In 2004, Ohio had the longest lines in the country on Election Day, with some voters—particularly in large urban areas—waiting as long as seven hours to vote. A DNC survey estimated that 174,000 Ohioans—3 percent of the state’s electorate—left without voting. George W. Bush won the state by just 118,000 votes.
In response to the long lines, Ohio adopted thirty-five days of early voting in 2008, including on nights and weekends, to make voting more convenient. But following the large Democratic turnout in 2008, Ohio Republicans drastically curtailed early voting in 2012 from thirty-five to eleven days, with no voting on the Sunday before the election, when African-American churches historically rally their congregants to go to the polls. Voting rights activists subsequently gathered enough signatures to block the new voting restrictions and force a referendum on Election Day. In reaction, Ohio Republicans repealed their own bill in the state legislature, but kept a ban on early voting three days before Election Day (when 98,000 Ohioans voted in 2008), adding an exception for active duty members of the military, who tend to lean Republican.
These cuts disproportionately impacted black voters, who made up a majority of early voters in large urban areas like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Dayton’s Montgomery County in 2008. Ohio Republicans brazenly tried to cut early voting hours in Democratic counties while expanding them in Republican ones. GOP leaders admitted the cuts in Democratic counties were motivated by racial politics. “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, the GOP chair in Columbus’s Franklin County.
These voter suppression efforts backfired in 2012. The Obama campaign successfully sued to reinstate early voting on the three days before Election Day (although Secretary of State Jon Husted limited the hours) and the overall share of the black electorate increased from 11 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2012.
But now Ohio Republicans are once again resurrecting efforts to make it harder to vote. Last month, the GOP-controlled Ohio Senate, on a party-line vote, voted to cut early voting by a week, eliminating the “Golden Week” when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day during the early voting period [Senate Bill 238]. The legislation was introduced and passed in one week, with almost no time for substantive debate. The Senate also passed a bill preventing the Secretary of State or individual counties from mailing absentee ballots to all eligible voters unless the legislature provides the money, which they are unlikely to do [Senate Bill 205]. The Ohio House, which is also controlled by a large GOP majority, is holding hearings on the bills this week.
These restrictions—and additional measures being considered by the legislature—have the potential to impact millions of voters in the Buckeye State: 600,000 Ohioans voted early in 2012, more than 10 percent of the state’s electorate, and 1.25 million voted by mail, 22 percent of the electorate.
“The voting rights community is raising the alarm because these laws in and of themselves are significant, but we fear they are the beginning of a wave of bills to make it harder to vote in Ohio,” says Ellis Jacobs, founder of the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition.
Jacobs fears that the legislature could soon consider proposals to further cut early voting hours, particularly on weekends when it’s most convenient to vote, along with a strict voter ID law (900,000 Ohioans, including 1 in 4 eligible African-Americans, don’t have a government-issued ID). The unpopular voting restriction bill of 2012, which the legislature repealed after opponents forced a referendum, “is being reintroduced in pieces,” Jacobs says. “It’s an effort to sneak it in under the radar and to make it very hard to overturn by referendum.” Incidentally, the first elections bill passed by the legislature this year and signed by Governor John Kasich made it much more difficult for citizens to challenge legislation via referendum.
Republicans have claimed that cutting early voting and Ohio’s Golden Week are necessary to stop voter fraud—their one-size-fits-all justification for all voting restrictions—but there’s no evidence that early voting or same-day registration has led to voter fraud in Ohio, just as there’s no evidence of voter impersonation that a voter ID law would stop.
Jacobs testified before the Senate:
The Secretary of State's office reported that 5.6 million voters turned out for the November 2012 general election and just 625 ballots showed irregularities. Of those, 115 were investigated by law enforcement and 20 were sent to the Attorney General Mike DeWine. The Attorney General’s office said 13 cases of voters casting ballots in multiple states were ultimately turned over to the prosecutor's office.
In other words, .00023 percent of votes in 2012 were referred for prosecution, none have resulted in a conviction so far, and none would have been stopped the legislature’s proposed voting restrictions.
The legislature has done nothing to address the real problems in Ohio during the 2012 election, namely that voters in large urban areas waited much longer to vote than those in small rural counties. “On the last weekend of 2012, waiting times from 1-4 hrs were the rule in almost all larger counties,” reported Norman Robbins of Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. “Smaller counties with populations less than 160,000 had waiting times of less than 0.5 hour.”
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Cleveland, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder suggesting that cuts to early voting and a voter ID law would violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. “I believe both of these proposals are designed to systematically restrict the access of eligible Ohioans to the voting booth, particularly minorities, students and the elderly,” Fudge wrote. “After this summer’s dismantling of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act by the US Supreme Court, it is even more important that we remain vigilant and promptly address attempts to limit access for eligible voters.”
Ari Berman discusses the two-tiered voting systems emerging in Kansas and Arizona.
Marco Rubio’s foreign policy isn’t quite ready for prime time. A pair of recent speeches by the Florida Republican, who’s widely considered to be preparing a presidential bid for 2016, reveals a less-than-stirring approach to global affairs, indicating that Rubio hasn’t quite decided how far he’ll go this way and that in the Republican civil war, as least as far as it applies overseas.
Just as the GOP is divided on domestic policy between Tea Party radicals and more centrist, pro-Big Business and Chamber of Commerce types, on foreign policy it’s split between interventionist, neoconservative hawks and non-interventionist, libertarian Ron Paul types, with plenty of establishment centrists in the mix, too. Rubio, speaking first at the American Enterprise Institute in November and then, yesterday, at the august venue of London’s Chatham House, is tilting, at least a little, toward the interventionists and hawks. During his November 20 speech to AEI, for instance, Rubio painted a picture of conflicts overseas that seem complex and which resist American involvement, adding, in regard to the isolationist, non-interventionist wing of the GOP:
And they have created an opening for voices that have long desired to disengage and isolate America from the world. Their rhetoric is more careful than the isolationists of the past. But their actions speak clearly. On issue after issue, these voices have used the increasing uncertainty abroad and the economic insecurity at home to argue that it’s best for America to stay on the sidelines.
Still, Rubio hedged his bets, implying that he’s neither hawk nor dove himself:
Meanwhile, at home, foreign policy is too often covered in simplistic terms. Many only recognize two points of view: “doves”, who seek to isolate us from the world, participating in global events only when there is a direct physical threat to the safety of our homeland; and “hawks”, who believe we should use our mighty military strength to intervene in response to practically every crisis.
In the rest of the speech, Rubio threw in some token criticisms of the Obama administration, suggesting that the White House is presiding over a global decline in American power and influence around the world. Instead, Rubio held up the United States as—what else?—the exceptional nation without whose global leadership the forces of “darkness” will prevail. He concluded:
And so I ask you: if America stops leading, who will fill the vacuum we leave behind? Is there a candidate nation for this role that can offer the security and benevolence that America can? Is there any other nation we can trust to spread the values of liberty and peace and democracy? There is not.
In contrast, Rubio’s widely publicized Chatham House speech was far less political, far more modest in scope, and mostly filled with pabulum about the eternal important of Anglo-American relations. He threw in references to GOP icons such as Churchill and Thatcher, naturally. But he was oddly concerned about explaining to the British establishment audience why exactly the United States seemed so reluctant to get involved now in world and regional conflicts. He said:
We send billions of dollars in aid to people around the world, and in turn we watch as they celebrate our tragedies and burn our flag. And we mourn the murder of four of our diplomats in Benghazi, the very city in which we intervened to prevent mass murder.
Yet, in the rest of the speech, Rubio rarely took a stand on anything of importance, at least if it smelled of controversy. The one exception: he reiterated his opposition to and suspicion of the US-Iran deal that’s being negotiated:
I am personally skeptical of the interim agreement that the P5+1 have concluded with Iran. I am convinced that Iran’s ultimate goal for these negotiations has been to achieve relief from the pressure of international sanctions, while retaining the option of developing a nuclear weapon. This model has been used by others in the past, such as North Korea, to successfully exploit talks to create the time and space to go nuclear.
Rubio did venture into a few foreign-policy minefields, calling on the West to take stronger measures to bring Ukraine into the Western camp and out of Russia’s orbit, and he called for NATO to intensify its collective engagement with the rest of the world, citing NATO-led wars in Afghanistan, Libya, and Kosovo. On NATO, Rubio said:
We need to explore ways that NATO can prepare for its future missions. For instance, despite the sacrifices borne by many allies in Afghanistan, our militaries gained valuable experience in coalition warfare. We should determine how these capabilities can continue to be relevant in the future.
And on Ukraine:
In particular, the United States needs to continue to work closely with the EU to bring Ukraine into the Western fold. We should all be concerned about the Ukrainian government’s recent decision to bow to Russian pressure and not sign an association agreement or free trade pact with the EU. Our thoughts are with the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have taken to the streets to express concern about the future of their country.
And, of course, Rubio threw in some lines about the need for more defense spending.
But overall Rubio has yet to draw a sharp contrast between his vision for foreign policy and that of either the Obama administration or the rest of the Republican field.
Read Eric Alterman on why American foreign policy can be so difficult to understand.
This article was originally published by the invaluable Generation Progress.
Last April, Cornell University found itself in the midst of a bit of controversy. A series of documents released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation showed that Cornell was one of a handful of educational institutions and a larger number of police stations with a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA to fly a drone. While a Certificate of Authorization (referred to simply as a COA by those enmeshed in the world of unmanned aviation systems) hasn’t been held by the university for a few years, they’re still quite involved in the development of drone technology.
The extracurricular group Cornell University Unmanned Air Systems (CUAir) “aims to provide students from all majors at Cornell with an opportunity to learn about unmanned air systems in a hands-on setting,” according to its website. CUAir took home first place at the Student Unmanned Air Systems Competition held at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland in June. The website for the group lists Lockheed-Martin and Electronic Warfare Associates as its platinum sponsors.
Unmanned aircraft systems have received a growing amount of media coverage in the context of their militarized uses in Pakistan and Afghanistan, yet general knowledge of the fact that unmanned systems for domestic uses have been growing is limited and they are poised to become integrated into general airspace as soon as September 2015.
Two pieces of Federal legislation passed in January of last year: The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 require the FAA to choose six national test sites for research centers for remotely piloted aircraft, and begin their integration into national airspace in 2015. Since the announcement, there has been a flurry of activity by the drone industry and research sectors to establish themselves as frontrunners in the contest to be approved for both the use and development of these systems.
A New York Times editorial explained what the legislative aim of developing these technologies is: “The drone go-ahead…envisions a $5 billion-plus industry of camera drones being used for all sorts of purposes from real estate advertising to crop dusting to environmental monitoring and police work.”
A variety of organizations have submitted applications to be chosen as one of the six test sites. According to Sen. Chuck Schumer (a big proponent of New York being chosen as one of them) out of 50 initial applications the list of applicants has been narrowed to 25. The winners will receive a five-year contract with the FAA to conduct research. In New York State, that applicant is the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). Made up of 40 public, private and academic organizations, their research would potentially happen in many parts of New York and Massachusetts (probably mostly in existent military airspace) but would be focused in central New York. Alliance members include Lockheed-Martin, many of the existent upstate New York airports or military testing areas, as well as about a dozen academic institutions, according to Andrea Bianchi, program director of NUAIR, among them both SUNY Binghamton and Cornell University.
Bianchi said that Mark Campbell, director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, was one of NUAIR’s primary contacts at the University. Campbell also said he believes he was the first person at Cornell that NUAIR reached out to, but expressed that his involvement in NUAIR had been limited thus far. He “had done some Unmanned Aerial Vehichle (UAV) work in the past,” and after NUAIR contacted him he contacted other Cornell faculty with UAV experience so that they could “bring any input they might have to the [FAA] proposal process.” As for the privacy concerns? “For the most part, we’re going to be away from that fray,” Campbell said. “We’re so focused on the research…we see the benefits but we understand the concerns.”
Campbell was chosen as a member of the Institute for Defense Analyses’ (IDA) Defense Science Study Group in 2011. IDA’s website describes the group as “a non-profit corporation that operates three federally funded research and development centers to assist the United States Government in addressing important national security issues.” While a non-profit, IDA said that it “only works for the government,” and they claim “to ensure freedom from commercial or other potential conflicts of interest, IDA does not work for private industry.”
Apparently the IDA does not see a potential conflict of interest in working with academic leaders and top government intelligence officials, however. The site proudly proclaims the Defense Science Study Group’s purpose of bringing together “young professors from many of the nation’s top universities” who are “invited to participate focus on defense policy, related research and development, and the systems, missions and operations of the armed forces.” According to the program’s website “members interact with top-level officials from the Defense Department,” as well as visiting military bases, defense labs and interacting with Congress.
In short, it seems to be a total overview of the United States’ defense operations. Campbell’s interest in UAVs would seem to extend beyond being a purely research-focused interest. Incidentally, the Institute’s CEO and President, David S.C. Chu, served as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for the entirety of the George W. Bush administration, so any argument for IDA being anything other than an extension of the government with more autonomy in how it operates is definitely dubious.
While the research NUAIR hopes to conduct would be for civil and commercial purposes, the existent military assets in New York and Massachusetts still set NUAIR’s application apart in the alliance’s view, according to Bianchi. She said this is because drone technology is already used for military purposes. The large amount of existent military airspace in the state would also allow NUAIR to begin testing very quickly once their application is approved.
The 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing is one of the key military assets in NUAIR’s proposal, and is located at the Hancock Airfield just outside Syracuse. It is from here that one of the now-infamous MQ-9 reaper drones deployed in Afghanistan is controlled from. The group Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, as well as other activist groups, have protested there multiple times, and many people have been arrested, although five arrestees just received a groundbreaking acquittal. There was a resolution supported by the Syracuse Peace Council and some Common Council members that was set to be voted on to make Syracuse a “warrant-less surveillance drone-free zone” until Congress accepts legislation that protects people from spying from the unmanned aircraft, but as of October 2 the Syracuse City Council put the decision on hold because they needed more information about the mesh of local rule and federal law. NUAIR naturally lobbied against such proposed legislation.
The Syracuse Peace Council is “ worried about first and fourth amendments being violated,” according to Ann Tiffany, an anti-drone activist and council member who has been working on the anti-drone resolution. Tiffany thinks there’s the potential for good uses of drones, but given the fact that “the FAA has given permits to 80 police departments” already, the council is worried about where uses are heading. “I think every time a community drafts a resolution like this, it helps to strengthen the national picture,” Tiffany said.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and the Global Exchange, echoed these sentiments. “It’s going to come from the grassroots because there’s so much opposition…and it’s such a broad spectrum of odd political bedfellows as well,” she said. Benjamin is also the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She’s led coalitions to Pakistan and Yemen against drone killings, and last May drew a lot of media attention when she interrupted President Obama during a foreign policy address to question his actions regarding Guantanamo Bay and drone warfare. Benjamin believes there is already growing awareness that drones are entering our airspace, and are poised to be everywhere, but she does think a national conversation about how to safely integrate them is missing. “I wouldn’t be opposed to drones that are used for positive things,” Benjamin said, however there’s a need to “sort out the good and the bad and the industry isn’t helping with that. By ignoring the tremendous problems with drone warfare they have put themselves in the category.”
Despite the lack of national political discussion, Benjamin does think the media has a certain fascination with drones, that the allure of flying robot-servants is too large for it to not grow in scope as an issue. “The media does show all these cute uses of drones––to bring you your pizza, and your taco,” she said. “I think the media’s very intrigued by drones…and that will spur backlash. Imagine when the first drone…gets shot down by somebody.”
Ann Tiffany notes that a few states have already passed bills restricting drone use, and that there are a few bills in Congress aimed at ensuring privacy concerns are properly heeded in the integration into national airspace. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) sponsored a bill in Congress titled the “Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2012.” Among other things this would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish certain procedures to allow for civil operation in the national airspace system of small drone systems and would ensure that the integration of drone systems into the national airspace system is done in compliance with certain privacy principles. However, the bill is still only in committee, and it’s likely to be kept on the back burner for quite some time
The economic potential is huge for central New York if NUAIR’s application is one of the winners, and would be for any region chosen as one of the six. Civil and commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems in the U.S. could supposedly have an $82 billion-plus economic impact in the first 10 years. Perhaps these promises of an economic boom are causing politicians to waive security and privacy issues aside?
So far the nature of how these systems will be integrated into our airspace is almost entirely undetermined. We only know that they will be a part of future skies. The frightening part is that the integration will be so soon and has been pushed for relentlessly by industry without there being sufficient public dialogue beforehand.
Mark Campbell said that when he “saw that UAVs were coming out, before 9/11, there was a big push for commercial UAVs,” and post-9/11, with ongoing national security interests, that meant research and uses shifted to the military sector. Now he thinks that “Over the past few years it has gone down,” and that that’s attributable to both moving away from the wars, as well as the budget battles and sequestration that “has had an effect on defense funding at universities and [I think it] will continue to do that.”
Benjamin puts it in starker terms: “I think it’s natural that the industry would go for anything that it can,” she said, and “when it saw particularly that the wars were winding down it was really anxious to look for other venues to develop a market for its technology.”
Benjamin thinks the research sectors of many universities and military contractors have “certainly merged because so many of the grants have come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA.)” In response, she offers the idea that college activism efforts should take a page out of other movements that exposed underlying conflicts-of-interest between academic institutions and unethically profitable companies. “It would be good to have a divestment movement that focuses on divesting from military companies,” she said, “not just for drones. In general I think our military contractors are out of control.”
All of the mainstream coverage of the FAA plan has acknowledged security and privacy concerns, but ultimately echoed the view of government and industry officials who claim that those issues will be addressed to the fullest extent possible during the testing process.
While group representatives are quick to offer lists of the many uses drones can be used for that will be beneficial on a mass scale, the only address of privacy concerns at the national level seems to be an assurance that they will be addressed.
In just over 50 years we’ve gone from being warned of a burgeoning military-industrial complex, to the normalization of privatized national security services with academic institutions being outwardly involved in the development of technology used to keep the military-industrial gears churning. It almost seems the term “military-industrial” doesn’t properly account for the nuanced, yet substantial and profitable role of academic institutions as liaisons between the military and industrial factions of the American economy. Academia gives these government-industry relationships credence by validating their ethical purpose through acceptance of military research money, and speaking on the technology’s merits as veritable government spokespeople.
Fast-food workers in New York City are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday, one year after their first strike, joining a 100-city strike wave. Organizers say actions will take place all across the country as part of the movement for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
In New York City, there are more than 57,000 fast-food workers, and the median wage is $8.89/hour, the lowest of any occupation in the city.
With support from union groups such as the Service Employees International Union, the fast-food protests have dramatically grown over the course of the last year. The early protests in New York City in November grew to thousands of protesters waging actions in seven other cities during the summer. An August strike spread to more than fifty cities, including areas in the South that have historically been hostile to union actions.
This Thursday, there will be more new strike locations in Charleston, South Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mary Coleman, known to her co-workers as Ms. Mary, works at a Popeye’s in Milwaukee for $7.25 an hour. Coleman, 59, lives with her daughter, who has a heart condition, and her two grandchildren. She also relies on food stamps to make ends meet and says she would gladly trade in her Qwest card for higher wages. Thursday marks Mary’s fourth strike. Previously, she walked off the job on May 15, August 1 and August 29.
“I’m tired of working for $7.25,” Coleman says. “I can’t take care of my household, I can’t even take care of myself.”
Little amenities many individuals take for granted, such as deodorant, are unaffordable for Coleman on fast-food low wages.
“Every day struggles are being able to keep food on the table, being able to get the necessities that’s needed for every day living…. And then if you need to go to the doctor, you can’t afford that either.”
Coleman says she is inspired by the organizing of low-wage workers in other states.
“I’m very excited about it, and it lets me know people can come together and do what’s right,” she says.
Some workers Coleman’s age might consider protesting a job for younger people, but she felt compelled to join the strikes, if only to show apathetic youth that change is possible.
“If we sit back and leave everything to the younger generation, we’ll never get anywhere,” she says. “At this point, it seems like a majority of the younger generation thinks that their voices don’t matter. I want to let them know that their voice does matter.”
Danielle, 23, is a fast food worker at Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits in Charleston who will be going on strike
Danielle has worked at Bojangles for four years, started as a cashier and is now a manager making $11 an hour, and though she makes more than entry-level position workers, she still can’t survive on her wages. Over the past year, Danielle’s mother, father, and grandmother have all passed away, so she is now struggling to support herself.
She walks five miles every day to work, and because she’s on her own, says she has trouble paying her bills on time. Sometimes she receives her paycheck and sees it isn’t even enough to cover rent.
“I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck. I can’t live like that,” says Danielle.
Like many fast-food workers, Danielle says she isn’t scheduled for enough hours, but works hard while she’s at the restaurant, and yet she isn’t fairly compensated for her labor. However, she too draws inspiration from the wave of strikes and walkouts occurring at major big-box stores and fast-food chains all across the country.
“It makes me feel good because people are opening their mouths and going on strike, and saying we want a raise. We’ve been busting out butts and we finally want a raise. I’m glad to be one of the people going on strike because this is ridiculous,” she says.
Danielle adds she doesn’t fear retaliation from her employers for going on strike.
“I know my rights as a manager. They can’t fire me for opening my mouth. I earned [my paycheck], I’m a hard worker.”
Brooklyn KFC worker Naquasia LeGrand, 22, will be going on strike for the fifth time this week. While she doesn’t have children, LeGrand does have an extended family that she helps support, and even though at $7.70/hour she earns slightly above New York’s minimum wage ($7.25), LeGrand says the fifteen-hours-per-week cap at KFC makes it impossible to earn a living wage.
“I have to pay for my Metro card, I have to pay $100 for my phone bill, I do try to put food in the house…. Sometimes I can’t even feed myself,” says LeGrand, who has been working at KFC for two years.
The lack of resources finally drove LeGrand to participate in her first strike: “I realized that we needed a change. I thought about the future. Are we going to be living off $7.25 in twenty years?” she asks.
LeGrand says she feels under-appreciated by an industry that makes lavish profits off the hard labor of workers like herself. To the naysayers and critics, who say fast-food jobs are low skill, and therefore deserve low pay, LeGrand says these businesses could not profit without workers.
“Why do you think these corporations are an over $200 billion a year business? Off our hard work. [The CEOs] aren’t working. They’re just collecting all the money.”
LeGrand has participated in the fast-food strikes since they began in November, and hers is a unique perspective, since she’s witnessed the movement grow and flourish, an evolution that mirrors her own transition from skeptic to passionate activist.
“In the beginning, I was afraid. I was skeptical. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t even know what a union was. People say, ‘You’re not gonna get $15 [per hour].’ But I would tell people to look at what’s going on. Look at where we started in New York City. On November 29, 2012, it was 127 workers who decided to walk out on their jobs to make a statement and say we want $15 [per hour] and a union. Now, [this week] 200 cities are about to have actions. This is spreading around the whole country.”
Last week, Allison Kilkenny reported on the nationwide Black Friday protests against Walmart.
Pierre Omidyar, new-media publisher (with Glenn Greenwald and others) and First Amendment advocate, last night at The Huffington Post revisited his former company’s move to block donations to WikiLeaks three years ago. We speak, of course, of PayPal. That affair has prompted one of several criticisms leveled at Greenwald of late (see my piece here this week) and now Omidyar writes at length about the sensitive issue.
Omidyar explains how he joined an editorial about the WikiLeaks protest (at his Honolulu newspaper), but then hits the excessive Anonymous efforts to crash and otherwise hurt PayPal. This comes as the trial of the “PayPal 14” is about to begin. Omidyar seems to argue for leniency in any sentencing of those found guilty, especially since they are standing in, one might say, for the actions of thousands of others. “Their case as well as PayPal’s actions in 2010 raise important questions about press freedoms and the nature of online protests,” he explains.
And now WikiLeaks responds to his piece on Twitter, including: “Appreciate some of the other comments but they are undermined by the central issue of the blockade being falsely presented…. As far as we are aware the PayPal blockade of WikiLeaks has never been lifted. No direct transactions to WL. You list 3rd parties.”
Also yesterday, PandoDaily, which had published the major Mark Ames critique of Greenwald and his alleged “privatizing” of and “profiteering” off the Snowden leaks (which Greenwald then rejected in his full response), posted a pro-Greenwald piece by David Sirota.
Sirota charges that a “smear campaign” against Greenwald “is, in short, an effort by those reliant on an old power structure and outdated media business models to selfishly maintain that structure and those models—journalism, facts, and democracy be damned.” And he contrasts the treatment of Greenwald with that of Bart Gellman of The Washington Post, who has also made wide use of the Snowden docs but as an “insider” has drawn much less criticism.
Greg Mitchell surveys the dustups between Glenn Greenwald and his critics.
The planet is getting hotter, and sooner or later world governments are going to be forced to take action. Regulation may not be happening fast enough to stop the irreversible damage predicted from a two-degree (Celsius) rise in global temperature, but action will happen eventually and some investors are beginning to show concern. Just last week, Bloomberg LP released a “Carbon Risk Valuation Tool “intended to help its high-end portfolio managers assess the risk ofso called ‘stranded assets’ . The tool estimates that BP stands to lose 43 percent of its stock value if governments ever get serious about regulating emissions. To understand “stranding” better, I talked earlier this month with John Fullerton, a former oil and gas investor for JP Morgan:
“The reality is that climate change and finance are still viewed as separate worlds…. Mainstream investors still dismiss it as “not our issue,”” said Fullerton, President and Founder of The Capital Institute.
Continued investment in fossil fuels is creating what is called a “carbon bubble,” he explained. A bigger, more malignant financial dilemma than its predecessor, the housing bubble; in order for the world to reduce emissions, climate scientists estimate that two-thirds of today’s fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. The UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres told energy executives as much, when she addressed a coal industry conference last month. “It’s time to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual,” said Figueres.
But “stranding” enough fossil fuel to head off climate catastrophe will be costly for the countries with publicly held reserves, for the energy companies and the people whose pension funds are currently invested in them. Energy companies, Fullerton estimates, would need to take a $20 trillion write-off, way more than the estimated $2 trillion lost in the subprime mortgage meltdown.
How likely are companies to take action themselves? “Not likely” says Fullerton. A better bet is that investors, out of self-interest, will wise up. If not self-interest, then public pressure. A campaigns has been growing across college campuses demanding that universities divest from fossil fuels, as they once campaigned for divestment from apartheid South Africa.
So far the results have not been encouraging. Says Fullerton of Brown and Harvard’s decision not to divest:
“The president of [Brown] issued a long and thoughtful statement on their decision on why they should not divest, and to be honest, I fully sympathize with all of the economic arguments…but I do think if we look back at that letter, maybe even only five years from now, and substitute the word fossil fuel perhaps with the word slavery we will be aghast at how we thought about this issue. Our leading public institutions are letting us down”
The pressure on college boards is rising—in the US and abroad thanks to campaigns like 350.0rg’s “Fossil Free.” For more on this, check out my interview with Fullerton in full, or this commentary, Climate Catastrophe or Crash?
Lee Fang reports on the fracking industry’s response to environmentalist Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland’ films.
Third Way, a centrist think tank that portrays itself as a Democratic group, has some advice for the party: avoid economic populism at all costs. In a column for The Wall Street Journal today, the group argues that the party should steer clear of creating a strong safety net, and criticizes Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s call for universal pre-K funded through an upper-income tax increase as a foolhardy idea for national Democrats.
As many have noted today, in reaction to the column, Third Way’s attacks on Social Security and Medicare fail on the merits. It’s bad policy, and it’s equally bad politics.
But for Third Way, a group founded in 2005 that is highly active on Capitol Hill, the think tank is merely defending the special interest groups that allow it to exist.
Buried inside the annual report for Third Way is a revelation that the group relies on a peculiar DC consulting firm to raise half a million a year: Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart. Peck Madigan is no ordinary nonprofit buckraiser. The group is, in fact, a corporate lobbying firm that represents Deutsche Bank, Intel, the Business Roundtable, Amgen, AT&T, the International Swaps & Derivatives Association, MasterCard, New York Life Insurance, PhRMA and the US Chamber of Commerce, among others.
The two organizations complement each other well. Peck Madigan signs as a lobbyist for the government of New Zealand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal; Third Way aggressively promotes the deal. Peck Madigan clients push for entitlement cuts, and so does Third Way.
Notice that Humana, a major health insurance company, lists its $25,000 donation to Third Way not as a donation to a think tank but as part of its yearly budget spent on lobbying activity, up there with the Florida Chamber and other trade associations. The company views financial gifts to Third Way as part of its strategy for increasing its profit-making political influence.
What’s more, Third Way’s leadership has tenuous connections to the Democratic Party it hopes to shape. Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager listed as a trustee on Third Way’s 2012 annual disclosure, bundled $556,031 for Mitt Romney last year. Third Way board member Derek Kaufman, another hedge fund executive, also gave to Romney.
There is a long and storied tradition of corporate, right-wing interests seeking to shape the economic policies of the Democratic Party. The DLC, another Third Way–style group that folded in 2011, was funded by none other than Koch Industries. Richard Fink, a strategist to the Koch brothers who helped found what is now known as Americans for Prosperity, was on the DLC’s board.
Washington’sBig Business–friendly press has greeted the Third Way column as a “game changer.” But these arguments aren’t new, and neither are the strategies. Large corporations have many ways of finding useful surrogates, and Third Way is a prime example.
UPDATE: Daily Kos’s Hunter has a nice post noting how Third Way’s hatred of Senator Elizabeth Warren may relate to the fact that Third Way’s board is made up almost entirely of investment bankers and other Wall Street executives. Also worth considering, the anti-privatization drive of those “economic populism” types might rub some Third Way board leaders the wrong way—especially the one who sits on Correction Corporation of America’s board.
More Lee Fang: how the Turkey Lobby blocked child-labor regulations.
Last spring, news that the Internal Revenue Service used keywords like “Tea Party” and “Occupy” to select groups applying for nonprofit status for extra scrutiny prompted media outrage, resignations, internal investigations and a series of congressional hearings. There was comparatively little fury about the fact that many of these “social welfare” organizations were getting tax breaks in exchange for flooding elections with anonymous cash.
The power these dark money groups wield in future elections could be undercut by a new proposal from the IRS, which would put clearer boundaries around the political activities of 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Released just before Thanksgiving, the guidelines lay out some specific definitions of “political activity,” that social welfare groups would have to limit in order to retain their tax-exempt status, such as expressing an opinion about a particular candidate.
Watchdogs are encouraged that the Obama administration has affirmed the need for clarity on the laws governing social welfare groups and their influence in elections. But the rules as written are broad, limiting activities like voter registration drives, get out the vote campaigns and candidate debates. Many groups see these as critical civic engagement programs, and essentially nonpartisan.
“Though the new definitions attempt to clarify existing rules, they also create a danger to citizen participation in our democracy,” a progressive coalition called Alliance for Justice warned in a statement. “These regulations will not run 501(c)(4)s out of politics. Rather, the big players will hire lawyers and accountants to help them avoid the rules. Small players can’t afford this kind of assistance.”
Dark money groups are the legacy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, which permitted unlimited campaign spending by corporations and nonprofits. The latter may advertise for or against candidates without disclosing their donors, making them perfect fronts for individuals wanting to peddle influence anonymously. Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 founded by conservative Karl Rove, spent more than $74 million in 2012, exceeding all but two Super PACs.
To keep its tax-exempt status, a group like Crossroads GPS has to prove that “it is primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.” Lacking firm criteria, tax lawyers have interpreted that to mean that no more than 49 percent of their budget can support political activities.
The problem is, until now the IRS hasn’t defined political activity, leaving agency employees to evaluate “all the facts and circumstance” of an organization’s actions to determine which are political or for the social good. The murkiness of facts and circumstances has made it easier for groups whose main purpose is really to influence elections to get tax exemptions, and the cover of anonymity for their donors. With so many loopholes, it’s no wonder a flood of applications for 501(c)(4) status followed Citizens United.
“What this [rule] is attempting to do is to say, ‘if you see this type of activity it’s political, or it’s not,’ ” said Public Citizen’s Lisa Gilbert. However, the IRS’s proposal doesn’t lay out a new benchmark for how much of a nonprofit’s activities can be political. The agency asked for suggestions on that point during the public comment period. “It’s hard to talk about how much you can do of anything, if you don’t know what that anything is,” Gilbert explained. In her opinion, a nonprofit’s political activities should be closer to 5 or 10 percent of its operations than to 49 percent.
The key to a successful final rule from the IRS will be in balancing competing objectives: promoting participation in the political system in general, while stamping out abuses of “social welfare” status for the purpose of manipulating elections. “We certainly welcome this as an important first step,” said Gilbert. “We just have a series of concerns about how to do this in such a way that it doesn’t cut off legitimate, nonpartisan nonprofit activity.” The rules would also create different standards for 501(c)(4)’s and other nonprofits, particularly trade organizations, which are also allowed to spend money in elections. How well the IRS will enforce the final rules is another significant question.
A project called Bright Lines, which is sponsored by Public Citizen and staffed by nine tax lawyers, has laid out a proposal for defining nonprofit political activity that is more nuanced than the IRS’s initial guidelines. Under the Bright Lines proposal, social welfare groups would be limited in their ability to endorse or contribute to a candidate, party or PAC, while education campaigns around specific policy positions held by candidates would not count as political activity.
Conservative organizations accounted for 85 percent of the spending by social welfare groups in 2012, so it’s no surprise that they objected most strongly to the IRS’s proposal. “We are all going to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy fighting back against this,” Dan Backer, a lawyer who represents several conservative nonprofits, told The Washington Post. “These proposed new regulations put the First Amendment rights of Americans at even greater risk,” said Jay Sekulow, a lawyer with the right-wing American Center for Law and Justice and one of the authors of the Defense of Marriage Act.
It’s important to note that new rules won’t ban social welfare groups from doing any of the political activities defined by the IRS. They will simply add clarity to limits on political activity that already exist in theory but are poorly understood, unevenly applied and much abused.
They also won’t do anything about the “dark” part of dark money—the fact that groups engaged in political spending are not required to reveal the source of their funds. The Securities and Exchange Commission was expected to consider a proposal that would expose some of that secret cash at its source, by requiring corporations to disclose political donations to their stockholders. But the agency recently decided to remove the item from its agenda, putting its prospects in limbo.
Lee Fang obtained tax returns that shed light on the role of dark money in the 2012 election.
Yesterday came news that my home state, Illinois, is preparing for its twenty-sixth annual ceremony this Saturday to honor the “66 Illinoisans listed as MIA or POW in Southeast Asia.” I absorbed this development the same week I had occasion to attend an internment at a military cemetery in Washington State, over which flew, alongside the banners of all of America’s military service branches, the familiar “POW/MIA” flag with the forlorn, hangdog prisoner silhouetted in the foreground and guard tower and barbed wire in the back. Given the scale of national problems we’re facing these days, this one hardly registers a dent. But it creeps me out all the same. And if you deplore jingoistic, racist propaganda, it should creep you out, too—so, this afternoon, let me unburden myself.
When downed American pilots were first taken prisoner in North Vietnam in 1964, US policy became pretty much to ignore them―part and parcel of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s determination to keep the costs of his increasingly futile military escalation in Southeast Asia from the public. Then, one day in the first spring of Richard Nixon’s presidency, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced the existence of from 500 to 1,300 of what he termed “POW/MIA’s.” Those three letters—“MIA”—are familiar to us now. The term, however, was a new, Nixonian invention. It had used to be that downed fliers not confirmed as actual prisoners used to be classified not as “Missing in Action” but “Killed in Action/Body Unrecovered.” The new designation was a propaganda scam. It let the Pentagon and State Department and White House refer to these 1,300 (later “1,400”) as if they were, every one of them, actual prisoners, even though every one of them was almost certainly dead. “Hundreds of American wives, children, and parents continue to live in a tragic state of uncertainty caused by the lack of information concerning the fate of their loved ones,” Secretary Laird said. That was part of an attempt to manipulate international opinion to frame the North Vietnamese Communists (against whom, of course, America was prosecuting an illegal and undeclared air war against civilians) as uniquely cruel, even though fewer men were taken prisoner or went missing in Vietnam than in any previous American war. (From 1965 through 1969, they were tortured, at least if you believe American prisoners at Guantánamo Bay were tortured; the techniques were essentially the same.)
During the Johnson years, Sybil Stockdale, whose husband James (Ross Perot’s unfortunate running mate in 1992) was the highest-ranking and one of the earliest POWs, had organized a “League of Wives of American Prisoners of War” (later the National League of Families of Prisoners of War, then the League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia) which agitated for attention to the prisoners’ plight—against the Pentagon’s wishes. Under Nixon, the Pentagon co-opted it, sometimes inventing chapters outright, as useful to their propaganda barrage. Their families showed up on newsmagazines and TV; “POW bracelets,” invented by the future wingnut congressman “B-1 Bob” Dornan, then a local Limbaugh on Orange County radio, were unveiled in the spring of 1970 at an annual “Salute to the Military” ball in Los Angeles. (Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan presided, and Hollywood choreographer Leroy Prinz, who had worked with Reagan on the 1942 film Hollywood Canteen, choreographed a splendid pageant.) Bracelets soon sold at a rate of 10,000 a day; Sonny & Cher wore them on TV; some people, the The New York Times reported, believed them to “possess medicinal powers”―and not just the children who displayed them two, ten, a dozen to an arm. A Wimbledon champ said one cured his tennis elbow. Lee Trevino said his saved his golf game. Matchbooks, lapel pins, billboards, T-shirts and bumper stickers (POWs never have a nice day!) proliferated, fighter jets made thunderous football stadium fly-bys, full page ads blossomed in every newspaper urging Hanoi to have a heart and release the prisoners for the sake of the children.
Jonathan Schell, then of The New Yorker, observed that the American people were acting “as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped…Americans and the United States had gone to war to retrieve them”—martyrs to an enemy so devious, as the Armed Forces Journal put it, that they denied hundreds of little boys and girls “a right to know if their fathers were dead or alive.” Ross Perot testified to Congress that when he visited North Vietnam to plead for their release they were incredulous at all this concern over “just 1,400 men.” Americans were plainly more morally sensitive than Communists. Though in fact our South Vietnamese allies held some 100,000 prisoners, many of them Buddhists monks guilty of nothing except pacifism, in a prison complex of American design that was so inhumane that Time’s correspondent described the captives as “grotesque sculptures of scarred flesh and gnarled limbs. They move like crabs, skittering across the floor on buttocks and palms.”
Already, the issue made for “a lunatic semiology,” as the historian Richard Slotkin later described it, where “sign and referent have scarcely any proportionate relation at all.” But it sure was heartily useful to the national security state. When America’s involvement in the war ended in January, 1973, Nixon told his secretary of defense that the military-orchestrated celebration of their return, dubbed “Operation Homecoming,” was "an invaluable opportunity to revise the history of this war.”
This is when the story got even nuttier—when the propaganda slipped the bounds intended by its authors, and became more like the brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The scholar H. Bruce Franklin of Rutgers tells the story with elegant economy in the book M.I.A., Or Mythmaking in America; Northwestern’s Michael Allen tells the story in more detail in Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and America’s Unending Vietnam War.
Operation Homecoming returned 587 American prisoners of war—but Nixon had by then settled on the number “1,600” as the number of Americans as “POW/MIA.” So where were the other 1,013? The brigadier general who supervised the repatriation announced that he “did not rule out the possibility that some Americans may still be held in Laos.” The secretary of defense promised, “We will not rest until all those still known captive are safe and until we have achieved the best possible accounting for those missing in action.” Holding the government to that pledge had now become the raison d’être of the League of Families—an organization now all the stronger, thanks to its recent history as a veritable White House front group. Bracelets continued to be sold, now with the names of MIA on them. Next came that flag—pow-mia: you are not forgotten—soon flying over VWF and American Legion posts across the fruited plain. And barely months after the Operation Homecoming propaganda triumph, Chicago MIA families declared that the administration was “abandoning” men “seen in photos coming out of Indochina or who have been reported alive by returning POWs.”
The issue came to define the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Vietnam, a subject of considerable exasperation for Vietnamese officials now being called on to “prove” they held no more prisoners. As one of them reasonably exclaimed, “We have not come this far to hold onto a handful of Americans.” A congressman from Milwaukee, Clem Zablocki, opened hearings that fall to debunk the spreading absurdity. He assured concerned families, referring to the testimony both of American returnees and the North Vietnamese, “There are no missing in action or prisoners of war in Southeast Asia at this time that they believe are alive.” Which only meant, to many POW-MIA families, that Congress was just part of the cover-up. “Why are you willing to believe the enemy on this subject when they do not tell the truth on any other subject?” the Corpus Christi chapter of the National League of Families soon raged in a letter to the Pentagon. “The fact is, you have no proof our men are dead.” (Her emphasis.)
But how could there be proof that men shot down over jungles or the Gulf of Tonkin or the South China Sea were “really” dead? And so the “issue” endured. Governor Ronald Reagan, in Singapore as a special presidential representative for a trade deal, said that if North Vietnam didn’t return the POWs and MIAs supposedly still being held, “bombing should be resumed.” He accused liberals in Congress seeking to ban further military action in Southeast Asia of taking away “the power to sway those monkeys over there to straighten up and follow through on the deal.”
Here was the right-wing variant of the Watergate-induced dread about whether anyone in Washington could be trusted. It took on a life of its own. In 1975 a conservative Democratic congressman from Mississippi, Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery, empaneled a House Select Committee on Missing Persons in Southeast Asia. He was initially sympathetic to the families’ claims of Communist perfidy. Then he led a delegation there which found their hosts warm, accommodating—and, once more, befuddled at what it was they were being asked to account for. (Just about every Vietnamese family had relatives who had disappeared in the war or whose remains could not be returned to the ancestral village—a sacred duty in Vietnamese culture.) Montgomery concluded that the existence of American prisoners in Vietnam was almost certainly a myth. As a CIA pilot captured there in 1965 testified at one of the subcommittee hearings, “If you take a walletful of money over there, you can buy all the information you want on POWs on the streets” but “when you try to run them down they fizzle out somewhere down the line.” They also turned up evidence that China had manufactured stories of MIA’s still in prison camps in order to keep the US from normalizing relations with their Asian rival. Reagan, however, remained adamant: “If there is to be any recognition,” he boomed on the campaign trail in the spring of 1976, “let it be discussed only after they have kept their pledge to give a full accounting of our men still listed as missing in action.”
Henceforth paying ritual obeisance, hat in hand, at meetings of the League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia became presidents’ annual ordeal. Read the section in Allen’s book about George H.W. Bush’s manhandling at the 1992 conclave. Read here about how Nixon’s long-lived propaganda goof delayed normalization of relations with Vietnam until 1995. And click here to see how this absurd cult still endures. The 9/11 Truthers don’t enjoy official government sanction. But if you happen to live in Illinois, you can roll with your very own “POW/MIA Illinois Remembers” license plate for your car. The “66 Illinoisans” apparently still imprisoned in Southeast Asia hardly deserve less.
Rick Perlstein questions whether John F. Kennedy would have ended the Vietnam War.
Detroit elected a new mayor November 5 and he will take office in less than a month. But the future of this great American city and its citizens isn’t being defined by decisions made by voters on Election Day. It is being defined in federal bankruptcy court—and by an “emergency manager” who has no democratic legitimacy.
With a ruling Tuesday by US Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, Detroit officially becomes the largest US city ever to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Despite a determination that negotiations with creditors outside of bankruptcy court had not satisfied good-faith requirements, the judge cleared the way for the emergency manager and his law firm to advance a “plan of adjustment” that is likely to include deep cuts in pension guarantees for retired city employees and a “fire sale” of city assets that could result in public utilities and the Detroit Institute of Arts collection being bartered off to private bidders.
What Judge Rhodes has done is not the end of the bankruptcy process. It is merely the beginning. But the process has been framed in a manner that runs the risk of undermining the city’s long-term recovery by taking money away from the most vulnerable residents of Detroit. As Jordan Marks, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition notes, “In the bankruptcy, the modest pensions of Detroit’s firefighters, police officers, and other city employees could be all but wiped out, even as Wall Street banks continue to extract hundreds millions of dollars from the city’s economy. This is a dark day for people of Detroit who worked hard, played by the rules, and are now at risk of losing everything.”
By Tuesday afternoon, according to Reuters, the emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, had "called on unions to help bridge gaps with the city on planned pension cuts." And he has commissioned the auction house Christie's to assess the value of the art institute's collection -- which traces its roots to the 1880s and includes works by Bruegel, Cézanne, van Gogh and murals by Diego Rivera -- for possible sale.
There is no question that Detroit, like many American cities, faces fiscal challenges. But instead of assuring that those challenges are met in the most humane and functional manner, the city is being steered into a wrenching process of restructuring that—by all appearances—will be based on flawed math, flawed priorities and an exceptionally flawed understanding of how democracy is supposed to work.
In a groundbreaking new study of Detroit’s finances, the think tank Demos explains that claims regarding Detroit’s debts have been dramatically inflated to make a case that the city must go bankrupt. According to Demos, proponents of the bankruptcy move have manipulated the numbers by combining statewide and city debts. “Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, asserts that the city is bankrupt because it has $18 billion in long-term debt. However, that figure is irrelevant to analysis of Detroit’s insolvency and bankruptcy filing, highly inflated and, in large part, simply inaccurate,” argues the Demos analysis, which was prepared former investment banker Wallace C. Turbeville. “In reality, the city needs to address its cash flow shortfall, which the emergency manager pegs at only $198 million, although that number too may be inflated because it is based on extraordinarily aggressive assumptions of the contributions the city needs to make to its pension funds.”
By relying on what the Demos study identifies as “extraordinarily aggressive assumptions”—and by accepting premises advanced by the same financial institutions that urged Detroit officials to make unwise financial choices—the judge has shaped a bankruptcy process that errs on the side of helping Wall Street rather than the citizens of Detroit.
At the same time, the judge has empowered an emergency manager who has a track record of acting on those “simply inaccurate” premises, rather than the officials just chosen by Detroit voters to guide their city toward fiscal and social stability.
The judge’s decision gives the essential authority to guide the city’s affairs to Orr, the “emergency manager” selected by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who in 2010 lost the city of Detroit by a 20-1 margin. Though barely 5 percent of Detroit voters thought Snyder should be calling any of the shots regarding their state and city, he is now—via his emergency manager, with the approval of the bankruptcy judge he asked to intervene—calling the shots.
And what of the new mayor, Mike Duggan, a veteran county official and highly regarded manager who won 55 percent of the vote in last month’s election?
“The only authority I’m going to have is the authority I can convince the governor and emergency manager to assign me,” Duggan, a Democrat, told reporters in November. “I’m attempting to persuade them. We’ll see.”
Duggan says he’s “going to do everything I can to advocate on behalf of Detroit’s future in this process. We need to make sure the retirees are treated fairly on the pensions they earned.” But, despite the fact that he will be the city’s mayor, he does not have the final say even on questions of whether the city will keep commitments to retired firefighters and police officers.
This is not what democracy looks like.
This is not the will of the people of Detroit.
We know that because the emergency manager power that Snyder has used to steer the city into bankruptcy, and that the governor and his appointee will now use to guide the city’s affairs, was rejected by the city’s voters in 2012.
Snyder had to develop the new emergency manager law after a previous version of the legislation—which he had used to take over smaller cities—was overturned by Michigan voters in a statewide referendum. In Detroit, 82 percent of voters said they did not want the emergency manager law. But they got it anyway. So it is that, while Mayor Duggan may be assigned some responsibilities, he will not have the clearly defined authority that an elected mayor should have to protect pensions, preserve labor agreements and set priorities when it comes to the delivery of basic services.
This is a vital distinction to recognize as media outlets report on the judge’s decision and the bankruptcy process.
As retiring Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson reminds us: The city of Detroit did not file for municipal bankruptcy.
“The emergency manager (EM) filed the bankruptcy petition, and he is an appointee of the governor of the state of Michigan based on Act 436—a law formerly known as PA 4—which was repealed by 2.3 million Michigan citizens statewide on Nov. 6, 2012,” explains Watson. “The EM is only accountable to the governor, the EM only answers to the governor, and the EM can only be ‘checked and balanced’ by the governor.”
The new mayor and the new city council will not have the essential democratic authority to “check and balance” the emergency manager—or to guide the process that Watson argues “has clearly been crafted in a right-wing playbook to seize assets, dismember electorate voting powers, dismantle unions and the families/neighborhoods supported by union jobs, disable local elected officials, smear and tarnish the image and viability of Black elected leadership, and broadly claim that the legacy costs related to retiree pensions are largely to blame for the city’s debt crisis.”
Watson’s frustration is real. And appropriate.
Detroit’s greatest challenge has not been municipal governance. It has been deindustrialization, which has shuttered hundreds of factories and left hundreds of thousands of city residents unemployed or underemployed. And that great challenge extends beyond Detroit.
Too many American cities face financial challenges similar to those that have destabilized Detroit. Snyder’s anti-democratic “answer” could well become the model for a response to those challenges that begins by blaming the victims and ultimately denies them a full and effective franchise.
“I believe Detroit and Michigan are ‘test cases’ for certain right-wing agents who want to do all they can to control future elections for this nation’s highest office and other posts,” says Watson. “Voter suppression, including the Supreme Court’s role in gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, are not incidental to the myriad of malevolence in Michigan.”
There is a lot more at stake in Detroit, and in Michigan, than one city’s balance sheet.
Our understanding of democracy, itself, is being subverted.
The voters of Michigan sent a clear signal last fall. They rejected emergency-manager authoritarianism.
Unfortunately, a federal bankruptcy judge has sided with a governor who could not win an election in Detroit and an approach that Detroit voters rejected.
This has nothing to do with budgeting, debt or broader fiscal matters. Those issues could, and should, be addressed by an elected mayor and city council.
This has everything to do with allowing unelectable and unelected officials—and the interests they serve—to achieve political results that could not be secured at the ballot box.
Chris Hayes ponders the constitutionality of Detroit's bankruptcy filing.