Remember the phrase “good union job”? In contrast to the contingent fragile world of retail, service and fast food, a good union job is the sort union coal miners have. At least that’s what thousands of veteran union miners thought, until suddenly last summer—when they discovered that, just as if they were Walmart sub-contractees, a boss they’d never worked for was trying to break their contract.
Contracts are the heart of “good union jobs.” The work may not be glamorous, but the contract gives workers a fair shake. Through collective bargaining, they’re able to cut a deal, and in the case of coal miners, that deal is a matter of life and death. Talk to any miner’s partner and they’ll tell you they worry every minute their significant other is underground, but once they hit the surface, and if they make it to retirement, at least their family will have “Cadillac” coverage. That’s what they’ve won, in exchange for spending their lives digging rock out of the underside of a mountain in the dark, so that the rest of us can run our factories, or turn on our lights.
Living wages, basic safety protections and guaranteed quality healthcare for life—that’s the deal the union fought for, and after 120 years in existence, complete with coalfield wars from Colorado to Harlan County, that’s the deal the venerable United Mineworkers of America was able to extract from American coal companies in the second half of the 20th Century.
As union leaders explain in this informational video, the UMWA negotiated decades of those contracts with Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. The companies signed, the miners worked and the contracts and profits piled up, until we hit era of extreme corporate hubris.
At the same time that companies like Apple and Google were figuring out how to avoid paying tax by moving to tiny, exotic islands (or Ireland), and banks and mortgage companies were coming up with derivatives and bundled assets, big corporations like Peabody and Arch found that by spinning off smaller companies they could rearrange their responsibilities and their liabilities. One of those smaller companies was Patriot Coal. In 2007 The Patriot Coal Corporation was created by Peabody, and acquired all the company’s union operations east of the Mississippi. By 2012, Patriot had most of the union mines of Arch Coal, too. Their sort of coal mining was in decline, but they sure had a lot of those retired miners’ contracts—and a lot of liability—for thousands of retirees who’d never worked a day in their life for Patriot.
To no one’s surprise but the miners’ and their families’, in July 2012 Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy and announced its intention to modify its collective bargaining agreements. The company said it was responding to the market and trying to survive. Just like Google and Apple, Peabody and Arch say everything they did was legal. The union accused them of intentionally setting up a shell to dump their union pensions. Now a federal judge in Patriot’s hometown of St. Louis has until May 29 to decide if Patriot’s bankruptcy plan is valid.
Jim Hall is a retired union miner. Twenty-four years ago, when the Pittston Coal company tried to stop paying retiree health benefits, he along with thousands of other UMWA families, went on strike on behalf of their fathers and uncles and the generation before them. “I was working then. The struggle was about the retirees,” said Hall last month. “Now I’m retired and I know what it means to need good healthcare. I’ll do anything the union asks me to.” “And so will I” said Jim's wife Shirley. The couple has already traveled out of state from their home in Castlewood, Virginia, to join a Patriot protest.
“What’s at stake at Patriot is the union,” says Jan Patton, now approaching her 90s, a miner’s widow in Clincho, Virginia. “I know what a difference the union makes because I watched what my father and grandfather went through before they had one.”
In 1989, thousands of miners, miners’ wives, church groups and community supporters lay down in the streets at the entrance to Pittston’s mines to block the coal trucks, and make the media take notice. Reverend Jim Lewis, former rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, was among those arrested then in a struggle which ultimately was mostly victorious.
This spring, their benefits on the chopping block once more, miners and their supporters have been lying down in the streets again, but this time in front of the federal court house in St. Louis. The protests are barely registering in the media.
Cecil Roberts, the president of the UMWA who was a leader in the Pittston strike, was one of a dozen protesters arrested in St. Louis in the latest peaceful protest Monday. Lewis was arrested in a protest late last month.
“In comparison to 1989, I looked over the crowd and saw people much older, weaker, in a weaker environment, economically and in terms of movements,” said Lewis, who was recently part of a fact-finding mission by religious leaders that produced a report, “Schemes from the Board Room.”
If the plan is approved, the report estimates that more than 23,000 retired miners and their families will lose their benefits and that lifetime guarantee. The company’s proposing a trust fund instead, which will start at $15 million and go up to a maximum of $300 million. That, says the United Mineworkers of America, is miserably inadequate. It also sets a dangerous precedent.
What’s happening in St Louis doesn’t look like a coal-field war, but the same things are at stake: reciprocity, respect, fair play. If the companies can walk away from "good union jobs" and the UMWA then heaven help the fast food workers and those contractees at Walmart.
The fight against Citizens United just picked up a big win in LA. Read John Nichols’s take.
Alex Gibney’s much-anticipated film, We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks, starts to hit theaters tomorrow and already it’s a media sensation. Gibney summed up the reaction for me last month: “My view, while biased, is: the response from people who’ve seen the film has been mainly positive and from those who haven’t, mainly negative.”
In the latter camp are Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and several key allies, such as writer/filmmaker John Pilger. They long claimed they’ve seen a (what else?) “leaked” script but Gibney had some doubts about that. Yesterday via the official WikiLeaks Twitter feed they again denounced the film, saying they had seen the actual film and found it strewn with errors and also found it “trashy.”
Gibney long courted Assange for an interview and even flew to the UK for a six-hour chat with Julian—about the request. It broke down over what the director saw as Assange’s demands for some control over excerpts from any interview.
Coverage of the film in the US, after the February screening at Sundance, has been mostly good, Gibney has observed. “The people who don’t necessarily have an axe to grind are liking it,” he asserted. And he again declared strong support for Bradley Manning. (I should note that I wrote the first book about WikiLeaks and later the first book about Bradley Manning.) Here’s the trailer for the Gibney film, and much more below:
When WikiLeaks became a household name three years ago—the release of the “Collateral Murder” video from Iraq came on April 5, 2010—and the material it released caused shock waves around the world, numerous film operatives rushed to buy rights to books and articles. One of them was Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal.
Early this year Assange denounced a Hollywood flick when it started shooting—it focuses on the early days of WikiLeaks and his relationship with Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who left the group in a huff). It just finished shooting and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange. And Assange blasted Gibney’s upcoming doc—right down to its title.
At Sundance, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman interviewed Gibney (who won an Oscar for his Taxi to Dark Side and has directed many other fine docs, from Enron to Mea Maxima Culpa). She also solicited a critical response from Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson. Much of the debate was over how the film treats the Swedish legal case and the seriousness of the threat that Assange could end up extradited to the United States. Gibney told The Daily Beast, “I think a lot of this film is deeply sympathetic to Julian and his initial cause. I just think Julian got corrupted.”
But the debate continued. At the New Statesman in early February, Jemima Khan, who had posted bail money for Assange, and went on to become a producer of the Gibney film, wrote a piece claiming that Assange’s backers had become “blinkered” to his faults, especially the alleged sexual misconduct.
This led Pilger, a week later, to attack her, and Gibney, at The Guardian, accusing the Assange “haters” of suffering from “arrested devleopment.” As for Assange not cooperating with the Gibney film: he “knew that a film featuring axe grinders and turncoats would be neither ‘nuanced’ nor ‘represent the truth,’ as Khan wrote, and that its very title was a gift to the fabricators of a bogus criminal indictment that could doom him to one of America’s hellholes.”
Gibney then responded at the New Statesman, opening with: “How sad. John Pilger, who once had a claim to the role of truth-teller, has become a prisoner of his own unquestioning beliefs.” He said that Pilger had even gotten the title of his film wrong. “In fact, ‘we steal secrets’ is a quote taken from the film, uttered by the former CIA director Michael Hayden,” Gibney revealed. “Thus, the title of the film is intended to be, er… ironic.”
Gibney closed: “There are many people, including me, who admire the original mission of WikiLeaks. But those supporters should not have to stand silently by as WikiLeaks’s original truth-seeking principles are undermined by a man who doesn’t want to be held to account for accusations about his personal behaviour. To paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Julian Assange is not the Messiah; and he may be a very naughty boy.”
Wanting to catch up with his current views on the pre-release controversy, I interviewed Gibney in April. Count me as another who, for now, has not seen the film. Some highlights:
ON THE PILGER DEBATE: “Pilger’s attack was unfair and unvarnished and not buttressed by the facts, especially since he didn’t see film. Like Assange, he may have a transcript or just saying he has. I doubt it.”
THE TITLE OF THE FILM: “It was meant to be provocative. People in Assange’s camp want to take it a certain way. If one sees the film one sees what I’m getting at. We live in a world where everyone thinks they do the right thing, so they are entitled to do the wrong thing. So ends can justify the means. The title is meant to set a context for both leaking and the rather brutal attack on leakers by the Obama administration. They’re trying to try people like Bradley Manning for a capital offense for leaking classified material.”
ON THE MEDIA SHOWING MORE SYMPATHY FOR MANNING LATELY: “The larger story is not a change in views about him but how much he’d been ignored. When you see the film you’ll see—and the thing I’m most gratified about—how much we put him at the center of story. Where he should have been but hasn’t been. Part of it was he was just the ‘alleged’ leaker and now he has pleaded guilty. Finally he’s being noticed, which is a good thing.
“My personal view—he’s the new Pvt. Eddie Slovik [the American soldier our military executed for desertion during World War II]. They picked on Manning because they could. They felt he was weak, he was marginalized. And I think now it’s beginning to surprise the government that public opinion is shifting in his direction [since his statement at his recent hearing].”
ON MEDIA ACCOUNTS ATTRIBUTING MANNING’S LEAKING TO GENDER CONFUSION: “In my film I recognize that Bradley Manning had personal troubles. He made a difference, and I think he thought about trying to make a difference—but he was also different himself.
“The idea of Manning leaking because he wanted to become a woman is a joke. Not at all credible. But I think a reason he turned to [Adrian] Lamo in those chats was he needed someone to talk to. I took some criticism at Sundance for saying Manning was ‘alienated.’ I think it was twisted into me saying he leaked because he was a malcontent. But if he was perfectly in alignment with the military culture he would have never leaked! Sometimes whistleblowers get distanced from the culture and feel they should or must speak out. These issues are important to the story.”
WHAT SURPRISED HIM IN MAKING THE FILM? “The Swedish sex charges surprised me. I assumed from the start, especially after doing Client 9 [his film on Eliot Spitzer], that as Michael Moore says in my new film—it was a put-up job, something so suspicious about it, it seemed like a plot. I don’t believe that now….
“Another surprise: I started out thinking it was a story about a machine, a leaking machine—but WikiLeaks’ contribution was not the ‘drop box’ but an ability to publish on many international sites. The jury is still out on the best way to get secrets from a source—and the best way is probably not a drop box.”
Greg Mitchell has written two books on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning. His latest books are So Wrong for So Long, which probes US media malpractice and Iraq, and Hollywood Bomb, on how Harry Truman and the military censored MGM anti-nuke epic in 1946.
What’s missing in mainstream political discourse? Where do media distortions butt heads with social justice? For one, “I think one of the most important things about a civilized country is respect for women,” says Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. “I think we’re seeing in too many of our institutions a lack of respect.” Appearing on ABC’s This Week, vanden Heuvel discusses sexual assault in the military, Anthony Weiner, social media and more.
What sort of “women’s rights” is the Susan B. Anthony List peddling? Read Jessica Valenti’s take.
Every time an American woman walks into her polling place, she ought to give thanks to Susan B. Anthony, who wrote the constitutional amendment that allows her to vote. Anthony herself was arrested and convicted for the right we take for granted—that women are entitled to participate in our democratic process. Her advocacy for women extended to our education and even our right to own property. (She was also an early supporter of the temperance movement. No one’s perfect.)
I’m certain Susan B. Anthony would be aghast if she knew that her name was being used by a group of anti-abortion extremists to drive an anti-women agenda and roll back the rights she fought so hard for. Anthony knew that caring for women’s health was an important part of protecting their rights, which is why she opposed the criminalization of abortion. Since abortion was illegal in the nineteenth century, she knew the stakes. Women still sought abortions back then, but it was like playing Russian roulette with your life. There were horrible complications, infections, and many women ended up sterile. The unlucky ones died of botched abortions.
The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) bears no resemblance to the legacy of the hero whose legacy has made all of our lives better. A new report from NARAL Pro-Choice America and American Bridge details the insidious goals of this so-called women’s organization. They make no bones about their plans: their president, Marjorie Dannenfelser says, “When we started about 20 years ago, you would not put the pro-life movement and the NRA in the same category…. That’s been my goal—to make this issue, which is so fundamental, have the strongest political arm they could possibly have. That’s the direction I see this heading in.”
They’ve got a big agenda: use the upcoming Virginia governor’s race as a “proving ground” to drive their anti-choice fundamentalism in a dozen states and in the thirty-three Senate races in 2014. We’ve seen how they support the most radical candidates running the most out of touch campaigns. When the rest of America—including the vast majority of Republicans—was denouncing Todd Akin for his mystifying comments that a woman couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” the SBA List stood by him. Dannefelser called him “an excellent partner” and reaffirmed her organization’s support for his candidacy.
Richard Mourdock didn’t deny that rape could result in pregnancy, but he did say those pregnancies were “something God intended to happen,” and again SBA List stood by their man. They ran ads attacking his opponent, who now sits in the US Senate. Akin, of course, also lost.
They don’t stop with candidates. When the Virginia legislature proposed a bill in 2012 that would require women who need an abortion to get an unnecessary, invasive transvaginal ultrasound, Dannefelser took to the airwaves to praise the measure. “Really, this is a matter of giving a woman more information that she needs to make a decision that’s fully informed,” Dannefelser told Chris Matthews about the procedure, which involves penetrating a woman with a wand to give her an ultrasound that only confirms what she already knows. (The law eventually passed without the transvaginal ultrasound requirement, although it still forces women to undergo a noninvasive ultrasound that is just as unnecessary.)
While SBA List is a fan of unnecessary ultrasounds, the organization does not like it when women have access to the healthcare they need. The organization asked Republican presidential candidates to sign a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny women access to cancer screenings, prenatal care and even regular check-ups.
SBA List styles itself a feminist organization that works to elect more pro-life women to office. (In fact, they supported some of the most radically anti-choice male candidates in 2012.) But their real agenda is as fiercely anti-woman as Anthony herself was pro-woman.
See thier work in this year’s Virginia governor’s race. They’ve committed a minimum of $1.5 million to help elect Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, an anti-abortion extremist in the mold of Akin and Mourdock. Six years ago, then–state legislator Cuccinelli sponsored the most extreme kind of personhood amendment, one that would ban many forms of birth control (not to mention miscarriages).
The Virginia governor race is a chance for SBA List to test strategies and messaging they can deploy nationwide in 2014, 2016 and beyond. Like most pro-life activists, they have focused their efforts on hiding the most extreme parts of their agenda and pursuing attacks on a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion care piecemeal. They conceal their radical agenda as concern for women’s health and safety. That’s why our report on the record and activities of SBA List is so important; we need to expose them now for who they are, before they help elect more candidates that threaten our rights and our lives.
Defending guys who question rape? Pushing invasive and unnecessary medical procedures on women? Thinking they know better then we do about what works best for our lives? It is difficult to imagine a more insulting attack on Anthony’s proud legacy.
The first couple is peddling black college graduates some seriously worn-out stereotypes on race and opportunity. Read Aura Bogado’s take.
(AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes)
Six months after the shootings in Newtown, and one month after the Manchin-Toomey gun control legislation died in the Senate, we already have a test case of how the gun control might play out with voters. It has emerged this week as a major issue in the the special election for John Kerry’s vacated Massachusetts Senate seat—and the Republican candidate’s somewhat comical inability to effectively defend his position is perhaps a promising sign for reformers.
Last week, Representative Ed Markey, the Democratic candidate, released a fairly standard campaign ad promising to “fight for common sense laws to stop gun violence.” It noted that the Republican candidate, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, “is against banning high-capacity magazines like the ones used in the Newtown school shooting.” Watch:
Gomez and the national Republicans flipped out. “Exploiting a tragedy for political gain is sick,” Gomez said in a statement Friday. “Disgusting, Deplorable and Desperate Attack Ads on Former Navy SEAL Par for the Course for Markey,” tweeted the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Gomez doubled down on this defense today, releasing an ad attacking “dirty Ed Markey,” and making an unusually explosive, and fact-stretching, claim: “Now, Markey actually blames Gomez for the Newtown shooting.” Watch:
It’s fair to say that Gomez is playing loose with the truth here. “Despite what the ad says, Markey has not blamed Gomez for the Newtown shooting,” The Boston Globe had to explain in a straight news story.
Gomez’s over-reaction suggests awareness of serious vulnerability on this issue. And what’s his actual response? He’s not debating a policy point—not attempting to explain why he opposes a ban on high-capacity magazines—but haphazardly trying change the conversation with an inflammatory attempt to play the victim.
His failure to conjure a sensible, post-Newtown argument against better gun laws might be an important tea leaf for the 2014 midterms, as well as the ultimate future of real gun legislation.
It’s useful to recall where the political debate stands. After comprehensive gun-control legislation died in the Senate last month, polls showed that senators who helped kill the bill faced plummeting approval numbers, while those that stood up for the legislation received notable boosts. Since 90 percent of the public favored expanded background checks for gun sales, this dynamic wasn’t very surprising, and it left reformers with two paths forward.
The first was to immediately try to take another bite at the apple: pressure key holdouts like Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake to come back to the table, and try to pass a moderated version of the Manchin-Toomey legislation as soon as it became feasible. There have been some whispers about that possibility, but nothing concrete seems to be happening.
The other (not mutually exclusive) approach is to let the public fury build over the next eighteen months and use it as a weapon in the midterm elections. A vote allowing criminals to have guns is a good wedge to separate Republicans from moderate suburban voters, and if the Manchin-Toomey vote helps cost some members their seats, a humbled 114th Congress could take another swing at gun control legislation
This strategy has the added virtue of potentially tougher legislation: instead of having to modify the already weakened Manchin-Toomey bill (bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were dropped early on, and a large background check exemption for private sales was added at the eleventh hour), reformers could start all over with a much better package.
Markey’s ad is a perfect example of this latter approach: not only is he hitting his opponent for opposing popular gun control legislation, but he’s widening the debate past Manchin-Toomey, and focusing on assault weapons and large clips. (Gomez, to his credit, has repeatedly backed Manchin-Toomey and expanded background checks, leaving assault weapons and high-capacity clips as the major area of distinction.)*
Gomez's response wasn't to defend a position against high-capacity clips, but rather try to change the story. If gun control opponents can’t do any better than Gabriel Gomez at defending their policies, things are looking up for reform.
*This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Gomez supports Manchin-Toomey and closing the gun show loophole.
Walmart helped make the AR-15, which was the weapon used by Adam Lanza, the most popular assault weapon in America, George Zornick writes.
Memphis death row prisoner Timothy McKinney has been trying to overturn a 1999 conviction for the fatal shooting of a police officer that he maintains he never committed. After a third trial and a hung jury, McKinney was finally offered a plea deal: plead guilty to second-degree murder and be released with time served. McKinney plead guilty to a crime he never committed and will be set free as early as today.
Nation Associate Editor Liliana Segura has followed McKinney’s case and her most recent Nation article chronicles the case, from a prosecution too corrupt to back down to a system that will send men to their death based on weak evidence. She spoke with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh about the trial and McKinney’s impending release on today’s Democracy Now!.
Documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki showed his film The House I Live In, an indictment of the “War on Drugs,” to prisoners across the country. Liliana Segura sat in on a screening.
From left, Senators Schumer, Grassley and Leahy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Although the Senate Judiciary Committee has been making amendments to the massive comprehensive immigration reform bill for two weeks, it wasn’t at all clear whether Senator Patrick Leahy would offer his amendment to include LGBT couples in this bill. He waited until late last night to attempt to do so, as the final amendment. In the end, Leahy withdrew his bid, after Republicans threatened to derail the entire bill, and Democrats agreed to sell out queer couples for a supposed greater purpose.
Leahy, who began by explaining that he himself has been married for fifty years, highlighted that during the time since the immigration bill was first introduced, three states have legalized same-sex marriage. All three, Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota, are represented on the Senate’s committee. But that didn’t stop Republicans like Lindsey Graham from politely urging Leahy from submitting his amendment to a vote. That reverent tone—a departure from many of the amendments that were hotly debated in the past two weeks—was echoed by other Republicans, who concurrently acknowledged the passion for equality while threatening to derail the bill if the LGBT amendment passed.
Democrats, meanwhile, appeared perfectly comfortable outlining their justification for homophobia. Senators Diane Feinstein and Dick Durbin fervently pretended to want to protect equality, but soon abandoned the principle and encouraged Leahy to drop his amendment. Senator Chuck Schumer—who had spent most of the day kicking back in his leather office chair and texting on his cell phone while he and his colleagues slowly decide the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants—stated that not including Leahy’s amendment amounted to nothing less than “rank discrimination.” Nevertheless, Schumer made clear that he wouldn’t support the amendment because it would threaten to bring down the entire bill. With zero support for equality from his colleagues, Leahy withdrew his amendment.
As often as senators stated that the process was difficult for them, the result is most difficult for those couples that could soon be separated even if immigration reform passes. Meghan Austin, a 34-year-old who works with Immigration Equality, blogged her disappointment last night after both parties sold out her community. Speaking to her this morning was far more painstaking than listening to senators make excuses yesterday. “It was heartbreaking to see the Democrats abandon Senator Leahy and let him stand alone in defending what’s right,” she told me.
Austin met her partner, who is in the United States on a work visa, three years ago. She wants to sponsor her to stay, but doesn’t have that option—which straight couples do. Austin says that she, along with some twenty families, met with Schumer’s office four times recently, and he assured that he would stand with them in committee. Responding to reports that Schumer found the process among “the most excruciatingly difficult decisions” he’s ever had to make, Austin responded, “Standing for what’s right should never be an excruciating choice.”
With the exception of Leahy’s attempt to introduce the amendment, Austin added that the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves—and that they should have reframed the debate and stood for equality. “Openly admitting to discrimination is shocking, especially to me as a constituent,” explained Austin, who hails from Brooklyn, in Schumer’s state of New York.
President Obama was rumored—but never confirmed—to have asked Leahy to drop his amendment. As the bill finally moves forward for debate to the full Senate, it’s more than likely that Obama won’t veto a bill that throws LGBT couples and their families under the perennial bus of inequality. In his failed attempt to bring the equality amendment up for a vote last night, Leahy expressed that our grandchildren will look back at marriage inequality the way we look back at anti-miscegenation laws. He’s only half right: We don’t have to wait until the future to know that the way senators acted is shameful and indefensible today.
Whither the GOP’s anti-racist facade? Read Mychal Denzel Smith’s take.
While companies such as Facebook and Google rely on users for content and profits, as Ari Melber explains at thenation.com, they use one-sided “Terms of Service” contracts to exclude these same content providers from negotiating control of their pictures, text and personal data.
In this Nation essay, Ari Melber, Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger team up to call on social media companies to recognize user rights: “Social media companies say consumer privacy is just the cost of doing business. But what would happen if they actually had to bargain with users on equal footing?”
This video conversation explores a recent unilateral move made by Facebook that could, according to Baker Hostetler attorney Gerald Ferguson, allow the socila media company the unfettered right to sell user data to any advertising agency Facebook has a stake in.
In this Saturday, May 11, 2013, file photo, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 78, waves to media, as he registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
This is the second part in a series on Iran’s June 14 presidential election. Part 1, with brief profiles of the leading candidates who’d filed to run, appeared last Friday.
As the news of the latest turns in Iran’s presidential election develops—namely, that the Guardian Council, which oversees Iranian politics for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has barred two opposition-minded candidates, including former President Rafsanjani—it’s useful to remember that Iran’s election is about Iran, not the United States.
President Obama, who’d like to restart talks with Iran over its nuclear program after the election on June 14, may also need to talk to Iran about the civil war in Syria and about Afghanistan, too, where a renewed fighting season has boosted the Taliban’s fortunes. But, as always, Obama will have to deal with the Iran that exists in the real world, not the Iran he’d wish for. Iran’s system isn’t going away anytime soon, and that would have been true even if Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s favorite, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, had been allowed to run.
It probably true that Rafsanjani—who still might be approved by Khamenei, if he overrules the Guardian Council—might have been relatively more willing to seek better relations with Washington. However, even if Rafsanjani had run and been elected, when he took office in August he’d still have to defer to Khamenei. Iran-watchers who expected that the election might have ushered in wholesale change would still have been disappointed.
Still, reports from Tehran indicate that many Iranians are surprised and shocked that Rafsanjani was barred from running, since he was an intimate of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and has been a high official and kingmaker for three decades. In 2009, Rafsanjani threw his backing to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the reformist who challenged Ahmadinejad’s reelection, and in the aftermath of the election he criticized the crackdown on protesters who took to the streets.
According to AP, Rafsanjani has reportedly accepted the Guardian Council’s decision, while Ahmadinejad and Mashaei intend to register a protest with Khamenei.
For Iranians, the issue in the election revolves first around the economy, with growing unemployment, inflation, and with entire industries—oil and gas, petrochemicals, auto manufacturing, computers and IT, aviation—stuck in neutral, partly because of international sanctions and, more importantly, due to mismanagement by the Iranian government under Ahmadinejad. Of course, some of Iran’s economic problems might be improved if Washington and Tehran reached an agreement that could lift sanctions. It’ll be important to see how the eight remaining candidates, most of whom are conservative loyalists, will deal with Iran’s economic problems and Western sanctions.
Another issue for Iranians, of course, is whether or not to make changes in the political system that’s been in place at least since 1989, when Khamenei—with Rafsanjani’s backing—became Supreme Leader. The “reformists,” led by former President Mohammad Khatami—who decided not to run—and his allies, have gingerly sought to place limits on the Leader’s power, but during Khatami’s time in office (1997–2005) those efforts were shot down by the Guardian Council after they were enacted by a reformist-dominated parliament back then. On the other side, Khamenei and the conservatives are unhappy with the very institution of the presidency. Part of the trade off in 1989, when Khamenei rose to power, was that Rafsanjani would be Iran’s president (1989–1997) and that the office of president would be strengthened. That tug-of-war continues, today, in a different form.
Even if Rafsanjani doesn’t run, and it’s unlikely he’ll be approved by Khamenei, there’s still a candidate in the race around whom reformists and centrists might converge: Hassan Rouhani. He’s a cleric and senior official on the Expediency Council, and previously he served as Khatami’s chief negotiator on the nuclear issue until 2005. When he announced his decision to run for president in April, two of Rafsanjani’s children were present at the event, and Rouhani will probably get the backing of Khatami, too. (Earlier, Khatami had given his blessing to Rafsanjani.) But Rouhani can’t claim the pedigree that Rafsanjani has, and by all accounts he’s a colorless and less-than-charismatic figure.
The seeming front-runner, Saeed Jalili, is Iran’s current negotiator over the nuclear issue. (It’s silly to pick frontrunners in Iran’s election, since there are often surprises, if not complete shocks. In 1997 and 2001, few expected that Khatami would get the overwhelming majorities that he did, and in 2005 the election of Ahmadinejad, a dark horse, was also a surprise.) Last week, Jalili gave an interview to the Christian Science Monitor in Istanbul, where he was holding talks with the European Union, and the Monitor’s Scott Peterson gave this background:
Jalili has a PhD in political science from Imam Sadeq University, which is known for the ideological hue of its students. His dissertation on 7th century political thought was turned into a book called “Foreign Policy of the Prophet of Islam.”
Jalili spent years working on foreign policy in Khamenei’s office, assuming the post of director general at just 36 years old. From 2005 he was an Ahmadinejad adviser and then deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs. He reportedly helped write an unprecedented 18-page letter from Ahmadinejad to President George Bush. The letter claimed that liberal democracy had “failed” in the West, and noted how “history tells us that repressive and cruel governments do not survive.”
Any of the other approved candidates, including the mayor of Tehran—Ahmadinejad’s former post—and Khamenei’s chief foreign policy adviser, could catch on.
Read Bob Dreyfuss on the continuing conflict in Syria.
Failed senatorial candidate and SBA beneficiary Todd Akin. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
A few years back, a women’s organization with a bad record engaging with young feminists decided to add on an event to their annual conference. It was a forum specifically for younger women, launched with painfully constructed slang: “We’ll be headin’ to Albany and hangin’ at the Crowne Plaza!” The tagline was even written in a graffiti-type font.
Anti-choice organizations’ efforts to present themselves as “pro-woman” give me a similar feeling of second-hand embarrassment—you wish someone would tell them how foolish they sound. But unlike the aforementioned well-meaning organization—who despite cringe-worthy language, works hard to improve women’s lot in life—anti-choice groups use feminist language to push an agenda that puts women’s health and lives in danger. It’s like if your mom tried to prove how cool she was to your friends by punching them in the face.
Leading the “pro-woman,” anti-choice charge is the Susan B. Anthony List—an organization that seeks to elect anti-choice men and women to office. Think of them as the bizarro EMILY’s List. Like its cohorts the Independent Women’s Forum and Feminists for Life, SBA List tries to shroud its radically conservative ideology in pro-woman rhetoric. Hence its name (though there’s no evidence that suffragist Susan B. Anthony was in favor of criminalizing abortion) and mission to prove that access to abortion is actually bad for women.
But a comprehensive report just released by NARAL Pro-Choice America shows just how thinly veiled the SBA List’s anti-feminism really is—no matter how many women-friendly slogans they use.
The organization stood by Todd Akin after his “legitimate rape” comments suggesting that women can’t get pregnant after rape, and said they “couldn’t agree more” with Richard Mourdouck, the GOP candidate for the Indiana Senate who said pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.” The organization also supported Rick Santorum’s presidential run with over half a million dollars—the man who said pregnancy after rape was a gift from God and that victims should just “make the best out of a bad situation.”
The SBA List, clearly expecting more anti-woman comments from their candidates, even organized a training program for politicians to help them avoid sounding crass and ignorant—even if their policies are just that.
It’s not just the people they support who are out of touch—the SBA List’s leadership is similarly retrograde. Marilyn Musgrave, the organization’s vice president of government affairs, voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act while serving in the Colorado Legislature and has said that legalizing same sex marriage would lead to “group marriage.” She even opposed adoption by same sex couples.
SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who tried to convince women that Virginia’s widely mocked ultrasound mandate was just “a matter of giving a woman more information,” strangely says that the abortion rate increases the more women use birth control. She’s also said, “the bottom line is that to lose the connection between sex and having children leads to problems.”
This “bottom line” epitomizes how out of touch and antiquated the SBA List is. Ensuring that sex doesn’t always result in children is one of feminism’s greatest wins. Reliable birth control has freed women in a way that arguably no other modern invention has, but to SBA List, that’s too much freedom.
So maybe the SBA List and other conservative women’s organizations are pro-woman in a way—they’re just pro a version of womanhood that most of us left behind a long time ago. And even if they gussy it up in modern garb (the Suzy B blog!) it’s a version of “woman” that modern women are simply not willing to return to.
What happened to LGBT inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform? Read Aura Bogado’s take.