At least he’s consistent – crazy, yes, but consistent. Back in 2007, Norman Podhoretz, the wheezing, 76-year-old neoconservative warhorse wrote a piece for Commentary magazine called “The Case for Bombing Iran.” (Commentary helpfully reprinted it this week.) In that piece, widely scorned at the time, Podhoretz urged immediate bombing of Iran. He said:
In short, the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force—any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938.
Podhoretz said, then, that George W. Bush – who was, we now know, being urged to unleash the bombers by Vice President Cheney at the time -- might be the man to bomb Iran. “As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will,” concluded Podhoretz. As evidence, perhaps, that one's prayers aren't answered when directed toward Satan, Bush didn’t.
Fast forward six years. This week, writing in the Wall Street Journal, the even older Podhoretz, 83, issued an updated version of his argument from 2007’s Commentary. Called “Strike Iran to Avert Disaster Later” (i.e., “Disaster Now, Not Later!”), Podhoretz has given up on the idea that the United States will bomb Iran, so he suggests that it’s Israel’s job:
Given how very unlikely it is that President Obama, despite his all-options-on-the-table protestations to the contrary, would ever take military action, the only hope rests with Israel. If, then, Israel fails to strike now, Iran will get the bomb.
Yet as an unregenerate upholder of the old consensus, I remain convinced that containment is impossible, from which it follows that the two choices before us are not war vs. containment but a conventional war now or a nuclear war later.
In the piece, Podhoretz trots all the old arguments: that Iran’s moderates are really secret, Israel-hating hawks, that Iran doesn’t care if it loses millions of people in a nuclear exchange because they are suicide-loving fanatics (and here he quotes the equally old, wheezing warhorse Bernard Lewis).
When it comes to neoconservativism, of course, Podhoretz is royalty. His wife is the equally radical Midge Decter, his son-in-law is Elliot Abrams, and his son John Podhoretz – who, if anything, is crazier than his parents – is a stalwart at the American Enterprise Institute and current editor-in-chief of Commentary. It’s hard to overstate how far out of the mainstream is the Podhoretz clan, which makes it easy to dismiss old man Podhoretz’s ravings. Even the Israelis, who’ve bitterly criticized the U.S-Iran interim accord reached last month, generally recognize that the military option has been taken away from them, and so Israel and the Israel lobby in Washington have fallen back to a strategy of trying to head off the more permanent deal expected to be reached between Iran and the P5+1 in 2014.
But Podhoretz is channeling another extremist pro-Israeli kook, Sheldon Adelson, the 79-year-old billionaire casino magnate who singlehandedly funded Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. In remarks in October, Adelson said that the United States ought to bomb Iran, using nuclear weapons:
What are we going to negotiate about? What I would say is, “Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.” You pick up your cellphone … and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘O.K., let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles, in the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say: “See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, for energy purposes.” So.
So. You see. That’s it.
Even though, according to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens said that he agrees with “98 percent” of what Adelson said, even the Journal today isn’t quite calling for bombing Iran – though it gives Podhoretz a forum. Instead, like AIPAC and other hawks, the Journal is essentially trying to wreck the deal by demanding new, tougher sanctions on Iran. That’s not working, because Senate Democrats have been working with the White House to head off new sanctions, which would indeed destroy the ongoing talks with Iran. Thus, the Journal editorializes, not quite grammatically:
Especially since the only hope for producing a positive outcome is if the mullahs are convinced that the alternatives would be crushing sanctions and military strikes on their nuclear sites. The Administration has already all but declared that it does not view military strikes as a serious option and that it is prepared to accept Iran as a threshold nuclear state as long as it doesn't actually test a bomb. Now the Administration is signaling that it also isn't keen to exert more economic pressure.
In fact, Iran is already taking steps to implement the November agreement, and there will be new talks soon aimed at putting the finishing touches on the interim deal and then securing a final accord.
Dana Wilson, a back-up dancer on Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience Tour,” moved to LA from Aurora, Colorado when she was eighteen. She’s in her mid-twenties now and has started to think about her pension. Tours like Timberlake’s can go on for months, even years, and backup dancers typically lose their SAAG-AFTRA union benefits while on the road.
Before the tour started, in November, Wilson and the other dancers decide to demand a union contract — a touring contract has existed since 2006, but no dancer has ever been covered by it (though back-up singers for James Taylor, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Blues Traveler, Josh Groban and Jefferson Starship have). “A few of us have healthcare and pension plans through a spouse, but we thought it was important for not just us but for dancers in the future,” said Wilson, who I spoke to from the lobby of her hotel in Indianapolis. She had just checked out of her room and had an hour until she had to be at that evening’s venue, the name of which she could not remember. She performs four times a week, dancing on wood, metal, and Plexiglas. “It’s virtually the same as dancing on concrete,” Wilson said. “It could take its toll.” There’s a moment in the show — she didn’t want to give away too many details — where the stage expands into the audience while the dancers are not secured. “I still get nervous,” Wilson said. “It’s not a situation that a normal worker would be put in.”
The negotiation took months and was nerve-wrecking at times. “Tours are very sought after jobs for dancers,” Wilson said. “But ultimately, what’s more important than having a cool job is being able to work for a long, long time.” She had also performed in Timberlake’s "Future Sex/Love Show" tour, in 2007, and was worried that her activism might create friction with her old boss. “On tour, you’re a close family, you don’t ever want to be a thorn in anyone’s side or be ruffling feathers,” Wilson said, “but at a certain point it is really worth it to ruffle a few feathers.” The six back-up dancers had support from the wider community; at the peak of their negotiations, they hosted an event at the Avalon club in LA that more than 1,000 people attended. "I heard the applause that night and I knew we weren't in trouble and we were in the right place at the right time to make a change," Wilson said.
Timberlake’s management eventually agreed (“They were all decorum and business,” Wilson said.) Timberlake, she says, “has become such a hero in the dance world.” Randy Himes, who works for the union and helped organize the dancers, is hoping to make the “20/20 Experience Tour” contract an industry standard. In 2012, Wilson and Himes, along with other members of the Dancer’s Alliance, successfully negotiated a union contract for dancers in music videos; it was the Alliance’s first campaign, though the organization has been around for more than 20 years, and culminated in a flash-mob outside Sony’s office to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and two long days of heated discussion with record executives until an agreement was reached at 1:30 am.
There are some basic challenges to organizing dancers. They are a motley crew — some are classically trained, others learn on the street — and convincing professional dancers that they are all in the same field has been a challenge for the Dancer’s Alliance. They’re also young and driven, and not necessarily thinking about retirement, or even life after 30. “The average age of a dancer has to be early 20s, at that age you really feel invincible,” Wilson said. “It’s a passion so we don’t care if our knees hurt or our feet are bleeding.”
“We’re trying to get young people taking responsibility for being business professionals,” said Himes. “Helping artists step up and get respect for what they do.”
Read Next: NYU grad students voted to unionize, becoming the only private university student body to do so.
Nearly two years ago, TheNation.com launched This Week in Poverty as a way to keep the issue of poverty—and what we can do about it—front and center for our readers.
We felt that poverty was largely ignored by the mainstream media, with the exception of every September when the new Census Bureau statistics were published. In contrast, as the oldest political weekly magazine in the country—founded by abolitionists in 1865—The Nation has poverty coverage in its DNA. It’s been a great privilege to be a part of that coverage on a weekly basis.
Today marks my last This Week in Poverty post. I’m going to spend more of my time working with local, state, and national organizations engaged in the fight against poverty. I look forward to continuing to contribute to The Nation as well as to BillMoyers.com, which has also been so supportive of this blog.
For me, spending more time in the field, and having the freedom to engage strategically with activists, feels like a natural progression of my work at The Nation. The more I have spoken with people who are struggling in poverty, or with workers trying to survive on low wages; the more I have been alarmed by Republicans, and disillusioned with Democrats; the more I have been impressed with the activists, thinkers, and advocates fighting for good policy and stronger communities, while also searching for new approaches to that fight… the more I’ve wanted to get involved as an activist myself.
TheNation.com created this blog with the notion that it simply isn’t true that we don’t know what to do to turn the tide in the fight against poverty—that there are many progressive organizations and, most importantly, people living in poverty themselves, offering solutions that are there for the taking and that need to be heard.
My friend and editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and I share a deep respect for the people who are doing this work, and that was also a key motive for creating this blog: we need to recognize people and groups for their good ideas, and their hard work, much of which is done in relative anonymity. And, of course, it was a glaring weakness in most media coverage of poverty that the stories rarely engaged with people who are actually living in poverty themselves. As we headed into the presidential campaign last year, this absence was even more glaring.
I think one of the best moments for this blog and what its readers could accomplish was TheNation.com’s #TalkPoverty effort during the presidential campaign, which was developed in collaboration with senior editor Emily Douglas and community editor Annie Shields.
We interviewed advocates (here, here, here, and here) and people living in or near poverty, providing them with an opportunity to pose direct questions to President Obama and Governor Romney. It was an effort to push a constructive conversation about poverty into the presidential debate. Little did we know that so many groups and individuals would adopt the campaign as their own, trying to get the moderators of three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate to ask at least a single question about poverty (which the moderators failed to do). In the end, the Obama campaign responded to This Week in Poverty, and #TalkPoverty still thrives on Twitter today as a way to share information and promote action.
It’s my hope now that we will aggressively move beyond talk to organizing and taking action to push for known solutions. I believe that we will not see the kind of change we seek without a movement that is visible, constant, and disruptive, as we have witnessed with the recent immigration reform and marriage equality movements.
The conditions for an antipoverty movement now exist: when more than 1 in 3 Americans are living below twice the poverty line (below about $36,500 for a family of three)—unable to pay for the basics like food, housing, health care, education, and unable to save—something’s got to give. When 95 percent of the economic gains are going to the top 1 percent, and more than 60 percent to the top .1 percent—the potential is there to unite the majority of people who are being denied an opportunity to get ahead.
So my hope as we close out this blog is the same as it was when we launched it—that readers will get involved in the fight against poverty, and work and push, and work and push, and work and push some more, until we get where we need to go.
Below is a list of organizations whose work I’ve had the privilege to get to know over the past two years. If you keep up with these groups, sign up for their updates, you will know more about poverty and what we can do about it than the vast majority of Members of Congress or your state and local representatives do, and you will find opportunities to get involved. You can also share your own ideas with these groups about how we can build a strong movement—and I know you have great ideas. I know it because the most unexpected thing of all about this blog was the number of people who started emailing me about what needed to be covered. Your passion and ideas helped shape This Week in Poverty in significant ways over the past two years, and I thank you for that.
I hope you will keep in touch—I’m still writing—but most importantly I hope you will get involved and fight hard.
Children, Parents and Families
Healthcare, Disability and Aging
Housing and Homelessness
Justice and Courts
Race and Civil Rights
Greg Kaufmann challenged democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow's support for cuts to food stamp funding.
Most members of Congress were pleased with themselves Thursday.
They agreed to agree – crossing lines of partisanship and ideology – on an austerity budget that, as Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio has noted, “won't create jobs, get the economy back on track, or meaningfully cut the deficit.”
That's not the worst of it.
“At the end of the day, the bill abandons 1.3 million Americans who desperately need unemployment insurance, and does nothing to promote economic growth or job creation," Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, explained Thursday. "Furthermore, the legislation is paid for on the backs of the middle class and military families, while not touching the wealthiest amongst us and allowing corporations to continue to benefit from tax loopholes.”
Pocan and DeFazio could not bring themselves to back the deal.
But they were outliers, two of the 32 Democrats who voted no, along with 62 Republicans.
The vast majority of House members – from both parties – backed the deal, which prevailed on a 332-94 vote.
So where does that leave America?
Let’s turn to National Nurses United, a union that parts company with both major parties on questions of public welfare, for a diagnosis.
“There is no reason to cheer an agreement that requires unwarranted pension cuts for federal workers, including VA nurses who earned that pension, underfunds nutrition programs and fails to extend assistance for the long-term unemployed,“ says union co-president Jean Ross, RN.
NNU refused to get on board for the bipartisan deal that takes the worst ideas of Wall Street-aligned Republicans and puts a Democratic stamp of approval on them.
Why? Because they understand the agreement – which was developed by a conference committee on which House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, played a defining role – as an expression of the austerity agenda that has stalled economic recovery and job growth in the United States and abroad.
“Austerity budgeting, reflected in this latest deal, continues the disturbing focus by politicians in both parties in Washington, who should be fighting for jobs at living wages, restoration of the disgraceful cuts in food stamps, healthcare for all, housing assistance, and other human needs, not simply how to please Wall Street and the banks,” says NNU's Ross. “For our patients and our communities, it is past time to replace cuts for workers with revenues from Wall Street to revive Main Street.”
There was a time when austerity budgeting was accepted as valid – or, at least, necessary – to addressing the circumstance of countries where deindustrialization and economic setbacks have caused revenue shortfalls. But, in recent years, The Economist magazine, the Financial Times newspaper and the International Monetary Fund have recognized that austerity agendas based on in budget cuts and a failure to invest in infrastructure and development tend to lock in patterns of high unemployment and slow growth.
Countries fall into dysfunctional patterns making cuts that lead to more cuts, and this stalls job creation, reduces labor-force participation and makes recovery more difficult. It is, as economist Paul Krugman suggests, an "awesomely destructive" pattern.
Congress should get this by now. Unfortunately, as an analysis from the budget analysts at the Campaign for America's Future notes, “Somehow Washington has failed to get the message. This deal doesn’t end the cutting; it only reduces its severity. It doesn’t generate jobs; it only cuts fewer of them. It doesn’t help the economy; it only reduces the harm to it. Surely we can do better than that.”
The nurses have an idea for how to do better. The union wants a Robin Hood Tax on high-stakes Wall Street trading – particularly speculation in stocks, bonds, derivatives and currencies. This tax is outlined in legislation developed by Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, who proposes “a small tax on Wall Street transactions to meet the needs of our nation.”
Ellison voted against the budget deal Thursday, saying: “The budget deal passed today is a compromise—it compromises the financial security of federal employees, the long-term unemployed and working families…. This is a case where ‘compromise’ in Washington means asking Americans to sacrifice more.”
The nurses agree.
“The sham of the present debate in Washington, DC, is that real fiscal solutions to slow growth and high unemployment, hunger, disease and poverty exist, but have been taken off the table by lobbyists for Wall Street,” says Ross. “It’s time Congress proves to the American people that Wall Street doesn’t run our government.”
Students and veterans helped deliver big campaign victories for the Democratic Party in recent elections. Now, some Democratic lawmakers are thanking them by trying to ensure that predatory businesses can rip them off and saddle them with a lifetime of debt.
TheNation.com has learned that a small group of House Democrats, led by Representatives Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Alcee Hastings of Florida, are organizing an effort within the caucus to protect the for-profit career college industry from any meaningful regulation. The two congressmen are among the largest recipients of campaign cash from the industry. Campaign finance data compiled by TheNation.com show Hastings has received $54,500, and Andrews $78,547, from for-profit college executives and political committees.
Unlike non-profit private or public universities, proprietary career colleges exist to make money; lot's of it. For-profit colleges takes in some $33 billion in taxpayer money annually, funds designed to help veterans and students afford college. For many critics, the entire industry is built upon fraud. Multiple investigations show systematic deception in the industry -- recruiters lying to students about job placement rates, students graduating with incredibly high debt with few employment prospects, and marketing campaigns that obscure what is often a low-quality education.
Students that have gone to for-profit colleges are not only more likely graduate with high levels of debt -- for-profit students hold $31,190 dollars in debt on average, compared to $17,040 at private, nonprofit institutions and $7,960 at public colleges -- they are also three times as likely to default on their loans.
As Adam Weinstein reported for Mother Jones, for-profit colleges have also targeted returning soldiers to take advantage of their GI benefits. "Some for-profits have cleaned out students' military benefits while also signing them up for thousands of dollars in loans without their knowledge. A vet who enrolled at the largely online Ashford University after being told the GI Bill would cover his tuition ended up owing the school $11,000," Weinstein noted.
In 2010, the Department of Education proposed modest rules to mandate that taxpayer money would only go to for-profit schools that could demonstrate that a reasonable number of their students were able to gain jobs after graduation. An intense lobbying effort followed. Career colleges, including the University of Phoenix, Kaplan Higher Education, Devry Inc., The Art Institute (owned by Education Management Corporation), Corinthian Colleges, Grand Canyon University, among others, pushed back through a sophisticated influence campaign. Think tanks and other NGOs were co-oped by industry, dozens of lobbyists were hired, and for-profit colleges pumped campaign contributions into the accounts of lawmakers opposed to the rule. The industry also flooded the department with astroturfed letters. The Obama Administration finally issued a much-watered down version of the rule. Then, the for-profit colleges sued and persuaded a judge to strike it down.
This year, the Obama Administration has promised to re-propose the regulation, and today will reconvene a meeting with stakeholders to move forward with a new version of the "gainful employment" rule. During debate over the last version of the rule, virtually every House Republican, joined by a number of Democrats, worked to defeat the regulation. The process seems to be repeating itself this year, with Andrews and Hastings circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter asking other House Democrats to sign a document asking the administration to back down. The letter, obtained in draft form by by TheNation.com, asks lawmakers to contact David Opong-Wadee, a staffer to Hastings, if they would like to join the anti-gainful employment regulation group.
Notably, the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities, a trade association for the industry, has given only to two House Democrats in the last three months: Hastings and Andrews.
Don't miss scoop just posted by the AP on long-missing American in Iran who, it turns out, was working for the CIA. And against all protocols, hired by a rogue element.
It's an incredibe story but because of its sensitive nature--the man, Robert Levinson, is still missing, it was a secret operation, and offiicials lied to us and Congress--the Associated Press debated about publishing it. As they related, "even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson's CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged. 'He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,' the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson's disappearance." Now that it has posted the piece, the AP carried a lengthy explanation."
Read the full story but, since I'm a media writer, here's AP defending why they are publishing now even though it presents some risk to the CIA man, if still alive. The White House today criticized the AP move, saying it had "strongly urged" it to hold off (it did not admit Levinson was a CIA operative.) From the statement: "We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home. The investigation into Mr. Levinson's disappearance continues, and we all remain committed to finding him and bringing him home safely to his family."
Here's the full AP statement:
Publishing this article was a difficult decision. This story reveals serious mistakes and improper actions inside the U.S. government’s most important intelligence agency. Those actions, the investigation and consequences have all been kept secret from the public.
Publishing articles that help the public hold their government to account is part of what journalism is for, and especially so at The Associated Press, which pursues accountability journalism whenever it can. This seems particularly true on this subject at a time when the decisions of intelligence agencies are being extensively debated.
The AP has been seeking information on Levinson’s whereabouts from governments, agencies and any other source possible for several years. Government officials tell us that they, too, have hit a wall, though their efforts continue.
In the absence of any solid information about Levinson’s whereabouts, it has been impossible to judge whether publication would put him at risk. It is almost certain that his captors already know about the CIA connection but without knowing exactly who the captors are, it is difficult to know whether publication of Levinson’s CIA mission would make a difference to them. That does not mean there is no risk. But with no more leads to follow, we have concluded that the importance of the story justifies publication.
Last night Michigan’s legislature passed a measure banning coverage for abortion in private health plans. Women who want abortion coverage will have to buy an additional rider, essentially planning for an unplanned pregnancy. I understand why opponents of the measure are calling it “rape insurance”—there are no exceptions for rape and incest, and State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told her own story of sexual assault and how such a law would have impacted her if she had become pregnant as a result of the attack. It was a brave moment. But the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement.
It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.
Referring to this measure as requiring women to have “rape insurance” is also a political misstep—what happens if Michigan anti-choicers decide they can live with a rape exception? Most women will still not have coverage for the care they need. This is similar to what happened in Virginia when feminists protested a transvaginal ultrasound mandate as “state rape.” Focusing on the most controversial aspect of the law got a lot of attention, but it also meant that once the transvaginal requirement was removed, low income women still lost out—because an abdominal ultrasound mandate remained, forcing women to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for an unnecessary procedure.
I understand why many in the pro-choice movement focus on the most extreme examples when we talk to the media; they are truly harrowing and serious issues. And we need public support—but not at the expense of our feminist values.
As Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, told me in an interview last month: “The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.”
If we want to battle the stigma around abortion, we cannot separate it out from women’s general healthcare—or suggest, even implicitly, that some people are more deserving of abortion care than others. Michigan’s policy is unjust and sexist, and it punishes women—that should be enough to oppose it.
Read Next: Why Jessica Valenti doesn’t want to watch TV shows anymore.
A federal judge in Winston-Salem today set the schedule for a trial challenging North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restrictions. There will be a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in July 2014 and a full trial a year later, in July 2015.
This gives the plaintiffs challenging the law, which includes the Department of Justice, the ACLU and the North Carolina NAACP, a chance to block the bill’s worst provisions before the 2014 election. Earlier this year, in July 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law, which included strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration, the repeal of public financing of judicial elections and many more harsh and unnecessary anti-voting measures.
These restrictions will impact millions of voters in the state across all races and demographic groups: in 2012, for example, 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early, 152,000 used same-day voter registration, 138,000 voters lacked government-issued ID and 7,500 people cast an out-of-precinct provisional ballot. These four provisions alone will negatively affect nearly 3 million people who voted in 2012.
Ironically, it took the North Carolina legislature less than a month to approve the law, but it will take a year before an initial hearing on it and two years before a full trial. That’s because in June 2013 the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which meant that previously covered states like North Carolina, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer had to clear their voting changes with the federal government.
North Carolina passed its new restrictions a month after the SCOTUS decision, making the legislation as draconian as possible because it no longer needed federal approval. The state is crystal-clear evidence of why SCOTUS was wrong to gut the VRA and to treat voting discrimination as a thing of the past. It also shows why Section 2 of the VRA is no substitute for Section 5.
Under Section 5 of the VRA—which SCOTUS paralyzed by invalidating the states covered under Section 4—North Carolina would have had to prove to the Justice Department or a three-judge court in Washington that its new law was not discriminatory. The burden of proof would have been on the state and the law would have been frozen until DOJ or the courts weighed in. Given the clear evidence of disparate racial impact in this case—African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in the state, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 34 percent of those without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration—the law would have almost certainly been rejected.
Instead, voting rights groups had to sue North Carolina under Section 2 of the VRA, which applies nationwide but is much more cumbersome than Section 5. Now the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs to show evidence of discrimination and the law is in effect until the courts block it. Unless a federal judge in Winston-Salem grants a preliminary injunction in the summer of 2014, the new restrictions will be in place during the 2014 midterm elections (except for voter ID, which goes into effect in 2016). Those who have been discriminated against will have no recourse until after the election has been decided, when there’s a full trial in 2015, on the fiftieth anniversary of the VRA. (A challenge to Texas’s voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA will go to trial in September 2014.)
The Dallas Morning News reported this week that legislation to strengthen the VRA following the Supreme Court’s decision is stalled in Congress because the GOP leadership has yet to support it. The fight over voting rights in North Carolina vividly demonstrates why Congress should update the VRA.
Read Next: Ari Berman reports on recent attemps to suppress the vote in Ohio by curtailing early voting.
It’s read-’em-and-weep for supporters of the Syrian opposition. The whole enterprise has been on a slippery slope for quite some time, and now it’s tumbled straight down into oblivion. The “official” opposition, the so-called moderates who’ve been halfheartedly backed by the Obama administration since 2011, have been overwhelmed, it seems, by radicals, ultra-radicals and Al Qaeda types. As a result, the administration has officially suspended the supply of nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels because, well, it’s going to the wrong guys.
This week, the top rebel commander backed by the United States, General Salim Idris of the tattered Free Syrian Army and its parent group, the Supreme Military Council, was forced to flee from Syria for his life when more radical elements affiliated with the so-called Islamic Front muscled in to his territory. (The Islamic Front is a concoction of radical-right Islamists, formed last month, who are, nevertheless, separate and distinct from the pro–Al Qaeda Nusra Front and the even more radical, Iraq-based Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams, or ISIS. Still, the Islamic Front says its goal is to turn Syria into an “Islamic state.”) As The Wall Street Journal put it, succinctly:
Gen. Idris flew to the Qatari capital of Doha on Sunday after fleeing to Turkey, U.S. officials said Wednesday. “He fled as a result of the Islamic Front taking over his headquarters,” a senior U.S. official said.
Oh, and the Islamists also seized control of the warehouses that stock all the goodies that the Obama administration has been supplying to the anti-Assad fighters, including trucks and tanks. Added the Journal:
The Islamists also took over key warehouses holding U.S. military gear for moderate fighters in northern Syria over the weekend. The takeover and flight of Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army shocked the U.S., which along with Britain immediately froze delivery of nonlethal military aid to rebels in northern Syria.… Two senior officials said the warehouses taken over by the Islamic Front appeared to contain a range of lethal and nonlethal equipment.
Somewhat pathetically, the United States has been holding talks with the Islamic Front. Perhaps the best spin to be put on those talks is that Obama administration wants as many rebels as possible to come to Geneva in January to participate in the peace conference jointly sponsored by Washington and Moscow. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has already said that it will attend, and the rebels are all over the place. In any case, however, the United States has decided to suspend the delivery to support to the rebels until the situation clarifies itself. As The New York Times reports:
Just a month before a peace conference that will seek an end to the grinding civil war in Syria, the Obama administration’s decision to suspend the delivery of nonlethal aid to the moderate opposition demonstrated again the frustrations of trying to cultivate a viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.… With rebels feuding with one another instead of concentrating on fighting Mr. Assad…the United States [is] still groping for a reliable partner in Syria.
It’s pretty much a complete and total collapse of the American efforts to back opposition to Assad, whose own forces have put together a string of military victories since the spring, retaking important strongholds and using aid from Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbollah, to do so.
Tony Blinken, the top White House foreign policy official and former aide to Vice President Joe Biden, told a conference that the radicalization of the conflict and the strength of the Islamists might convince everyone involved from the outside to seek a peace accord. But a closer reading of Blinken’s comments seemed to indicate that he was suggesting that Russia would feel compelled to lessen its support for Assad because it fears that the Islamist rebels—who include a number of extremist Chechen fighters who’ll try to wreak havoc in Russia when they return. Reports Foreign Policy:
Speaking at Transformational Trends, a conference co-hosted by Foreign Policy and the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. State Department, Blinken said that the radicalization of the conflict may create a shared interest among world powers to bring the war to an end. The growing prominence of radical groups has “begun to concentrate the minds of critical actors outside of Syria” and may strip the Bashar al-Assad regime of the key international backing that has so far helped to keep him in power.
“The Russians have a profound interest in avoiding the emergence of an extremist Syria, a haven for extremist groups,” Blinken said. “Many of Syria’s neighbors have the same incentive, and of course we have a strong reason to want to avoid that future.”
Really, Mr. Blinken. Fact is, the United States and Russia have a joint interest in suppressing and eliminating the Islamist rebels. And that’s it. One danger is that Saudi Arabia, which is apoplectic about the impending US-Iran accord and which is equally angry about the US-Russia diplomacy over Syria, may be pouring funds into the non–Al Qaeda Islamist radicals, such as the Islamist Front, just to give the United States a black eye. If so, Washington had better read the riot act to Riyadh.
Read next: Omar Ghabra's personal account of Syria under Bashar al-Assad.
Behind his back, they called him “Tall Paul” in the 1980s and Volcker was indeed awesome then as Federal Reserve chairman alongside Ronald Reagan as president. Together they refashioned government—shifting everything rightward and setting up the triumph of the financial sector that has reigned ever since with its destructive qualities.
The Gipper did the fun part—cutting taxes from the top down—but Volcker did the heavy lifting. He presided over a long, brutal recession that broke inflation and labor wages and lots more. It was a decisive injury to organized labor He was a civil service giant, brave and also scary. At six-foot-seven, Volcker towered over the pedestrian ranks of Washington politics. Also important bankers and the US Senate. Reagan’s White House staff tried to push him around (though not Reagan himself) and Volcker brushed them off like gnats.
For all those reasons, I see his triumph—finally getting federal regulators to adopt his “Volcker amendment” to limit proprietary investing by the mega-banks—as a melancholy moment. It took three years for regulatory agencies to fend off the thousands of bank lobbyists and approve something. That’s better perhaps than a hollow victory but still far short of the reforms that are needed to get control over the out-of-control mega-banks.
I haven’t read the bill, but the financial press and Wall Street talkers are not impressed. It is something like 850 pages and so dense with loopholes and clever snares it will probably take another three years for bank examiners to understand what they are supposed to do with it.
Meanwhile, the too-big-to-fail banks will go on about their business, getting sweet on America’s troubles and pretty much ignoring prudent restraints. The real solution will not come until another Congress or a new president find the courage to break them up, cut them down to size and restore the old Glass-Steagall division of commercial banking from investment banking. A few years of experience with the Volcker Rule will probably be enough to demonstrate that it’s insufficient to change the behavior of JP Morgan and the banker gang. The risk is that the bankers will go wild again in the meantime.
Paul Volcker must be feeling a sense of personal regret if not guilt. He was present at the creation, after all. As Fed chairman. He blessed the first rounds of serious deregulation that repealed the caps on interest rates and doomed the savings and loan industry that financed housing. However reluctantly, Volcker also engineered the first big rescue of a too-big-to-fail bank—Continental Illinois in Chicago. He could have hung tough but he caved to the bankers. The Fed has lived off that precedent many times since.
The Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary want us to believe they won’t do it again. I judge from his body language and muted comments that Paul Volcker doesn’t believe them.
Read Next: John Nichols on the cruel, irresponsible and dysfunctional budget deal.