotten attempts at political “balance,” ABC News’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos lent right-wing conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza a veneer of legitimacy to promote his latest “documentary,” America: Imagine the World Without Her. Guest host Martha Raddatz omitted mention of why else D’Souza has been in the news lately—he recently copped a plea to making illegal political contributions through straw donors, a felony for which he’ll be sentenced in September. But she did squeeze in an invaluable plug, saying, “It’s a very interesting movie. Everybody should go see it and continue a debate like this.” (Is it too conspiratorial to suggest that the omission and the plug were prerequisites for his appearing on the show?)

The debate was between D’Souza and MSNBC contributor Michael Eric Dyson, but giving a prestige platform for D’Souza’s latest wack-job theory (this time it’s a nefarious connection between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) is akin to giving climate deniers equal media time with climate scientists.

Dinesh D’Souza is the author and filmmaker who likes to cherry-pick coincidences from the past to explain present-day liberal politics—like his Newt Gingrich–endorsed theory that you can’t grasp “how Obama thinks” unless you understand his Kenyan father’s raging “anti-colonialism.”

To her credit, Raddatz introduced D’Souza’s recently released movie (currently number twelve at the box office) by saying, “[you] essentially have a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama turning this nation into a socialistic nation, something you said started when Hillary Clinton was in college.”

D’Souza denied it was a conspiracy theory, but then went on about how Clinton and Obama were both influenced by radical community organizer and writer Saul Alinsky. Hillary met him in high school and wrote a college thesis on him; as a young community organizer in Chicago, Obama was influenced by some of Alinsky’s teachings.

And therefore… what? Hillary and Barack telepathically exchanged Alinsky vibes so they could turn the country red decades later? As Crooks and Liars points out, D’Souza didn’t mention that the right is now embracing Alinsky’s tactics or that in high school Hillary was also a Young Republican and a “Goldwater girl.” Nor are secret socialist sympathies evident in these two centrist Democrats. Hillary, knocked by left and right for only ambiguously owning up to her substantial wealth, is more of a Wall Street symp. A front-page New York Times story today starts: “As its relationship with Democrats hits a historic low, Wall Street sees a solution on the horizon: Hillary Rodham Clinton.” As for Obama, if only he followed Alinsky’s emphasis on confrontation a little more.

This is hardly the first time the corporate media has offered their stage to far-right media figures. A few years ago, CNN signed up (and has since waved adieu) RedState.com’s Erick Erickson and St. Louis Tea Party activist Dana Loesch as paid contributors. In April, ABC News brought on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham as a contributor; she’ll continue appearing on Fox News, where she subs for Bill O’Reilly. (Ingraham recently lit into the children being held in detention at the border for “complaining that the burritos and eggs they’re being given in their holding areas are making them sick…. I’ll bet there are American kids who would like free food before they go to bed at night.” Not that she’s for giving free food to hungry American kids, either.)

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It’s not that Tea Party types shouldn’t appear on the networks’ signature Sunday shows; they should, they’re in the news. It’s just that when they do, they’re not grilled terribly hard. It’s as if mainstream media are as afraid of the far right as John Boehner is.

I wrote above that ABC helped legitimize D’Souza. Let me amend that: “gets” like D’Souza or Ingraham help legitimize ABC News with the Tea Party right. Sometimes seeking balance is really a plea to call off the dogs.

Read Next: Leslie Savan on how to stand up to chickenhawks

Want Colleges to Protect Students From Sexual Assault? Take Action to Give Title IX Teeth

Protest at Amherst College

Photo by Jisoo Lee

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to be partnering with Know Your IX to demand appropriate consequences for colleges that fail to address sexual assault and rape on their campuses. We’re publishing this piece by Alexandra Brodsky and Dana Bolger of Know Your IX to give our readers a chance to find out more about this vital campaign.

Last July, members of Know Your IX were busy preparing for our national protest to pressure the Department of Education to hold colleges accountable for how they handle campus sexual assault. As we put the finishing touches on posters and chant sheets, two organizers got to chatting about school administrators. Wagatwe Wanjuki and John Kelly realized that they had both been raped at Tufts University, six years apart. Both had turned to the school for help; in both cases, the school failed to support and protect them. And both, they discovered, had felt the brunt of this institutional betrayal from the very same dean. He had been at the center of Wanjuki’s complaint half a decade before and still, as Kelly experienced firsthand in 2013, he continued to deny students not only basic respect and empathy but also their civil rights.

You’d think the university would have gotten it right by now.

Know Your IX is a national survivor-run campaign to end campus sexual violence by educating students about their Title IX rights and empowering them to hold their universities accountable for violations of the civil rights law. Many people think Title IX is just about women’s sports, but in fact it prohibits all forms of gender discrimination in education, including sexual violence and harassment. As part of their Title IX responsibilities, schools that receive any federal funding must actively combat gender-based violence and respond when students of any gender are harmed. When they don’t, they deny survivors access to the full range of educational opportunities available to their peers: as many survivors can attest, it’s impossible to pursue a full range of educational opportunities when you’re studying, eating and sleeping on the same campus as your rapist.

Yet despite the promise of Title IX, student survivors’ experiences—and federal complaints—indicate that few schools respect students’ rights.

Sexual assault on college campuses has dominated the news as of late, as outlets from The Nation to The New York Times examine the crisis and United States senators hold roundtables and hearings to discuss it. The current national outcry over campus sexual violence may be new, but the violence itself isn’t—and the Department of Education knows that. This isn’t the first time that many of the schools currently under investigation for Title IX violations by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights are facing scrutiny. The OCR has investigated several universities, including Tufts, multiple times in the last decade alone.

Fortunately, the federal government is beginning to recognize what students have known for too long: investigations alone won’t spur schools to make real changes. We’re heartened by the department’s new efforts to give Title IX teeth. For example, in response to student demonstrations like our protest last year, this spring the OCR published a list of the dozens of colleges and universities currently under investigation for Title IX violations—an unprecedented move on the agency’s part and an important first step to hit universities where it hurts: their reputations.

But we can’t stop there. A major reason Title IX hasn’t been effective in ending campus sexual violence is that school administrators know the Department of Education doesn’t hold schools accountable for violating the law: in its entire history, the OCR has never sanctioned a school for sexual assault-related violations. Instead, even when the government exposes terrible abuses, it gives schools second (and third, and fourth) chances to improve—with devastating consequences for students like John, who suffer assaults at schools where students have been complaining about policies and administrators for years. Just as campus rapists have perpetrated violence while confident their schools will never hold them accountable, so too do universities flout their legal responsibilities without fear of repercussions.

This needs to change. Unfortunately, the OCR has only one tool expressly at its disposal to sanction schools: the complete removal of federal funds. This measure is far too blunt an instrument, and would hurt the very students it means to help by drying up financial aid and educational opportunities—perhaps why, in part, the department has been reluctant to issue formal findings of noncompliance in the first place.

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That’s why Know Your IX and our partners ask that Congress provide the OCR with the explicit authority to levy fines against schools in violation of Title IX. These sanctions would send a clear message to schools (and the country) that their institutional violence and civil rights violations won’t be tolerated. While the fines alone might not convince a school to change—and while they should not be so onerous that they harm current students—the resulting headlines, read by prospective students and alumni donors across the country, will be unambiguous; in the prestige game of American academia, a rape fine would deal a deep blow.

We wish we lived in a country where we could appeal to schools’ moral compasses—but US colleges and universities have proven time and again that they won’t take sexual violence, and equal access to education for all students, seriously, until they have more at stake. We need to speak to them in the twin languages they understand: money and reputation. Armed with the power to levy fines, the OCR could ensure that it is more expensive for schools to violate survivors’ rights than to respect them.

Now is our opportunity. Senators Claire McCaskill, Kirsten Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal are looking to introduce legislation this fall to combat campus sexual violence. They know, as we do, that the OCR needs more tools at its disposal. And they’ve already held a series of roundtables to discuss, among other reforms, the possibility of issuing legislation granting the OCR fining authority. Join Know Your IX and The Nation in calling on Congress to fight to make Title IX’s forty-two-year-old promise a reality.

Yes, Arresting Subway Dancers Is Still a Way of Criminalizing Black Youth

subway dancer

(CC 2.0/Dan Nguyen)

Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize–winning history about what amounted to re-enslavement of many black people from the end of the Civil War up until World War II, locates the roots of the modern prison-industrial complex in America’s post-Reconstruction era, the convict leasing program and the Black Codes. The Black Codes were laws—criminalizing acts ranging from vagrancy to speaking too loudly in front of white women—passed with the sole purpose of arresting black men and forcing them back in unpaid labor. Blackmon writes:

Vagrancy, the offense of a person not being able to prove at a given moment that he or she is employed, was a new and flimsy concoction dredged up from legal obscurity at the end of the nineteenth century by the state legislatures of Alabama and other southern states. It was capriciously enforced by local sheriffs and constables, adjudicated by mayors and notaries public, recorded haphazardly or not at all in court records, and, most tellingly in a time of massive unemployment among all southern men, was reserved almost exclusively for black men.

Early in the twentieth century, Southern states passed laws that further criminalized the behaviors and very existence of black people in public spaces, establishing Jim Crow segregation. In 1984’s Race, Reform, and Rebellion, Manning Marable writes, “South Carolina insisted that black and white textile workers could not use the same doorways, pay windows, bathrooms or even the same water buckets. Many cities passed ordinances which kept blacks out of public parks and white residential districts. Atlanta outlawed black barbers from clipping the hair of white children and women in 1926.”

“At the dawn of the twentieth century, in a rapidly industrializing, urbanizing, and demographically shifting America, blackness was refashioned through crime statistics,” writes Khalil Gibran Muhammad in The Condemnation of Blackness (2010). “It became a more stable racial category in opposition to whiteness through racial criminalization.”

I cite these sources because it’s important to understand the history of criminalizing black bodies for seemingly mundane actions.

Back in May, I wrote about how the crackdown on New York City subway dancers, mostly adolescent black boys, was another way of criminalizing black youth even as the number of people stopped and frisked by the NYPD plummeted. In a column for the New York Daily News, Harry Siegel responds:

Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in The Nation that the 46 reckless endangerment arrests in the first four months of this year [for subway dancing] amounted to “criminalizing black youth.” Smith, putting words in Bratton’s mouth, went on: “Those scary, disorderly, dancing young black bodies. Always causing fear.”

That seems to be more Smith’s obsession than Bratton’s, reducing these teenagers from people to totemic symbols and ideological props, as though dancing on the trains is some sacred ritual and any attempt to move it to parks or other places people are free to leave proves the NYPD’s secret role as the racist art police.

There’s no bigger conspiracy of race, class or culture here. The issue is simply about how shared, confined common spaces can be used. Hearing progressives who adore public transportation and disdain cars insist subways must double as performance spaces makes my brain hurt.

My argument has never been that subways “must double as performance spaces.” I haven’t made a public art argument with regards to the subway dancers, though I’m not opposed to doing so. (I’m also not sure how I put words in Commissioner Bratton’s mouth, as what Siegel quotes I didn’t attribute to Bratton.) What I’ve said is that arresting these mostly black teenage boys is further criminalization of black youth and black bodies, an assertion I continue to stand behind. However one feels about subway dancers’ high-flying antics, we should be able to agree they shouldn’t be arrested.

If there are real complaints about subway dancers’ posing a threat to people’s safety, then that’s something the city has to deal with. But the answer can not and should not be to arrest these kids. We can not making dancing a crime (look how that turned out in Footloose).

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Siegel goes on. “[F]or anyone serious about social justice, there’s no shortage of pressing work. The NYPD continues to arrest an excessive number of young black and Latino men and burden them with criminal records for marijuana even though they’re no more likely to use it than their rarely hassled white and Asian peers—and even though New York State actually decriminalized personal possession decades ago.” I agree. Saddling young men of color with criminal records for possession of marijuana is abhorrent. But their being arrested for dancing isn’t somehow better. We are a nation addicated to solving social problems through punitive measures that serve no one, least of all those already burdened with a history of second-class citizenship.

We should be limiting the contact between our youth and police. The way to do that is not to criminalize a harmless behavior—and after all, even Siegel concedes that “the dancers haven’t actually injured any riders.” They’re not simply being asked to move elsewhere. They are being arrested and charged with misdemeanors. Does that seem “light”? Well, the stakes are always higher when black people interact with the police—on any level. Ask Nubia Bowe from Oakland.

Siegel concludes: “With so much worth fighting for, why are so many fixated instead on the unhindered right of young men to dance on trains and then ask riders for change or a buck or two? Is that really all they think these talented, entrepreneurial teenagers are capable of?” Sounds like “soft bigotry of low expectations” argument, but Siegel misses the point. Whether or not dancing on the subway continues isn’t my biggest concern. These kids are unequivocally talented, and I would love to see them be able to practice their art with the full support of their community and their city, in whatever space that may be. My issue is that we’re arresting them. We are continuing to police black bodies under the guise of public safety, but all we do is criminalize otherwise benign behaviors and punish black youth.

That’s a historical arc that hasn’t bent anywhere.

 

Read Next: Melissa Harris Perry on how Moral Mondays has gone beyond the colorline

Protests, Fraud and Violence Follow Announcement of the Preliminary Afghan Vote Count

Supporters Abdullah Abdullah

Supporters of Afghanistan's presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah chant slogans during a protest against election fraud in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

By any measure, the preliminary results of Afghanistan’s runoff vote in the 2014 presidential election, released yesterday, were a shock and a surprise. In the first round, held April 4 among a plethora of candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani emerged to face a runoff on June 14, and in that vote Abdullah led Ghani by nearly 900,000 votes, winning 2.97 million votes to Ghani’s 2.08 million. But the results announced yesterday turned everything on its head, with Ghani credited with 4.86 million to Abdullah’s 3.46 million. Surprisingly, too, turnout in the second round, 7.95 million, surpassed the turnout in the first round, 6.60 million, by well over a million additional votes. Needless to say, Abdullah isn’t pleased, charging fraud and threatening to declare himself the winner anyway and lead a parallel state.

Virtually everyone involved from the outside, including the United States and the United Nations, is urging calm and patience, noting that the results declared on July 7 are only preliminary, and that final results will be released on July 22. Maybe. But massive protests have erupted. And, in the meantime, anything and everything can happen: hundreds of thousands of votes, or even millions, could be thrown out in the course of an investigation, and it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be the ultimate winner—but right now Abdullah is facing a steep uphill climb. The nice, neat and tidy results that Washington was hoping for, leading smoothly to a new government and the implementation of the strategic accord between the United States and Afghanistan that was worked out earlier this year, is up in the air. Parallel with the ugly civil war in Iraq, it’s increasingly likely that Afghanistan, too, could face fragmentation and civil war later this year or in 2015, with the Taliban-led insurgency only one factor.

Even a cursory look at the second-round election results, sorted by province, reveal the deep divide in Afghanistan politics, in which Ghani, a Pashtun, with strength in Afghanistan’s south and east, and Abdullah, a Tajik, with strength in the north and west, won drastically skewed results. In Paktia province, in the southeast, Ghani won 92 percent of the vote to Abdullah’s 8 percent, while in Panjshir province, a chief base of the anti-Taliban (and anti-Pashtun) Northern Alliance, Abdullah won 94 percent to Ghani’s 6 percent. Not exactly a sign of national unity! (You can find all of the results, province by province, at the website of Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission.)

A warlord from the north, Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province—where Abdullah won 63 percent of the vote—has already declared that he’ll help lead a government opposed to whatever government Ghani might set up. “From this moment on we announce our own legitimate government led by Abdullah Abdullah,” he said, though it isn’t clear whether he had Abdullah’s support. The United States warned Abdullah’s supporters, and everyone else, to stay away from any such action. Said Secretary of State John Kerry:

I have noted reports of protests in Afghanistan and of suggestions of a “parallel government” with the gravest concern. The United States expects Afghan electoral institutions to conduct a full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of irregularities. At the same time, there is no justifiable recourse to violence or threats of violence, or for resort to extra-constitutional measures or threats of the same. The apolitical role of the security forces must be respected by all parties. We call on all Afghan leaders to maintain calm in order to preserve the gains of the last decade and maintain the trust of the Afghan people. Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community.

Despite its waning influence, the United States has a lot of muscle because it, and the rest of the international community, provide virtually every dollar of Afghanistan’s budget, including cash to keep its military afloat. But that may not be enough to keep Afghanistan together if the various factions, and the warlords, can’t agree on who’ll get the biggest slice of the pie when the final (adjusted) election results are announced.

Last time around, when President Hamid Karzai was re-elected, there were widespread reports of massive fraud, intimidation and ballot stuffing, and Abdullah is making the same charges in 2014. And, as Ioannis Koskinas wrote last week for Foreign Policy, it isn’t exactly a surprise that fraud was in the offing:

As late as December 2013, the international community knew that there were over 19 million voter registration cards in circulation even though there were only 11 million registered voters, but did not feel compelled to act. It is important to highlight, however, the fact that there has been fraud in this election is no surprise to most credible analysts. But the level of fraud is so significant and surprisingly efficient, that it has surprised even the most cynical pundits, pointing to perhaps a widespread use of the Afghan election instruments (i.e. the Independent Election Commission, or IEC, and the ECC) to facilitate this fraud.

Is it possible that turnout increased by 1.3 million votes in the second round, even though dozens of candidates who’d run in the first round—and who might have attracted constituent votes—had been eliminated? And that nearly all of those additional votes would go to Ghani, and almost none to Abdullah? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem likely. Over at Foreign Policy’s South Asia Channel, Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili suggests that Ghani “learned to play the tribal game.” She writes:

There is little doubt that Ghani was able to mobilize Pashtuns in the East. Ghani claims he was able to do so by calling upon tribal leaders and mullahs to mobilize voters in their communities. For weeks before the second round of the presidential election, Ghani proudly touted the support of tribes. His twitter feed produced an endless stream of tribal “leaders” promising to deliver the votes of entire lineages.

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But it isn’t at all clear that such bloc voting could have generated such a stunning turnaround in just weeks. To get a flavor of the cacophony of the just-concluded runoff, consider the following from Nishank Motwani, an Australian researcher on Afghanistan:

A…development which tarnished the legitimacy of the IEC transpired when its Secretariat Chief, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail was stopped by the police chief of Kabul for attempting to transport unused ballot material out of the IEC headquarters after polling had ended. His attempt was broadcast live on Afghan television and the incident sharpened widely held fears of electoral fraud. In the aftermath of this development, neither the IEC nor Amarkhail could offer a reasonable explanation to clarify his actions thereby generating suspicion that the unused ballots were intended for fraudulent use.

The IEC’s initial refusal to suspend or investigate its head of secretariat resulted in Abdullah’s team to cease its cooperation with the IEC and called for U.N.-led mediation. Furthermore, Abdullah’s team appears to have devoted its resources to unveiling Amarkhail’s (and by extension the IEC’s) role in electoral fraud. The latter came to light on 22 June during a press conference from the Abdullah camp where they played intercepted mobile phone conversations that allegedly implicated the Secretariat Chief discussing ways and means to trip the electoral process in favor of the rival presidential candidate. While the audio recordings have not been verified for their authenticity, their release has intensified the political crisis and has cast a fear that tensions might escalate and lead to violence. Since this incident unfolded, Amarkhail stepped down from his position and “strongly rejected” the accusations made against him. Making matters worse, new reports indicate that Amarkhail quietly left Kabul on a flight bound for Dubai. It is unsurprising that such precarious events have failed to inspire confidence or rebuild trust for the IEC in the public’s viewpoint.

In any case, poor, battered Afghanistan will have to negotiate once again a bitter, contested and perhaps violent battle over election results and then hope that it’s corrupt and venal politicians and warlords can come to an accommodation about what the next government will look like. And the man who’s been in the middle of it all for the United States, James Dobbins, the special envoy for Afghanistan, will soon be leaving his post, to be replaced by Daniel Feldman.

 

Read Next: Haaretz, commenting on murder in Israel, says extremists are ‘“vermin”.

145 Nominees Still Can’t Do Their Jobs Because Republicans Won’t Do Theirs

Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With all due respect to Michael Hoza, his nomination to be US ambassador to Cameroon isn’t exactly a thrilling political development. Few people outside his professional circle likely even know who he is, and no US senators have raised substantive objections to his nomination.

Nor should they—he’s a career foreign service officer with a stellar résumé, and has worked extensively in Africa.

Yet Hoza has been awaiting a Senate confirmation vote since mid-January, one of 145 nominees languishing on the Senate calendar. He is waiting alongside nominees to a wide variety of offices and positions, from the associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to assistant secretaries at the departments of Energy and Defense.

Perhaps if these nominees were wildly controversial or had long records demanding extensive examination, the Senate would be properly exercising its constitutional duty to advise and consent on appointments. But many of these nominees are almost laughably benign, and if recent history is a guide, will eventually receive a bipartisan confirmation vote.

So why are these nominees waiting so long? Routine obstruction by Republican senators who are deliberately stretching out the confirmation process for virtually every nominee to come through the Senate. And now Senate majority leader Harry Reid is threatening to once again enact rules reform that would neutralize the GOP’s slow-down tactics.

“If they’re going to continue this, maybe we’ll have to take another look at that. It’s outrageous what they’ve done,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday when he returned from the July 4 holiday. “There’s no other way to look at what they’re doing. This is obstruction for obstruction’s sake.”

Though Democrats did enact the so-called “nuclear option” eliminating filibusters on executive and judicial nominations (Supreme Court excepted), the cloture process is still in place—and it allows for as much as thirty hours of debate per nominee. Republicans have been regularly using all of the time they can, which dramatically slows the Senate down.

Reid has options for changing the Senate rules to combat the slow-down, which he has said wouldn’t happen until next year (and, of course, if Democrats retain the majority). One possibility is “use it or lose it” reform, which has been advocated by several good government groups, like Fix the Senate Now. Basically, senators would have to use that debate time to actually debate the nominee in question, or they would forfeit it.

So if Senator John Cornyn wants to spend ten hours on the Senate floor talking about the nominee for US smbassador to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (waiting nearly six months for a vote), he’s welcome to do so, but he almost surely wouldn’t.

This is a particularly effective way of speeding up the Senate because Republicans can’t argue they are losing any means to exercise minority rights—they can still actually use the thirty hours on any nominee they choose. They would just have to explain why they object, which is a tall order since Republicans apparently approve of many of the nominees they are nonetheless slowing down.

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A report by Common Cause in May found nineteen examples of Republican senators chewing up cloture time on judicial nominees who were later confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Many executive branch nominees go through the same process. Republicans draw out the process and then end up voting for the nominee, as this chart from the report notes:

The level of obstruction is unprecedented. The average wait time for an executive branch or independent agency nominee is now nine months, according to Common Cause. There are around 110 executive branch or independent agency nominees awaiting action—and at this time in the George W. Bush presidency, there were only thirty-two. The number of cloture votes being forced for executive branch nominees are at record highs:

This obstruction is taking place largely out of the public eye—nobody particularly cares who is the assistant undersecretary to some alphabet-soup agency. But these are crucial posts in the everyday machinations of the federal government.

Take Hoza, for example, awaiting confirmation to be US ambassador to Cameroon. That country has been plagued by violence from the extremist Boko Haram group for months, and has been widely criticized, including by neighboring Nigeria, for being slow to respond to the threat.

Would having a US ambassador in the capital city of Yaounde have helped speed the response? We won’t ever know. Hoza has been on the Senate calendar since January 15, waiting for a vote.

 

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel, “Economic Inequality Is Not an Act of God

If Christian Corporations Have Religious Rights, What About Muslim Prisoners?

Guantánamo Bay

A detainee walks past a cell block at Camp 4 detention facility at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

If corporations have religious rights that warrant protection under the law, why don’t men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay?

A federal judge has given the US government until Tuesday evening to answer that question, which was posed by lawyers representing two Guantánamo detainees, Emad Hassan and Ahmed Rabbani, who have been held without charge or trial. Authorities at the prison have barred the two men from communal prayers during the holy month of Ramadan because they are on hunger strike. Two courts ruled previously that Hassan and Rabbani are not people, at least “within the scope” of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prevents the government from substantially burdening a person’s freedom to exercise religion.

In last week’s Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the chain of craft stores, along with other closely held corporations, are within the scope of the RFRA. Three days later, lawyers representing the detainees filed new lawsuits calling on a DC circuit court to restore the detainees’ right to communal prayers in light of the High Court’s interpretation.

“The Guantánamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and-blood human beings, are surely ‘individuals,’ and thus they are no less ‘person[s]’ than are for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby,” reads the motion. “The fact that the detainees are at Guantánamo Bay changes nothing, for Hobby Lobby makes clear that a ‘person’ whose religious free exercise is burdened under color of law need not be a US citizen or resident in order to enjoy the RFRA’s protections.”

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The government has until 6 pm to explain why Hassan and Rabbani have fewer religious rights than corporations. A hearing is set for July 10. If the Court ultimately finds that the RFRA does apply to the detainees, the government could still argue that the burden on the detainees’ freedom to exercise religion is justified by a “compelling government interest,” such as maintaining security at the prison. But it’s not clear how communal prayers actually threaten such an interest, or that preventing the two detainees from participating is “the least restrictive means” of satisfying the interest. “Least restrictive” is the standard required by the RFRA.

The application of the Hobby Lobby decision to Guantánamo detainees is another indicator that the supposed “limits” of that decision are undetermined. Recent court cases expanding religious rights have largely done so for Christian denominations, including the Supreme Court’s most recent endorsement of Catholic objections to birth control, and another recent decision permitting officials to open town council meetings in Greece, New York, with Christian prayers. If courts interpret the Hobby Lobby ruling as broadly as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her dissent, perhaps one positive outcome will be that the religious right will be forced to be more transparent about what it means when it talks about freedom of worship. For whom?

 

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Teachers to Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Please Quit

Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Given the choice between Republicans who are explicitly committed to doing away with collective bargaining rights and Democrats, public-sector labor unions tend to back Democrats at election time.

But that does not mean that unions are always satisfied with Democratic Party policies—or with Democratic policymakers.

This is especially true with regard to education debates. There are certainly Democrats who have been strong advocates for public schools. But there are also Democratic mayors, governors, members of Congress and cabinet members such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who have embraced and advanced “reforms” that supporters of public schools identify as destructive.

Duncan’s policies were so appealing to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—who explicitly praised the “good things” the education secretary was doing—that education writer Dave Murray wrote a 2012 article headlined, “Could a Romney Administration include Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary?”

Former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who has emerged as a leading champion of public education, refers to Duncan as “one of the worst Secretaries of Education”— arguing that “Duncan’s policies demean the teaching profession by treating student test scores as a proxy for teacher quality.

Teachers are pushing back against Duncan and those policies.

When 9,000 National Education Association members from across the country gathered in Denver last week, they endorsed a resolution that declares:

The NEA Representative Assembly joins other educators and parents in calling for the resignation of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for the Department’s failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.

Duncan is not about to resign. Instead, he dismisses the resolution with a typically glib DC-insider dig about how he is “trying to stay out of local union politics.”

But the NEA statement is not a “local” resolution.

This is a call for the resignation of a Democratic secretary of education from the nation’s largest professional employee organization—a union with 3 million members working from the pre-school to university graduate program levels of public education in 14,000 communities across the United States.

Past resolutions urging Duncan’s resignation failed to gain traction with NEA representative assemblies. But this year, the delegates determined that it was time for the education secretary to go.

Even if Duncan does not seem to take the call seriously, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress should.

For a number of years now, teachers, parents and students have expressed mounting frustration—and appropriate anger—with the focus of Duncan and other education policymakers on standardized testing that they say makes evaluation a bigger priority than actual education.

“For us, one thing is clear: before anything is going to get better: It’s the Testing, Stupid,” the incoming president of the NEA, Utah teacher Lily Eskelsen García, told delegates to the representative assembly. “Better yet, it’s the stupid testing.”

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In her speech, Eskelsen García decried what she referred to as a “phony” accountability system that she said hurts students and demeans the teaching profession.

Members of the California Teachers Association, who submitted the resolution urging Duncan to quit, have been especially blunt in their calls for Duncan to exit the cabinet.

Upset both with the education secretary’s emphasis on standardized testing and with Duncan’s response to a recent court ruling that eliminated workplaces protections for teachers, the CTA says:

Authentic education change only comes when all stakeholders— teachers, parents, administrators and the community—work together to best meet the needs of the students in their school or college. Teachers are not the problem. Teachers are part of the solution. And it’s time we have a Secretary of Education who understands and believes that.

 

 

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