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Martin O’Malley’s Right: The Immigration Debate Must Respect ‘Essential Human Dignity’

(Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

Martin O’Malley is speaking about immigration policy in smart, reasonable and moral terms. This distinguishes the two-term governor of Maryland and potential 2016 presidential contender from most politicians these days.

O’Malley’s approach is not a radical one. But his emphasis on fairness and human dignity, as opposed to predictable political positioning, is refreshing. And the governor’s fellow Democrats would be wise to consider the wisdom not just of his words but of the tone in which he is speaking.

O’Malley does not deny the serious practical and political challenges that have arisen as thousands of children from Central America have crossed into the United States in recent months. He know that there are a lot of issues to be resolved with regard to the particular circumstances of these children—and with regard to broader need to reform an ill-defined and frequently dysfunctional approach by the United States to immigration policy. But the children who have entered the United States are children. They come, in many instances, as desperate refugees fleeing extreme violence, poverty and dislocation in countries where the social fabric is rapidly fraying because of destructive globalization schemes, corruption and a horrific maldistribution of wealth.

The reality of why immigrants flee their own lands must, by legal and ethical standards, be taken into consideration.

So O’Malley has broken with prominent members of his own party—and with Republicans who, like Arizona Senator John McCain, propose to deport “planeloads of these young people”—to say that the response to the plight of the children must be a humane and knowing one.

“We are not a country that should send children away and send them back to certain death,” O’Malley told reporters at last week’s National Governors Association meeting in Nashville. “I believe that we should be guided by the greatest power we have as a people, and that is the power of our principles. Through all of our great world religions, we are told that hospitality to strangers is an essential human dignity.”

The governor remarks drew immediate criticism from conservatives who make little secret of their determination to politicize border issues. The Republican-linked group America Rising portrayed O’Malley’s position as a left-wing stance—a “hit from the left” at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leader in 2016 Democratic presidential polls.

But O’Malley’s response is grounded not in the language of left or right, or even of predictable political positioning. Instead, he is placing the debate in a moral, and American historical, context. In media interviews over the weekend, the governor calmly explained, “I believe that it is contrary to everything that we stand for as a people to try to summarily send [refugees] back to death, whether it’s in famine; death whether it’s in the middle of the ocean; death whether it’s in a war torn area or death in a place where gangs are the greatest threat to stability and the rule of law and democratic institutions in this hemisphere."

Media outlets were quick to suggest that O’Malley’s position places him at odds with the Obama administration—which is seeking $3.7 billion in funding to respond to the challenges posed by the arrival of tens of thousands of children in the region along the United States border with Mexico. The Huffington Post noted that “much of that money will be spent on carrying out deportations.”

O’Malley argues that legal representatives of the children and family members should be afforded an opportunity to challenge the threat of deportation. “They should have their ability to make their case for protection and asylum in the United States,” explains the governor.

O’Malley’s remarks provoked a response from White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who on Monday told reporters that, under the president’s plan, children facing credible threats would likely be “granted humanitarian relief.”

The back-and-forth provided a reminder that any serious immigration debate is more nuanced than the headlines suggest. But the broader point ought not be missed. By speaking in humanitarian terms, O’Malley is helping to reframe the discussion, and forcing fellow Democrats to clarify their positions.

The governor’s focus and tone is significant. And it is distinct from that of his potential 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, who in a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour said the United States must “send a clear message: just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.”

“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are,” added the woman who leads in polls that ask Democrats who they would like to have as their next presidential nominee. While she acknowledged that “there are concerns whether all of them should be sent back,” Clinton added, “I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families.”

The problem with Clinton’s calculus, of course, is that many of the children were sent to the United States from countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, by families that have legitimate fears for the safety of the youngsters. That’s what O’Malley means when he expresses concern about a policy that would “send children away [from safety in the States] and send them back to certain death.”

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This is not the first time that O’Malley has spoken up for immigrants. Indeed, his record provides an indication that when a Democrat offers a humane and thoughtful response to immigration issues, voters respond positively.

When he was running for re-election in 2010, O’Malley defended immigrants as “new Americans”—a reference that was seized on by his Republican opponent. But even in that “Republican wave” year, the governor was easily re-elected. Against a popular and well-financed Republican, former Governor Robert Ehrlich, the Democrat won 56 percent of the vote.

In 2011, O’Malley signed state “DREAM Act” legislation, opening access to in-state tuition at state colleges for many children of immigrants who has arrived in the United States without documentation. That created an outcry and a Republican legislator led a drive to force a statewide referendum vote on the issue in 2012.

O’Malley campaigned for the DREAM Act, raising money for an Educating Maryland Kids coalition that supported the legislation. “The DREAM Act says that students can be eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of their parents’ immigration status, provided they pay state taxes, graduate from a Maryland high school and commit to legalizing their status as soon as they are eligible,” the governor declared. “This issue is about fairness and basic human dignity for all.”

The emphasis on “fairness and basic human dignity” was spot on. The pro–DREAM Act campaign adopted the slogan “It’s Right and It’s Fair.” Maryland voters agreed. On November 6, 2012, they decided by a 59-41 margin to keep the DREAM Act that O’Malley and the coalition had championed.

Read Next: Christy Thorton and Adam Goodman explain how the Mexican drug trade thrives on free trade.

Is an Israeli Official Spreading Propaganda on Tinder?

screen grab by author

(Screen grab by author)

“Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s self-named “defensive” operation in Gaza, is killing a lot of Palestinians in response to rocket fire from Gaza. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza puts the latest casualty toll at 174 killed Palestinians and over 1,100 wounded. The UNRWA commissioner general in Gaza told The New York Times, “Women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes.” As of yet, no Israelis have been killed during the latest Gaza offensive.

One hundred and seventy-four to zero is a tough ratio to explain. Especially for an operation that Israel claims is being taken in self-defense against terrorists in Gaza. But the Israeli Prime Minister’s office may have found an answer to this minor public-diplomacy challenge: Tinder, a popular online smartphone dating/hookup app.

A friend who uses Tinder logged on yesterday and was swiping through profiles when he came upon “Israel,” age “34” (?!). Israel said it (he? she?) was five miles away, but seemed to have one thing on its mind: sharing images justifying Israel’s bombing campaign of Gaza.

The images are simple and contain short phrases like, “We’re using anti-missile systems to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles – that’s the difference,” and, “While Israel protects the holy sites of Jerusalem, Hamas targets rockets at them.”

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One of the images advises viewers to visit #IsraelUnderFire, a Facebook site full of Israeli Defense Forces meme-style images. Several of the images on the Tinder profile had been posted on #IsraelUnderFire. The administrator for the page is Yair Eddie Fraiman, “Director of Interactive Media & Public Diplomacy at Office of the Prime Minister of Israel,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

Fraiman hasn’t responded to a request for comment (I’ll update this post if he does).

 

Read next: Obama Fiddles While Gaza Burns..”

The Distorting Reality of ‘False Balance’ in the Media

Newspapers

(Jon S./CC 2.0)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

False equivalence in the media—giving equal weight to unsupported or even discredited claims for the sake of appearing impartial—is not unusual. But a major media organization taking meaningful steps to do something about it is.

Earlier this month, the BBC’s governing body issued a report assessing the BBC’s impartiality in covering scientific topics. When it comes to an issue like climate change, the report concluded, not all viewpoints share the same amount of scientific substance. Giving equal time and weight to a wide range of arguments without regard to their credibility risks creating a “false balance” in the public debate.

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This is a lesson for all media on both sides of the Atlantic—and not just when it comes to science coverage. There are many sides to almost every story, but that doesn’t mean they are automatically equal.

Unfortunately, too much of the media has become increasingly fixated on finding “balance,” even if it means presenting fiction on par with fact. If media outlets wanted to present an accurate account of the climate change “debate,” for instance, they would have to follow comedian John Oliver’s lead and host a “statistically representative” face-off with three climate change deniers up against ninety-seven scientists armed with proof. Instead, they contort themselves to find “balance,” and we’re left with segments like “Is the climate change threat exaggerated?”—presented on the always reliable Fox News—which promised to “weigh the evidence on both sides of the divisive topic.” It’s no wonder that only 60 percent of Americans know that most scientists agree that global warming is occurring—and almost 30 percent aren’t sure if there is any scientific consensus.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

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The Palestinians Must Put an End to Suicidal Hamas

Hamas supporters

Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Hamas movement shout and wave flags during a demonstration in the West Bank of Nablus. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

One message from the current crisis over Gaza is clear: the Palestinians have to get rid of Hamas. No one else can do it: the Israelis, vastly superior in military terms, only strengthen Hamas politically by wantonly raining death and destruction on Gaza. But the fanatics of Hamas, who seem to believe that they can resist Israel militarily—along with the even more radical Islamist groups that run around in Gaza—do incalculable damage to the Palestinian cause.

In this case, I agree with Bret Stephens, who wrote today in The Wall Street Journal, concerning Israel and Hamas, “If you must have a nemesis, better it be a stupid one.” Stephens, a neoconservative hawk who is a blind supporter of Israel, certainly doesn’t qualify as sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. But he’s right here: Israel has no stupider enemy than Hamas. And the people of Gaza, entrapped in a hellish, prison-like entity—where conditions of despair give rise to the nihilist, Islamist radicalism of Hamas—have once again to endure the pain of Israel’s bombardment. And for what? Already in Gaza Israel has struck nearly 1,500 separate targets and killed more than 200 people, including civilians and children.

As I’ve written repeatedly over the years, in the 1970s and 1980s Israel’s intelligence service—especially after the rise of the Likud government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977—helped Hamas organize and gain power. The Israelis aided Islamists on the West Bank and in Gaza, including the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a branch), in the belief (correct, as it turned out) that Hamas would be a bitter enemy of the Palestinian nationalist movement. Indeed, back then the early supporters of Hamas clashed with moderate and left-wing Palestinian groups throughout the occupied territories. Decades later, Hamas has emerged as the perfect foil for Israeli rightists and advocates of Greater Israel, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the latest round, Hamas’s idiotic decision to fight Israel by firing useless missiles against unseen Israeli targets not only gave Netanyahu a pretext for his brutal war but managed to erase the controversy over the premeditated killing of a Palestinian youth by a gang of ultra-nationalist, right-wing Israelis. Just a week or so ago, that killing transfixed Israel and generated horror among Israelis with a conscience. Now, while the story goes on, it’s figuratively buried under the rubble of Gaza.

Making matters worse, and perhaps leading to a full-scale assault on Gaza, Hamas arrogantly rejected a workable cease-fire plan that was proposed yesterday by Egypt and apparently accepted by Israel’s government—though not without criticism of Netanyahu’s agreement to the cease-fire from even more militant Israeli factions. The Egyptian proposal also had the support of Secretary of State John Kerry, although the United States could do a lot more, including issuing strong condemnations of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of civilian homes in Gaza. (Apparently, the White House believes that Israel’s use of force is not disproportionate.) But it boggles the mind to think what Hamas believes it is accomplishing by continuing a suicidal campaign against Israel’s overwhelming might.

In Gaza, supporters of Hamas are chanting, “Ya Qassam, ya habib. Strike, strike Tel Aviv!” Do they live on another planet?

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Kerry, whose life has been difficult lately—dealing with the Iran nuclear talks, the crisis in Afghanistan, the Iraq-Syria civil war and Russia’s continuing destabilization of Ukraine—is at least right when he said: “I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in the face of a goodwill effort to offer a ceasefire.”

Not that a cease-fire would solve any problems, other than ending the current round of violence. It would still leave Gaza in its abysmal state, and it certainly wouldn’t restart the collapsed Israel-Palestinian peace talks on a two-state solution. But Hamas seems determined to be Israel’s useful bogeyman.

 

Read Next: Iran-Suadi deal is crucial to resolve Iraq-Syria civil war.

The Very Naughty Whistleblower

Tom Tomorrow

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Whose Summer Break? Students Fix the ‘Utah Man,’ Lower the Confederate Flag and Ask Hillary for Their Money Back

Hillary Clinton

Accompanied by young supporters, Secretary Clinton says farewell. (Photo: Pat Dollard)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on student and youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out June 15 and July 1. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Migrant Children Wait, LA Kicks Out ICE

With an influx of children showing up at the border seeking refuge from violence, cities like Murrieta, California, and League City, Texas, have put up the barricades. In Los Angeles, which has the largest undocumented immigrant population in the country, youth and community organizers have assembled in support of the children—and, with little recourse on the federal level, taken migrant justice into our own hands. On July 7, building on the TRUST Act, the ICE Out of LA coalition pushed the LAPD to stop turning over inmates to ICE without a judicial warrant. Still, ICE remains in our county jails and collaborates with the LA Sheriff’s Department, the root force of deportations. Moving forward, we will put the pressure on LA County police departments and county jails to cut ties with ICE.

—Luis Serrano

2. As Gaza Blows, Thousands Mass for Palestinian Justice

On Saturday, July 5, a network of Students for Justice in Palestine members in Chicago, alongside a coalition of human rights activists, organized an emergency demonstration of more than 1,000 protesters—among thousands more across the country. In response to the murder of three Israeli youth, Israel has engaged in collective punishment, heavily bombing the Gaza strip and raiding West Bank. More than nineteen people have been killed in the attacks on Gaza; 17-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdair was abducted, tortured and killed by settlers overnight. On July 9, protesters flooded downtown Chicago for yet another emergency demonstration.

—Nashiha Alam

3. The “Utah Man” Gets Fixed

Since the early 1900s, the University of Utah has sung the “Utah Man” fight song at its sporting events. The lyrics of the song, along with the title, have been felt by many to be exclusionary and sexist. On April 22, following discussions with student leaders and broad campus outreach, the Utah student government passed a resolution asking the university to change the words to reflect the school and student body’s values of inclusion and diversity. In response, the administration assembled a committee to look into the issue and receive public comments. On July 2, after alumni and community members angrily demanded retention of the song, the university settled on a compromise, endorsing two different versions: the traditional version and a more inclusive version. Many view this as a step forward, but still feel that the decision reflects the administration’s inability to identify and effectively address issues of diversity and inclusion on campus.

—Sam Ortiz

4. The Confederate Flag Falls

The Committee is a group of primarily black law students at Washington and Lee University. In the fall, we drafted a list of grievances with the university over the experiences of black students. One of our goals was to get Confederate flags removed from Lee Chapel on campus, where they have flown for nearly eighty years. Members of the Committee believed the removal of the flags would improve the experiences of black students who sit in the chapel for campus events. We pledged to engage in acts of civil disobedience if our demands were not met. Fortunately, university officials responded by seriously considering our concerns. On July 8, the president announced that the Confederate flags located on the campus would be removed. The efforts of the Committee have reignited a dialogue about diversity and inclusion on campus and encouraged the administration to continue working to make it a more welcoming place for all students, particularly black students.

—Brandon Hicks

5. In Arizona, the Courts Overrule Jan Brewer

August 15, 2012, was the first day that DREAMers, a class of undocumented youth who arrived as children, were able to submit their application to receive a work authorization permit under DACA. That same day, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer used her executive power to halt driver’s licenses for DACA beneficiaries. In response, members of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition marched to the capitol to request a meeting with the governor, who refused. That November, ADAC, alongside NILC, MALDEF and the ACLU, filed a lawsuit against the governor on constitutional grounds. On July 7, after two years of meetings, actions and canvasses, the Ninth Circuit issued a preliminary injunction against the ban. Moving forward, we will host a series of actions to ensure we win the lawsuit.

—Reyna Montoya

6. In North Carolina, Students Put Voting Rights on Trial

In 2012, the Koch brothers and right-wing millionaire Art Pope achieved an extremist takeover of North Carolina, resulting in devastating legislation from healthcare to education to voting rights. Fifty years after the original Freedom Summer in Mississippi, youth are organizing to reverse the onslaught. July 7 marked the first day of hearings for a preliminary injunction on the most draconian voter suppression law in the country, which eliminates same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, guts campaign finance laws and requires a photo ID but prohibits the usage of student IDs. In response to this law, we’ve mobilized at Moral Monday’s with the state NAACP, and more than 350 people with NC Vote Defenders and Democracy NC have monitored polls in thirty-four counties. This month, while youth pack the court room and county board of elections, the Youth Organizing Institute Freedom School is training high school students on community organizing to build on the legacy of youth struggle in North Carolina.

—Bryan Perlmutter

7. The Harris v. Quinn Generation

On July 8, one week after the Harris v. Quinn ruling, home care workers in Minnesota filed for what will be the largest union election in Minnesota history, covering more than 26,000 workers, with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. I have been a home care worker now for almost four years and care for my mother who started receiving these services after having a few minor strokes. When I first found this campaign, I heard stories of others’ struggles, from younger people like me to others who are older than my grandparents, and realized that I was not alone. In our winning battle to gain the right to vote for our union last year, there were nights I even slept on the floor at the state capitol. A win in our election later this summer would bring us one step closer to our goal of making our work Invisible No More.

—Darleen Henry

8. The FCC’s Communication Gap

On June 30, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler arrived at the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a discussion with local youth. The event, hosted by Media Literacy Project and Digital Justice Coalition of New Mexico, was organized to promote youth knowledge and representation in discussions surrounding media policy and the FCC—which has no youth involvement at any level. In New Mexico, which ranks last in internet connectivity, lack of access keeps youth from connecting with loved ones and friends, fulfilling homework requirements, gaining health information and finding jobs and educational opportunities. Young people ranging in age from 12 to 20 took the mic to ask about net neutrality, the security of the Lifeline program and broadband in rural areas. Following the event, the chairman agreed to work toward preserving the Lifeline program and improving broadband connections in tribal and rural New Mexico—and, alongside New Mexico State Senator Jacob Candelaria, committed to consulting youth voices on issues of media justice.

—Pria Jackson

9. Can Dyett High School Be Saved?

In 2012, Chicago Public Schools announced that Walter H. Dyett High School, where I graduated this spring, would be phased out and closed in 2015. If Dyett closes, we won’t have any neighborhood high schools in the Bronzeville area. This spring, we delivered 1,000 signatures and 500 postcards of support for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology plan; met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office; assembled in front of Alderman Will Burns’s ward office for three days and nights; and took over a city council meeting chanting, “Burns, do your job!” Since early June, students and community members have been pressuring Burns to hold a public hearing about Dyett’s future; with no response by our stated deadline of July 9, we will hold one of our own.

—Parrish Brown

10. What Will Hillary Do With $225,000?

This October, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be cashing in $225,000 to speak to the non-profit arm of the University of Nevada–Las Vegas. In opposition to outrageous expenditures like these, and near-constant tuition hikes, UNLV students have organized to request that she donate her speaking fee to the 23,000 students of UNLV. While Clinton’s fee is coming from private donors and funds from her appearance are set to go to the university, the money from the fee could help us directly. Just a few weeks earlier, thousands of UNLV students voiced our opposition to a 17 percent tuition hike, with hundreds signing a Statement of Solidarity and dozens standing up at the Board of Regents meeting about being priced out of a quality higher education. As we await Secretary Clinton’s response, UNLV students will continue pressuring administrators and legislators on their spending and tuition decisions—and show that we will not be silent.

—Daniel Waqar and Elias Benjelloun

Thanks to Sounders, I See Another World Cup Is Possible

Seattle Sounders

Seattle Sounders players celebrate on the pitch after they beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 in an MLS soccer match, July 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

I am often asked, given my love of soccer and my criticisms of how the World Cup is organized, whether it is possible in the twenty-first century to have the spectacle of top-notch organized sports and have it done ethically? Or, can it at least be done more ethically than the neoliberal carnival of debt, displacement and militarization we normally see?

Well yesterday, I witnessed a better, more humane version of the mass spectacle of soccer, and feel remarkably rejuvenated for the experience. No, I’m not talking about the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany. I’m not talking about an event that is supposed to be the apex of “the people’s game” that the people cannot afford to attend. I’m not talking about an event surrounded by a one-kilometer exclusion zone and guarded by a small army for the pleasure of a den of thieves including Vladamir Putin, Angela Merkel, Dilma Rousseff and their pied piper of graft, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter.

I’m not talking about a final game that took place while protesters who had been promised by their government that they could assemble peaceably were tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets at the supposed fan-fest put on by FIFA for tourist consumption.

I’m not talking about an event that displaced thousands of people for the almighty purpose of producing billions in profits for Brazil’s construction, real estate and surveillance industries. I’m not talking about an event that put a fortune in the hands of Israeli armament companies and counterinsurgency “advisers” who market themselves as bringing the hands-on experience they have had turning Gaza into an open air prison, and then sell that experience to countries hosting the Olympics in the World Cup. I’m talking about another game entirely.

I’m talking about the game yesterday between the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers here in the Emerald City. It was just me and 65,000 of my closest friends chanting, screaming, yelling and of course standing for the full ninety minutes as the Sounders beat the Timbers 2-0, led by the inimitable Clint Dempsey, scoring Seattle’s opening goal and then hitting the cross bar at the end on a shot that would’ve been highlight material for the next year. Having recently returned from Brazil where I attended World Cup matches, it was not difficult to count off the ways that this experience was not only different but also “ethical” in the way a FIFA-run tournament could never be.

Let’s start with the ticket prices. We were right there just a few rows up from the field for $24 bucks a pop. Twenty-four dollars would pay for about two minutes of World Cup action, especially if you bought your tickets through FIFA’s don’t ask, don’t tell network of ticket brokers.

Speaking of the stadium, there was also not a one-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding it and people could actually—even without tickets!—get near the facility that their tax dollars purchased. It is also worth adding that the Sounders play in the home of the Seattle Seahawks. As of now, anyway, there are no demands to build a new publicly funded stadium just for them.

I loved everything about the Sounders-Timbers game. I loved the singing of Woody Guthrie songs. I loved the signs. I loved the colors. I loved the group-cussing (to each their own). I loved the chants and cheers that made it seem like everyone in the crowd had been rehearsing for hours before the start of game time. I loved that it seemed to be a combination of sports and Queen at Live-Aid.

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I loved the fact that the 6-year-old I was with had the time of his life and didn’t sit down for ninety minutes. And I loved the play. Maybe it wasn’t World Cup semifinals quality but it was passionate and powerful. Its very existence stands as a threat to FIFA: a living embodiment of the idea that there is an alternative to their wretched stench.

The Sounders-Timbers game, coming just hours after a desultory World Cup Final, entirety convinced me like little else that sports truly is like a fire and you can use a fire to cook a meal or burn down your house. In the hands of FIFA, the house of international soccer is burning down while they play a chorus of discordant violins. But this doesn’t have to be the case. If we want ethical soccer on a local, national or global scale, then along with the out-of-control flames of greed, corruption displacement and match fixing, FIFA itself will need to be extinguished.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on why LeBron James was always coming back to Cleveland

Color of Change Targets Members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Fight to Preserve Net Neutrality

A demonstration for net neutrality

(Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s been nearly two months since the Federal Communications Commission announced new rules that could destroy net neutrality, and the fight to preserve the open Internet is heating up. Earlier this month, Color of Change (COC), an organization devoted to strengthening the political voice of black Americans, took aim at ten members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for being on the wrong side of the fight. The representatives—who COC points out have taken large amounts of money from the telecom industry—signed a letter attacking one of the key steps needed to protect net neutrality: reclassifying Internet service as a public utility. In a petition directed at the ten representatives, Color of Change stressed the high stakes of the campaign:

By signing a letter attacking the FCC’s proposal to protect net neutrality by reclassifying Internet service as a public utility, you are assisting big phone and cable companies in threatening the Internet as we know it. You have taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the telecom industry, and now you are putting the telecom lobby’s agenda above the interests of your constituents and of Black America. Your actions threaten both the Black voice in national and international discourse, and the moral authority of the Congressional Black Caucus as an advocate for Black America.

TO DO

Sign Color of Change’s petition to members of the Congressional Black Caucus calling on them to fight to protect the open Internet.

TO READ

The need to reclassify Internet service as a public utility became all the more apparent after an appeals court ruled early this year that, under the current classification, the FCC could not enforce its Open Internet Order to preserve net neutrality. At The Root, Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson broke down the implications of that decision for communities of color.

TO WATCH

In a bit that famously sent so many viewers to the FCC’s website that it crashed, John Oliver hilariously explains the debate over net neutrality.

Hobby Lobby Is Now Discriminating Against a Transgender Employee

Meggan Sommerville

(Courtesy: Meggan Sommerville) 

The Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Storesrevealed just how far the law now allows corporations to reach into women’s private lives. Now, another case against the same craft store chain is reaching into the ladies’ room as well.

Meggan Sommerville, a Hobby Lobby frameshop manager in Aurora, Illinois, has for years been shut out of the store’s bathroom because her boss insists that, as a trans woman, she cannot use the facilities. She is pressing a discrimination case with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, contending that the ban is both insulting and illegal under state laws barring discrimination in both employment and in public accommodations. The lockout has become a full-fledged civil rights battle—and perhaps the next legal showdown in the debate around corporate personhood, religion and civil rights at work.

A sixteen-year Hobby Lobby employee, Sommerville underwent her transition in 2010, and after informing her manager and having her legal identity changed, she says that her coworkers and customers have been supportive throughout the process. But for management, the bathroom door remains a bridge too far. The company’s persistent rejection of her demand for equal access seems to reflect the ideology that drove its Supreme Court crusade against contraceptive insurance mandates under the federal healthcare law. Hobby Lobby’s willingness to flout public mandates to impose conservative values suggests that bias against transgender workers may be another way the company tries to “live out our faith in the way we do business.”

As reported by Newsweek, Sommerville’s pending case, which was first brought in 2011 (and reinstated by the state Human Rights Commission after initially being dismissed by the Human Rights Department for lack of evidence), is arguably an even more explicit example of a culture war being waged in the workplace. According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby’s management states that unless she would “undergo genital reconstructive surgery” she would not receive equal treatment as a female employee.

When Sommerville showed up for work just after having her name officially changed, she recalls, “I was told I would not be allowed to use the women’s restroom even though I had legally changed my name… I was devastated. It was a knife-to-the-gut insult to me.”

(Many transgender people do not have surgery, out of choice or due to economic or medical barriers, and it is generally not necessary for official recognition.)

The policy has affected her body and mind, as well as her ability to do her job. To relieve herself she must find another bathroom at an outside business or public facility. The complaint states that she was diagnosed in 2012 with thyroid problems and Fibromyalgia, which affect the bladder, and has suffered dehydration from “limiting her intake of fluids.”

In addition to the alienation imposed by her employers’ assumptions about her genitalia, the complaint states that, forced to use the men’s room, she has had to wait around or hide to avoid encounters with male users.

The experience that pushed Sommerville to take legal action was the humiliation of being “caught” using the gender-appropriate bathroom and then receiving “a written warning of insubordination”—a reprimand for acting like the woman she was.

“I felt like someone had just basically eviscerated me. My whole world turned upside down,” she says.

The complaint charges that due to Hobby Lobby’s actions, she “has experienced over-anxiousness, embarrassment, shame, depression, anxiety, emotional distress, feelings of helplessness and has had trouble sleeping.”

Hobby Lobby’s exact rationale, however, is still unclear. In contrast to the amped-up Christian rhetoric surrounding the company’s Supreme Court litigation, it has declined to comment publicly on Sommerville’s case (requests from The Nation have so far received no response). According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby has not directly cited religious reasons for its denial of bathroom access.

But Sommerville’s attorneys say the bathroom ban—a rule that was communicated to Sommerville by the Human Resources Department—stems from the corporate leadership’s ideology. “This is not just an issue of a manager” acting independently, says her lawyer, Jacob Meister. “This is a matter that’s risen through the corporate level, all the way…. They’ve [dug] in their heels on this one.”

As further evidence of ideological motives behind its anti-trans discrimination, advocates point to the massive funds (revealed earlier this year by Salon.com) that Hobby Lobby’s corporate empire has pumped into Christian-right and anti-LGBT lobbying groups.

Perhaps the company’s quieter stance on Sommerville’s case reflects its own contradictory policies. It has, after all, recognized Sommerville’s gender identity on various legal grounds, but refuses to let her use a public accommodation that is appropriate for that very same identity. (Not to mention the more fundamental paradox that the company is imposing its will, based on an irrational and unhealthy concept of gender, in a way that asserts corporate personhood over the worker’s own sense of personhood.)

Though Sommerville, a practicing Christian, is comfortable with the company’s general faith orientation, she sees the contraceptives dispute as a similar case of overreach.

“I’m not in favor of any corporation dictating what is best for my medical treatment. I think that is best decided between my doctor and myself,” she tells The Nation. “This case, with the Supreme Court, I see as potentially a slippery slope where corporations can continue to deny access to appropriate medical care based on any number of circumstances.”

Sommerville’s case folds into a wave of activism on transgender rights at work, school and other public spaces. In recent months, a Maine lawsuit led to legal recognition of transgender students’ right to equal access to bathrooms at school. California has passed a law to ensure gender-appropriate bathroom accommodations for trans students.

Following a landmark ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor recently announced it would update its policies on transgender rights, by enforcing sex discrimination policies in accordance with individuals’ current gender identity.

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But such reforms barely dent the problem of institutionalized discrimination in public space. One study of transgender people in Washington, DC, found that, on top of general social stigma and discrimination, “Seventy percent…reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.”

Although Sommerville brought her case under Illinois state law, advocates hope a ruling in her favor could set a precedent for other states’ treatment of transgender people under the rubric of civil rights and labor law.

But whatever Hobby Lobby does in the political arena, Sommerville is primarily anxious about how she’s treated when she shows up at work each day—to do a job that she still loves. She’s just waiting for her employer to recognize what her coworkers and her community have already accepted.

 

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