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Sports and Violence: A Red Card for Israel

Palestinian demonstrators

“Palestinian National Team” demonstrates against the Israeli Occupation on the advent of the World Cup (photo by Edo Medicks/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

It’s World Cup season. But far from the favelas of Brazil, another drama is playing out in the annals of international soccer.

In an effort to bolster its global status, Israel has placed a bid to host the 2020 European Championship, known as Euro 2020. That means that one of the world’s largest international soccer tournaments might be coming to Jerusalem.

Hosting mega sporting events is an increasingly popular way for countries to build a positive international image, but it can also provoke criticism—as seen in Brazil, where the eviction of impoverished residents to make way for stadiums has prompted massive protests, as well as in Qatar, where the preparations for World Cup games have led to worker deaths and labor unrest. Israel, which has been accused of violently targeting Palestinian soccer players, is no exception.

Sports and Politics

The Euro is one of the world’s most competitive international soccer tournaments, second only to the World Cup. The winner is crowned the best national team in Europe, home to some of the strongest sides in international soccer. As the Arab boycott has precluded Israel’s participation in the Asian Confederation, Israel has been considered part of Europe’s soccer confederation since 1994.

To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the tournament, UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, has decided to depart from tradition. Rather than hold the tournament in one host nation as usual, UEFA has decided to choose thirteen host cities throughout the member countries. In September UEFA will select these cities from the existing nineteen bids. That makes Israel, which hosted the UEFA Under-21 European Championship in 2013, a strong contender.

But the Palestinian Football Association and Palestinian solidarity activists have already raised opposition to Israel hosting the tournament. A recent letter in The Independent—signed by Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker, among others—called for UEFA to leave Jerusalem off the list of host cities as long as “Israel continues to perpetrate its devastating military occupation of the Palestinian territories, flouts international law, totally disregards UN resolutions, and imprisons hundreds of Palestinians, including children, without charge.”

We like to believe that during large sporting events, like the Olympics or World Cup, political conflicts should take a backseat to what happens on the field—politics and sports, some say, don’t mix. But for Palestinian soccer players, separating the realms has proven impossible.

Unsporting Behavior

Since FIFA recognized the Palestinian national soccer team in 1996, Israel has mixed politics and sports in a lethal way, targeting Palestinian players, coaches and facilities. In ruthless attacks largely unreported in the United States, Palestinian footballers have been arrested, maimed and killed by the Israel Defense Forces. Thanks to Dave Zirin of The Nation, many of these incidents have been reported to wider audiences.

The most recent incident was last February’s brutal shooting of two young players, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, at a checkpoint in the West Bank. Both players were severely injured, with one reportedly suffering ten bullet wounds to his feet—a strong indication that the Israeli soldiers knew that the teenagers were footballers and targeted them accordingly. When they attempted to return from Jordan, where they had received medical treatment, they were arrested without charge—a practice known as administrative detention.

These young players are hardly the only Palestinian soccer players to languish in administrative detention. Goalkeeper Omar Khaled Abu Rouis and talented striker Mohammed Sadi Nimr were arrested in 2012. Another national team star, Zakaria Issa, was jailed for allegedly being a member of Hamas in 2003. Sentenced to sixteen years, he was released after nine years because he had a terminal illness. The most famous incident of unlawful detention is the story of Mahmoud Sarsak, who was jailed for over three years. Despite never formally being charged with a crime, Sarsak was unable to communicate with friends and held in solitary confinement for much of his time in prison. After a three-month hunger strike Sarsak was released, but only after his plight came to the attention of FIFA and the world players’ union, FIFPro.

Other players have also fallen victim to violence. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008–09, three soccer stars, including one national team player, were killed within seventy-two hours of each other by Israeli missile strikes on their homes. Other attacks have targeted Palestine Stadium in Gaza, which was destroyed by Israeli forces in 2006, only to be rebuilt with FIFA funding after the international soccer association found that the attack was “without any reason.” Israeli explosives leveled the stadium once more in 2013, when the IDF again claimed that missiles were being fired from the field. FIFA has pledged to rebuild the stadium yet again.

Despite these hardships, the Palestinian team continues to play. Or at least, it tries to. The team has traditionally recruited players from the diaspora due to the difficulty Palestinians face in getting permission to leave the occupied territories. In 2007 the team was even forced to forfeit its first-round World Cup qualifier in Singapore after eighteen players were refused permission to travel by the Israeli government.

These incidents are not random, but suggest a concerted effort to target one of the prominent symbols of Palestinian nationhood: the national soccer team. By preventing the Palestinian team from participating in matches abroad or maintaining a stadium for home games, Israel is purposefully undermining Palestinian national pride and unity.

Politics by Other Means

Sports reflect political realities. But like any cultural institution, they can become tools for political agendas and violence. Like the soccer riots in post-Mubarak Egypt or the famed 1969 soccer war between El Salvador and Honduras, problems arise when soccer becomes a continuation of politics by other means.

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The reflection of politics in soccer, however, adds meaning to the richest moments the game has to offer. In Spain, the annual meetings between Real Madrid and Barcelona, known as El Clasico, can’t be fully comprehended without an understanding of the symbolic importance of FC Barcelona in Catalan autonomy and the importance of Real Madrid to the Franco regime (a story Franklin Foer explains in his excellent book How Soccer Explains the World). Likewise, the Falklands Crisis of 1982 adds context to the 1986 Argentina victory over England, a famous international match known for Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God.”

Perhaps one day, Israel and Palestine will meet on the pitch in a legendary rivalry informed by politics and history. The game would be bitter, tackles would be hard and perhaps a few inappropriate chants would emanate from the stands. But that would be a vast improvement over the indefinite detentions, shootings and unwarranted destruction of facilities Palestinian footballers endure today.

Until that day, Israel must be held responsible for its actions. If UEFA selects Jerusalem in September, the choice can only be seen as an implicit endorsement of these tactics.

 

Read Next: The Nation’s Forum on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 6/20/14?

Ukraine Russia Protest

People gather during a rally in Kiev's Independence Square, Sunday, March 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

Still In Bed,” by Elliott Colla. Jadaliyya, June 13, 2014.

While many are discussing the fact that we should not be listening to the war hawks that led to the catastrophe of 2003, other errors from the past are being replicated, notably the uncritical trust in the dubious sources relevant to ISIS, most of which are authenticated by its very enemies. This excellent article by Elliott Colla reminds us that when relevant to warfare we should be skeptical of reductive narratives put forth by the military-literary complex and by the media. Beyond war-mongering, as Chelsea Manning discussed in the NYT, the practice of embedded journalism makes war reporting fundamentally biased. Informed by the lies that surrounded the first Iraqi invasion (WMD!) or, more recently, the doubts shed by Seymour Hersh on the chemical attacks in Syria, we should know, by now, that when in war, we know nothing.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

"Delinquent youth more likely to die violently as adults, study says," by Mary MacVean. The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2014.

Is all hope lost for delinquent youth? So suggests this recent study conducted at Northwestern University's medical school. According to researchers, there are three risk factors during adolescence that predict violent death up to age 34: alcohol use disorder, selling drugs and gang involvement. The gist of the issue lies within the economically-disadvantaged communities from which delinquent youth typically come. In other words, how can the criminal justice system work to better prevent these youths from recidivism?

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

Is Bowe Bergdahl worth five Taliban prisoners?” by Andy Worthington. Al Jazeera, June 16, 2014.

Many have questioned the legality of exchanging five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo for Bowe Bergdahl, specifically because Congress was not notified 30 days prior to the swap. Some critics of the exchange concluded that Bergdahl “should have been abandoned, because of claims that he was a deserter,” even before the army launched an investigation into his disappearance. Worthington points out the irony to such a response, “as the only other place where men are routinely judged and condemned without having been charged or tried is Guantánamo.” Overall, this piece complicates the story by first reminding us of the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), which allows the President to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those he determines responsible for the attacks on 9/11. Worthington suggests, however, that as the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, holding Taliban prisoners is no longer justified under such a law and that, most importantly, “time is running out for the US to maintain that it has the right to continue to hold prisoners at Guantánamo indefinitely.”

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

"Tenure is Not the Problem," by Richard D. Kahlenberg. Slate, June 13, 2014.

The conversation about equal education opportunities for communities of color has changed from directly improving conditions in "concentrations of poverty," to an urgent (yet still necessary) topic: teacher tenure laws. On June 10, the Vergara v. California court decision deemed "state teacher tenure and seniority protections as a violation of the rights of poor and minority students to an equal education." But as Richard Kahlenberg questions, are teacher tenure laws truly the ill of these fated urban schools? And what exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of them? While the court decision makes it easier to get rid of poor-performing teachers, Kahlenberg argues that keeping great teachers in low-income schools comes first from policymakers "promoting economic integration." What states like California need, then, are cases that directly challenge overwhelming de facto economic and racial school segregation that (artificially and premeditatedly) continues to exist in urban public school systems across the nation.

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

The Teaching Class”, Rachel Riederer. Guernica, June 16, 2014

When we think of those who toil in higher education, we see only the leafy campuses and tweeds and intellectual ferment; we don’t see the adjunct professors barely scraping by, often without health insurance or any sense of job security. Rachel Riederer challenges those stubbornly held assumptions, showing us that we don't see the attention and care to students' work that is lost due to the uncertainty that hangs over an adjunct lecturer's career. Complaining about—or even explaining—work conditions is often seen as a supremely ungrateful act. That's what stills dialogue—exactly what is, at the very least, most in need.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

Reppin Your Hood: Zabān, Pehchān and Pakistani Rap,” by Hamzah Saif. Ajam Media Collective, May 5, 2014.

In his profile of two Pakistani rappers, Hamzah Saif of the Ajam media collective adds a chapter to the story of international hip hop. The genre began as a space for the voices of marginalized African American communities in the United States, and artists around the world have since found that they can use rap to express unsung stories, and in the case of rapper Shahzad Meer, unsung languages. “When you arrive in Thatta, the ricksawallah (rickshaw driver) has an Urdu song playing, maybe a Punjabi song, maybe even an English song, but never a Sindhi song. What has happened to the rich musical tradition of Sindhi?” says Meer, explaining why he raps in Sindhi, a language that has lost its status in modern Pakistan, where Urdu is privileged over other dialects.

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—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

‘But you’re basically white, right?’: I’m Latina and I don’t speak Spanish,” by Julie M. Rodriguez. Salon, June 16, 2014.

Late last month, Nate Cohn at The New York Times published a controversial article that claimed that the large number of white-identifying Latin@s signals a process of racial assimilation similar to that of Italian and Irish descendants. Despite the waves of criticism (which included revealing that their claim was based on a unpublished report), the Times stood by his piece—which essentially strove to put Latinidad in a U.S. colonialist identity box. The problem is, Cohn was asking all the wrong questions.
Here's the thing: Latin@ identity is shifting epistemologies about race, ethnicity, identity and language. This week Salon published an article that speaks to how utterly unperceptive this article is. The author, a third generation Latina, argues that her inability to speak Spanish does not exclude her from her Latina identity—despite the fact that she is told she is "basically white." Instead, she says, her experience as a non-Spanish, light skinned speaking Latina in the U.S. opens new ways of thinking about Latin@ identities that fall outside of the Census and its little boxes. And it's not because she's suddenly "assimilated" (whatever that means). Just take a look at the trending #WhatLatinosLookLike hashtag and you'll get the picture.

—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.

‘Not going to lie down and take it’: Black women are being overlooked by this president,” by Brittney Cooper. Salon, June 17, 2014.

During his two-term presidency, Obama has dedicated a portion of his agenda to addressing the immediate needs of minority groups, including LGBTQ communities and young black men, the focus of his recently announced "My Brothers Keeper" program. However, the racial justice agenda under the Obama administration is a male one and displaces the complex identity of many black women. In her article, Brittney Cooper critiques Obama's marginalization of his single largest voting demographic. Cooper notes, "no executive orders, no White House initiatives and no pieces of progressive legislation" have been introduced to address the hardships that black women face. From prison reform to affirmative action, few items on the racial justice agenda directly address the immediate needs of black and brown women in the United States. "What has become apparent is that President Obama’s personal understanding of racism is deeply tethered to his position as both black and male," Cooper states. By only placing value on the "absent black father" and the disconnected black male youth, patriarchy continues to displace the vital role that black women and girls play in sustaining the black community. By "…missing the irony that his lack of father did not prevent him from ascending to the presidency," Obama equates black success to male success. What Cooper resolves is that it is vital to recognize racial oppression in its many forms—not solely as an examination of white supremacy, but an intersectional critique of masculine discourses. Because, as history has shown, from the highways of Selma to the hallways of the White House, black mothers, daughters, sisters and partners refuse to be left behind.

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

Iraq Everlasting,” by Frank Rich. New York, June 4, 2014.

The fallout from the 2003 invasion of Iraq continues in the form of an Al Qaeda offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As ISIS advances into cities in northern and central Iraq, spreading devastation in its wake, much has been written about Iraq’s tragic legacy and how it came to be. The blame has largely rested on those who beat the drums of war, neocon hawks in the Bush administration and in the media. But Frank Rich reminds us: “History will look back at the liberal and conservative hawks alike as having flunked the biggest judgment call of their time.” In “Everlasting Iraq,” Rich refers to a short fictional (but also non-fictional) novel written by the late Michael Hastings. Hastings' book, The Last Magazine, “tells the story of the run-up to the Iraq War from a perspective that many of his colleagues would like to forget or suppress.” Hastings book describes a liberal media that “cheered on the war with a self-righteous gravity second only to Dick Cheney’s.” As we continue to reflect on the tragedy that is Iraq, let’s hope we all learned our lesson, conservatives and liberals alike.

 

Read Next: "What are 'Nation' Interns Reading the Week of 6/13/14?"

The Spice of Life

Some time ago we discussed a style of cryptic crosswords in which the words are separated by bars between the squares, instead of black squares. About once or twice a year, we use this format in The Nation. As we mentioned back then, bar-diagram puzzles offer more intersections between across and down entries, and are usually accompanied by a title and some written instructions. Thus they provide a good environment for trickery beyond mere cryptic cluing. Such puzzles are often called variety cryptic crosswords.

We occasionally engage in variety cryptic trickery in some of our themed puzzles. When we do, we reveal the nature of the gimmick in one of the clues. Because of the greater number of unchecked letters in a block diagram, we must keep the complexity of the gimmick manageable. If you thirst for greater challenges along these lines, here are some sources of variety cryptics:

• The Enigma, the monthly publication of the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL), includes one or two cryptics in each issue, most of them variety cryptics. They are edited by Guy Jacobson (Xemu), who took over from us when we got the Nation job. For a selection of the best cryptics from our fifteen years as Enigma cryptic editors, download this book.

The Wall Street Journal features a monthly variety cryptic of unparalleled wit and creativity by the royal couple of US cryptics, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.

Harper’s includes a monthly variety cryptic by veteran constructor Richard Maltby.

If you like the idea of always having cryptics to solve, wherever and whenever, and if you also own an iOS device, you would enjoy the Puzzazz app. In a past post, we discussed the ways in which it is an ideal platform for electronic cryptic solving, as it provides extraordinary hints to beginner solvers, and it allows hand-written input. Since then, the app has improved dramatically from an already impressive start. Puzzazz supports all kinds of variety cryptic quirks, including bar diagrams, solver-entered bars, a wide geometric range (concentric circles, hexagons, multiple grids, etc.), pictures in clues, numbers instead of letters, drawings on the completed puzzle, and much, much more.

This flexibility is demonstrated dramatically in the new e-book Cryptic All-Stars, a collection of forty-five variety cryptics by thirteen constructors (including Roger Wolff, Mark Halpin, and nine other members of the NPL, including, ahem, Joshua Kosman). In addition, the third e-book of 20 Nation cryptics just came out on Puzzazz—another reason to get the app!

This week’s clueing challenge: DEVICE

To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Difficult to Know Which Mitch to Follow on Iraq

US soldier

A soldier from the US Army watches a convoy of 3rd Infantry Division forces as it passes by. Saturday, March 22, 2003 (AP Photo/John Moore)

This morning on the Senate floor Mitch McConnell lit into President Obama for having withdrawn American troops from Iraq, in light of the recent ISIL chaos. This was in addition to McConnell’s criticism of Obama’s announcing a pending withdrawal from Afghanistan, “placing substantial trust in…diplomacy,” and ending “CIA interrogation and detention programs.” McConnell said that “once again, [Obama has] announced Step A without thinking through the consequences of Step B” and has “always been a reluctant commander in chief.”

Dick Cheney couldn’t have delivered the speech any better himself. McConnell also said yesterday that Obama should “act quickly” to stop ISIL in Iraq, but “the Kentucky Republican stopped short of saying what U.S. assistance to Baghdad should look like.” Cheney and Bill Kristol probably have about 100,000 boot-wearing suggestions on that one, though McConnell isn’t ready to rule that in or out.

However, just four short years ago, McConnell had a much different take on America beginning its withdrawal of troops from Iraq. As Obama pulled out the last remaining combat troops and signaled a final withdrawal ahead, McConnell saw this as an opportunity to lavish praise on President… Bush.

Republicans say their party should be credited for bringing about this milestone.

“It makes it easier to talk about fulfilling a campaign promise to wind down our operations in Iraq when the previous administration signs the security agreement with Iraq to end our overall presence there,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said today. “By adopting the Bush administration’s plan for winding down the war and transitioning security responsibilities to the Iraqi military over time the President has enabled us and the Iraqis to build on the gains our troops have made.”

Of course, Mitch McConnell is a coldly strategic political actor if anything, so it’s difficult to take any of his statements at face value without factoring in whatever power move is in his head at the time. Staying on the subject of Iraq for this point, look no further than his actions in the fall of 2006, as Iraq was in chaos and the public increasingly wanted to get the hell out of there. At the time, McConnell was busy publicly calling Democratic advocates of withdrawal a bunch of cut-and-runners and appeasers. But in the White House, according to Bush’s autobiography, the political animal McConnell was calling for a withdrawal to begin—not because it was the right thing to do, but because it would help the GOP win elections.

In his autobiography, “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush describes a Sept. 2006 meeting with McConnell in the midst of a tough time in the Iraq occupation and an upcoming mid-term election. According to the former president, McConnell urged him to bring some troops home from Iraq to lessen political risks, as the Democrats looked ready to take seats from the Republican Party. Mr. Bush rebuffed McConnell’s request—and the Republicans did receive a “shellacking” by the voters.

On Sept. 5, 2006, as part of his political maneuvering, McConnell said, “The Democrat[ic] leadership finally agrees on something—unfortunately it’s retreat,” referring to a letter from Democrats calling on Mr. Bush to reduce troop levels in Iraq.

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After the book was published, McConnell said that he did not recall that conversation. Fortunately, Dick Cheney’s autobiography came out the next year to refresh his memory, where he stated that ten months after that meeting with Bush, McConnell was still privately and hypocritically advocating the withdrawal of troops from Iraq—to save his own skin in his own re-election race:

As dinner broke up, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked over to me. Mitch had been one of the most concerned of the Republicans. He was up for reelection and had suggested to the president that he needed to begin a withdrawal in order to avoid massive defection of Republican senators. “Dick,” McConnell said, “I may have been wrong. Tell the president that I think we may well be able to win these votes and hold the Senate Republicans for the month of July.” That would get us through to the August recess and into September, when Dave Petraeus and Ryan Crocker were scheduled to testify. That was all we needed.

To paraphrase from McConnell this morning, it’s like he publicly announced support for Position A while simultaneously expressing support for Position B in private.

McConnell now finds himself in another tight re-election race with his career on the line, and another crisis in Iraq. So what’s a political animal to do? McConnell always feels comfortable ripping Obama as a treacherous failure—as he did on the Senate floor today—but he has to know that voters in Kentucky are not clamoring to get in the middle of another sectarian war in the Middle East. That’s likely why he’s making vague statements about “acting quickly” with no detail, and suggesting that Obama is free to act without congressional approval.

His opponent this fall, Alison Lundergan Grimes, stated flatly that she does not support boots on the ground in Iraq, and seems unlikely to budge from that position. And unlike McConnell, Grimes is not shedding any tears about the fact that America will soon pull out of its other unpopular and seemingly pointless war in Afghanistan.

Going forward in the campaign, I can only be certain of two things about McConnell’s position on Iraq: he will criticize Obama’s actions no matter what the president does, and no one can be certain that Mitch even really believes what he’s saying.

 

Read Next: Take Action against military force in Iraq

FIFA Ignores Brazil’s Economic Woes, Provoking Resistance

Dave Zirin appeared on MSNBC last night to comment on yet another round of protests and tear-gassing in Brazil. Yesterday in Porto Alegre, Brazilians marched against FIFA’s draining of public coffers, arguing that the $11 billion World Cup budget should go towards alleviating poverty. When the government agreed to host the games, Brazil was experiencing an economic boom, but now a recession has hit the country. FIFA was indifferent to the economic change: “They say, you made your commitment, and we want to see your skin in the game regardless of how your economy is doing. And that’s what I think fueled a lot of the anger Brazilians feel,” Zirin explained to MSNBC’s Ari Melber.
Hannah Harris Green

The Gender Flaw in ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

My Brother’s Keeper, the $200 million public-private initiative spearheaded by President Barack Obama in February aimed at improving the quality of life for black and Latino boys, is notable because it’s the only time Obama has used the office of the presidency to directly address issues of racial injustice. That’s also part of why it has come under so much scrutiny.

As I said when it was first announced, I believe My Brother’s Keeper is admirable but deeply flawed. That the president sees the life outcomes of black and Latino boys as a personal responsibility he is willing to exert some presidential power over is to be commended. However, My Brother’s Keeper is steeped in the respectability politics that has been central to President Obama’s rhetoric surrounding black people. This program lacks an institutional analysis of racism and the legacy of white supremacy. It puts the onus on communities ravaged by centuries of racist public policy to undo damage they did not cause through education, mentorship and “hard work,” as if the barriers to accessing these things do not persist. It is insulting, in the face of this country’s history, to place the blame for the outcomes of racism on those victimized by it.

Moreover, this program gives me pause because it is gendered in a way that suggests the lives of these boys and young men matter more than girls and young women of color.

Yes, it’s true that black and Latino boys are disproportionately affected by issues such as incarceration rates and joblessness. When considering that, a program aimed specifically at them makes sense. And maybe I would be singing a different tune if I believed My Brother’s Keeper actually had the capacity to address those injustices.

As it stands, I simultaneously do not believe My Brother’s Keeper to be adequate for the young men it seeks to help and that it is unconscionable to leave young women out. If My Brother’s Keeper is going to be the racial justice initiative that President Obama stakes his legacy on, as flawed as it already is, it cannot also repeat the mistake of acting as if women of color are not also affected by racism.

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The reason more than 1000 women of color and 200 black men came together to sign two letters asking for the inclusion of girls of color in My Brother’s Keeper (full disclosure: I am one of the signees) is not that anyone believes this particular initiative is the initiative to end all racism and suffering. It’s because racial justice movements of the past have consistently relied on the talent, skills, blood, sweat, time, money and silencing of women. They have fought diligently in the service of justice, only to be told that their specific concerns were either unworthy of attention or too divisive to be taken seriously.

This can’t be permissible at the grassroots or presidential level. Our girls matter, just as our boys matter. They matter to us, they matter to one another, they matter to this country. We can’t keep sending the message that they don’t.

Read Next: Gary Younge on the truth about race in America

NJ Dems, Backed by Unions, Mount Challenge to Christie’s Pension Cuts

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during a campaign event in Manville, New Jersey, Monday, May 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

To mark New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce is polling state residents about what they believe has been the state’s greatest achievement. Among the choices: such things as the invention of the light bulb and the phonograph, new antibiotics, solar panels, condensed soup and salt water taffy. But if the Democratic leaders in the state legislature continue to hold firm in their opposition to Governor Chris Christie’s raid of the state pension fund to balance New Jersey’s budget then the state’s greatest accomplishment may turn out to be the Democrats determination to protect a decent set of benefits for the middle class.

And if they do continue to fight against Christie’s wrecking-ball attack on the benefits of state workers, it would cripple Christie’s argument that he should be the 2016 GOP standard-bearer because he knows how to work across the aisle to enact harsh budget cuts.

Yesterday the state senate president, Stephen Sweeney, said the Senate would not go along with Christie’s pension grab. Instead, Sweeney and the Senate majority leader, Loretta Weinberg, unveiled a tax plan alternative. They proposed higher taxes on people earning more than $500,000, a one-year suspension of several business tax breaks and grants, and the imposition of a surcharge on corporate taxes, raising nearly $1.6 billion for fiscal 2015. In announcing the plan, Sweeney said it would maintain the pension payments promised, keep state borrowing costs down by keeping up the state’s credit rating and maintain the other key services that the state provides:

Also a matter of fairness is that this plan will make the full pension contribution that the governor promised. We must keep that promise. Staying true to the promised payments is also a matter of financial integrity. Abandoning the promise will cost more in higher interest rates and lower credit ratings. This plan is not only a matter of fairness and responsibility with pension payments, it is really about the full range of government services and opportunities, including such things as property tax relief, college affordability, public schools, law enforcement, transportation and many more priority needs. We have to maintain the state’s commitment to all New Jersey residents by meeting all of our commitments.

It was Sweeney, a protégé of political boss George Norcross, the businessman power broker who controls Democratic politics in South Jersey, who was instrumental in initially helping Christie ram a harsh state employee pension deal through the legislature in 2011, cutting benefits, increasing employee payments and raising the retirement age. In exchange for this, state funding for the pension fund was to be dramatically increased to improve its long-term solvency. But in May Christie ripped up the agreement when tax revenues fell short of estimates, forcing him to come up with money to balance the budget this year.

Now Sweeney wants to run for governor when Christie leaves and he knows he can’t do that without union and state employee backing. As Christie Watch has reported, about a dozen unions, including the New Jersey Education Association and the Communications Workers of America, along with those representing police, firefighters and other public sector workers, filed suit to stop Christie’s pension scheme. A larger coalition, including community, environmental and other activist groups, has been demonstrating and lobbying against Christie’s actions.

The Sweeney-Weinberg plan was applauded by these unions, who have called for similar tax increases.

As the Newark Star-Ledger reported:

Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said, “the only winners in Chris Christie’s economy are millionaires and Wall Street CEOs. The Senate President is presenting a plan that puts the middle class first, and forces the wealthy that have benefited so much under this governor to pay their fair share,” Wowkanech said.

But Christie, again attacking “out of control pension and benefit costs,” reiterated his refusal to raise taxes, calculating that it would doom his chances of getting the GOP presidential nod in 2016:

“The governor has been emphatic that he will not raise taxes on already overburdened New Jersey taxpayers suffering from one of the harshest tax structures of any state in the country,” said a Christie spokesman, Kevin Roberts, responding to Sweeney’s announcement today.

A state judge will hear the union lawsuit on June 25. Yesterday the board of the largest state pension plan, the Public Employees’ Retirement System, representing over 400,000 active and retired workers, also voted to sue the governor on the pension issue.

More than 10,000 public workers had sent letters to the pension board urging it to take action. The head of the board, Thomas Bruno, a retiree and former official of the Communications Workers of America, said the board had a fiduciary duty to demand the pension payment. But three board members, representing Christie and the state treasurer, recused themselves.

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Yesterday too the state attorney general filed a court brief in answer to the union lawsuits. It argued that while the 2011 pension reform legislation provided a contractual right to the pension payments, the contract is with the legislature, not the executive branch. And, Christie’s lawyers argued, the decision to stop the pension payment is justified because the state budget crisis is unprecedented and the governor has a legal charge to balance the budget.

Sweeney’s tax plan could speed through the Senate next week, in time for the court hearing on the lawsuit against Christie’s plan June 25. But even if it passes the Assembly in time to be a key part of the budget for next fiscal year, Christie is likely to veto it, as he has done several times with the “millionaires tax.” But legislative leaders are talking about placing it before voters as a ballot initiative.

It may not be possible because of legal technicalities to have the measure go to voters until 2015. Which is the same year that Christie, if he decides to run for president, will go before the nation’s Republican primary voters.

 

Read Next: New Jersey unions in revolt against Christie’s attack on pensions

This Is What an Overcrowded Holding Center for Migrant Children Looks Like

Brownsville, TX

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday finally let reporters visit two processing facilities where hundreds of unaccompanied migrant youth are being detained.

Some 900 children are being housed at a former warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, which was recently outfitted to handle an unprecedented surge of mostly Central American child migrants across the US-Mexico border. Another facility in Brownsville, Texas, is holding around 500 children, double its intended capacity. The Los Angeles Times described conditions there as “overcrowded and unsanitary.” CBP is required by law to turn over any migrant children to the Department of Health and Human Services within seventy-two hours of detaining them. Officials at the Nogales and Brownsville facilities told reporters they are struggling to meet this requirement.

Earlier this month, the White House requested $2 billion to handle the surge of migrant youths, which President Obama has declared an “urgent humanitarian situation.” US Customs and Border Protection reports that around 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since October 1, 2013, nearly double the amount of last year. A majority of the migrant children arrived from Central American countries, seeking refuge from rampant violence or hoping to reconnect with family members already in the states.

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CBP officials took reporters on highly controlled tours of the Brownsville and Nogales facilities, in which visitors were prohibited from bringing cellphones and sound recorders, or speaking with any of the children. Only two photographers, one for each facility, were allowed to bring a camera. Here are some of their photos:


Some 900 unaccompanied children are being held at a converted warehouse in Nogales. Border Patrol officials set up the Arizona facility after a similiar processing center in Texas ran out of space. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Nogales
Female detainees sleep in a holding cell. According to The New York Times, children held at the Nogales facility are allowed just forty-five minutes of outdoor time a day. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)


Child detainees are escorted to make phone calls. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)


Child detainees wait to use a portable restroom, as a World Cup match plays on a suspended television. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

 

Read Next: “Will the Death Penalty Return to the US This Week?”

Tell President Obama: No Military Force in Iraq

Iraqi funeral

An Iraqi mourner waves an old flag of Iraq during the funerals of victims killed in clashes with security forces in Falluja, January 26, 2013. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)

As Iraq suffers again from bloody sectarian conflict and potential civil war, many of the same pundits and politicians who supported the US invasion in 2003 are now advocating for military intervention once again. This is the wrong response. As Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in her column for The Washington Post, “We learned in 2003 that when we move in with guns blazing, we tend to spark a lot more fires than we extinguish. In 2014, we cannot afford to learn this same lesson.”

There have been numerous reports that President Obama is considering military involvement in Iraq. Even if limited to airstrikes, military action would inflame sectarian divisions in the country and that would almost certainly kill civilians.

TO DO

Join The Nation, RootsAction and Iraq Veterans Against the War in calling on President Obama to refrain from using militarily force in Iraq.

TO READ

The Editors at The Nation make the case against military intervention.

TO WATCH

At Democracy Now!, Iraqi-American blogger Raed Jarrar discussed the history of US intervention in the region and explained how military force would only make the deteriorating situation worse.