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The Media’s Disappearing of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program and Why It Matters

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Click here to jump directly to Reed Richardson.

My most recent Nation column is about punditry and Bill de Blasio’s fiscal stewardship of the city and is called “Can a Liberal Mayor Be Financially Responsible?

I also did a piece about the current (horrific) state of Iraq punditry for Billmoyers.com and it’s called “Eric Alterman Warns: Pundits and Partisans Are Up to Old Tricks in Iraq.

And I wrote a letter to the NYTBR about the Allman Brothers Band, no really, I did.

Also, there were three letters about me in The Nation this week. I suck according to one of them, but am cool according to the other two. They are printed below.

Alter-reviews:
1) Carlene Carter live at the Cutting Room and on cd
2) Hot Tuna and Leon Russell at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester
3) Elvis Costello at Carnegie Hall
4) Led Zeppelin I-III remastered.

* Carlene Carter has had quite the life. Daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter, step-daughter to the Man in Black and a singer with The Carter Family, while at the same time, becoming pregnant and married at 15 (and now boasting seven grandchildren), she’s kind of a country song without even opening up her mouth.

I saw her sing in Montreux with her then-husband Nick Lowe and Rockpile (in a bill with Mink Deville and Elvis Costello) and she was quite something back then and her mouth made her persona non-grata in Nashville. Today she is quite something else (as is Nashville, come to think of it). A pretty orthodox country singer, she is embracing her heritage and her extended family’s honored place in the music. Supported by her husband Joe Breen on vocals and another guy who she said was also her roadie, she gave a charming performance at the Cutting Room, a short while back in support of her fine album, “Carter Girl,” which naturally features her stepdad’s old friends, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, and the excellent Elizabeth Cook, produced by Don Was. It’s old and new at the same time and almost always in good ways. (And I got to go with the beautiful and talented Tammy Faye Starlite [playing her charming self].)

* I also made it out to Port Chester, where promoter Peter Shapiro has remade (and re-imagined) the rock hall of my misspent youth, the Capitol Theater. It’s gorgeous now and the sound is spectacular. Leon Russell did a decent set of mostly rock standards with a few Leon Russell songs thrown in, before Jack and Jorma came on just before ten. Barry Mitterhoff was oddly absent—to me he has been just as much a part of the band as those guys for the past decade (at least)—but Larry Clark and his wife Teresa were on hand and the band sounded nice and full on the pretty songs like “I See the Light,” and “Sugaree,” which is becoming a standard among jam bands. They sounded noisy as hell on their power trio stuff like “Rock Me, Baby.” (I lack the words to say how much I prefer former, but I appear to be in a minority of Tuna fans in that regard.) They did not do any Airplane songs, but it’s a marvelous thing if you live in the burbs, to be able to drop by so beautiful a hall and see a show like that. I’m not sure they deserve it. But anyway, Jack and Jorma have a new website with lots of HD recordings for sale, among other things, and you can find that here. If you want to see the impressive schedule a the Capitol, or just ogle the hall, you can do that here.

* Elvis Costello played Carnegie Hall debut as a headliner for the first time this week. I saw him Tuesday night. (I say “as a headliner” because he did join Spinal Tap there in 2001, "Gimme Some Money.”)

It was, in many respects, a pretty remarkable performance. Elvis surrounded on the big, formal stage by six guitars and a keyboard, Elvis played song after song after song, alone on stage for over two hours. He ran the gamut of his forty-or-so year songwriting career and the audience proved enormously appreciative even from way up in the cheap seats. Dressed in a black suit and black shirt with a white fedora, Elvis told stories and sang his heart out (so to speak) and you wouldn’t think his voice has the range it does--at least emotionally, but he certainly took his material seriously. Old fart that I am, I enjoyed the oldest material the best--scorching versions of “Watching the Detectives” and “I Want You” and a lovely “Allison.” The only cover—“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”—sounded like old, angry Elvis rather than avuncular, dad-of-twins Elvis of today.

* What is there to be said about Led Zep after all this time. They invented a genre, revolutionized stadium shows, sold 300 million records, behaved really badly especially with fish and groupies around if legend is to be believed. My friends at Rhino have just released deluxe editions of their first three albums remastered by Jimmy Page in various versions that include:

-Single CD - Remastered album packaged in a gatefold card wallet.
-Deluxe Edition (2CD) - Remastered album, plus a second disc of unreleased companion audio.
-Single LP - Remastered album on 180-gram vinyl, packaged in a sleeve that replicates the LP's first pressing in exacting detail. (For example, III will feature the original wheel and die cut holes.)
-Deluxe Edition Vinyl - Remastered album and unreleased companion audio on 180-gram vinyl.
-Digital Download - Remastered album and companion audio will both be available.
-Super Deluxe Boxed Set - This collection includes:
—Remastered album on CD in vinyl replica sleeve.
—Companion audio on CD in card wallet.
—Remastered album on 180-gram vinyl in a sleeve replicating first pressing.
—Companion audio on 180-gram vinyl.
—High-def audio download card of all content at 96kHz/24 bit. (Live tracks are 48kHz/24 bit).
—Hard bound, 70+ page book filled with rare and previously unseen photos and memorabilia.
—High quality print of the original album cover, the first 30,000 of which will be individually numbered.
—Led Zeppelin will also include a replica of the band's original Atlantic press kit.

I got the deluxe cd versions. How do they sound today? Well, pretty great, though I did not a/b them with the old versions, and anyway, I imagine it’s impossible to recreate the shock of 1969 when they were blowing up speakers in everybody’s basement rec room. The first album comes with a hitherto unreleased 1969 show from Paris with a15-minute version of "Dazed And Confused,” and a much too long “Moby Dick.” (Though to be fair, all versions of “Moby Dick” are much too long.)

The other two cds have alternate mixes and backing tracks but just a smidgen of unreleased songs and no new live performances. Even so, if you’re a fan of the band, you’ll find these irresistible and if you’re not, well, it’s right place to start and see if you still feel that way. For my money “Immigrant Song” is one of the half dozen great riffs of all time, just a notch below “Layla,” “Satisfaction,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Born to Run,” (and I also love “Drive My Car,” but that may be a bit more subjective). Anyway, you get two versions here.

Here are those Nation letters I mentioned above:

Outstanding
Thank you for this outstanding issue, featuring Edward Snowden, Elizabeth Warren, Robert Reich and Eric Alterman. Yes, “there’s no place like Washington,” as Alterman says in “Obama’s Pundit Problem”; but there is, thankfully, also no publication like The Nation—and no one like Alterman to speak truth to power and to those of us without power who long for the truth. He’s the only journalist I trust; he takes up and articulates my causes—always something I believe in, know to be true, and care about, but am too… impotent to take on. I depend on him and on The Nation.
ANN BENTON

Kudos to Eric Alterman for speaking truth to pundits like Maureen Dowd. Her use of the president’s first name from his youth, as in the cited headline (Is Barry Whiffing?), has always struck me as belittling, meanspirited and unbecoming in a supposedly serious writer. It was overdue that Alterman, a professional colleague, spoke out. He reminded us as well about how complex a president’s tasks are, carried out in the face of unending Republican recalcitrance (and/or racism). Thank you, Mr. Alterman.
CHARLES B. GREENBERG, MURRYSVILLE, PA.

Too bad that the writings of Eric Alterman on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement [“Letters,” May 26] and the FLAME ads that often appear in the magazine are nearly indistinguishable. Eric has been so helpful on so many other subjects; it is a real pity to see him so wrong on BDS. It reminds me of the defenders of South Africa and the “constructive engagement” of Reagan.
MICHAEL KOIVULA, SPRINGFIELD, ORE.

And now, here (finally) is Reed:

The Media’s Disappearing of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program and Why It Matters
by Reed Richardson

In Syria, the Obama administration just achieved an unprecedented foreign policy success in WMD nonproliferation, but you likely didn't hear about it. Nine months after entering into joint negotiation with the Russians and Syria’s tyrannical President Bashar al-Assad, the last of that country’s 1,300 tons of declared chemical weapons began a journey to a chemical weapons-eating ship in the Mediterranean for destruction by the US. This follows the rapid destruction of all of Syria’s chemical munitions last fall. And while a dozen chemical weapon facilities inside Syria still remain to be destroyed, Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of teh Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was uncharacteristically upbeat about what the US-brokered deal had just accomplished in the middle of the Syrian civil war: 

The mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons programme has been a major undertaking marked by an extraordinary international cooperation. Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict. And this has been accomplished within very demanding and tight timeframes.

This successful dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons program by the US has been matched by an almost as successful disappearing of the news of it by the Beltway media, however. What there was of so-called straight news coverage felt strangely perfunctory. While the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times did run their own articles about the final handoff of Syrian chemical weapons, they hardly gave it front-page treatment. The LA Times’ story ran on page A3 on Tuesday; the Post and the NY Times stories ran on Monday, on pages A6 and A8, respectively. But that looked like flooding the zone compared to cable news coverage. A search of Fox News and CNN archives turns up no on-air discussion of the news and only a single online story each (Fox News merely ran the AP wire story). MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did do a short, smart segment on the implications of this diplomatic triumph on Monday, but, notably, all three nightly news broadcasts simply ignored the news that same evening.

To be fair, foreign bureaus of U.S. news organizations are routinely stretched thin, especially right now thanks to the concurrent rise of the violent ISIS uprising in Iraq, which has consumed most of the overseas media oxygen. But there’s little doubt that this disinterest is also fueled by a broader narrative bias that has captured the DC conventional wisdom of late—the portrayal of the Obama foreign policy as weak and incompetent. Indeed, it’s telling that the Obama administration’s striking, nonproliferation success in Syria has been met with such a deafening silence by so many of the same Beltway pundits and politicians who loudly scoffed at Obama’s plan last September.

Case in point: Senate Republican hawks like Bob Corker, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham. The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker called the deal a “complete failure” as recently as three months ago. As for the Bomb-sey twins McCain and Graham, in their never-ending pursuit of applying US military materiel to every problem overseas, they blasted the administration’s chemical weapons deal as “provocative weakness” and a “diplomatic blind alley” before the ink was dry. “We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon,” the pair boldly declared in a press release last September. Now that Assad has signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention and handed over his chemical weapons to a strong multi-lateral alliance, has anyone from the press bothered to ask McCain or Graham if they still feel the deal sends the wrong message to Iran? But you know the answer to this already.

Linking Iran to Syria has been a frequent tactic among opponents of the deal, and no one has done so with quite the white-hot vigor as the Washington Post’s resident Iranophobe, Jennifer Rubin. “Gone is the demonstration of resolve meant to signal seriousness about chemical weapons,” Rubin wrote at the time of the deal. “Gone is any deterrent effect to Iran.” In May, when the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons hit a temporary snag, she leapt to the conclusion that: “Assad has demonstrated for the world, and especially for his overlords in Tehran, that you can use WMDs, stay in power, promise to give them up and then keep some.”

So what, pray tell, was Rubin’s response to the good news from this past weekend? Close to panic, especially since Syria’s WMD capitulation inconveniently arrived just weeks before the final deadline of the P5+1 negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. In a ridiculous column titled “Who is the Nonproliferation President?”, Rubin skates right by the success in Syria, instead making the Orwellian claim that Obama has actually “lost ground” when it comes to nonproliferation and that Iran will benefit from his supposed callousness.

Incredibly, she chooses to do this by contrasting Obama’s record with that of his predecessor, in a ham-fisted attempt to rehabilitate President George W. Bush’s foreign policy reputation. You remember Bush, the guy who helped ignite a Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war and introduce the precursor of ISIS into Iraq when he invaded it based on phony intelligence about anon-existent WMD program. As opposed to the current president, who wisely did not insert US troops into the midst of a Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war in Syria and yet who still managed to end that country’s very real WMD program.

This is patently silly, which is why Rubin must resort to some breathtaking leaps in logic. First and foremost, she commits a giant sin of omission, having the gall to tout Bush’s nonproliferation record without ever mentioning a little country called North Korea, the negligent handling of which ranks as perhaps the biggest nonproliferation foreign policy mistake in a generation. (Even neocon Fred Kaplan called Bush’s failed North Korea policy “Rolling Blunder.”) Then there’s her consistent ability to obfuscate historical facts to misinform her readers. For example, she characterizes Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to voluntarily give up WMDs as vindication of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. In truth, the real trigger behind Gadhafi’s decision was the seizure of physical evidence of his WMD program by British and US intelligence as part of an international nonproliferation initiative. One not dissimilar to the cooperative effort that just got Syria to give up their WMD program as well. Funny, that.

This deception matters because Rubin, along with most of the other Beltway critics of Obama’s Mideast foreign policy, have always hedged their bets on the Syria deal, never doubting it would not work, but dismissing it as pointless, just in case. This group, I’d note, does not include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Rubin typically defends against all comers. On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Netanyahu said Obama struck a “good deal” in negotiating the demise of Syria’s chemical weapons. (I’d love to read Rubin’s denunciation of Bibi’s dangerous naiveté, but I’m not holding my breath.) Instead, she and others argue that the deal does little to achieve the ouster of Assad and ameliorate the humanitarian crisis of the war. Furthermore, they note that, as an alternative, the regime has simply turned to weaponizing industrial chemicals like chlorine gas—which are not banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention—in “barrel bomb” attacks on rebels and civilians. These are valid points, but here too, they demonstrate a startling narrow view of foreign policy strategy.

For one, these critics never acknowledge that Assad’s use of chlorine gas in this crude manner, while horrible, is much less effective than deploying military-grade chemical weapons and, as defense experts have noted, smacks of desperation. Nor do these same hawks consider the potential value of OPCW inspectors—who are still on the ground in Syria—collecting contemporaneous proof of Assad’s war crimes. Gathering this kind of evidence could present an opportunity to charge Assad in international court and/or exert further diplomatic pressure on Russia and Iran to push their client-state into a ceasefire.

The preferred neoconservative alternative of US-led airstrikes, though satisfying the Beltway’s empty, knee-jerk need for “leadership,” would have been no guarantee of success, either. In fact, that was a point repeatedly made by the U.S. military’s top officer last summer. Indeed, it likely would have only hardened the resolve of Russia and Iran, exacerbated the potential for collateral carnage by the US, and no doubt slammed shut the chance for an orderly removal of WMDs. Why is this last point particularly important? Because the successful removal of all of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and munitions has now eliminated a nightmare scenario where extremist groups like ISIS capture them, either by chance or through a full-on successful coup of Assad.

If that seems unlikely, consider that the former scenario almost happened last week, when ISIS insurgents gained control over one of Saddam Hussein’s old chemical weapons complexes at Muthanna in southern Iraq. Fortunately, post-Desert Storm inspections carried out by UNSCOM—a kind of prototype for the OPCW—had rendered all of these weapons useless years ago, long before Bush invaded. (Of course, this story still led some of the dimmer bulbs among the right-wing media to mistakenly declare that ISIS had just proved Bush’s claims about Iraqi WMDs were right all along.)

Tragically, this powerful lesson from Iraq, and now from Syria—that diplomatic efforts can often accomplish what a military attack never could—still hasn't sunk in among the armchair generals of the Beltway. Thanks to an admixture of institutional and ideological biases, our foreign policy debate remains dangerously out of whack in the press. Diplomatic triumphs rarely make the front page or get discussed on air, yet war cheerleaders can write endless op-eds and enjoy a lifetime pass to cable news green rooms. It’s no great shock, then, that many of the same pundits who disastrously predicted an easy triumph in Iraq more than a decade ago are still around. Even less surprising, that they were once again proven wrong by Obama’s chemical weapons triumph in Syria this past week.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

 

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Will the Democratic Party Deliver for Working Women?

White House Summit on Working Families

President Barack Obama speaks at the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Democrats have made women’s issues—specifically, women’s kitchen-table economic issues—a centerpiece of their stump speeches heading into the 2014 midterm elections. In the wake of the last election, when unmarried women comprised an unprecedented quarter of the electorate, this emphasis reflects a hard political calculus. But can women translate their newfound electoral clout into concrete policy gains? Do the Democratic Party’s ties to corporate America hamper its ability to deliver on feminist goals (such as paid family leave) that the business community has historically resisted? What about the limits imposed on the Democrats by the intransigent opposition of the increasingly radicalized Republicans? What legislative goals can feminists conceivably achieve in Washington in the foreseeable future? To what extent, in other words, can capitalism accommodate equality for women, in the present political configuration? And how can this knowledge of the “limits of the possible” inform feminist activism?

Our participants are Bryce Covert, Nation blogger and economic policy editor for ThinkProgress; Liza Featherstone, a journalist based in New York City and contributing editor to The Nation; Zerlina Maxwell a political analyst and contributing editor to Ebony.com, Feministing.com and more; Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English and Communication at University of Illinois at Chicago and libertarian feminist; and me, Kathleen Geier, your host at The Curve. This time we asked our participants to exchange e-mails, producing the conversation below.

Bryce Covert: Hi, everyone! Excited to talk with all of you.

There are workplace issues that affect women that Democrats could solve without incurring costs or the wrath of the business community. National paid family leave could be instituted as a social insurance program that wouldn’t cost businesses anything and would cost the government just what it takes to administrate the program. Paid sick leave has come with little business cost in the cities and states that have implemented it and brings some financial benefits. Republicans, nonetheless, have stood staunchly in the way of both, proving that it’s not just businesses or a limited deficit that they’re protecting but something else—“free markets,” perhaps, and a workplace out of the 1960s.

But some much-needed policies have to cost money. Raising the minimum wage won’t be free of costs for businesses: research differs on how much and what it would mean, but we know it won’t be totally free. We desperately need universal, high-quality childcare and preschool, but that’s very costly. Some Democrats are willing to pony up the money, and President Obama has proposed paying for universal preschool with tobacco taxes. But fiscal hawks or anti-tax Democrats will wither at the challenge. Other policies would require handing businesses mandates: quotas for diversity among top leadership, regular reviews of pay scales to make sure women and people of color aren’t being unfairly paid less.

In the end, what stands in the way of even incremental progress is a Republican party uninterested in legislating. But even if they came on board, some of the policies that require spending money or ordering businesses to change their practices might not get any traction from our Democratic allies.

If feminists want to make significant gains for women, we will need to support political alternatives to the mainstream of either party.

Liza Featherstone: The Democrats are like pickup artists at a bar—women only give them the time of day when the other guys are even more pathetic. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is typical, making cynical use of the abortion issue (“Hey, baby, at least I’m pro-choice.”), while supporting education policies that amount to a full-on attack on a mostly-female workforce (teachers), and opposing just about any policy that the business community doesn’t like. If feminists want to make significant gains for women, we will need to support political alternatives to the mainstream of either party, and to build institutions that are independent of corporate America.

This approach already looks promising in some cities and states. Pressure from the Working Families Party—which briefly flirted with a primary challenge to Cuomo– seems to have forced the governor to support raising the statewide minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and to allow local governments to set their minimum wages higher than that. (We’ll see if he sticks to this.) Even better, Seattle, due to the work of newly elected Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, has raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And because Sawant and her party are independent of the business community, they’re fighting to close the many loopholes that Democrats have permitted in the new law. Reforms like childcare and paid family leave—and labor law reform making it easier to organize the low-wage sectors in which so many women work—will also require this kind of thinking and organizing beyond the Democratic Party.

Sure, some Democratic politicians will get on board—and many more will loudly remind us that they’re better than Republicans—but to get what we want, we have to be willing to kick the party and its leaders to the curb.

Zerlina Maxwell: One of the preliminary steps we should take in framing this discussion is to break down what we mean by “women voters.” The gender gap does not affect all women equally; those most affected by the gender gap are women of color and single women. With this breakdown in mind, it becomes very clear that not every economic issue for women is created equal. If Democrats, really want to shape policy and messaging that addresses key concerns of women of color, they need to first acknowledge that all women don’t have the same concerns and “a rising tide lifts all boats” isn’t persuasive.

There are Democratic leaders in the White House, like Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, and in Congress, namely House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who are already sounding the alarm on work-life balance issues that affect everyday women. They’re working now to get women’s concerns on the immediate legislative agenda for 2014. The upcoming White House Summit on Working Families is perhaps the perfect forum to set an agenda that will get out the women vote in November around a core of economic messaging.

I also think our conversation needs to acknowledge the structural obstacles that Democrats face due to the dismantling of the traditional labor movement.

I also think our conversation needs to acknowledge the structural obstacles that Democrats face due to the dismantling of the traditional labor movement. While this puts us at a disadvantage, women of color labor leaders, including Ai-jen Poo and Sarita Gupta, have won recent legislative victories. They should serve as guides to building a movement and a message that attracts women of color by championing the issues that directly affect them (i.e., minimum wage, affordable childcare, equal pay, zero tolerance policies in schools that put young women of color into the criminal justice system for minor infractions, and paid leave). While it’s true that ties to corporate interests, Big Oil and Wall Street hamper the ability of Democrats to challenge the status quo for working women, that doesn’t mean Democratic leaders cannot work in tandem with the women of color already organizing around these issues to set the path for legislative change.

Kathleen Geier: So far, we seem to agree on some broad points of emphasis: we agree that women need paid leave, childcare, a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K and policies to close gender and racial pay gaps. But there’s considerable disagreement about how we get there. Bryce points out that businesses, Republicans and some Democrats will offer strong resistance to this agenda. Liza emphasizes change through institutions that are independent from the mainstream political parties, while Zerlina highlights efforts by women of color organizers who have worked with Democrats to enact reforms. What’s notable is that the successes that both Liza and Zerlina point to—such as the $15 minimum wage Seattle recently enacted and the landmark Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in New York State—were state and local initiatives. Getting legislation like that passed on the national level right now would be impossible, because Congress is far more divided along partisan lines than is any state or local government.

Is there a prayer that Democrats could win over intransigent Republicans to support aspects of its feminist economic agenda? Recent European history offers a faint glimmer of hope. As political scientist Kimberly Morgan argued in a 2013 paper, in recent years European conservatives in Germany, the UK, and other countries, faced with the need to win more votes in the context of women’s growing workforce participation, abandoned their long-standing opposition to family-friendly policies and began to embrace them. But the European right is a very different animal from its American counterpart and it’s hard to see that happening here—the GOP is becoming more, not less, ideologically extreme.

Also, even though the Democrats’ economic agenda for women has virtually no chance of passing, it’s a tepid document nevertheless. Recent research such as Claudia Goldin’s new economic study and a paper by sociologists Youngjoo Cha and Kim A. Weeden shows that the gender pay gap is associated with long working hours and lack of workplace flexibility, but the Democrats’ plan doesn’t address those issues—though it does promise regular reviews of pay scales! The Democrats’ proposal to fund childcare is also weak. Why not quit fiddling at the margins and propose something visionary like a universal childcare system? Given the weakness of the Democrats and our divided political system with its multiple veto points, getting a work-and-family agenda through Congress is going to be a very hard sell indeed. Passage of such legislation will require the talents of a strong, highly organized political movement. Feminists would be well-advised to pour their political energies into building and strengthening such a movement rather than becoming overly invested in the ever-popular quadrennial presidential election soap opera.

Why not quit fiddling at the margins and propose something visionary like a universal child care system?

Bryce Covert: Everyone has highlighted the need to build a movement outside of the two political parties, and I think that this is the key to enacting any family-friendly policy agenda. And it’s important to take stock of how much feminists have influenced the political climate already. Hillary Clinton’s response to whether the United States should have paid family leave came off incredibly tepid, but her tepid answer used to be the political norm. Talking about issues like childcare or paid family leave used to be off-limits. Michelle Obama had been rumored to be adopting these issues when she moved into the White House, but back then they were seen as too hot-button.

Now many national Democrats—Nancy Pelosi, Kirsten Gillibrand and President Obama himself—talk about them without hesitation. This conversation has become so mainstream, the needs of women voters so important for winning elections, that Republicans felt compelled to offer a package of bills aimed at working families, flex scheduling and equal pay, even if they are predictably bad policies. These political shifts can be chalked up to movement building and organizing—and I would argue feminists have been deeply involved in that work, from the National Domestic Workers Alliance to A Better Balance to the National Women’s Law Center and lots of other feminist organizations and organizers at the national and local level.

Still, we all seem to recognize that a full-scale, federal policy agenda won’t be enacted any time soon. That’s why state-level policy change has become so important, as Kathleen points out. Three states now have paid family leave, and others are working on similar programs. Seven cities and one state have paid sick days. Nine states have raised their minimum wages this year. This doesn’t just help the people who live there, but offers a chance to prove that these things can help workers without hurting economies. They can keep pushing on the national conversation to move it further toward women’s economic needs.

Liza Featherstone: I agree with our emerging consensus that the momentum for state and local policy change—and organizing—is much greater right now at the state and local level than at the federal level. That’s a good place to focus our energies. I also heartily second Kathleen’s suggestion that feminists eschew the sideshow of the presidential election, as it is likely to divert energy and money from the grassroots movement building, and to yield little substantive change.

It’s going to be hard for feminists to resist the drama, especially if Hillary is in the race. The possibility of the first woman president has a certain storybook appeal. There will be harshly misogynist right-wing attacks on her, and her abilities will be unfairly questioned by sexist Republicans, probably in ways that will make invigoratingly outrageous cable TV and social media entertainment. All of this will draw feminists to her cause. But ultimately, she’s a waste of our time. The lives of few women will be improved by electing this particular woman president. As Bryce has noted, her policy ideas about paid family leave are tepid even at the rhetorical level. She is a former member of the board of directors of Walmart—a company that has been the target of the largest sex discrimination class action suit in history. Any movement aimed at helping the majority of working women would have to regard her, like most mainstream Democrats, as more of an obstacle than an ally.

Zerlina Maxwell: First, we would need to establish that Democrats are not trying to win over Republicans, the third of the American voting population that is getting more and more extreme everyday. This incarnation of the American GOP is at war with itself, with the Tea Party emerging as the controlling force in the caucus and the catalyst for obstruction in the House. We aren’t going to be able to win over the types who tweet incessantly about #Benghazi, but there are so many disengaged people, near the center, that can be energized.

If Hillary Clinton runs, as expected, then feminists have a unique opportunity, even more so than in 2008, to rally young women and allies around a more ambitious economic agenda.

While I do think Democrats need to focus their attention on local, congressional and state races in order to frame a women’s economic agenda, I don’t think the best strategy is to ignore Hillary Clinton and national Democratic leaders. Instead of ignoring the media spectacle that is presidential horserace coverage, we as a diverse and modern feminist movement need to use the media spectacle to our advantage. If Hillary Clinton runs, as expected, then feminists have a unique opportunity, even more so than in 2008, to rally young women and allies around a more ambitious economic agenda.

I’m also hopeful that through the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, Hillary Clinton or Senator Elizabeth Warren can become leading voices for this women’s economic agenda—pay equity, minimum wage, paid leave—and set the stage for a new era of feminist progress. We must ride the Hillary Clinton wave for the benefit of the down-ticket races that could win back the House. We shouldn’t ignore it.

Deirdre McCloskey: The “ties to corporate America” do not, pace Liza Featherstone and Zerlina Maxwell, necessarily “hamper [women’s] ability to deliver on feminist goals.” Corporate America is ahead of the political curve on many matters of human rights—look for example at the stance of the Fortune 500 companies on gay rights. And capitalism has regularly “accommodated equality for women,” giving opportunities, such as employment for married women, that governments or traditional society regularly opposed. Bryce Covert is correct to suggest focusing on programs that business would not oppose, though she’s also correct that the congressional GOP as presently aligned is unlikely to agree to anything agreeable to the president. Kathleen Geier’s call to arms is a call to defeat for feminist projects if we don’t choose them carefully. Universal childcare framed as an investment in the future, and backed by notionally conservative figures such as they economists James Heckman and Claudia Goldin, is worth pushing hard, if only for the next Democratic administration.

What is not a feminist issue is raising the minimum wage to, say, Seattle’s $15.00, since it is women, and especially women of color, who will be first to be shown the door—or, silently, not hired in the first place. And I don’t see dumping on Hillary Clinton as a good idea. She is at present likely to become president. Do we really want to be seen as opposed to the first woman president on account of her imperfect feminist purity?

Kathleen Geier: I believe electing a Democratic president is important, because the Democrats are dramatically better than the Republicans on every issue. But I also think that any generic Democrat will do and feminist energies would be better invested in movement-building activism as opposed to presidential political campaigning. I don’t oppose Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, but like Liza, I worry about feminists getting caught up in the Hillary drama. Perhaps Zerlina is correct and feminists use the Hillary media spectacle to promote a feminist economic agenda, but I’m doubtful. This week, the White House hosted a Working Families Summit. Who wants to bet that an initiative like that will get drowned out amid the latest speculation about how Hillary handled a rape case in 1975 (or whatever the next ginned-up Hillary “controversy” is)? It’s a sign of progress that the Democrats are finally addressing feminist economic issues—remember how, a decade ago, they were running away from feminism and recruiting a bunch of macho candidates like Jim Webb? What they are finally doing this year is a step in the right direction, and I hope feminists can build on the most important parts of the message, instead of getting sidetracked.

As for Deirdre’s comments about the minimum wage, there is no question that Seattle’s newly enacted $15 minimum is a bold experiment. But the consensus in the academic research is that the minimum wage has little disemployment effect. Deirdre calls for framing childcare as an investment in the future, and at times in my writing, I have argued for it in those terms as well. But though I’ve been gratified to see some conservative and libertarian intellectuals such as James Heckman and the Cato Institute’s Brink Lindsey support early childhood education, elected Republicans who advocate for these policies are all too rare. The biggest problem with the Democrats’ economic agenda for women is that the chances of enacting it at this time on the national level are remote. The last time the GOP supported women’s rights in any significant numbers, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, earth shoes and fondues were all the rage.

European countries won their feminist-friendly economic policies through powerful labor unions, and perhaps a revitalized labor movement is our best chance of achieving similar goals in this country. Because of deindustrialization, the old industrial labor unions are a thing of the past, but teachers’ unions and health care workers hold some promise, particularly for feminists, since they represent female-dominated professions. Organizing workers is a huge challenge in today’s economy, but over the long term, it remains the best hope for women’s economic empowerment.

The Editors: Thank you for joining us at The Curve, and please join us in two weeks, when Kathleen will convene a discussion of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.

Report: SWAT Teams Armed With Military Equipment Spend Most of Their Time Waging the Drug War

SWAT

Police stand next to a SWAT robot in Sanford, Maine, during a media demonstration. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot to death by a SWAT officer during a midnight raid in Detroit, moments after a flashbang grenade lit her blanket on fire. The mayor of a small Maryland town and his spouse were held at gunpoint for hours on unfounded drug allegations, during which time officers shot and killed their two dogs. A SWAT officer’s flashbang landed in a baby’s crib, blowing a hole in the 19-month-old’s face and chest.

In a new report, the American Civil Liberties Union ties each of these tragic stories to the increasing militarization of America’s police forces, a trend financially and materially supported by the federal government. The report, titled “War Comes Home,” finds that SWAT teams, equipped with assault rifles and armored vehicles, are mostly used to search suspected drug offenders’ homes, rather than rescuing hostages or stopping active shooters.

“Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones,” ACLU Senior Counsel Kara Dansky said in a statement. “We all pay for it with our tax dollars.”

ACLU Researchers examined 818 SWAT incident reports, filed between 2011 and 2012, from twenty police departments in eleven states. The data, obtained through public records requests, was collected by local ACLU affiliates over the span of a year.

The data lends credence to long-held assumptions that SWAT teams primarily serve to fight the War on Drugs. Of the deployments examined by the ACLU, 62 percent were for drug searches, while nearly 80 percent involved search warrants. In contrast, only 7 percent of deployments responded to hostage, barricade or active shooters, the types of emergency situations for which SWAT teams were originally created. At least 36 percent of drug search deployments, and as many as 65 percent, turned up no evidence of contraband.


(ACLU)

As with other components of the War on Drugs, the SWAT raids examined by the ACLU disproportionately targeted people of color. Of people impacted by the ACLU’s sample of paramilitary deployments, 37 percent are black, 12 percent are Latino and 19 percent are white. Another 32 percent are of unknown race, because some police departments failed to record that information.


(ACLU)

The scope of police militarization in America would not be possible without the help of the federal government. Programs run by the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security provide millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to police departments every year, while grant money from the Justice Department is often used to buy weapons and body armor. For example, the North Little Rock Police Department in Arkansas received thirty-four semi-automatic rifles from the DOD, along with two MARCbots (military robots used in Afghanistan), ground troop helmets and a Mamba tactical vehicle.

The ACLU’s report builds on the research of Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who found a 1,400 percent increase in the total number of SWAT deployments between 1989 and 2000. Kraska concluded that SWAT teams have evolved from “strictly reactive components” of police departments to proactive units “actively engaged in fighting the drug war.”

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“The ACLU’s data demonstrates what we’ve known for a long time, though it certainly provides updated information,” Kraska told The Nation. “Police departments are not sitting back and responding to serious situations underway. They’re actually going out and manufacturing very risky and dangerous situations by choosing to use the military special operations model approach to police the drug problem inside people’s private residences.”

Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU and the report’s lead writer, said it is currently impossible to conduct a comprehensive analysis of police militarization nationwide, because there is very little public oversight of SWAT teams. Researchers found that data collection among police departments was “at best sporadic and at worst virtually nonexistent” in the context of SWAT.

“If we could get police departments to mandate reporting, this necessary information would be more readily available and someone could conduct a more thorough study,” Dansky told The Nation. “The people have a right to know when police are raiding homes for nonviolent drug allegations, using excessively aggressive and militarized tactics.”

 

Read Next: Human rights groups fight the opening of new immigrant family detention centers

Moyers and Bacevich: The Myth and Dangers of ‘American Exceptionalism’

Andrew Bacevich

Political Scientist Andrew Bacevich with Bill Moyers (YouTube)

The new crisis in Iraq has brought out of the woodwork (in some cases, gutter) some of top officials and pundits who helped lead us to war, and long occupation, in the country, but it also has brought back to television some of the top critics and thoughtful analysts of our tragic blunder.

Case in point this past weekend: Jonathan Landay of McClatchy on CNN and Andrew Bacevich for the full half-hour with Bill Moyers (video below). I first met Bacevich, then known mainly as a former military officer and West Point instructor, a decade ago when he wrote an op-ed questioning the war for The Washington Post. Then I covered the death of his son in Iraq, and his many columns that followed.

Now for a few highlights from the transcript  of the Moyers show, including key discussion of “American exceptionalism”:

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, [Robert Kagan’s] notion of American history, particularly since 1945, is one that we might term an extended liberation narrative where the United States devoted itself, in the wake of World War II, to promoting liberal values, democracy everywhere, fighting against evildoers, and he concludes that this success is being squandered by Barack Obama and those who are unwilling to continue this crusade.

Now, that narrative is only sustainable if you leave a lot of important facts out, or if you distort those facts. So we get no mention of overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. We get no mention of the CIA overthrowing the president of Guatemala. We get virtually no mention of the Vietnam War, which he dismisses as sort of an unfortunate incident of no particular significance. And perhaps most egregiously, he utterly ignores the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he served as a cheerleader for. And which to a very large extent, account for the problem that we’re dealing with today in the greater Middle East.

BILL MOYERS: This week, one of his allies, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Elizabeth wrote a long essay in “The Wall Street Journal.”

AB: Well, I’d say rarely has a major American newspaper published an op-ed that was so thoroughly shameless. Again, what is the cause? What was the catalyst of the instability that racks Iraq today? The simple answer is the one that Cheney and his daughter don’t want to mention: the unnecessary, misguided, and frankly immoral war launched by the United States in 2003. We destabilized Iraq. In many respects, we destabilized the larger region. And misfortune of Barack Obama is that he inherited this catastrophe, created by the previous administration.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government in Iraq, you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim—fought over for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire….

I think the contrast between what Cheney said in 1994 and what he says 20 years later is actually very illustrative of this point. And that is that what passes for foreign-policy debate today, is just nakedly partisan. Back in 1994, he was in the business of defending George Herbert Walker Bush. Now he’s in the business of defending George W. Bush. But basically attacks Barack Obama, blaming Obama for any difficulties that we’re having. And the point about naked partisanship I think really applies in a somewhat larger stage. When you look at the people who get invited on the Sunday talk shows, or whose op-eds appear in “The New York Times” or in “The Washington Post” or other prominent organs of opinion, they are people who are participating in this partisan debate.

There is very little effort to look beyond the Bush versus Obama, Republican versus Democrat, to try to understand the larger forces in play that have brought us to where we are today. And the understanding of which could then make it possible for us to think somewhat more creatively about policy than simply having an argument about whether we should, you know, attack with drones or attack with manned aircraft.

BM: What are those larger forces at work? Because Robert Kagan says, quote, “world order shows signs of cracking, and perhaps even collapsing.” And that these changes signal a transition into a different world order, which the United States should attempt to lead.

AB: When Kagan uses phrases like world order, he’s describing something that never really existed except in his own imagination. But again, the point is worth reflecting on. Kagan believes, many people in Washington believe, perhaps too many people in the hinterland also believe, that the United States shapes the global order. That there is an order for which we alone are responsible.

Where does this kind of thinking come from? I mean, I think in many respects, what we see here is the contemporary expression of the whole notion of American exceptionalism. That we are chosen. We are called upon, called upon by God, called upon by providence, to somehow transform the world and remake it in our own image. Now, Robert Kagan wouldn’t state it as bluntly as I just did. But that is the kind of thinking that I think makes it very difficult for us to have a genuine and serious foreign policy debate.

BM: So the other side would argue, as they are, that well, look at the beheadings and the murders, the brutality and cruelty that the radical Islamists are inflicting upon their adversaries, and the people of Iraq. Isn’t that an evil to which we are the only ones can respond?

AB: Well, first of all, it is an evil to which we contributed by our folly in invading Iraq back in 2003. There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq under the previous order. That’d be the first point. And the second point I think would be: let’s be practical. Let’s be pragmatic. If indeed we are called upon to act, let us frame our actions in ways that actually will yield some positive outcome.

I’m personally not persuaded that further military action in Iraq is actually going to produce an outcome more favorable than the last one. If what we have here on our hands in Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East is a humanitarian catastrophe, then let us become serious about asking ourselves, what is the appropriate response? What can the richest and most powerful country in the world do to alleviate the suffering of innocent people who are caught up in this violence?

And my answer to that question is not air strikes. My answer to that question is, well, if indeed we have a moral responsibility to come to the aid of suffering Iraqis and Syrians, then we better start opening up our wallets to be far more generous and forthcoming in providing assistance that people need.

You know, we live in a country where if you want to go bomb somebody, there’s remarkably little discussion about how much it might cost, even though the costs almost inevitably end up being orders of magnitude larger than anybody projected at the outcome. But when you have a discussion about whether or not we can assist people who are suffering, then suddenly we come very, you know, cost-conscious.

* * *

BM: So do we conclude from that that you don’t believe there is anything practical we can do on the ground to separate the warring forces or help the government forces in Iraq prevent this violence? Is the only option murderous genocide and optimum paralysis?

AB: We have been engaged in the Islamic world at least since 1980, in a military project based on the assumption that the adroit use of American hard power can somehow pacify or fix this part of the world. We can now examine more than three decades of this effort.

Let’s look at what US military intervention in Iraq has achieved, in Afghanistan has achieved, in Somalia has achieved, in Lebanon has achieved, in Libya has achieved. I mean, ask ourselves the very simple question: is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more democratic? Are we alleviating, reducing the prevalence of anti-Americanism? I mean, if the answer is yes, then let’s keep trying. But if the answer to those questions is no, then maybe it’s time for us to recognize that this larger military project is failing and is not going to succeed simply by trying harder.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, the events that are unfolding in Iraq at this very moment promote a debate within Washington revolving around the question, what should we do about Iraq? But there is a larger and more important question. And the larger and more important question has to do with the region as a whole. And the actual consequences of US military action over the past 30 years.

BM: As you know, Iraq has formally asked the US government to launch air strikes against those Jihadist militants. How do you think that’s going to play out?

AB: Well, I don’t know. My guess would be that this will substantially increase the pressure on the president to do just that. And my question would be if we launch air strikes, and if the air strikes don’t have a decisive effect in turning the tables on the ground, then what? I mean, this is always, I think, a concern when you begin a military operation that you have some reasonable sense of what you’re going to do next if the first gambit doesn’t succeed.

* * *

BM: Many people are saying that Barack Obama is feckless, lacks will, or strength, and that he’s enabling the defeat of our interest in the Middle East by pulling the troops back and by being indifferent to what’s happening there now.

AB: Well, he’s not indifferent. I mean, I’m not here to defend the Obama approach to foreign policy, which I think has been mediocre at best. That said, the president has learned some things. I think the most important thing the president learned from his predecessor is that invading and occupying countries in the Islamic world is a pretty dumb idea. It leads to complications and enormous costs. So we see him reticent about putting so-called boots on the ground. That said, the president certainly has not been reluctant to use force in a variety of ways. Usually on small-scale drone strikes, commando raids, and the like.

Where I would fault the president is that he hasn’t been able to go beyond learning the negative lessons of the Bush era to coming up with a positive approach to the Islamic world. Shortly after he was inaugurated he went to Cairo, gave a famous speech, speech proposed that there was going to be a new beginning, turn the page, a new beginning of US relations with the Islamic world.

Who would not endorse that proposition? I mean, I certainly do. But it has come to nothing. Nobody in the Obama administration, either in the first term or in the present term, as far as I can tell, has been able to figure out how to operationalize this notion of a new relationship between ourselves and the Islamic world. One can give Secretary Kerry credit for trying to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Were we able to broker a peace that created a sovereign, coherent, viable Palestinian state, that actually could be the one thing we could do that would seriously change the tenure of US relations with the people of the Islamic world. But that effort has failed.

* * *

BM: What is it, about how we go to war? We poured blood and treasure into Vietnam and Iraq and wound up with exactly the opposite consequences than we wanted. And we keep repeating, hearing the same arguments and claims that we should do it again.

AB: Well, war itself is evil. But war is an evil that should command our respect. War is something that we should not take lightly, that we should not discuss frivolously. And I think that that’s one of the great failings of our foreign policy establishment. That our foreign policy establishment does not take war seriously. It assumes that the creation of precision guided weapons makes war manageable. Removes from war the element of risk and chance that are always inherent in warfare. So these are people who, quite frankly, most of them don’t know much about war and, therefore, who discuss war in frivolous ways.

BM: And yet, there’s this still almost religious belief in force as the savior.

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AB: Well, I think your use of religious terms is very appropriate here. Because there is a quasi-theological dimension to their thinking related, again, to this notion that we are called. We are chosen. We are the instrument of providence. Summoned to transform the world. And therefore empowered to use force in ways not permitted to any others. I mean, the ultimate travesty of the immediate period after 9/11 was the Bush administration’s embrace of preventive war that became then the rationale for invading Iraq in 2003. But it was a general claim. A general claim that the United States was empowered to use force preventively. Before the threat emerges. Not simply—

BM: Pre-emptory strikes.

AB: Not simply in self-defense. And we should note that as far as I can tell, President Obama has not repealed that notion. Indeed, has used it himself in order to employ force in lesser ways in various situations.

BM: So is it duplicity or self-delusion?

AB: It depends I think on who we are talking about here. For somebody like Vice President Cheney berating Barack Obama for somehow surrendering American leadership and in the course of doing that simply ignoring the record of the administration in which he served—that’s duplicity. That’s malicious partisanship.

Greg Mitchell’s book, So Wrong for So Long, which covers ten years of media malfeasance, starting with the run-up to the Iraq war, features a preface by Bruce Springsteen. This is his final week at The Nation. His popular personal blog is Pressing Issues.

 

Read Next: Robert Scheer on our government’s soft spot for brutal dictators.

Maybe We Should Listen to Bill Kristol on Iraq

Tom Tomorrow

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Should the Left Stop Complaining About the Iraq War Hawks’ Return to the Media?

Cheney

Dick Cheney (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Jonathan Chait writes about politics like nobody’s business, but when it comes to the Iraq war, which he originally supported but now says was wrong, he can’t quite think straight.

Last week, Chait complained about liberals who want the Iraq war hawks and hucksters to “just shut the hell up.” Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Paul Bremer, Douglas Feith, John McCain et al. have been all over TV and op-ed pages lately, insisting that Obama left Iraq too early and that we must now salvage the country with our military might, even (especially?) if it means spending sixty more years in Iraq (per Wolfie) and sending in thousands of more “boots on the ground” (Bremer).

Chait disagrees with their arguments, but he says liberals should stop whining about the neo-cons’ neo-access to the media:

What do liberals believe about the current disaster in Iraq? One thing most of us believe is that the United States should stay the hell out. But another thing liberals believe with even greater conviction is that advocates of the last Iraq war should not participate in the current debate. [My italics.]

The Atlantic’s James Fallows argues that Iraq war hawks “might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while.” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, writing in the second person, instructs Iraq hawks, “Given your role in building this catastrophe, you should be barred from public comment, since anything you could say is outweighed by the damage you’ve done.”

Chait also throws Rachel Maddow and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel into the mix, and says, “This meta belief about who should be allowed to argue about Iraq, more than any actual argument about Iraq itself, has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.”

Hmmm. The “meta belief” line sounds good, in that Chaitian way he has of lifting himself above the liberal throngs (see Walsh on Chait).

But if you read the essays Chait cites, you’ll see how ridiculous it is to charge that the authors’ objections to the neocons’ media appearances “has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.”

That is, intentionally or not, Chait is reducing the left to a bunch of knee-jerkers who can’t rise above making unfair and illogical ad hominem attacks:

Nor is it easy to see what purpose is served by insisting certain people ought to be ignored. The way arguments are supposed to work is that the argument itself, not the identity of the arguer, makes the case. We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney.

We should disregard them because, as the textbook definition of “the ad hominem fallacy,” says in response to Chait, ad hominem is sometimes the only fair way to go. Michael Austin writes:

[T]he fact is ad hominem arguments are very often the best and most logical responses to another person’s claims. This is true because most arguers place their own character, expertise, or credibility at issue when they make a claim.

[Chait] falls into a logical trap that I call the Ad Hominem Fallacy. This happens when somebody overcorrects for the ad hominem bias by labeling a legitimate challenge to authority as an ad hominem attack.

Cheney, Austin writes, “relies almost entirely on his claims of experience, expertise and moral character. And it is precisely because he is making these claims that his experience, expertise and moral character must be part of the debate.”

What Chait also seems to miss is how the media worked to promote the invasion of Iraq in the first place. It wasn’t about the niceties of arguments or the accuracy of facts. It was, and is, about emotion.

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Mainstream media outlets may or may not favor the United States’ returning to Iraq, but they lean toward teasing us with that prospect because it’s good copy. It’s exciting. That’s why they eagerly book the has-been hawks. Well, that and the MSM’s corporate-friendly habit of creating “balance” by handing large chunks of news real estate to war-happy Republicans. Giving Kristol, McCain, Cheney et al. national face time is like giving it to climate deniers in order to create “balance” to the vast scientific consensus that global warming is indeed real, man-made, and here.

Whatever happens in Iraq, it won’t be an exact repeat of the past. Disgust over the war and the prospect of stepping in again is enormous among the public and is even peeping through in the right-wing media. Fox News’s Megyn Kelly confronted Cheney; Glenn Beck declared, “Liberals, you were right—we shouldn’t have” invaded Iraq. (Still, he shouldn’t get “a cookie,” says Daily Kos.)

But don’t think that the honking of the hawks is harmless. As Daniel Larison writes in The American Conservative, “Unfortunately, the danger as always is that these people will define the terms of the debate and drive it in their direction simply being the loudest and most shameless participants.”

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on the folly of helping Iraq’s shattered army

Fifty Years After Freedom Summer, the Voting Rights Act Is Needed More Than Ever

Fifty years ago, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old anthropology major at Queens College, went down to Mississippi for Freedom Summer. His first stop was Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he and Mickey Schwerner, a 24-year-old graduate student in social work at Columbia University, and James Chaney, a 21-year-old volunteer with the Congress for Racial Equality from Meridian, Mississippi, were sent to investigate a church burning. Schwerner and Chaney had spoken at Mount Zion Methodist Church over Memorial Day, urging local blacks to register to vote.

In 1964, only 6.7 percent of African-Americans were registered in Mississippi and not a single one in Philadelphia’s Neshoba County. The fight for voting rights was the reason Goodman traveled to Mississippi. “He just thought it was unfair that an American citizen of voting age was restrained and stopped from voting,” said his younger brother, David.

On June 21, 1964, the young civil rights activists were arrested by the Neshoba County police and then abducted by the Klan. Their bodies were found forty-four days later in an earthen dam. Goodman and Schwerner, both white, had been shot once. Chaney, who was African-American, had been mutilated beyond recognition. Martin Popper, the attorney for the Goodman family, called it “the first interracial lynching in the history of the United States.”

The murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were the starkest example of the brutality the Freedom Summer volunteers encountered from local whites. Freedom Summer “produced almost as many acts of violence by local whites as it did black voters,” wrote historian David Garrow. Mississippi didn’t change until Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. “A lot of people lost their lives getting that Voting Rights Act into place,” said David Goodman.

The legislation eliminated the literacy tests and poll taxes that for so long prevented blacks from registering to vote in Mississippi and other Southern states, and made sure those states didn’t adopt new voter suppression tactics in the future. The VRA transformed Mississippi and the rest of the country. Today, the Magnolia State has more black elected officials than any other state.

The fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer happens to coincide with the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, where the Supreme Court’s conservative majority invalidated Section 4 of the VRA on June 25, 2013. As a result, states like Mississippi, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer have to clear their voting changes with the federal government.

Section 4 provided the formula for covering states that had to submit their voting changes under Section 5 of the VRA (known as “preclearance”). Chief Justice John Roberts struck down Section 4 for two reasons: it was based on outdated data from the 1960s and 1970s, he argued, and violated what he called the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among states. Though Roberts conceded “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that,” he stated that the “extraordinary measures” of the VRA were no longer justified.

Think voting discrimination is largely a thing of the past?

Take a look at this map, courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice:

And this map:

And this map, via the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:

Some relevant facts Roberts neglected to mention:

Since the 2010 election, twenty-two states have passed new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center. This includes requiring strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cutting early voting, making it harder to register to vote and rescinding voting rights for non-violent ex-felons. New restrictions will be in place for the first time in fifteen states in the 2014 election. All across the country, we’re seeing the most significant push to restrict voting rights since Reconstruction.

Partisanship is a strong motivating factor for the voting changes—GOP legislatures or governors enacted eighteen of the twenty-two new restrictions.

So is race. According to the Brennan Center: “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote.”

These disturbing facts suggest that the strong protections of the VRA are still needed. Nearly two-thirds of the states previously covered under Section 5 of the VRA, nine of fifteen, passed new voting restrictions since 2010.

Take another look at the maps above. You’ll see that the South continues to restrict voting rights more aggressively than anywhere else in the country. What has changed in recent years isn’t the South but the fact that states like Kansas and Ohio and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have adopted Southern-bred voter suppression tactics. Just when the VRA should’ve been expanded to cover the surprisingly wide scope of 21st century voting discrimination, the Supreme Court instead gutted the law.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent. The central irony of the decision is that it was pouring when the Supreme Court removed the umbrella designed to protect voters from discrimination.

What happened next was entirely predictable. Within two hours of the decision, Texas implemented a voter ID law judged to be discriminatory by the federal courts. Two months later, North Carolina passed the harshest package of voting restrictions in the country.

Local jurisdictions previously covered by the law have responded in kind. Reports MSNBC’s Zack Roth:

Georgia lawmakers changed the date of city council elections in Augusta from November to July, a time when black turnout is traditionally far lower—a tactic that goes back to Jim Crow days. In Pasadena, Texas, voters approved a new “at-large” scheme for electing council members that made it much harder for Hispanic candidates to win office. A similar scheme, adopted by a school district in Beaumont, Texas, was blocked by the Justice Department under Section 5, but went into effect this year.

Since the Shelby decision, ten jurisdictions in seven states have enacted potentially discriminatory new voting changes that would’ve been subject to review under Section 5, according to the Leadership Conference.

A good case study is Decatur, Alabama, a city of 55,000 in the northern part of the state. For most of the twentieth century, whites controlled every important position in Decatur, which is 20 percent black. The first black city councilman wasn’t elected until 1988, as a result of a landmark lawsuit under the VRA, when the city shifted from citywide at-large elections to five single-member districts, including one majority-black district, for the city council.

In 2010, Decatur passed a referendum adopting a council-manager form of government, with two at-large districts for the city council and three single-member ones. The catch was that the new plan would eliminate the city’s only majority-black district. In 2011, the city submitted the change for federal approval under Section 5. After DOJ requested more information, Decatur withdrew its submission. The new plan seemed dead. But following the Shelby decision, the new system is set to go into effect. (It’s now being challenged in court by voting rights lawyers in Alabama.) As a result, the city’s lone black councilman, Billy Jackson, may soon be out of a job.

Despite these developments, new legislation to update Section 4 is stalled in Congress. Few Republicans—including the fifty-seven House Republicans who voted for the VRA’s overwhelming reauthorization in 2006 and are still serving—are willing to support it. Eric Cantor, whose backing would have been critical to the bill’s passage, will soon be leaving Congress.

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Cantor was one of three Republicans who traveled with John Lewis and David Goodman on a congressional pilgrimage to Mississippi in March to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer. “He was very moved by the story of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner,” Goodman said. Cantor told Goodman: “This voting issue is not a partisan issue.” It didn’t used to be, but now it is.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. No hearing is currently scheduled in the House. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte is said to believe that a remedy for the Supreme Court’s decision is not needed. Past history and present circumstances suggest otherwise.

 

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It’s Time for the Department of Education to Dump Sallie Mae

Students Not Customers

A banner at a protest at Cooper Union in New York City on December 8, 2012 (Flickr/Michael Fleshman)

This piece originally appeared at Youngist and is reposted here with permission.

For more than year, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP)—alongside coalition partners, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the US Student Association—has been calling for the Department of Education to cancel its $100 million annual contract with Sallie Mae. But the department has claimed that no “wholesale” violation occurred that would justify ending the contract.

Last year, only after three hundred students demanded that Secretary Arne Duncan meet with them at the US Student Association’s Legislative Conference in March 2013, SLAP students were given a meeting with senior officials at the Department of Education. In this meeting, Secretary Arne Duncan stated that the Department wouldn’t do business with corporations that broke the law.

But, it’s clear that Sallie Mae broke the law. On May 13, 2014, Sallie Mae reached settlements with the Department of Justice and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to pay $97 million in fines and restitution to student loan borrowers for violating multiple federal laws. With these settlements, federal agencies are fining Sallie Mae for overcharging active-duty service members on interest rates, deceiving borrowers when processing payments, and engaging in discriminatory practices.

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Students are now calling for an immediate end to this contract with new outrageous evidence from federal investigators. The Department of Justice described Sallie Mae’s conduct as “intentional” and “willful”—yet the Department of Education has taken no action. Students are continuing the fight for a debt-free future by urging Secretary Duncan to stop spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a company that breaks the law.

Secretary Duncan’s colleagues from other federal agencies have found that Sallie Mae has cheated borrowers. Over 50,000 people have taken action to tell the Department that they’ve had enough! It’s time for students to keep up the pressure on Secretary Duncan to cut the department’s contract with Sallie Mae. This summer, the fight continues as students and borrowers unite to make the Department of Education work for us!

 

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My ‘Real’ Family Values

SEIU

SEIU union member Mary McNutt (C) and other state workers protest outside State Capitol, Sacremento, CA 2009 (Reuters/Max Whittaker)

In President Obama’s own words, too many American workplaces resemble scenes from Mad Men. Many employers’ attitudes toward family-friendly reforms seem to stem from the same unenlightened era—that is, at least, until they see the bottom-line results that these reforms can inspire. For a nation that claims to value family, the United States has an abysmal record on family-friendly workplace policies. Without access to maternity and paternity leave, affordable childcare and paid sick leave, working parents have almost no flexibility to balance the needs of their families with the requirements of their jobs. In short, when it comes to family-friendly labor policies, America is, indeed, exceptional—exceptionally backward.

Take paid sick days. As I’ve written previously, more than 40 million Americans, mostly low-income workers, lack access to paid sick leave. No matter how ill they are, they must clock in—and they could lose their jobs if they stay home to care for a sick child or aging parent. Meanwhile, childcare remains prohibitively expensive, and the United States has yet to enact universal pre-K, all of which leave even middle-class working parents with few affordable options for their little ones.

Paid sick days are overwhelmingly popular across ideological lines. Ninety-six percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents and 73 percent of Republicans support the policy. Moreover, this popularity is supported by the data. Five years after the 2004 implementation of California’s Paid Family Leave program, for example, employers reported a neutral or positive affect on employee productivity, profitability and turnover. New Jersey’s program saved businesses money by improving employee retention, decreasing turnover and boosting productivity. Also, it’s simply common sense. The chief lobbyist against the paid sick leave bill in San Francisco told Businessweek that, among various workplace reforms, paid sick leave offers “the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?”

Then there’s maternity and paternity leave. Today, around 2 million men stay at home to raise their children. Beyond that, even the masses of men who aren’t primary caregivers are increasingly involved in the details of childrearing. But while men are more hands-on than ever before, they are nevertheless experiencing more conflict between their work and family roles than they did thirty years ago.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, many, but not all, employees are allowed to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for things like illness and the birth of a child, without the risk of losing their jobs. However, up to 40 percent of workers do not meet the law’s strict eligibility requirements. The United States is the only Western country that does not mandate paid maternity leave—and just 14 percent of employers offer paid leave for new fathers. Moreover, while new mothers physically have no choice but to take at least some time off—even at the risk of losing pay or even their jobs—one study found that 86 percent of working fathers would not use paternity leave unless they were paid at least 70 percent of their salaries. The same study revealed that fathers generally take a meager two weeks off from work after the birth of a new child.

Many business groups complain that offering flexibility to their employees will hurt the bottom line, but this is short-sighted. As the data in California and New Jersey show, workplace flexibility makes economic sense, and it allows companies to attract and retain talent. In fact, cities that have implemented paid leave have seen improved worker morale, increased productivity, and small and large business growth.

But businesses can’t act alone. That’s why on June 9, the White House convened a group of fathers, researchers and business leaders—including New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who missed Opening Day this season to be present for the birth of his son—to discuss the challenges working dads face. The event was a precursor to the White House Working Families Summit on June 23, which is bringing together parents, employers and elected officials to discuss how to make the workplace more fair for working families. While Murphy, who is taking paternity leave, may be the exception to the rule, high-profile fathers like him can help elevate the issue and generate support for smart, sane policies.

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There’s no shortage of ideas. Cities and states across the country—Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City, in particular—are enacting laws like paid sick leave and universal pre-K. Several bills are in fact circulating at the federal level, including the FAMILY Act, sponsored by Democrats Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT). The bill would provide partial income for up to twelve weeks of leave for new parents and to care for a sick family member or a worker’s own medical condition. And research from Demos shows that President Obama could help 8 million workers—70 percent of whom are women—by issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for employees working for federal contractors. It’s a good start, but it’s still a long way from where we need to go.

While Republicans traffic in the self-righteous language of family values, they have, without a hint of irony, long opposed pro-family policies like paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. And as long as workplace flexibility is seen as a women’s issue, it will continue to be easy for them to obstruct progress. But now, as more fathers—including those, like MLB’s Daniel Murphy, engaged in those most American of pursuits—struggle to balance the competing demands of work and family, the political winds may shift in favor of humane, commonsense workplace flexibility laws for all Americans. That’s how we can really translate “family values” into valuing families.

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