President Obama needs to adopt a cautious stance in response to the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 over Ukraine yesterday, and there’s no certainty about who did what, but make no mistake: the responsibility for this tragedy—which cost the lives of nearly 300 innocent people, including a team of internationally known AIDS-HIV experts—lies at the door of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That doesn’t mean, of course, that either the Russians or the anti-Kiev rebels fired the missile deliberately at the Malaysian plane, though it’s possible that the rebels thought they were firing at a Ukrainian military target. But Putin’s irresponsible stoking of a crisis next door in Ukraine over the past several months, fueled by Russia’s own revanchist policy and Putin’s claims to defend ethnic Russians in “New Russia” has come home to roost.
It’s good news that all sides, including the pro-Russia rebels who control the area where the plane exploded, have called for a truce to allow investigators to access the area—though it’s unclear yet whether the rebels will fully comply.
But Russia’s response to the shooting down of MH17 resembles Russia’s dissembling last September, when Putin and the Russian media shamelessly blamed the Syrian rebels, and not President Bashar al-Assad’s government, for the horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war,
Putin says he’ll work with the rest of the world to find out who’s responsible for the MH17 disaster. And the Russian state-owned media, which resembles Iraq’s “Baghdad Bob” in its sheer, unashamed propaganda, is blaming everyone else for the missile that struck the plane except for the Russian-backed rebels who’ve seized parts of eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military and the Russian military, and probably the pro-Russian rebels, possess the type of missile apparently used in the MH17 attack, either SA-11s or SA-20s. But since the rebels aren’t known to possess any aircraft, it seems extremely unlikely that the Ukrainian military would fire at anything in the air, while in the past several weeks the rebels have shot down several Ukrainian military aircraft. And there are increasingly reliable reports that cast blame on the pro-Russia rebels, and in their own words.
In late June, separatist leaders told the Russian news outlets RIA Novosti and Interfax that they had taken control of a Ukrainian air-defense base near the village of Oleksiivka equipped with Buk missiles. The Donetsk People’s Republic also posted a photo of the missiles, sometimes known as Gadfly systems, on its official Twitter feed at the time, declaring a victory in having seized the weaponry.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootdown, the leader of the pro-Russian rebels, Igor Strelkov (“Shooter”) claimed that the rebels had shot down another Ukrainian plane, but when it turned out that a civilian airliner had been hit, Strelkov quickly deleted the post. And The New York Times reports: “A social media post attributed to Igor Strelkov, the shadowy pro-Russian commander, showed him claiming to have captured Buk missiles.”
Some Russian media, especially the state-owned RT and Interfax, have come up with colorful and ridiculous theories about the crash, including one—reported by New York magazine—that it was an effort by the government in Kiev to shoot down Vladimir Putin’s own plane. As New York notes, Interfax reported (using unnamed sources) that Putin’s plane crossed the route used by Malaysian MH17 over Poland, while RT dutifully ran side-by-side photos of MH17 and Putin’s plane to reveal their supposed similarities (both had wings!), and it “reports”:
Malaysian Airlines MH17 plane was travelling almost the same route as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s jet shortly before the crash that killed 298, Interfax news agency reports citing sources. “I can say that Putin’s plane and the Malaysian Boeing intersected at the same point and the same echelon. That was close to Warsaw on 330-m echelon at the height of 10,100 meters. The presidential jet was there at 16:21 Moscow time and the Malaysian aircraft—15:44 Moscow time,” a source told the news agency on condition of anonymity.
And Putin, hardly mentioning the human scale of the tragedy, lost no time blaming Ukraine for the shootdown. Said Putin, according to RT:
Obviously, the state over whose territory it happened bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy.… This tragedy would not have happened if there was peace on this land, if military action in the southeast of Ukraine had not been resumed.
The Ukrainian government—which has made unreliable claims in the past, and which initially at least said that MH17 was shot down deliberately by Russia or the rebels as an act of “terrorism”—have released evidence that they say casts blame on the ersatz “People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine, namely, intercepted transmission from the rebels. According to The New York Times, “Ukrainian intelligence has pointed to a fighter named Igor Bezler, the militia leader in the eastern town of Gorlovka, saying in an intercepted phone call that his men had ‘shot down a plane’ on Thursday.”
Unless Putin takes immediate steps to wind down the revolt, using his armed forces to close the Ukrainian-Russian border and halting the apparent transborder traffic in weaponry and fighters, it’s likely that the Flight MH17 crisis will further isolate Russia diplomatically and economically. So far, Germany and the rest of Western Europe have resisted calls from the United States to impose significant economic sanctions on Russia, but the pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to do so now will intensify. Not that the sanctions are effective, of course, and indeed Russia is likely to retaliate with sanctions and other actions of its own, which could cause a long-lasting rift between Russia and Europe that would take many, many years to overcome.
In its editorial today, The New York Times blasts Putin, calling him the one person who can halt Ukraine’s tragic war:
There is one man who can stop it—President Vladimir Putin of Russia, by telling the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to end their insurgency and by stopping the flow of money and heavy weaponry to those groups. But for all his mollifying words and gestures, Mr. Putin has only continued to stoke the flames by failing to shut down those pipelines, failing to support a cease-fire and avoiding serious, internationally mediated negotiations.
That’s about right. Unfortunately, Putin disagrees—and there isn’t much that the United States can do about it. Unless the MH17 disaster convinces Putin that he’s losing more, in international prestige and whatever soft power Russia has left, than he’s gaining by trying to reverse Ukraine’s inevitable tilt westward.
—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.
“Israel's media strategy: What lies beneath,” by Marwan Bishara. Al Jazeera America, July 16, 2014.
While watching a Democracy Now! debate between Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat and the US's Israeli ambassador, Joshua Hantnam, I was surprised by Hantnam's sugar-coated and conciliatory tone. It still concealed the same inflammatory concepts typical of Israel's warmongers, but Hantan was politely inserting himself in the framework of a liberal peace activist, blaming Hamas for the unfortunate loss of civilians in Gaza. Should someone have grown up in a political vacuum, he could even have been convincing. Reading Marwan Bishara's article in Al Jazeera, I was astounded to discover that his carefully-crafted comments were almost word for word renditions of an Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary. As Bishara reveals, this guide provides pro-Israel pundits with the rhetorical tools to convince Americans of the legitimacy of Israel's massacres: appealing to the peace process and to Hamas rockets, blaming the victims in an empathetic and understanding tone. Like Brand Israel, this is another disturbing marketing effort by Israel to represent itself as a democracy seeking peace but forced into 'war' by blood-thirsty terrorists. This is another PR strategy to insidiously highjack the debate to hide Israel's crimes.
—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.
“Rikers: Where Mental Illness Meets Brutality in Jail,” by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz. The New York Times, July 14, 2014.
The line between what differentiates mental institutions from prisons becomes more blurred with the increasing amount of mentally ill inmates (a recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that there are 10 times more mentally ill Americans in prisons and jails than in state psychiatric hospitals). If mentally ill inmates are common figures in prisons, why are they most susceptible to prison violence by correction officers? A four-month investigation by The New York Times finds that 77 percent of brutally injured inmates at Rikers Island Correctional Facility are those who had received a mental illness diagnosis. Although the investigation focused on one prison, it goes to show that the abuse of power over mentally ill inmates by prison employees is an issue needing to be taken more seriously.
—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.
“The truth about the immigration “crisis”: Our drug policies and U.S.-backed tyrants created Central America’s culture of violence,” Patrick L. Smith. Salon, July 15, 2014
Smith begins his piece with three short anecdotes addressing the experiences of different Latin American migrant groups in the US, and then follows with three major questions:
1. Why do we suddenly have floods of unaccompanied children washing across the southern borders of the U.S.?
2. Why have we had floods of Latin Americans pouring northward for a couple of generations running?
3. Why are we so preoccupied with the first question that the second never gets asked?
Smith’s article then recounts a brief history of the ways in which US economic and foreign policy in Latin America are very much at the root of this immigration crisis. “This is not a Latin American crisis; it is an American crisis in the fullest meaning of the term,” he writes.
From state-sponsored violence in the 70s and 80s, to poverty due in large part to neoliberal economic models, it would be absurd to suggest that the US has not had a major role in the many reasons for Latin American migration. The immigration crisis is a multilayered issue that is not rooted in Bush policies or Obama policies, but one that has a deep history in US foreign policy. And as to the $3.7 billion increase in border enforcement, Smith suggests, “[t]he southwest border with Mexico must already be one of the world’s most militarized, up there with the Israel-West Bank wall.”
—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.
“In Defense of Jada: The Danger of Being a Black Girl in a Rape Culture,” by Michelle Denise Jackson. For Harriet, July 12, 2014.
Jada is a sixteen year old high school student from Houston whose rape was documented and later went viral via social media networks after her attacker(s) released images and a video of her unclothed and unconscious on a party floor. Now, Jada has been publicly discussing her testimony and retaliated against the Twitter campaign #jadapose, which blatantly made a mockery of her sexual assault. Author Michelle Denise Jackson details Jada's story and provides readers with a list of instructions charging us all responsible for combatting sexual assault against women (especially women of color) and obliterating rape culture in America.
—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.
"Dispatches from the Labor Market," Aaron Braun. Full-Stop, July 15, 2014.
This summer, Guernicahas done an excellent job examining the role of class in American life, and this piece by Aaron Braun over at Full-Stopis no different, exploring the ever-evolving and increasingly uncertain world of post-graduate life. Having found myself after graduation in the shaky job market in the shadows of the Great Recession, I understand what Braun's saying—the pull of a disproportionate emotional attachment to work that some employers try to provide, the overlay of insecurity and fear that drive some people into work, the overriding desire to avoid "bad work," work without status or fulfillment but merely serve to pay the bills.
—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.
“A Muslim citizen’s US passport gets him everywhere but home,” by Basim Usmani. The Boston Globe, July 9, 2014.
In his op-ed for The Boston Globe, Basim Usmani describes how inconvenient it is to be a Pakistani-American with a girlfriend in Canada. Although he has no criminal record, he would frequently find himself in handcuffs simply for trying to board planes to visit his loved ones. After the September 11 attacks, writes Usmani, Pakistani-Americans lost their "model minority" status and have been treated like criminals simply for existing. Ironically, some right wing websites have quoted the article and lauded authorities for profiling Muslims, making ignorant comments. "Funny how Muslims like to lump themselves together with Asian-Americans, while everyone else thinks of Asian Americans as Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc., NEVER Muslims," writes one blogger in response to a passage where Usmani discusses his 30 percent Asian-American high school in Lexington, Massachusetts.
—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.
“Eat Like a Human: How Gender Stereotypes Affect Our Relationships With Food,” by Allison Epstein. Adios Barbie, July 14, 2014.
Too often, Amber Ikeman writes in this Adios Barbie piece, we make judgments about people's eating habits in relation to their gender. Telling a woman she eats like a man, or calling certain foods "man foods" or "man-sized," is not only policing people's eating choices (which can be triggering for those who are struggling with eating disorders), but also ends up monitoring and influencing the way people perform their gender according to the foods they put in their mouths—which is totally ridiculous. Stereotyping food, Ikeman argues, starts with the ever-present gender specific marketing that we're constantly being exposed to, but it only perpetuates when we are constantly telling one another that she or he is not acting (read: eating) according to their private parts. Like, do our private parts tell us what we want to eat? Cause I thought it was those things called neurotransmitters that exist in our brains. Not only does this kind of food policing affect how we feel about ourselves, but it also is a way of controlling gender expression by way of the binary female-male sex thing—which neglects to acknowledge that there are those who identify as trans, both female and male, or neither. But if we can "become more aware of these [food] stereotypes in our daily lives," Ikeman writes, "we can allow ourselves to move towards a more open and accepting society, where even if our choices seem to break the rules of social acceptance, we will not be judge for eating like humans." She's totally spot on. Now I'm gonna go eat one of those "manly" Powerful Yogurts and be a total human about it.
—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.
“Appeals Panel Upholds Race in Admissions for University,” by Tamar Lewin. The New York Times, July 16, 2014.
On Tuesday, July 15, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld University of Texas at Austin's affirmative action policy, in which race is included as one of the many factors of admission. Texas’s "Top Ten Percent Plan" guarantees a seat at a Texas flagship to the top graduates of every high school in the state, including the UT Austin. Abigail Fisher, "a white student who was not in the top 10 percent of her high school class and was denied admission to the university for the fall of 2008," sued the institution, expressing that race based policies had excluded her from a fair evaluation in the applicant pool. As a white student, to assume that she was denied admittance into any institution because of her race shows how deep the roots of privilege and ownership run in this country. The history of socioeconomic marginalization and exploitation of people of color in this nation did many things—but what it did not do, was make it more difficult for white students to attain higher education. Unless Fisher was unaware that her race is not a golden ticket to becoming a Longhorn, any college application would exemplify that there are multiple qualifications, essays and records necessary to determining admittance. So instead of challenging the University of Texas at Austin's legacy students, those who had greater access to SAT/ACT prep, or those hand picked by the institutions athletic department, Ms. Fisher chose race. And what this revels is a lie that many American students—of all races—have been told. What needs to be upheld in American classrooms is that race based affirmative action is a necessary part of higher education, not a crutch for low achievers.
—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.
“Why Opposing the Israel Lobby Is No Longer Political Suicide,” by Phyllis Bennis. The Nation, July 15, 2014.
The assault on Gaza continues. The latest reports show that the death toll has now passed 200; nearly 80 percent are civilians, almost half are women and children. Harrowing accounts of the death and destruction have beendocumentedas this marks the third time Israeli airstrikes have pounded the Gaza strip in the past six years. Media coverage and public discourse of the Israel/Palestine conflict in the United States has been predictable. White House and U.S diplomats continue to voice support for “Israel’s right to defend itself.” But what’s worthy of noting, is despite this fealty for the state of Israel and its reprehensible actions, public dialogueis shifting. Phyllis Bennis argues that it is no longer political suicide to oppose the Israel lobby and says the shift started with coverage of Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009. “It transformed how we understand what an occupation looks like,” Bennis writes. She continues, “what a siege does to a town, what white phosphorous bombs look like when they hit a school.” Although Bennis notes this change isn't “strong enough yet to end the carnage in Gaza,” she’s still hopeful. “The shift in public discourse is a crucial first step.”
Read Next: What are Nation interns reading the week of 07/11/14?
Is Tamron Hall the only talking head who sees a link between today’s red-faced crowds screaming at child immigrants from Central America and the white mobs screaming at the nine black teenagers who tried to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957?
Earlier this week, the host of MSNBC’s NewsNation was discussing the protests over the stranded immigrant children. In Oracle, Arizona, protesters waving signs reading “Return to sender” and “Unwelcome—go home” shoved mariachi musicians and stopped a bus—until they realized it was filled with YMCA campers (oops); in Murrieta, California, some 200 to 300 people surrounded buses filled with immigrant detainees and forced the vehicles to turn back.
Hall is one of the very few in the media to even put the words “immigrant children” and “Little Rock” in the same story. She said she was reminded of the “young children going to school in Little Rock and being met by angry adults when the kids did not understand what was going on.”
One of her guests, Politico columnist Roger Simon, readily agreed, and asked, “Who are the real lawbreakers here—the little children on the bus, or the protesters who are blocking the legal actions of the federal government to move children to a federal detention center for their own safety?”
We tend to either forget the past or assume we’ve progressed way beyond those bad old days. Especially when we’re in the middle of a crisis, the media and the country at large tend to lag in recognizing historical precedents.
Hall didn’t go into the details of Little Rock—Governor Orval Faubus calling in the Arkansas National Guard to stop the black students from entering the school; the “jeering, brick-throwing mob” that taunted them and beat up several reporters; President Eisenhower sending in 101st Airborne Division paratroopers and putting the Arkansas National Guard under federal command to protect the students. Two years later, the house of one of the students was bombed. (For more and photos from Life magazine, go here.)
Of course, the two crises are quite different. Aside from the shoving of the mariachi players, actual physical violence has not (yet?) broken out against the immigrant children or their supporters. It’s not clear how far, if at all, President Obama will go in defending the children, or if, as the right is demanding, state national guards will be sent to the border to stop the children (exactly how is a mystery.)
But by even briefly putting the immigrant crisis into a larger context, linking it to something the nation is ashamed of and would rather forget, Hall remembered history, which is a good way not to repeat it.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Obama and the refugees on the border
Detroit—As Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his appointed “emergency manager” were steering Detroit into bankruptcy last fall, the public-policy think tank Demos released a groundbreaking report on the city’s financial circumstance—and how to address it.
Demos recognized that deindustrialization, high unemployment and an exodus of residents had left Detroit uniquely vulnerable: “the current bankruptcy filing is the result of a severe decline in revenue, caused by the 2008 financial crisis, and cuts in annual state revenue sharing starting in 2011. Risky Wall Street deals further jeopardized the city’s public finances by threatening immediate payments that the city could not afford.”
Now, as the Detroit Water and Sewage Department is drawing international criticism for shutting off water service for low-income families, activists are asking why the people are being forced to pay while the Wall Street banks live large. On Friday, members of the National Nurses United union and local, state and national groups will march and rally in downtown Detroit to say the priorities are out of whack.
Their message is direct: “Let’s Tax Wall Street, Get Our Money Back, and Turn on the Water!”
As a writer who has covered the debate about Detroit for several years now, I welcome and embrace this recognition that what’s happening in this city has a lot to do with the warped priorities of our current age of austerity.
It really is time to put things in perspective.
While politicians and pundits have tried to blame pensions, public servants and public services for the city’s financial challenges, the Demos report noted that “Detroit’s financial expenses have increased significantly, and that is a direct result of the complex financial deals Wall Street banks urged on the city over the last several years, even though its precarious cash flow position meant these deals posed a great threat to the city.”
The author of the report, Wallace Turbeville, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, founder of the Kensington Group and well-regarded expert on infrastructure finance and public-private partnerships, was blunt in his assessment of the sources of the city’s challenges and the proper response.
“Misguided and irresponsible decisions by politicians over the years, often at the urging of Wall Street, have funneled wealth out of Detroit’s neighborhoods, and enriched financial institutions and corporations in the process,” said Turbeville, a Demos fellow. “If Detroit wants to come back from this and rebuild a strong economy, it needs to reverse that trend and start prioritizing the people who live here over the interests of Wall Street bankers.”
Unfortunately, under an emergency-management scheme that puts political appointees rather than elected officials in charge, Detroit has not been very good at “prioritizing the people who live here.”
This reality has been highlighted by the Water and Sewage Department’s mass water shutoffs.
The Detroit Water Brigade, a local activist group that is striving to assure families do not suffer for lack of water, reports that the shut-off strategy “will effect over 120,000 account holders over a three-month period (June-September 2014) at a rate of 3,000 per week. This accounts for over 40 percent of customers who are using the Detroit Water system and has been dubbed a violation of human rights by various organizations. 70,000 of those accounts are residential accounts which could amount to anywhere from 200,000-300,000 people directly effected.”
Food and Water Watch, the national nonprofit health and safety watchdog group, says, “This is not sanitary and violates the human right to water and sanitation. In fact, with improper disposal of waste, these shut-offs pose serious health concerns.” The international Blue Planet Project complains that “in order to make the utility attractive to investors, lower-income households are being forced to pay exorbitant rates for their water and sewer services or see their access cut. Water rates have risen in Detroit by 119 percent in the last decade. With unemployment rates at a record high, and the poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population.”
Sorting out Detroit’s financial troubles will not be easy, and the process will not go quickly. But there should be an understanding that the people who live in Detroit need protection, not pressure from bill collectors and proponents of privatization. As Turbeville notes, “This program [of shutting off access to water] is morally indefensible and contrary to basic principles of shared responsibility. It punishes Detroit’s citizens for a complex set of circumstances that have interacted to produce an economic crisis much more intense than the effects of the Great Recession in other cities. It also reinforces the myth that the people of Detroit cannot govern themselves without discipline from the rest of the state.”
Detroit residents do not need punishment and discipline. They need resources.
Congressman John Conyers, D-Detroit, has pointed to ways in which the federal and state governments could ease the pressure in the short term. But in the long term, there will be a need for real revenues to aid the people not just of Detroit but for all Americans.
Those revenues can and should come from Wall Street speculators.
NNU and its allies are arguing that a “Robin Hood Tax”—a small fee on financial transactions—should be enacted as a vehicle to “tax hedge funds and (to assert that) the rest of the financial sector should pay their fair share to clear up the mess they helped create.”
Specifically, they are backing the “Inclusive Prosperity Act” (HR 1579), a measure proposed by Representative Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, to use a tax on Wall Street transactions and to gain revenue needed to meet human needs.
The list of backers for the march is long. In addition to NNU, it now includes the International Union United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW AFL-CIO), the Michigan Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Netroots Nation, the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, We the People of Detroit, Moratorium Now!, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, the People’s Water Board, the Detroit Water Brigade and dozens of additional labor, religious and community groups.
People are coming to recognize that it is indeed time to start prioritizing the people who live in Detroit over the interests of Wall Street bankers.
Read Next: Agnes Radomski and John Thomason on cities that are taking the lead in the fight for raising the minimum wage
When LeBron James made the decision (as opposed to “THE DECISION”) to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers after four seasons in Miami, many commentators praised the social conscience that seemed to amplify his desire to return home. They said that by leaving the South Beach scene for North Eastern Ohio, James was admirably demonstrating aspirations to be more than an athlete, and a yearning to be something beyond a Jordanesque “brand”.
This week we learned that admiration has limitations, particularly if the concerns of an athlete extend to Palestinian children. NBA players Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudamire, and Metta World Peace all received a withering backlash for daring to tweet a desire to see an end to the casualties caused by Israel’s relentless bombing campaign of Gaza. Metta World Peace, in a full defensive posture, was reduced to tweeting, “I’m not taking sides, I’m saying stop the BS and love the children. How can you do arts and craft when bombs and guns going off[?]” Amar’e Stoudamire who is Jewish and even has funded an Israeli basketball camp, was pressured to delete an Instagram picture of an Israeli and Palestinian child arm in arm with the caption “Pray for Palestine.” Yes, even this was too much.
But I want to focus on the person who has received a backlash from every side of this equation, Dwight Howard. First Howard was slammed by the pro-Israel crowd for daring to tweet #freepalestine after being sent images of the carnage. Then he was crushed by those who stand with the Palestinian people for tweeting a near immediate retraction, calling him “Howard the Coward.”
Howard clearly had a very human gut reaction to seeing the horror being inflicted upon the people of Gaza, and then was contacted by someone: his agent/publicist/team owner who told him to get that shit down and apologize for it as soon as possible. For those who wanted Howard to grovel for daring to even muse that Palestine should be free, he did not disappoint, tweeting, “previous tweet was a mistake. I have never commented on international politics and never will” and then, “I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous tweet, it was a mistake!” This was not enough for Zionist Organization of America chief Morton Klein who told TMZ(!) that Howard “should be publicly condemned as strong as Donald Sterling was.”
Yes, this is hardly a profile in athletic courage. Yes, I understand why some, frustrated by the craven US media coverage of the shelling of Gaza, were enraged that Howard ran away from a basic statement of solidarity. Yes, I cannot quite grasp why Dwight Howard dismissed what is happening in Gaza as “international politics”, given the fact that his own country delivers $8 million of military aid to Israel every day.
In addition to all of this, I share people’s teeth-grinding frustration that Dwight Howard’s former Rockets teammate the Israeli-born Omri Casspi has felt no pressure to apologize, nor has he taken down his tweet that said, “600 missiles been fired from GAZA by Hamas in the last 4 days. NUMBERS DONT LIE. STOP LYING.”
In a sane world, Casspi would be roundly shamed—and not Twitter-shamed, but really shamed—for daring to say the words “numbers don’t lie” in relation to Israel-Palestine and not starting with the number of dead children in Gaza.
But I am actually not mad at Dwight Howard. I suppose I am not mad for the same reason that former NBA player Etan Thomas is not mad. Thomas has also been tweeting #freepalestine. I asked him for his thoughts about Howard and he said, “I see the fact that he tweeted anything at all as a step in the right direction. At least he did something and provoked conversation. That’s more than a lot of people are doing. Whether they deleted their texts or not respect to Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace for showing a social conscious.”
It’s a point well taken. If people are mad at Howard for actually saying and then deleting something, then where is our anger for those with a major platform who are choosing to say nothing? If anything, Howard performed a public service by demonstrating how Palestinian people are imprisoned not only by walls, barbed wire and checkpoints but also by Western hypocrisy. Here we have one of the most densely populated areas on earth, 1.7 million people, and half of them under the age of 16, being relentlessly bombed. At last count, the numbers are 1,500 wounded and 192 killed, including thirty-eight children. This is not a war in Gaza. This is a war crime. Everyone should be demanding that the targeting of civilians end. People should universally condemn scenes of Israelis going to the top of a hill and watching the bombing of Gaza like it is a night out at the theater or wearing neo-Nazi symbols at pro-war rallies in Tel Aviv. And yet, an athlete tweeting #freepalestine is smacked down with an immediacy that speaks to how desperate Israel and their backers in the United States are to keep them insulated from even a whiff of criticism. I am not mad at Dwight Howard. I want to thank him. I want to thank him for showing with utter clarity what few will say openly: that acknowledging the humanity of the Palestinian people comes with a price.
Read Next: Dave Zirin on why LeBron James was destined to return to Cleveland
Soon after the horrific news began circulating that a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed in eastern Ukraine, both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels fighting there agreed that the plane had been shot down. But explanations of who shot it down—and why—immediately began diverging wildly in what has become the latest battle in the information war that has been waged between Ukraine and Russia since protests began in Kiev in November. The 295 people killed in the crash could not temper the politicized finger-pointing.
American and Ukrainian authorities said the plane had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, and speculation immediately centered on the Buk (otherwise called a “Gadfly”) missile launcher that Kiev said the rebels had used to shoot it down. Anton Gerashchenko, an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister, wrote on his Facebook account shortly after the crash that “terrorists shot down a passenger plane with a Buk missile that Putin kindly gave to them.… The cynicism of Putin and his terrorists knows no bounds!” He called on the United States and Europe to “help us with everything you can.”
For his part, Vladimir Putin refrained from saying who might have shot down the plane in a segment broadcast on Russian television, but noted that Ukraine “bears responsibility” for the downing of an airliner on its territory.
The rebels immediately began denying their involvement and blaming the Ukrainian military. On Twitter and in interviews, Alexander Borodai, the Muscovite who heads the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, maintained that the rebels did not have weapons capable of hitting an airplane at the height Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was traveling, above 32,000 feet.
“It was shot down by the Ukrainian military. I think this is a deliberate provocation,” Borodai said, using the term that both sides have employed to explain many murky incidents over the four months of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
But the rebels by their own admission do have these missiles, as Russian news agencies reported at the end of June. The Donetsk People’s Republic Twitter account even posted a photo of the missiles at the time. A correspondent in eastern Ukraine for Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 later reported that the militia does possess Buk launchers, but that they’re “all undergoing repair.”
Pundits in the Western media quickly joined Gerashchenko in claiming that Moscow had provided the pro-Russian militia with the advanced missile launchers. The Ukrainian representative to the United Nations went further, promising to “present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash.” But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said allegations of Russian involvement “stupidity,” and the rebels had said in June that they captured the Buk missiles from a Ukrainian air-defense base near the village of Oleksiivka.
The Ukrainian intelligence service released an intercepted recording it said showed Russian rebels admitting to downing the plane, but dismayed that it had turned out to be a civilian flight. Similarly, a deleted post on a social network page that has published statements by the rebels’ military leader, Muscovite Igor Strelkov, praised the downing of the plane, also under the assumption it was a military flight.
Meanwhile, increasingly wild versions of events began to appear. Representatives of the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that unnamed witnesses had seen a Ukrainian fighter jet attack the Boeing 777.
Russian defence analyst Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, said on Rossiya 24 and RIA Novosti it was “obvious” that MH17 had been accidentally shot down by poorly trained Ukrainian government forces while checking the battle readiness of a Buk missile launcher. But Western military experts on CBS News and elsewhere argued that taking down the plane with a Buk would require extensive training and a careful shot.
RT and other Russian media began quoting a confidential source at Russian Aviation arguing that Ukrainian forces had been trying to down Russia’s presidential plane, which he or she said had passed through a certain airspace near Warsaw shortly after the Malaysian airliner had.
Among Twitter accounts supporting the rebellion in Ukraine, it was common knowledge Ukrainian forces had shot down the airliner, only their goal had been to draw Western forces into the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Rossiya 24 hinted at a similar conclusion when in between segments on the downed Boeing 777 it broadcast a recap of Siberia Airlines Flight 1812, which the Ukrainian military admitted to accidentally shooting down over the Black Sea in 2001.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist for the independent Novaya Gazeta, said the fact that the rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military An-26 transport aircraft on Monday at about 20,000 feet—one of three military aircraft they downed this week—proved that they had acquired more powerful weaponry.
“The most plausible explanation is, of course, it was the rebels with Russian help, or Russian volunteers on the side of the rebels,” who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17, Felgenhauer said. “That’s more plausible than all other shit being circulated.”
Barring a last-minute miracle, the talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers on Iran’s nuclear program will go into extra time. Since January 20, when the parties began to implement the interim accord struck last fall, the clock has been ticking on a six-month deadline to reach a final agreement. But the accord itself contained an option for another six-month extension, and by all accounts it now appears that that’ll happen. As a result, though, one can expect many of the hawks and neoconservatives who’ve opposed the talks from the beginning to launch a new effort to disparage, disrupt or even wreck the negotiations.
Their effort won’t succeed, though they’re trying. Last January, following the interim accord, a coalition of hawks including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, led by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and a passel of meddling members of Congress tried to enact yet another round of sanctions against Iran—even though the interim accord explicitly forbid the imposition of additional sanctions during the negotiations, and even though the White House made it clear that the legislation that AIPAC wanted would destroy the talks. In a display of toughness, back then the White House issued a strongly worded, direct challenge to the supporters of the sanctions bill, telling them that if they wanted war with Iran, they should say so. The tough talk from the White House scared off a number of pro-AIPAC members of Congress, especially in the Senate, and the legislation died. It was a huge and unprecedented defeat for AIPAC.
Despite important signs of progress, no agreement has been reached yet, so there’ll likely be more talks—perhaps not as long as six months, if an accord can be reached sooner—and President Obama says he’s ready to extend the talks. “We have a credible way forward,” said Obama. In editorials, The New York Times, Bloomberg and, a bit more surprisingly, the hawkish Washington Post support the extension in editorials today. The Times, in its editorial, points out that hawks on both sides would love to derail the talks:
Negotiators have made progress on other issues, such as strengthening inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites and winning Iran’s consent to alter a heavy water reactor at Arak to reduce its plutonium output. None of that has impressed the hard-liners in Tehran and Washington who are determined to sabotage any deal. Some in Congress are demanding conditions that would tie President Obama’s hands and make it impossible to lift sanctions on Iran, essential to any agreement.
Among the conditions demanded by members of Congress is for the United States to get concessions from Iran on issues that have nothing at all to do with the one at hand, such as Iran’s alleged support for terrorism and its program to build missiles. As the White House and the State Department know, adding unrelated topics such as those to the mix now would kill the talks once and for all, convincing Iranians that the United States isn’t serious about an accord.
Members of Congress such as Menendez and Senator John McCain especially oppose US efforts to reduce or eliminate economic sanctions on Iran unless Tehran blows up its entire nuclear program, destroys its infrastructure, halts all enrichment of even low-grade, fuel-quality uranium and takes other steps—unthinkable, now that the United States has conceded formally that Iran can have a limited enrichment program as part of a deal. The issue of economic sanctions is critical for Iran, needless to say. But if the United States overplays its hand—seeking too many concessions from Iran, pushing moderate President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif further than they’re able to go—then, in fact, the worldwide sanctions regime against Iran could crumble. At present, the United States has been able to corral and pressure most of the world into going along with the set of harsh sanctions, part of which are set by a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions and part of which are unilaterally imposed by the United States and other nations. But if the United States pushes Iran too hard, as hawkish members of Congress demand, and the talks fail, it’s likely that the global sanctions effort will fall apart, with countries such as Russia, China, India, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan simply ignoring them. So Obama and Kerry have to play their hand very carefully in order to the hold the P5+1 together.
Twenty-three year old Jersey City police officer Melvin Santiago was shot and killed on July 13. According to CBS New York, he "was fatally shot in the head responding to a report of an armed robbery at the 24-hour drugstore." The report explains:
Lawrence Campbell, 27, of Jersey City, went into the Walgreens with no intention of robbing the store, [Jersey City Mayor Steven] Fulop said.
As CBS's Matt Kozar reported, Campbell beat up an armed guard and stole his gun. He then waited outside for police arrive. While he was waiting, he apologized to a customer for his conduct and told her to watch the news because he was going to be famous, Fulop said.
When Santiago and his partner arrived to the scene, Campbell opened fire, which the officers returned, leaving both Santiago and Campbell dead.
It’s a horrific scene to imagine, resulting in the loss of two young lives. But it turned bizarre when News 12 television reporter Sean Bergin offered his explanation of the situation. In explaining to the audience why the station chose to air an interview with Campbell’s wife, during which she offered condolences to Santiago’s family but also expressed her wish that her husband had taken out more cops, he had this to say:
It’s worth noting that we were besieged, flooded with calls by police officers furious that we would give media coverage to the wife of a cop killer. It’s understandable. We decided to air it because it’s important to shine a light on this anti-cop mentality that has so contaminated America’s inner cities. This same sick perverse line of thinking is evident from Jersey City to Newark and Paterson to Trenton. It has made the police officer’s job impossible, and it has got to stop. The underlying cause for all of this of course? Young black men growing up without fathers. Unfortunately, no one in the news media has the courage to touch that subject.
I’m wondering—what can’t be blamed on absent black fathers?
Put aside for a moment that the myth of the absent black father has been debunked time and again. We won’t discuss how black fathers have comparable—and in some cases higher—levels of involvement with their children as do white and Latino fathers. The statistic that 72 percent of black children grow up without fathers, which gets thrown around a lot in these conversations, is about out-of-wedlock births; that doesn’t necessarily mean those children are being raised without a father. But I don’t want to talk about the facts right now. I just want to know if there’s a single problem in black communities that can not be blamed on missing fathers.
Bergin believes “no one in the news media has the courage” to talk about this issue. Except that the missing black father has been a point of discourse in our media, popular culture, and academia for at least the past thirty years. Every time it is injected into a conversation about the ills of black America, the speaker positions themselves as some sort of brave truth-teller unearthing never-before-heard wisdom. But it’s one of the more common and insulting tropes we have in the canon of black pathology.
One thing is true here—I’ve never heard anti-police mentality be blamed on black fatherlessness. Bergin may be a pioneer there. He’s also clueless if he believes that if suddenly every black child were to have a father present in their home at all times, anti-police mentalities among black people would subside. It’s silly to think a population that has experienced disproportionate harassment and violence at the hands of police would pass down the lesson of trusting authority to their children.
But this is the disconnect. Bergin, and others who think like him, don’t see the harassment of young black men by police as a result of racism. They take the view that there are certain criminal behaviors prevalent among black men to which police are responding. If only they would clean up their acts, police would have no reason to bother them.
The people who support this view rarely take it to its logical conclusion. If you honestly believe that the reason police target young black men is because young black men are more prone to criminal behavior, you have to offer a reason for why that is. And if it isn’t racism, if the centuries of public policy that has created neighborhoods defined by their lack of resources isn’t the culprit, then there must be something biologically “wrong” with black men. They have to be genetically predisposed to violent/criminal behavior and creating culture which supports that. Or else, what other explanation is there?
Oh, yes. Missing black fathers. Those magical black fathers whose return to the home has the ability to cure poverty, violence, drug abuse and anti-police mentalities. A grand patriarch to save us all. It doesn’t matter that our romanticization of marriage and the two-parent (cisgender man and cisgender woman only, of course) home can be dangerous, as evidenced by this New York Times op-ed on domestic violence. It matters even less that the reason raising children in two-parent homes is more advantageous is because our public policies favor marriage and offer little support for single-parent or other “non-traditional” family structures. And the fact that these black men so many people want to step up and be fathers face discrimination everywhere from the job market to the legal system isn’t even up for discussion. No, it doesn’t matter. Just get young black men some fathers and everything will be fixed.
What happened to Melvin Santiago is tragic, but whether Lawrence Campbell had a father in his life (Bergin never bothers to report on this detail) is neither here nor there. The legacy of racism and white supremacy will not be undone by an army of magical black fathers.
This is Part II of a Christie Watch report on “reform conservatism.” In Part I, which appeared yesterday, we asked if there’s anything new in the ideas of the GOP’s reformicons, who got a boost from a big think-piece in The New York Times on July 2. In Part II, we discuss the funders and supporters of National Affairs and the reformicons.
When Barack Obama was elected president, Irving Kristol’s son, neocon Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, saw the need to start yet another new magazine that would revive the spirit of his father’s magazine and counter the menace of a resurgent progressive movement, as described succinctly in an article last year in The New Republic:
Despite his youth, Levin had been anointed the next great neoconservative. And in 2009, Bill Kristol gave him a title to match those expectations. Four years earlier, Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol, had shuttered his legendary journal, The Public Interest. But with Obama’s victory, Kristol the Younger found himself longing to revive his dad’s publication. “The end of the Bush administration showed that conservatism wasn’t strong politically and even intellectually,” Kristol says. So he followed the old dictum: When intellectuals have nothing left to do, they start a magazine. Levin was appointed the editor of the new effort, National Affairs.
In the first issue of National Affairs, Levin took up the mantle of Irving Kristol:
National Affairs seeks consciously to model itself on the most influential American public-policy journal in history: The Public Interest. Founded in 1965, in the midst of an earlier era of daunting challenges and technocratic overconfidence, The Public Interest shed a bright light on our public life for decades, in the hands of its incomparable editor Irving Kristol, his co-editors Daniel Bell and then Nathan Glazer, and in its final years Adam Wolfson. We are successors to their project in a technical sense, as the company they founded to publish their magazine, National Affairs, Inc., is now home to ours (and the complete archives of The Public Interest are available for the first time on our website, www.nationalaffairs.com). We have been the beneficiaries of their guidance and help, too, though they bear no blame for our shortcomings. And we can only hope to be truly their successors in the merit, the quality, and the significance of the work we do, if with some different emphases for a different time.
So who specifically has put up the money to fund National Affairs? Not surprisingly, it’s the same coterie of neocon Wall Street moneymen and foundations that have funded the home base of neocon thought, the American Enterprise Institute, for years.
One prime backer is Roger Hertog, who made his fortune as head of the investment management firm, Sanford Bernstein. He also is a heavy backer of the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has also funded such magazines as Commentary and for a time, The New Republic and the newspaper The New York Sun.
Hertog explained, to Philanthropy magazine, how he and a clique of like-minded Wall Street moguls decided to take action when Obama was elected:
“When [The Public Interest] was formed, it brought together a remarkable group of thinkers to tackle a series of very big questions that at the time were being contested by the Great Society,” says Hertog. “In 2009, a number of us thought this was another moment like that.”
The same article, by Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal and a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, detailed the other money behind National Affairs who hope that Levin can be the same kind of force Irving Kristol was in shaping public opinion:
In backing National Affairs, funders—including Hertog, Bruce Kovner, and Paul Singer, as well as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, and the William E. Simon Foundation—were fortunate to find Yuval Levin. At the time, Levin was a 32-year-old think tank scholar and former White House aide. Hertog considers Levin the “intellectual heir to Irving Kristol.” (The respect is clearly mutual; Levin credits Hertog as the “visionary” and “driving force” behind the creation of National Affairs.) Indeed, it is no stretch to say that Hertog’s investment in the journal is really an investment in Levin himself, consistent with Hertog’s belief that what matters when it comes to investing in ideas is finding the right people first. Only then does the question arise of creating the right vehicle to put their minds to work.
Two other key funders of National Affairs, Bruce Kovner and Paul Singer, are billionaire hedge fund managers and leading funders of neoconservative think-tanks. Kovner, who made his money trading commodities at his hedge fund Caxton, is chairman of the American Enterprise Institute. An extensive New York magazine profile described Kovner’s importance to the neoconservative movement:
He’s a neoconservative godfather…. He is among the backers of the Manhattan Institute and the fledgling right-wing daily the New York Sun…This is perhaps Bruce Kovner’s signal (and shared) achievement: to underwrite what had been extreme ideas and bring them into mainstream discourse…. Kovner’s relationship to AEI is the same as his relationship to all his causes: lordly. He plays visionary and psychiatrist to the AEI board. “He’s brilliant,” says [Richard] Perle. “He’s intellectually rigorous, balanced, and thoughtful.”
As for Singer, consider this, from a piece in Mother Jones last year by Peter Stone:
A hardline free-marketeer with political roots in the Barry Goldwater era, he despises the Obama administration’s push to tighten financial regulations.… The trifecta of big checks, high-powered connections, and influence in GOP policy circles has made Singer a kind of triple threat. “Singer is the big power broker in the Republican financial world,” says one operative who knows him. “He’s involved with almost everything.”
Among those who get Singer’s backing, Stone reports, are the Koch brothers’ various projects and the anti-tax zealots at the Club for Growth.
Along with these three Wall Street neocon power brokers, the funders of National Affairs include three of the top conservative foundations that have long aimed at shaping political and economic policy. The Searle Freedom Trust, founded in 1998 by Daniel Searle, with money from the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle, describes its goal as preventing future generations from “living in a world dominated by big government.” To prevent that the foundation has put money into shaping policy on budget and taxes, education, the environment and the legal system. The foundation funds AEI, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and a host of other conservative think tanks. The Bradley Foundation, which doled out more than $350 million between 2001 and 2010, according to a profile on the foundation in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also funds National Affairs, along with funding the Hudson Institute; the Heritage Foundation; the American Enterprise Institute; the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; and the Federalist Society, among others. And National Affairs’s other top foundation supporter, the William Simon Foundation, is also a leading backer of the Heritage Foundation.
In his New York Times piece, Tanenhaus goes out of his way to present Levin, Ponnuru et al. as would-be challengers of Republican orthodoxy, “serious-minded intellectuals” who are “soft-spoken and self-deprecating, with a quiet fervor for intellectual history and economic argument,” and willing to take on those with an “appetite for ideological purity.” In Washington, they allied with the so-called Young Guns, led by Eric Cantor, and the “YG Network” run by a Cantor aide and several other Capitol Hill conservatives, plus Ponnuru’s wife, April Ponnuru. In an example of Tanenhaus’s credulism, he’s unwilling to challenge the pontifications of April Ponnuru:
“It’s the only game in town,” she told me. “Most of the other activities have been negative and destructive.” She, too, talked at length about how the party was out of touch. “The biggest problem is that the politicians don’t represent the people. We’re identified with the rich and big business,” she said, ticking off a list of constituencies that Republicans have alienated: “Single women, Hispanics, young people.” Also as a wife and mother, she had serious doubts about any movement “that can offer nothing to a married woman with three children at the bottom half” of the economic heap.
As if any of these people have ever met or talked to anyone anywhere near “the bottom half” of the economic “heap.”
Writing in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, E.J. Dionne has penned his own take on the reformicon movement. Given the plight of Republicanism in 2014—given that it nearly self-destructed with the Ted Cruz–led government shutdown and given that it’s unable to connect with women, young people, African-Americans and Hispanics—Dionne notes that “reform” is a popular notion in GOP circles, and he locates it in the context of the George Bush/Karl Rove efforts fifteen years ago:
The reform conservatives can already claim a significant success: Almost all of God’s conservative children seem to want to take up the reform banner. This might lead to a certain skepticism as to whether there is any there here. The word “reform,” after all, polls very well. It was not surprising to see Karl Rove praise the movement in a March 2014 Wall Street Journal column. It was Rove, after all, who shrewdly rebaptized George W. Bush as “A Reformer with Results” to fend off John McCain’s 2000 challenge in the Republican presidential primaries.
Dionne notes that even the reformicons delight in bashing Obama as a statist, socialist-leaning president whose programs and policies—even when, as with the Affordable Care Act, they’re based on Republican ideas—and he questions if there’s anything new here:
So what is serious here, and what amounts to repackaging? David Frum, a true conservative heretic, argues that many on the right know that their product is not selling as they would wish. He uses the analogy of a failing pizza chain to ask the key question: How much are they willing to change the pizza, and how much are they merely changing the box? The answer turns out to be complicated.
Or maybe not so complicated. Dionne nicely eviscerates three speeches given by three would-be proponents of reform conservatism, by Marco Rubio, Eric Cantor and Utah’s Mike Lee. Curiously, though, even Dionne seems to believe that there is something positive in reform conservatism’s struggle to provide a new intellectual backbone for the Republican party. He writes:
Progressives can welcome Reformicon efforts to correct the GOP’s sharp tilt to the right, to reduce its overt hostility to government, and to rejoin the policy debate across a broad range of issues. Reform conservatism is better than the conservatism we have had.
If that’s true, it’s only because nothing could be worse. But really, if anything, it’s the same conservatism. Paraphrasing the Who: “Meet the new right-wing boss. Same as the old right-wing boss.”
You can read Part I here. Part III, on reform conservatism and foreign policy, will appear on Friday.
In the final days of its 2013–14 term, the Supreme Court handed down three rulings of major consequence for women. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a 5-4 majority held that requiring some for-profit employers to pay for insurance that covers contraception was a violation of religious freedom. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court unanimously found that a Massachusetts law creating a thirty-five-foot “buffer zone” around abortion clinics violated protesters’ free speech guarantees. In Harris v. Quinn, the Court ruled 5 to 4 that it was unconstitutional to require homecare workers to pay fees to the unions representing them.
While the McCullen and Harris decisions were adjudicated primarily on First Amendment grounds, and while the Hobby Lobby and McCullen cases, in particular, have often been framed as “culture war” issues, all three rulings have profoundly important implications for women’s economic rights. What does it mean when an employer is able to paternalistically restrict how a worker chooses to use her own health benefits? How does restricted access to abortion and contraception affect women economically? How does the setback the Court dealt to homecare workers—a workforce composed overwhelmingly of women of color—affect their decades-long fight better pay and working conditions, and the feminist project to revalue care work? We explore these issues and more in this week’s roundtable. —Kathleen Geier
Sarah Jaffe: When SCOTUS handed down its decisions, a handful of journalists discussed Hobby Lobby and Harris together—they came out on the last day of the Court’s session, they were written by the same justice (George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito, certainly no friend of women, workers or women as workers), both split 5-4, and both clearly issues of rights in the workplace. McCullen was discussed separately: the abortion clinic buffer zone ruling came out on a different day, was unanimous, and was written by a different justice (Chief Justice Roberts). But McCullen too is a decision that will affect women (and men) in the workplace.
How many other people go to work each day being accosted, called murderers, and violently threatened as they attempt to cross the parking lot?
An abortion clinic is a fraught location, a front in the so-called culture wars, and an institution with which even some pro-choice people have an ambivalent relationship. Decades of legal and legislative attempts to chip away at Roe v. Wade have isolated abortion clinics and the doctors, nurses and other workers there from other, less controversial medical establishments. Decades of anti-abortion rhetoric that calls doctors murderers has painted targets on the backs of physicians who perform abortions. We understand the need for a buffer zone in order to help the patients reach the clinic in safety, but we should also understand it as a way to keep the workers safe on the job. How many other people go to work each day being accosted, called murderers and violently threatened as they attempt to cross the parking lot?
The attempts by lawmakers to make abortion more difficult, more arduous, more expensive to access have a disproportionate effect on lower-income people. Waiting period? Try taking several days off of work, and in a post–Hobby Lobby world, do you really want to explain to your boss why you need that time? For the 40 million workers in this country who have no access to paid sick time, it means losing several days’ pay for an expensive procedure not covered by insurance if you’re lucky, and added travel costs if you aren’t. Add to that the prospect of having to run a gauntlet of people trying to shame you, harangue you, and yes, possibly out you.
Image created by NARAL Pro-Choice America
It should go without saying that the decision to have a child or not is one of the most profound economic decisions most of us will make in our lifetimes. The Supreme Court this week made it harder for lower-income women to be able to make that choice for themselves. While I support those who argue for the right of all people to enjoy sex on their own terms, we have spent far too little time elaborating the ways in which the “culture war” is a class war.
Take Hobby Lobby. The hashtag #NotMyBossBusiness gave me some hope that the discussion of this case would turn not on religion, hypocrisy or even just on corporate personhood but on the place where Americans’ freedoms are most curtailed: work. It is, after all, the boss, not the government, who has the most say over what we do and say, whether we can pay the rent or feed the kids, the boss who has increasingly sought the right to influence our political choices and what we wear and track our every move and keystroke.
Instead, I have watched photos of people going into Hobby Lobby stores to rearrange letter-blocks to read “pro-choice” flit across the Internet as if the workers who will have to put those blocks back away are unaware of their boss’s power over them. If we were more aware of this decision as one that will affect women not simply as women but as workers, we might stop and ask ourselves what it would mean to actually be in solidarity with the people who work at those stores, to help them get what they need.
The separation between abortion care and other healthcare that I commented on above plays out in Hobby Lobby, which attempts to paint birth control not as a legally required part of a worker’s compensation package, one that allows women to work on an equal footing with the men, but as something outside, different and worse. Or, in the voices of some dismissive commentators, simply less important, not a big deal, something easy enough for women to buy on their own.
If we recognized Hobby Lobby as a workplace issue, we might reply that the people who work at Hobby Lobby stores make between $9.50 and $14 an hour (and those are actually fairly good wages when it comes to retail work) and that $25 a month (if it’s actually that cheap; that depends on which form of contraceptive you’re using) is a significant extra expense if one is, say, raising children on the wages from that job.
Which brings me to Harris, also a decision about mostly women in the workplace and about healthcare. Even more so than the retail service work Hobby Lobby employees do, home healthcare work is gendered labor that women are expected to do for love, not money. The age-old expectation that women are natural carers, that their highest calling is to care for a family—that very same sexist expectation is at the core of McCullen and Hobby Lobby. It’s an expectation that both denies women’s opportunities to work outside the home, and devalues the caring work they do, waged or unwaged.
Kathleen Geier: There is much to be said about the Supreme Court’s deeply disturbing Harris decision. But as Sarah points out, one important aspect of the ruling has gotten buried in the avalanche of more general commentary: its blatant sexism. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito invented a new, separate-but-unequal category of worker known as the “partial public” employee. Alito’s rationale is that because partial public employees perform care work in the home, they should be treated differently from other employees who work directly for the government. The most significant conclusion of this line of argument is that, unlike public employees proper, partial public workers are not required to pay union contributions. The economic threat this poses to their unions is clear: if enough workers choose to opt out of such contributions, the unions could be bankrupted.
In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Supreme Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work.
The ruling is a devastating setback for hundreds of thousands of organized homecare workers nationwide. These workers, who are overwhelmingly women of color, have fought back against the economic exploitation they suffer by joining labor unions. With its decision in Harris v. Quinn, not only did the Court target this largely female workforce, but it also undermined broader feminist goals. In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work. It attacked the larger feminist project of advancing women’s economic equality by recognizing care as work and insisting that our society compensate female workers fairly.
Domestic workers, including homecare workers, have long struggled to gain the legal benefits and protections that other workers in our society enjoy. It wasn’t until the 1970s that most domestic workers were finally covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which offers overtime protections and a minimum wage. Even so, one category of domestic worker was exempted from the FLSA: workers who provide “companionship services,” a group that includes homecare workers. Precisely because the traditional New Deal–era legislation offered no remedies to this group of workers, they need unions to fight for their rights. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey, because of union contracts, “this almost entirely female workforce has made huge improvements in wages and benefits, in training, and in respect in the states that provide for collective bargaining.” But those gains are seriously threatened by the actions the court took in Harris.
Low-wage homecare workers illustrate a larger problem, which is the role that women’s care work plays in maintaining their deep and persistent economic inequality. Directly, there is the opportunity cost that comes when women cut back hours or drop out of the paid labor force to provide care; economist Nancy Folbre has referred to this cost as the “care penalty.” Unpaid care work also affects women’s compensation in the paid labor market in ways that are less direct. Research has shown that a portion of the gender pay gap is attributable to the fact that women with children are, on average, paid less than their otherwise identical counterparts, regardless of whether they’ve ever taken time out of the work force to devote themselves to full-time motherhood. The disrespect associated with care is so strong that working in a caregiving occupation is associated with a 5 to 10 percent wage penalty, even when skill levels, education, industry and other observable factors are controlled for. Clearly, feminists have a powerful interest in revaluing care, a cause that has suffered a serious setback with Harris.
Why do we devalue care work in the first place? Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein point out in their excellent history, Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, that intimate care work is associated with the stigma of handling dirt, bodily fluids, mess. Additionally, in a society based on the myth of individual autonomy, care work provides an uncomfortable reminder of how profoundly the condition of dependency structures human existence. Boris and Klein also argue that the “devaluation thesis assumes the unworthiness of the labor because of the race, class, and gender of the workers.” But more than anything else, they say, what ensures the continuing devaluation of this type of labor is “the way the state chooses to structure it.” With the Harris decision, the state has elected, as it has so often in the past, to structure care work in a way that ensures the continuing economic inequality of those who perform it.
Already, Harris is having an effect. Observers believe that the gains of recently organized home-based Connecticut childcare workers are threatened, because the Harris decision would likely apply to them. In addition, in one of a series of end-of-term orders, the Court sent back a Michigan case to the lower courts “for further consideration in light of Harris v. Quinn.” In These Times’s Moshe Marvit argues that since the legal issues in the Michigan case were somewhat different from those in Harris, the Court’s move “may be a quiet expansion of the Harris decision.”
It would hardly come as a shock if the Roberts Court built on the relatively narrow Harris decision to issue far more expansive rulings against labor unions. According to The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, “in confronting a politically charged issue, the court first decides a case in a ‘narrow’ way, but then uses that decision as a precedent to move in a more dramatic, conservative direction in a subsequent case.” Toobin believes that the Court may eventually use Harris as a precedent for a more radical move against public sector sector unions generally. If they do so, it would be a serious blow to women’s economic equality. As a recent study documents, women in labor unions earn significantly highly wages than their non-union counterparts, and this finding holds for every educational level, from women who dropped out of high school to those with graduate degrees. Unionized workers are also significantly more likely to receive employer-sponsored health insurance, retirement benefits and paid family and medical leave. To the extent that the Court weakens unions, it also undermines women’s economic power in our society.
For now, however, the Court has carefully and cleverly restricted its ruling to one vulnerable group: the overwhelmingly female, nonwhite, low-income group of workers who labor in private homes and receive their wages from the state. The Court’s decision rests on the dubious contention that homecare workers are not public employees. But these workers are paid by the government and the vital work they do, which serves broader public goals of improving public health and enabling families to balance work and care responsibilities, is anything but private. By weakening their right to economic redress through unions, the Court increased the state’s—and by extension the taxpayer’s—complicity in maintaining low-wage markets. We are low-wage employers now, and it is women, and most especially immigrant women, women of color and poor women, who continue to pay the price.
Sheila Bapat: As analyses of the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling in Harris v. Quinn continue to swirl, the potential of this decision to weaken public sector unions becomes more and more clear. The “right to work” movement is exploiting domestic workers’ uncertain status and, as Kathleen notes, the bias against women performing care work, to begin dismantling public sector unions. After the ruling, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander weighed in to support the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating that that Illinois’s collective bargaining program is a “disturbing union scheme to turn private homes into unionized workplaces.”
As a result of this ruling, funding for collective bargaining efforts—efforts that can help raise domestic workers’ wages and improve their overall working conditions—will likely dwindle. Yet there are policy changes we can make to lessen the blow.
How can domestic workers seek higher wages and improved benefits, given the Harris decision setback?
Raise the federal minimum wage, for all workers. A wage hike for all workers would improve earnings for domestic workers, too. Unfortunately, in April the US Senate failed to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. While states and localities have been succeeding in raising wages, disparities in wages across states have been found to hurt domestic workers. Some states that did raise minimum wages are still excluding domestic workers from that guarantee—this includes Rhode Island, West Virginia and Delaware. An across-the-board wage increase for all workers—which is what a federal wage hike can accomplish—helps avoid this disparity.
Create a federal program that pays and advocates for domestic workers. It is primarily Medicaid dollars that pay domestic workers in state programs. We could envision a more robust federal program— as part of Medicaid or outside of it—to support domestic workers’ wages and working conditions. We could envision a federal “association” of such workers that solicits comments from fellow workers, holds public meetings, makes recommendations to the state and speaks on behalf of domestic workers. Given the rising demand for care workers in the United States, it makes sense to develop a federal program that ensures the protection of this crucial workforce.
Support state domestic workers’ bills of rights. The domestic workers’ movement secured domestic workers’ bill of rights in New York in 2010, which expands overtime protections for workers, provides a day of rest and disability benefits. Similar legislation has emerged in California, Hawaii and, most recently, Massachusetts. Most of these bills expand overtime protections for workers. The Massachusetts legislation may be particularly important to look at, as it includes model provisions for workers who are not unionized such as a worker’s right to a contract with their employer that spells out wages, hours and expectations.
Support worker centers who advocate for domestic workers. Non-union actors like 501(c)3 worker centers have been crucial to advocating for domestic workers already. Worker centers may become more important given this ruling. The domestic workers’ movement comprises many of these centers and has achieved success by appealing to the public and to state legislators directly. The legislation these worker centers advocate for can ensure that workers are entitled to the state’s minimum wage so that exclusions like those found in Delaware, Rhode Island and West Virginia are eliminated. The local and national campaigns undertaken by worker centers also keep domestic workers’ rights on our local and national radar; they help us remember why domestic work is so crucial and why domestic workers should have better working conditions.
Federal legislation may not be politically plausible right now given that Congress cannot even raise the minimum wage. State-focused campaigns aimed at addressing the effects of Harris v. Quinn may have more success. Regardless, in light of the ruling in Harris v. Quinn, we should begin to explore creative solutions to improving wages for domestic workers and other public sector employees—solutions that can improve conditions both for workers and for those who need care.