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Dear Democrats: Economic Inequality Is Not an Act of God

Americans

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

“Inequality” is out as a White House talking point, The Washington Post reported on July 4. “Opportunity” is in. This is a problem. It’s just wrongheaded to believe that we face a binary choice: reform an unequal system or help the middle class.

By implying that there is a disconnect between inequality and opportunity, (many, not all) Democrats ignore the fact that opportunity cannot be provided as long as the economic and financial system is so unequal. Some, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, intuitively understand this. After all, she first came to Washington to battle a system that has long been rigged against the middle class, where working families’ voices get overpowered by well-funded lobbyists who hold elected officials by the pocket. By creating an artificial division between inequality and opportunity, we turn a blind eye to this rampant unfairness that helped the 1 percent ascend to their economic perches in the first place.

We also accept the built-in unfairness of the system as, simply, the way things are. Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, labels this flawed way of thinking “passive-voice populism.” We assume that the ups and downs of the American middle class are as natural and as out-of-our-hands as the ebb and flow of the tides: economic inequality as an act of god. But, Borosage writes, “inequality didn’t just happen to us. It wasn’t inevitable. Just as the broad middle class was constructed brick by brick after World War II, the decline of that middle class was constructed policy-by-policy, step-by-step over the last three decades.” Or, as Warren Buffett famously said in 2011, “[T]here’s been class warfare going on for the last twenty years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.”

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If we want to really create “opportunity” within our system, then we need to change the system. We need more than, as Borosage wrote today, “rhetorical pablum about lifting the middle class.” A solution, he continues, “will involve taking on the rigged game and changing the rules. And that inevitably will require curbing Wall Street, taxing the wealthy and making vital public investments, closing the tax havens and dodges of the multinationals, requiring the Federal Reserve to favor a full employment economy for workers rather than an austerity regime for bankers, and much more.”

On May 1, Senator Warren (D-MA) wrote in a prescriptive CNN op-ed, “We can repair the cracks in the middle class. We can strengthen our foundations and make sure that all of our children have a fighting chance. But it means changing who Washington works for—and doesn’t.”

It means providing opportunity by addressing inequality—at the same time.

 

Read Next: On this Fourth of July, meet your unpatriotic corporations

Christie’s Gun Control Veto Sparks Anger in NJ, but May Not Win Over the Tea Party

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts to a question during a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

Since the Democrats have pretty much avoided mentioning gun control since 1994, when the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives was largely (though mistakenly) credited to the National Rifle Association, the party can’t complain too much about Chris Christie’s veto last week of legislation that would have cut the number of bullets allowed in a magazine from fifteen to ten. Hardly a radical goal, but one calculated to win Christie support from Republican voters in 2016 primaries.

In New Jersey at least, the Democrats and local opinion makers are letting Christie know that they’re unhappy, including the Newark Star-Ledger, which in an editorial called the veto a “self-serving political stunt.”

But when Christie gets his questionnaire in the mail from Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, he can safely answer it in such a way that warms the hearts of NRA supporters and their government-hating, gun-totin’ friends in the Tea Party.

That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party is ready, just yet, to endorse Christie in 2016. As the Tea Party News Network says, they’re happy that Christie vetoed the bill from New Jersey “gun-grabbing tyrants,” but they urge the governor to stay right where he is:

As America geared up for celebrating our Independence Day, New Jersey governor Chris Christie did something very American: he stood up to gun-grabbing tyrants. While the Tea Party has soured on Chris Christie (for some very good and obvious reasons), let’s give credit where credit is due: this was the right call from Christie. Of course, this is not enough to earn him any true Tea Party support for a presidential bid (not by a long shot), but Christie’s actions prove what many Tea Partiers have long contended: that Chris Christie is the right Republican for New Jersey…and he should stay there.

In New Jersey, state legislative leaders are blasting Christie, needless to say. A lead sponsor of the legislation, Assembly majority leader Louis Greenwald, released a statement noting that Christie’s veto “came only minutes after the families of children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School visited the New Jersey Statehouse to deliver petitions urging the governor to support the measure.” Greenwald’s statement said:

The governor’s action today can best be described with the words used in his own veto statement, “difficult choices are brushed aside [and] uncomfortable topics are left unexplored.” I would imagine this is a very uncomfortable topic to [discuss] with conservative voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Added Senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg:

High-capacity magazines have no purpose other than to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. They do not belong on our streets. The governor’s veto is an insult to the families of gun violence victims who have fought to make sure that others did not have to suffer as they have. His veto is an insult to our residents who deserve additional protections.

The Star-Ledger reported that in New Hampshire, whose electorate is essential to Christie’s presidential hopes—the New Jersey governor is heading to Iowa next week, but he isn’t strong in the state, which is dominated by conservative Christians—gun control opponents warned Christie last year that they are watching him closely:

“I think it’s a step in the right direction for Governor Christie,” said Sam Cohen, vice president and CEO of Pro-Gun New Hampshire, whose state holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Cohen’s group last year warned Christie that it was watching him closely, and advised him to veto four gun control bills Democrats sent him. Ultimately, Christie vetoed the two most strongly opposed by gun rights groups, and signed the other two.

There don’t appear to be any Republicans willing to challenge the NRA, at least not among the possible candidates in 2016. Christie, as a governor from the blue state where support for gun control is strong, may have once thought fleetingly about being the odd man out on gun control, but clearly no longer—if ever. So he’s decided to cash in on his pro-NRA stand as something courageous, and the same can’t be said for candidates from Kentucky, Texas or, well, Florida, where Jeb Bush hasn’t crossed the NRA. In Florida, of course, it isn’t often that anti-gun measures get to the governor’s desk, so it will be hard to find evidence of Bush vetoing a bill that the NRA didn’t like during his term as governor there. As On the Issues reports, Bush supports Florida’s pro-gun Stand Your Ground law, and while he supports the idea of instant background checks Bush favored Florida’s NRA-backed “concealed carry” laws. (The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that a new Quinnipiac Poll found “that 92 percent of American voters, including 92 percent of gun owners, support requiring background checks on all gun purchases,” including 86 percent of Republicans. So that’s hardly a courageous stand by ex-Governor Bush.)

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Fox News, reporting on the Bloomberg Everytown campaign, quotes an NRA leader saying that Bloomberg is “just the latest incarnation of a long line of anti-freedom billionaires who’ve tried to take on the National Rifle Association.” Actually, there haven’t been that many billionaires, anti-freedom or not, who’ve done anything at all about guns, so Bloomberg deserves credit for what he’s doing. Sadly, if the Everytown effort has any success at all, it may come in the form of eliminating a few Democratic incumbents here and there, in rural, pro-gun states and districts, who decide to challenge the NRA and create an opening for their Republican challenger.

 

Read Next: The Saga of Christie, Samson, and the American Dream Megamall, Part II

Why the Supreme Court’s Attack on Labor Hurts Women Most

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The War on Women found an ally at the Supreme Court last week with two rulings that threaten to deepen gender inequality in the workplace. The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case is more clearly aimed at women, with its religiously inspired assault on women’s contraceptive healthcare access. But it was the ruling on union rights in Harris v. Quinn, which threatens a vital union for public healthcare workers, that may prove even more consequential for the lives of working women.

Washington has for years been paralyzed by the right’s anti-abortion agenda and resistant to funding the most basic welfare supports for low-income mothers. Now the Court has expanded the attack on women through legal clampdowns on women’s economic and civil rights—attacking reproductive healthcare in one ruling and gutting women’s labor power in the other.

Harris centered on Illinois home healthcare workers’ ability to collect dues from all workers they represent. Though the issues of “fair share” rules at unionized workplaces related to all public sector unions, Harris hit at the Achilles heel of public labor: the unique situation of home care workers for people with disabilities, working in private homes, but paid by the government. For this hybrid sector, the Court arbitrarily carved out of standard labor law a novel, and sexist, category, termed “partial public employees.” Siding with the national Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the decision effectively stripped unions working in the partial public sector of their ability to finance themselves by invalidating “fair share agreements,” the practice that allows unions to collect dues from employees of an organized shop.

The target of the suit matters here. In home healthcare and other sectors of domestic work, the jobs have long been dismissed as “women’s work,” disproportionately done by poor women of color and immigrants. Besieged by the arduous schedules, psychological stress and physical strain of caretaking, homecare providers have the most to gain from unionization. They’re also some of the hardest workers to unionize, because the aides serve thousands of people with disabilities and their families, all in diverse households with unique medical needs.

Some labor scholars noted that fair share is not yet completely abolished for all public workers, since the Court did not overturn the key precedent allowing public closed-shop unions, Abood v. Board of Education. And yes, the narrower decision in Harris may for now spare more conventional public sector unions, like direct employees of state agencies. Some actually see Harris as a potential springboard for intensified grassroots organizing strategies to “market” union membership to the rank-and-file.

But Harris may nonetheless inflict major financial damage on an already precarious industry that remains largely atomized, unstable and unorganized. The evisceration of a rare bastion of unionism in domestic work could undermine efforts to organize the many other home attendants, housekeepers, nannies and other marginalized household laborers. Once dues evaporate, organizers may soon become stuck making an increasingly hard sell for an increasingly weak and underfinanced union.

The ruling evokes the problems that hindered organizing back in the 1990s, when SEIU first started reaching out to home health aides in California. The high turnover and poverty wages made it a challenge to persuade workers to invest in any organizing project. But the union combined grassroots outreach with community education to enlist both local officials and consumers behind the union, and Illinois followed in 2003, turning homecare workers into official state employees and weaving together a strong union shop from thousands of individual providers in separate homes.

Unionization paid off once the workers were hooked into the collective bargaining system. According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages jumped by 65 percent over a decade, workers gained health insurance coverage and job training, and recently negotiated to establish a formal grievance procedure. Home healthcare programs in California and Washington have seen similar gains in wages and benefits, which would otherwise be extremely rare in the in-home workforce.

The sector’s peculiar blend of public healthcare standards and highly personalized service necessitates this triangular labor structure, explain historians Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein in the The American Prospect. Homecare programs stem from the movement toward community-based “consumer-directed care,” rather than institutions, which gives beneficiaries “the power to hire, fire, and supervise their attendants.” Yet such a huge system demands central state management, which can efficiently set standards for work duties, wages and benefits. An organized public workforce under a single employer makes everyone happier, say Boris and Klein: “As part of this process, California, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Illinois decided that allowing collective bargaining was the best way to maintain an adequate home care workforce, reduce turnover, improve skill, and deliver services efficiently with cost effectiveness.”

In other words, this system works. Nicole Woo, director of domestic policy with the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), says via e-mail that the Harris case “has brought attention to the importance of unions—especially public sector unions—in helping women workers gain livable wages and benefits in notoriously low-wage occupations…. public sector unions are essential in bolstering the working conditions and quality of service in home care occupations.”

According to a CEPR analysis of the “union advantage” and gender inequality, union women are more likely to have decent family leave policies, retirement benefits and wages. Unionized female health aides generally earn wages that are 16 percent higher than that of their non-union counterparts. Meanwhile, though the union workforce is shrinking nationwide, women are becoming the majority and have especially high representation in public service jobs, thanks in large part to the immigration-driven growth in Asian American and Latina workers.

And that brings us back to why Illinois home attendants were a perfect target for the anti-union movement. Union-supported homecare demonstrates how women, “big government” and consumers can effectively work together, so naturally, the right is fighting to destroy this model before it catches on in more states.

Hobby Lobby revealed how companies can lord over working women’s reproductive freedom in a deeply inequitable insurance system. Harris struck from another angle—eroding union women’s labor power and threatening public health services in the process. Unions are a tool for resistance; although unionization alone won’t overcome greed or religious chauvinism in corporations, a strong collective bargaining system would give women a platform to hold bosses accountable and thwart reactionary attacks on health programs for workers and the poor.

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In a statement following the Court’s decision, Chicago homecare provider Flora Johnson explained why the ruling threatens gender, labor and health justice: “They are trying to divide us and limit our power, but we won’t stop standing together for our families and our consumers…. I know from experience that we are stronger together.”

The Supreme Court has highlighted the right’s hostility to both labor and public health protections. But when women in public service defend their labor rights, they safeguard the welfare of those who receive care as well as those who give it.

 

Read Next: Is there still time for organized labor to save itself?

Haaretz, Commenting on Murder in Israel, Says Extremists Are ‘Vermin’

Israeli flags

Israeli flags fly over the Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El near Ramallah.  (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

With Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed shuttle diplomacy long dead and forgotten—and with President Obama seemingly unwilling to say much at all about the Israel-Palestine crisis—it’s getting ugly again, amid talk of a new intifada. (Of course, a new intifada is the last thing the Palestinians need, if it turns violent.) And what is ugliest about the current violence is the shocking crime committed by “nationalist” (read extremist) Israelis against an unarmed and defenseless boy. It isn’t surprising that Israel’s settler-right and other religious and political extremists might use unchecked violence against the Palestinians living under occupation, since that happens every day. But as in many such situations, a single, highly personal traumatic event can create shock waves that ordinary “statistical” violence doesn’t generate. Thus, listen to the authors of an editorial in Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily that sometimes serves as Israel’s conscience. It’s worth quoting in its entirety:

There are no words to describe the horror allegedly done by six Jews to Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shoafat. Although a gag order bars publication of details of the terrible murder and the identities of its alleged perpetrators, the account of Abu Khdeir’s family—according to which the boy was burned alive—would horrify any mortal. Anyone who is not satisfied with this description, can view the horror movie in which members of Israel’s Border Police are seen brutally beating Tariq Abu Khdeir, the murder victim’s 15-year-old cousin.

The Israel Police was quick to label the murderers “Jewish extremists,” meaning they aren’t part of the herd, they are outliers, “wild weeds.” This is the police’s way of trying to justify a sin, to “make the vermin kosher.” But the vermin is huge, and many-legged. It has embraced the soldiers and other young Israelis who overran the social media networks with calls for revenge and with hatred for Arabs. The vermin was welcomed by Knesset members, rabbis and public figures who demanded revenge. Nor did it skip over the prime minister, who declared “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.”

Abu Khdeir’s murderers are not “Jewish extremists.” They are the descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance that is nurtured and fertilized by the guides of “the Jewish state”: Those for whom every Arab is a bitter enemy, simply because they are Arab; those who were silent at the Beitar Jerusalem games when the team’s fans shouted “death to Arabs” at Arab players; those who call for cleansing the state of its Arab minority, or at least to drive them out of the homes and cities of the Jews.

No less responsible for the murder are those who did not halt, with an iron hand, violence by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians, and who failed to investigate complaints “due to lack of public interest.” The term “Jewish extremists” actually seems more appropriate for the small Jewish minority that is still horrified by these acts of violence and murder. But they too recognize, unfortunately, that they belong to a vengeful, vindictive Jewish tribe whose license to perpetrate horrors is based on the horrors that were done to it.

Prosecuting the murderers is no longer sufficient. There must be a cultural revolution in Israel. Its political leaders and military officers must recognize this injustice and right it. They must begin raising the next generation, at least, on humanist values, and foster a tolerant public discourse. Without these, the Jewish tribe will not be worthy of its own state.

If you’ve read Max Blumenthal’s Goliath, an important investigation into the culture and beliefs of Israel’s far right (and you can read my review of Goliath in Middle East Policy), then you know that for decades the intolerant, Arab-hating radicals who thrive both in the occupied West Bank and in Israel proper have been gaining momentum for decades, and so Haaretz is right on point in calling for a “cultural revolution” and for arguing that the radical “vermin is huge, and many legged.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s crocodile tears over the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir are belied by his decision to order airstrikes against Hamas and other, more extreme Palestinian Islamists in Gaza, strikes that accomplish nothing but to inflame passions even further while allowing the prime minister to exercise his “vengeance.”

The kidnapping and execution of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian thugs does not, of course, justify the murder of Khdeir. That, too, was a horrific crime, and it can’t be excused by saying that it was a legitimate form of resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank. But there is clearly an imbalance here: Israel is all-powerful and militarily supreme in the occupied West Bank, and its Jewish radicals have the support and encouragement of the Israeli state, while a battered and flailing Palestinian Authority government manages to exercise little or no actual “authority” in the areas in which it has nominal control, and its radicals, extremists and murderers are spawned in the hellish conditions under which they live.

Meanwhile, Khdeir’s cousin was savagely beaten, arrested and jailed in a clear instance of police brutality. That event reached the corridors of the State Department in Washington, which issued the following comment (in its entirety) on July 5:

We can confirm that Tariq Khdeir, an American citizen, is being held by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem. He was visited by an official from the US Consulate General in Jerusalem today.

We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force. We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force.

We reiterate our grave concern about the increasing violent incidents, and call on all sides to take steps to restore calm and prevent harm to innocents.

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That was followed, on July 6, by this statement, also in its entirety, from State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki:

There was a hearing today at 11:15 AM this morning (July 6) where it was agreed by the judge that Tariq would be released under house arrest while the criminal investigation is conducted. An official from the US Consulate General was at that hearing.
 Mr. Khudeir’s family was asked to post bail and Tariq is restricted to his uncle’s home in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem. He is also permitted to make arrangements to visit medical facilities if needed.
 
If the investigation is concluded promptly, Mr. Khudeir should be able to return to Florida as planned with his family later this month.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely. We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force. As we stated yesterday we are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for the apparent excessive use of force.

It’s hard to remember the last time that the State Department condemned Israeli violence without issuing an “on-the-other-hand” type of “balance.”

And if there’s any hope in any of this, it’s that Yishai Fraenkel, whose nephew, Naftali Fraenkel, was one of the three murdered Israeli teens, spoke by telephone with Hussein Abu Khdeir, the father of the murdered Palestinian, and presumably both exchanged condolences.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on why US should back Syria’s Assad against ISIS.

10 Questions All Politicians Should Answer About Gun Control

NRA Gun Convention

National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

For years, the National Rifle Association has pressed candidates for local and national offices to answer questions about gun control policy. The highly publicized results, which help form a candidate’s often sacred “NRA rating,” not only affect races in the short term but help shape policy long after as politicians are hemmed into a particular position on guns before even taking office.

Now, a leading pro-gun control group is launching a counter-effort: Everytown for Gun Safety, funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will soon present federal candidates in the 2014 midterms with a ten-part questionnaire about gun control policy. Bloomberg has committed to spending $50 million on the midterms, and the questionnaire is a good starting point for evaluating where candidates stand.

In many cases, this is the first time these candidates will be asked in detail about gun control policy. Among the questions, which you can read in full here:

  • Does the candidate support closing the gun show loophole?

  • What about loopholes that allow people to buy guns online without a criminal background check?

  • Does the candidate support increased penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking?

  • Should the size of ammunition clips be restricted? (There is no baseline given).

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Some of the questions are traps, in a sense, for candidates who normally hew close to the NRA line and oppose any restrictions on gun rights whatsoever. For example, one question asks if the candidate supports laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who have been convicted of stalking or of abusing a dating partner. (Current federal law only prohibits gun ownership by people convicted of spousal abuse, but not domestic violence more generally.) Any sensible answer to the question would be yes, and a “no” answer is a campaign ad waiting to happen.

Other questions are clearly designed to build political support among potential members of the next Congress for things like expanded background checks or even smaller-bore policy items like increased funding for the federal background check database.

But there is one curious omission, especially for a group whose name is supposed to recall the horror of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut: no question asks about an assault weapons ban. There was notable state-level action around restricting assault weapons after Newtown, but congressional Democrats dropped this from last spring’s major gun control legislation. Apparently Everytown for Gun Safety isn’t too interested in pushing Congress forward on this issue.

 

Read Next: David Cole on the one Supreme Court decision we can celebrate

Before the World Cup Ends, Will the Media Tell the Truth?

FIFA protest

Brazilians protest FIFA. Photo by author. 

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter was strutting like a rooster over the weekend about the absence of mass protests during Brazil’s World Cup. “Where is all this social unrest?” he asked in mocking snark that, along with bribery and corruption, has become his trademark. Then Blatter waxed rhapsodic about how “football is more than a religion” in Brazil, as if that explains the absence of millions of people marching on his “FIFA quality stadiums”. Similar, sentiments were expressed by Brazil’s Deputy Minister of Sports Luis Fernandes , who said that “during the World Cup, the passion for football has taken over.”

This position has been echoed continuously in the US media. The Washington Post has carried headlines that have read, “In Brazil,smiles, parties have replaced protests” and “A nation’s haves, have nots unite for a common cause.” No need to pick on the Post, as this has been “the line” in multiple media outlets over the last several weeks.

As is often the case with the mainstream media, they have started with an indisputable truth and then have chosen to draw conclusions that match their own embedded perspective: a perspective shaped by Sepp Blatter, his broadcast partners and a blinkered reality of hotels and black SUVs. It is certainly true that the million-person protests have not taken place during the World Cup, as they did during the 2013 Confederation’s Cup. But the conclusion that now everything is awesome and “parties have replaced protests” is simply not true. I recently returned from Brazil and saw a different reality. The fact is that there are protests, strikes and battles with police happening every day. In the favelas, there are demonstrations against the police occupations that are happening because of the Cup. (Here is a terrific photo essay by Andalusia Knoll that shows images from all the World Cup protests that are not happening.)

If the protests are far smaller than the ones a year ago, it is because the streets are militarized down to the last inch, ruled by a military police force who are tear-gassing any group of people who attempt to gather and raise political demands.

I attended one of these “FIFA Go Home” demonstrations, and it was a fearful exercise in state intimidation. The gathering was at a public square. An hour before the start of the march, the square was already surrounded by riot police with machine guns in hand. One would have had to gently push aside and say “excuse me” to someone with a machine gun and a badge just to get there. This was daunting for me as a gringo journalist. Imagine if you are someone with a family, a job and a life that you had to return to following the Cup.

Then once we gathered together, the police would, every few minutes, randomly pick out someone in the crowd of 500 and search their bag. People would chant and yell at the police, but five other officers surrounded the one doing the searching, all with their fingers on the trigger of their automatic weaponry. One protester took out a horn and played Darth Vader’s theme music from Star Wars, but other than that there was little anyone could do. Then when the march was finally underway, the demonstrators were gassed by the military police. One police officer, as caught by the Associated Press, fired live ammunition in a panicky fashion over the heads of protesters. Then the riot police moved in with baseball bat–sized batons.

It was an altogether ugly exercise that provoked chants calling FIFA “Brazil’s new dictatorship.” In other words, the demonstrations aren’t bigger because the military police have created a reality that it is terrifying for people to express their dissent, all to the joy of Sepp Blatter.

Larissa, an activist from São Paulo, explained the size of the demonstrations to Al Jazeera by saying, “Some of us are in jail, others are just being cautious. During our latest protests at Rio’s Maracana stadium, fifteen of us were arrested and are now in jail. The police beat many of us…. I love football. I actually play football myself. I just hate the whole industry around it, which—in the name of FIFA—has been eating up whole neighbourhoods here in Brazil. They think they can do anything in the name of football.”

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It would be helpful—even novel—if the US media would tell this story: a population angry about the Cup, but terrorized into compliance. But to tell that story one would actually have to talk to Brazilians who aren’t their cab drivers and concierges. There is still time in the next week, before the World Cup ends, for the media to wear out some shoe leather, hire some translators and tell the truth about what is happening in Brazil. With the 2016 Olympics coming to Rio, the anger and discontent over these mega-events is not going anywhere. The next two years should be a time when the stories of regular Brazilians are told and reckoned with, instead of ignored in the name of nerfy, feel-good narratives.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on FIFA’s negligence and the Belo Horizonte overpass collapse

What Happened When One Country Required All Corporate Boards to Be 40% Women

Female Executive

(Shutterstock)

Call it the Sheryl Sandberg theory of feminist progress: help more women get into the tippy top of the company pyramid and change will spread to the bottom ranks. You could also call it trickle-down feminism: focus on equality at the top and the rewards will flow downward. There are some real life examples that show this doesn’t always pan out. Take Marissa Mayer reducing flexible scheduling after she became the first female CEO at Yahoo, or Sandberg herself, who didn’t realize pregnant women needed reserved parking lots close to the building until she was pregnant.

But a new study quantifies just how far the effects of putting women in leadership can, and can’t, go. Marianne Bertrand, Sandra E. Black and Sissel Jensen examined what happened after Norway instituted a quota in 2003 that required public companies to make their boards at least 40 percent female. The quota did get many more women onto corporate boards, and it may have helped boost their pay, as the wage gap between male and female board members fell.

Additionally, it may have helped increase the number of female executives at these companies. While the researchers couldn’t look at the exact genders of those in the C-suite, when they looked at the gender makeup of the five most highly paid people at the companies they found that more female board members begot more women in that group. “[A] higher share of female directors may increase the chance that a female employee…is one of the top five earners,” they report. Women who joined a company’s board were also more likely to end up among its top executives.

The march of progress, however, mostly stops there. An increased number of women on a company’s board had no impact on increasing women’s ranks at any other wage levels below the very top. And not much else got better for the lower-downs. “We also see no improvements on gender wage gaps…and find no evidence of changing work environments,” the researchers write. Generally, they found no evidence that increasing women’s representation on boards boosted female employment overall or employment for women with business degrees or children in particular. They also didn’t find evidence that seeing more women at the top spurred younger women to get a business degree or go into the field.

So does this mean quotas are a public policy failure? Not at all. That’s not what quotas do. The study shows that quotas increase women’s representation among top leadership and even narrow their pay gaps. But to believe that setting aside a certain share of seats that the top for women will mean that everyone below them does better is to believe change can come more easily than it does.

Quotas, instead, serve to bring gender equality to one specific area: positions of power. We can never say we live in a country rid of patriarchy while women hold less than a quarter of all political offices, 5 percent of CEO positions and less than 15 percent of executive officer positions, and less than 17 percent of board seats. And change isn’t coming voluntarily. Women have held about the same share of executive officer roles for four years and the same share of board seats for eight. Countries that have quotas, or even just strongly suggested goals, are making much faster progress.

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There are a variety of reasons why individual women in leadership don’t signal broader change. Patriarchy still has a very firm stranglehold on our society, and trying to loosen its grip can prove to be too hard a task for a woman all on her own. (In fact, research has found that it takes at least three women on a company’s board to make a real difference.) Individual people are also flawed and have limited perspectives—had Sandberg never become pregnant, she may not have realized what pregnant women at work need, as many well-meaning male bosses likely don’t. And women are put into these roles to do their jobs and often to focus on shareholder value, not to stage a gender revolution, and those two things can sometimes be in conflict, as with Mayer and her belief that telework was hurting Yahoo’s work culture.

Still, we could use a quota, or at least a strongly suggested target to make equality at the top move faster. That doesn’t mean it would transform things for everyone else. There’s plenty of other of work to do to bring about gender equality in the workplace. But it would start to dilute the white male cabal currently running our largest institutions.

 

Read Next: Does feminism have a class problem?

ISIS: The Spoils of the ‘Great Loot’ in the Middle East

ISIS Guard

ISIS fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul in 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) 

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

“So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy.”    – T.E. Lawrence, February 1915

It was a curious comment by the oddball but unarguably brilliant British agent and scholar, Thomas Edward Lawrence. The time was World War I, and England and France were locked in a death match with the Triple Alliance, of which Ottoman Turkey was a prominent member. But it was nonetheless true, and no less now than then. In the Middle East, to paraphrase William Faulkner, history is not the past; it is the present.

In his 1915 letter, Lawrence was describing French machinations over Syria, but he could just as well have been commenting on England’s designs in the region, which Allied leaders in World War I came to call the “Great Loot”—the imperial vivisection of the Middle East.

As Iraq tumbles into yet another civil war, it is important to remember how all this came about, and why adding yet more warfare to the current crisis will perpetuate exactly what the “Great Loot” set out to do: tear an entire region of the world asunder.

Divide and Conquer

There is a scorecard here filled with names, but they are not just George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—though the latter helped mightily to fuel the latest explosion.

They are names most people have never heard of, like Sixth Baronet of Sledmere Mark Sykes and French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot. In 1915, these two mid-level diplomats created a secret plan to divvy up the Middle East. Almost a century later that imperial map not only defines the region and most of the players, but continues to spin out tragedy after tragedy, like some grotesque, historical Groundhog Day.

In 1915, the imperial powers’ major goal in the Middle East was to smother any expression of Arab nationalism and prevent any unified resistance to the designs of Paris and London. France wanted Greater Syria, Britain control of the land bridges to India. The competition was so intense that even while hundreds of thousands of French and British troops were dying on the Western Front, their secret services were blackguarding one another from Samarra to Medina, maneuvering for position for when the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was the compromise aimed at ending the internecine warfare. France would get Greater Syria (which it would divide to create Lebanon), plus zones of influence in northern Iraq. Britain would get the rest of Iraq and Jordan and establish the Palestine Mandate. All of this, however, had to be kept secret from the locals, whom the British and French incited to rebel against imperial Ottoman rule even as they plotted to impose their own.

The Arabs thought they were fighting for independence, but London and Paris had other designs. Instead of the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and access to the Mediterranean the Arabs had been promised, they would get the sun-blasted deserts of Arabia and the rule of monarchs, who were easy to buy or bully.

However, to run such a vast enterprise through the use of direct force was beyond the power of even London and Paris. So both empires transplanted their strategies of exploiting religion, sect, tribe and ethnicity—which had worked so well in Indochina, India, Ireland and Africa—to divide and conquer, adding to it a dash of chaos.

The French put the minority Christians in charge of Lebanon to keep down the majority Sunnis and Shiites. They recruited the minority Alawite Shiites in Syria to head up the army that ruled over the majority Sunnis, while the British installed a Sunni king in Iraq to rule over the country’s majority Shiites. In Palestine the British used Zionism much as they were using Protestantism in Northern Ireland to keep down the native Catholic Irish and keep both communities divided. Communities ended up fighting one another rather than their imperial masters, which, of course, was the whole point of the matter.

Now those demons are on the loose.

Names on the Ledger

There are new players in the Middle East since Sykes and Picot drew up their agreement. Washington and Israel were latecomers, but eventually replaced both imperial powers as the major military forces in the region.

The enemy of the “Great Loot” was secular nationalism, and the United States, France and Britain have been trying to overthrow, isolate, or co-opt secular regimes in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya since they first appeared. The rationale for the hostility is that secular regimes were run by dictators. Many have been, but they’re arguably no worse than the Wahhabi fanatics in Saudi Arabia or the monsters the Gulf monarchies have nurtured in Syria and northern Iraq.

Why is Syria called a dictatorship when Saudi Arabia is not? This past February, the kingdom passed a law equating anything that offends “the nation’s reputation or its position”—including dissent, the exposure of corruption and campaigns for reform—with “terrorism.”

The list of names on the ledger of those who nurture terrorism in the Middle East is long. Yes, it certainly includes the Bush administration, which smashed up one of the most developed countries in the region, dismantled the Iraqi state, and stoked the division between Sunnis and Shiites. But also the Clinton administration, whose brutal sanctions impoverished Iraq and eviscerated its middle class. And further back, during the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush pounded southern Iraq with toxic depleted uranium, inflicting a massive cancer epidemic on places like Basra. It was Jimmy Carter and the CIA who backed Saddam Hussein’s rise to power, because the Baathist dictator was particularly efficient at torturing and killing trade unionists and members of the Iraqi left.

Not to mention members of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, along with associated states Morocco and Jordan—that fund the Islamic insurgency in Syria. Some of those countries may decry the excesses of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, but it was they who stoked the fires in which ISIL was forged.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also on that list. It is through Turkey’s borders that most fighters and supplies pass into Syria. So is the Obama administration, which farmed the insurgency out to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and is now horrified by the creatures that those Wahhabist feudal monarchies produced.

France’s Imperial Grudge

And don’t forget T.E. Lawrence’s French.

Paris has never forgiven the Syrians for tossing them out in 1946, nor for Damascus’s role in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, which dethroned the French-favored Christian minority who had dominated the country since its formation in 1943.

The French have been enthusiastic supporters of the insurgency in the Syrian civil war and, along with the British, successfully lobbied the European Union to drop its ban on supplying the rebels with military hardware. Paris has also earned favor from Saudi Arabia by trying to derail efforts to find a solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. France is a member of the group of powers known as the P5+1—France, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and Germany—involved in talks with Tehran.

The Gulf Council praised France’s attempted sabotage, and Paris promptly landed a $6 billion contract to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s air defense system. It is negotiating to sell $8 billion worth of fighter-bombers to the Emirates and almost $10 billion worth to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia recently donated $3 billion in aid to the Lebanese Army on the condition that it be used to buy French weapons and ammunition. It is a somewhat ironic gift, since the major foe of the Lebanese Army lately has been Saudi-supported Wahhabists in the country’s northern city of Tripoli.

And that’s not all. Apparently French President François Hollande met with the foreign ministers of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates last September to discuss a plan for Pakistan to train a 50,000-man Sunni army to overthrow the Syrian government and defeat Al Qaeda–affiliated jihadist groups.

Members of that army may already be on their way to Europe, much as the mujahedeen from Afghanistan did a generation ago. According to Western intelligence services, more than 3,000 European Union citizens have gone to fight in Syria—ten times the number who went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The gunman who killed four people on May 24 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a veteran jihadist from the Syrian civil war.

Sowing Chaos

For now, the Gulf monarchies see themselves as pulling the strings, but they have virtually no control over what they have wrought. Those Wahhabi fanatics in Syria and northern Iraq may do what Osama bin Laden did and target the corruption of the monarchies next.

The gulf countries are rich but fragile. Youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia is between 30 and 40 percent, and half the country’s 28 million people are under 25 years of age. In other Gulf nations a tiny strata of superrich rule over a huge and exploited foreign workforce. When the monarchies begin to unravel, the current chaos will look like the Pax Romana.

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But chaos has always been an ally of imperialism. “The agenda has always been about imposing division and chaos on the Arab world,” wrote longtime peace activist Tom Hayden. “In 1992, Bernard Lewis, a major Middle East expert, wrote that if the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common identity…. the state then disintegrates into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions, and parties.” And that is just the kind of disintegration that foreign powers have sought to exploit.

Military intervention by the United States and its allies will accelerate the divisions in the Middle East. If the White House is serious about stemming the chaos, it should stop fueling the Syrian civil war, lean on the Gulf monarchies to end their sectarian jihad against Shiites, pressure the Israelis to settle with the Palestinians and end the campaign to isolate Iran.

And tell the French to butt out.

 

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Is Obama Throwing Immigrant Children Under the Bus?

US Border Patrol

Undocumented immigrants wait in a holding facility at the US Border Patrol detention center in Nogales, Arizona (Reuters/Jeff Topping)

On Monday, President Obama ripped into the GOP for turning its back on the country’s immigration crisis, and announced that he was preparing to take unilateral action by the end of the summer to change the country’s enforcement policies. The announcement stirred up bluster from the usual suspects about executive overreach—never mind that it was John Boehner himself who, in a meeting on June 24, reportedly informed Obama that reform legislation is dead in the House, at least for the rest of the year.

Despite mounting pressure from immigrant rights groups, Obama has refrained from revising heavy-handed enforcement policies for months, ostensibly to create political space for Republicans to move their own legislation forward, something they claimed—and continue to claim—they want to do. Now that the charade is over there’s no reason for the president not to act. Republicans have never explained what else he could do to earn the “trust” they say is lacking; Obama has already presided over a record-breaking 2 million deportations, and Senate Democrats even offered to change their legislation so that it wouldn’t go into effect until a new administration takes over in 2017.

If Obama has given up trying to appease the GOP and wants to shift away from a policy that emphasizes deportations, it’s hard to explain why he is considering weakening a law intended to ensure that children aren’t removed to violent situations and to protect victims of child trafficking, in order to more quickly remove the unaccompanied minors flooding over the borders.

“It’s an utter devastation of due process for our most vulnerable community members,” Ruthie Epstein of the ACLU said in response to the administration’s acknowledgement that it is considering changes to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. That law shields children from countries who do not share a border with the United States from immediate deportation. It mandates that they must instead be handed over to Health and Human Services, which helps them access legal counsel to advise them on the process of applying for asylum, and in some cases releases them to US relatives. The new proposal would let Border Patrol agents make the decision to deport the children they arrest after only a brief screening interview, denying the children access to legal counsel.

Obama said on Monday that speeding up the deportation of children was intended to send “a clear message to the parents in these countries not to put these kids through this. The problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are.” According to the White House, “a deliberate misinformation campaign” led by “criminal syndicates in Central America” is responsible for encouraging children to travel to the United States. But there’s ample evidence that those kids aren’t chasing misleading rumors in hopes of catching the American dream. They’re fleeing violence and extreme poverty.

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The Department of Homeland Security itself cited these underlying causes in a document obtained by the Pew Research Center. Five percent of all of the children arrested at the border since October are from a single city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula; both the city and the country have the highest murder rate in the world. The bulk of the children arriving in the recent surge are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where homicide rates have risen by 99 percent in the last decade, according to one recent study. Those three countries are also among the poorest in Latin America.

In other words, what’s happening at the US-Mexico border looks more like a refugee crisis than the invasion the right wing describes. It’s true that the arrival of tens of thousands of children has overwhelmed Border Patrol stations and Health and Human Services’ shelter system. Accordingly, the administration says that moves to “streamline” the deportation process are being made out of humanitarian concerns, a claim that might hold up if streamlining referred to increasing the resources available to those children so that they could more quickly access legal counsel and get a fair hearing in court. The desire for an expedient solution, however, should not undercut their right to due process.

Obama is sending a convoluted message about his position on enforcement. Immigrant rights groups have long awaited the shift in policy he prefaced on Monday by announcing his intention to move unilaterally to “make the immigration system work better.” Now it’s becoming less and less clear what he mean by “better.” Having conceded that the GOP will block legislation for the foreseeable future no matter what he does, the president no longer has a political excuse for prioritizing a tough stance over humane policy. And yet, when it comes to kids at the border, Obama is advocating for weaker legal protections and a building-up of the country’s deportation machinery—a clear win for immigration opponents and the private companies running detention centers, but a bleak development for immigrants themselves.

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