The Nation

Dogged by Protests and Scandal, Christie Forges Ahead for 2016

Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Reuters/Mike Segar)

Dogged by growing outrage over his showdown with state workers over pensions, facing trouble at home over his sharp attacks on public schools and still awaiting the result of several investigations into the scandal web involving Bridgegate, corruption at the Port Authority and politicization of recovery aid from Superstorm Sandy since 2012, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is still busily plotting a course for 2016—and an argument can be made that he’s still the front-runner in a crowded and chaotic field. And it appears his chief focus is on New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary, whose flinty, conservative but independent-minded Republican voters might be Christie’s best shot at getting out in front of his less-than-impressive rivals as the primary season gets underway in January 2016.

According to NH Journal, a New Hampshire political report—and also reported by the Star-Ledger, via the right-wing Save Jersey blog—yet a third Christie aide is making his way to the Granite State, leaving his New Jersey post to become what amounts to an advance guard for the governor, who’s been making frequent stops in New Hampshire himself. Says NH Journal:

Another Chris Christie “Jersey Boy” is headed to first-in-the-nation New Hampshire. Peter Sheridan will leave his post as deputy executive director of the New Jersey Republican Party to become the deputy campaign manager for New Hampshire Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein.

Sheridan, the third Christie-linked GOP operative in New Hampshire, follows Matt Mowers, who took over as leader of the New Hampshire GOP last year and, as Christie Watch reported in March, was tangentially involved in Bridgegate; and Colin Reed, a former Christie public relations aide who’s serving as campaign manager for carpetbagger Scott Brown’s US Senate campaign there. As NH Journal says, Christie is “laying the groundwork for a leadoff primary state campaign after the mid-terms are history.”

Meanwhile, Christie’s office has just announced that he’ll be making a showboating visit to Mexico in early September, supposedly to promote increased trade, economic growth, job creation and higher education in both New Jersey and Mexico,” but actually to begin to develop the rudiments of a foreign policy for his 2016 campaign—beyond, that is, kowtowing to Sheldon Adelson by supporting Israel. Even more importantly, perhaps, Christie wants to tout his supposed appeal to Hispanic-American voters, As the Asbury Park Press’s Capitol Quickies blog notes:

During his 2013 re-election campaign, Christie used Spanish-language commercials to reach Latino voters. Exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed the effort paid off with polls showing that 51 percent of Latinos voted for the governor.

As reported by The New York Times, Christie’s Mexico sojourn is only one of several being conducted by various GOP would-be candidates in 2016, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Citing a GOP political analyst, the Times notes that challengers in 2016 may have to reach beyond the party’s narrow-minded, immigrant-bashing views:

“It’s become painfully obvious,” said Hector V. Barreto, who has advised every Republican presidential campaign since 2000, “that these guys are thinking bigger than those in Congress.” He called the Latin American outreach by Mr. Christie, Mr. Paul and Mr. Walker “a totally different approach” that recognizes what a liability the party’s current message on immigration has become. “They really do need to disassociate themselves from the party in Washington,” Mr. Barreto said.

But before Christie can bask in the adulation of Hispanic-American voters, he’ll have to deal with the problems at home, including the expanding investigation into the Port Authority, filled with Christie cronies, where the recently resigned chairman, David Samson, a Christie mentor, reportedly lined the pockets of his own law firm, Wolff & Samson, with money from Port Authority coffers. According to Bloomberg/Business Week, buried in a new bond prospectus the Port Authority has disclosed a lot more information about subpoenas it’s received from local and US agencies. Says the Bloomberg report:

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey disclosed an expanded list of state and federal subpoenas it’s received as part of investigations that stem from intentional lane closings at the George Washington Bridge. In a bond prospectus dated Aug. 6, the agency listed subpoenas seeking information about its activities at properties including a port in Brooklyn, the Atlantic City airport and a former military terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. It also includes inquiries about projects already known to be subjects of interest, such as the financing of repairs on the Pulaski Skyway, the project to raise the Bayonne Bridge and the affair last year known as Bridgegate. The disclosures mark the fullest accounting yet of the scope of the probes by US Attorney Paul Fishman, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the US Securities and Exchange Commission and a legislative committee in New Jersey. Revelations about the agency have triggered the resignations of three officials and the creation of a panel assembled by the governors of both states to study its management structure.

All that’s hanging over Christie’s head as he travels to New Hampshire, Mexico and points in between—and it’s reflected in still-weak New Jersey polls about Christie’s popularity. Outside of New Jersey, GOP voters may not be paying much attention (yet) to Bridgegate and the Port Authority, but at home New Jerseyans have heard it all, and it’s weighing on the governor. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Christie Chronicles blog:

Just under half of New Jersey voters approve of Gov. Christie’s job performance, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll—the latest to find that the governor’s ratings haven’t rebounded since Bridgegate. The poll, released today, found that 49 percent of voters approved of Christie’s performance, while 47 percent disapproved. The split represents the Republican governor’s lowest net job approval rating in the poll since 2011. In July 2013, 68 percent of voters approved of him, and 26 percent disapproved.

Still, the Quinnipiac poll showed some strength for Christie among Republicans, 86 percent of whom approved of Christie, while 71 percent of New Jersey’s Democrats disapproved. That’s a sign that many Republicans blame Democrats and the media for the scandals plaguing Christie, and it’s a signal that Christie may be building appeal among the GOP base at the expense of his vaunted “bipartisan” appeal. That’s not a bad strategy going into a right-wing-dominated, Tea Party–influenced 2016 primary season—since Christie, if he wins the nomination, can always execute the tried-and-true tack back to the middle in the general election against Hillary Clinton.

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And, speaking of Clinton, a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows that Christie is gaining some ground on Clinton, at least among New Jersey voters:

When the frontrunners are matched head-to-head in a hypothetical 2016 race, Clinton holds a double-digit margin over Christie, albeit smaller than in early 2014. Half the state’s voters support Clinton with 40 percent for Christie in a direct matchup. Three percent want someone else, and another 7 percent are unsure. In a January 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, as Bridgegate swirled around Christie, Clinton led 55 percent to 34 percent. That lead was cut to 10 points in March.

Read Next: Christie and Romney are odds-on allies, if not favorites, for 2016.

By Authorizing Air Strikes, Did Obama Open the Door for the Iraq Hawks?

Obama Iraq

President Obama discusses Iraq. June, 2014 (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Shortly before seven on Friday morning, US aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs on artillery controlled by Islamic militants in northern Iraq. Barack Obama, as The New York Times noted, is now the fourth US president in a row to launch military action in that country.

Like his predecessors, Obama wrapped the military option in humanitarian packaging. He said on Thursday that the “limited” action he authorized was intended to protect American facilities and personnel in the city of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region, and to prevent “a potential act of genocide.” Kurdish forces retreated suddenly on Thursday from advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and thousands of civilians belonging to minority ethnic groups are besieged on a barren mountaintop. Militants have also taken control of Iraq’s largest dam, a rickety structure on the Tigris River that could send catastrophic floodwaters through the city of Mosul and surrounding areas if it is breached.

“I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these,” Obama said. “I understand that. I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done. As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.”

Hawks are already angling to do exactly that. “These actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses,” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement following the president’s announcement that he’d authorized the strikes, along with airdrops of food and water to the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. As they have previously, McCain and Graham called for wider strikes against ISIS not only in Iraq but also in Syria.

Conservative commentators are salivating, too. Here’s The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, quoting John Bolton: “‘The problem is not just Iraq, but the entire Middle East’…why not act in Syria? Why not commit to eradicating the Islamic State, which threatens the United States and our allies? Why set a date certain to pull all troops out of Afghanistan, repeating [Obama’s] Iraq error?”

At this point it would be surprising if McCain et al. did not call for escalating a conflict in the Middle East. Still, the quick opportunism of the hawks illustrates the danger of assuming that military action will serve humanitarian ends or that the word “limited” really means anything. By declaring that “we have a mandate to help” in Iraq as well as “the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre,” the president opened a door for the armchair warriors, while putting only vague boundaries around the mission. That the administration is using the word “genocide” is particularly significant, as it carries implications under international law.

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As John Cassidy points out, defending the civilians on Mount Sinjar and the city of Erbil means that the United States will be fighting ISIS in two areas. Clearly there’s a humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar, and the presence of US personnel and a consulate in Erbil gives the administration a defensive rationale for the strikes. But ISIS has been terrorizing northern Iraq for months; the fact that the United States is stepping in only now that the Kurds—”a loyal and reliable American ally,” noted the Times—are threatened by ISIS suggests that the objectives are more complicated. Representative Adam Smith of Washington State, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, indicated as much. In contrast to the Iraqi government, “the Kurds are worth helping and defending,” he told the Times.

If strikes against ISIS are being made on a humanitarian basis, it’s hard to see why they would be limited to the protection of Kurdistan. If—more plausibly—they’re based on other calculations, then the talk of humanitarianism is in keeping with the long tradition of applying a moral gloss to military action. A recent cautionary tale is provided by the campaign in Libya, sold as a last resort to prevent mass violence but which has ended up in chaos.

Though the strikes are being described as a sudden and confined response to a dramatic shift in the conflict, the drums for re-engagement in Iraq have been beating for months; the administration may not be stepping in time yet, but it’s been steadily picking up the pace. In June, even as Obama warned of “mission creep,” he nevertheless sent a few hundred troops and military advisers back into the country. It’s clear that the administration—and the American public—doesn’t want to get more deeply involved in the Iraqi crisis, but that’s cold comfort in the face of overwhelming historical evidence that even “limited” military action has undesirable, cascading consequences. Meanwhile, little has been done to heal the political fractures fueling ISIS.

So where is the anti-war left? “Certainly this rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis—people are dying for lack of food and water—deserves U.S. and international action,” wrote Kevin Martin, the executive director of Peace Action. “But this gut-wrenching situation must not be used to justify US escalation of the war, entailing certain if unknown disastrous unintended consequences, as we’ve seen before in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.” Few progressive lawmakers, however, had expressed such reservations at the time of publication. (Check back for updates.)

“America has been striking Iraq from the air for more than two decades,” The Economist noted. Yes, and for what?


Update: California Representative Barbara Lee, one of the House's most outspoken critics of the Iraq war, issued a statement on Friday afternoon saying that while she supports "strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq," she "remain[s] concerned about U.S. mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose. There is no military solution in Iraq. Any lasting solution must be political and respect the rights of all Iraqis." Lee said that the president should request approval from Congress for any further military action. 

Representative Jim McGovern, one of the authors of a resolution that passed the House in July banning military involvement in Iraq without legislative approval, echoed Lee's call for congressional authorization. “These strikes do involve the United States directly in hostilities, regardless of how limited they are and regardless of whether there’s a humanitarian purpose involved," he sad in a statement. "If these operations are continuing when Congress returns in September, then Congress needs to take action to authorize them."

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy warned that "the president needs to better explain how this intervention is strictly time and scope limited. The risk is that this intervention draws us into the broader fight between Sunni and Shia forces in Iraq."

“I oppose open-ended military commitments, which the President’s actions in Iraq could become," Senator Richard Blumenthal said in his own statement. "The President owes the American people a better, fuller explanation of the scope and strategy of military actions. I am deeply concerned that these actions could lead to prolonged direct military involvement, which I would strongly oppose.”

“We are on a slippery slope,” Representative John Garamendi, a California Democrat, told Politico. “Where this ends, I don’t think any of us know. But the president has to be very, very clear about timing and purpose. Thus far, it’s insufficient from my point of view.”

These fears about the undefined duration and scope of the air campaign were all but confirmed on Saturday, when President Obama told reporters, “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks...This is going to be a long-term project.” 

Read Next: America can’t control the world’s destiny anymore

Why Are Black Workers Relegated to the Lowest-Paying Jobs at Baltimore’s Airport?

Fair Development Rally

Fair Development Rally (courtesy of Michael Fox/United Workers) 

A decade ago, food service workers at Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall International Airport were getting ready to land a union contract. But then a new developer took over the airport’s concession businesses, and their economic prospects took a nosedive. The workforce has fallen into a familiar rut of poverty wages and dead end jobs, say labor advocates, in glaring contrast to the sky-high profits raked in by their bosses and the overarching retail developer.

Yaseen Abdul-Malik spoke out at a local “Rally for Fair Development” last April about how the airport’s development model had left fast food workers like him stranded:

“It’s not fair that we work on publicly owned property, paid for by tax dollars, our tax dollars, but we are paid barely above minimum wage…. Some of us are paid so low that the only time we get a decent meal is when we are at work.”

According to a new survey published by UNITE HERE, part of an organizing campaign that the union has been pursuing since 2012 against the concession developer AIRMALL USA, the Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is saddled with a “development” scheme that has dragged down the local economy.

The survey found that in the mostly black workforce, black workers were concentrated in the lowest-paying and lowest-status jobs, earning as little as $8.50 per hour. Surveyed blacks “were over six times more likely to work in fast food jobs and over three times more likely to work in back-of-the-house restaurant jobs than their white counterparts.” Whites were overrepresented in management and concentrated in more upscale jobs. While white workers dominated higher-ranked positions, like bartending, just three of the forty concessionaires were run by black-owned local businesses. (AIRMALL, meanwhile, touts its participation in a diversity program to recruit local contractors based in communities of color.)

Previous research by UNITE HERE and Good Jobs First blasted AIRMALL’s management structure, which segments the workforce across individual concession outlets, for promoting precarious jobs in communities already strafed by racial segregation and poverty.

Since the airport is “a state-owned entity” accountable to the public interest, the union argues that “[b]y providing low-wage jobs and presiding over a racial disparity in job outcome among surveyed workers, the BWI concessions program has fallen short in its obligation to the region’s African-American community and the City of Baltimore.”

According to Thomas Cafcas, an analyst with Good Jobs First, UNITE’s latest survey shows that “when government fails to regularly re-evaluate contracts with private entities and to include strong contracting standards…the results can be less than adequate from both a social and economic perspective.”

The survey was released along with an open letter signed by labor and community groups calling on the Maryland Aviation Administration to “establish programs that support racially equitable employment opportunities among BWI concessions workers” and, ultimately, with an opportunity to opt out of the contract coming in 2017, to “terminate AIRMALL USA’s contract if it cannot demonstrate sufficient progress in creating a program that has a positive impact on racial equality in the State of Maryland.”

AIRMALL counters that labor relations at BWI are not its business. A spokesperson tells The Nation via e-mail that since the company is a management firm overseeing the concessionaires, “it is those operators, ranging from national brands to locally owned businesses, (and not AIRMALL) that determine wages and benefits for their employees.” On the report’s findings on racial disparities in the workforce, AIRMALL argues, “To attempt to make this a race issue is careless and unsubstantiated.”

Although AIRMALL is technically not the boss, the union still holds the company partially responsible for labor conditions at workplaces that lease from it. UNITE Spokesperson Meghan Cohorst tells The Nation via e-mail that “given the lack of progress on that front in the ten years that AIRMALL has operated the concessions program there, it’s clear that their model isn’t working for the workers in that program.”

When AIRMALL first landed at BWI in 2004, concession workers were campaigning for a union, but were blocked when then-Governor Robert Erlich moved to restructure airport concessionaires by getting rid of the previous operating company, Maryland-based firm HMS Host. Instead of a union, the workers got AIRMALL’s developer-based tiered business structure, which made them unable to unionize under a single employer unit. Unionization drives must now be undertaken piecemeal, at individual BWI concessionaires.

Workplace justice struggles at airports have become a flashpoint for advocacy by community groups sick of over-hyped development schemes. According to research by the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center, nationwide airport workers have seen their wages decline over the past two decades, reflecting a wave of deregulation in the aviation industry and mass outsourcing of service jobs. And the once-solid jobs of ground-support workers like baggage handlers are now marred by high turnover, little access to union representation and diminished power to negotiate employment conditions.

But amid labor struggles against outsourcing and predatory commercial development, airports are also providing a launchpad for a fresh wave of labor mobilizing by unions and community activists.

In May, contract service workers, many of them low-income immigrants and people of color, at three New York–area airports (JFK, La Guardia and Newark), voted to join the SEIU Local 32BJ, opening the door to multi-site collective bargaining. Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports have seen a flurry of organizing activity, with UNITE HERE organizing concession staff and SEIU mobilizing low-wage service workers such as cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants.

In several cities, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, SeaTac in Washington (the town surrounding the eponymous airport) and Los Angeles, policymakers have sought to lift up airport job quality through living wage and community-benefits mandates, which compel developers and government contractors to provide decent pay and benefits to local hires in exchange for the profits they reap with the support of government permits, taxpayer-funded infrastructure and public services.

The San Francisco Airport Commission launched a pioneering program in 2000 aimed at improving working conditions by enhancing wages and benefits, and strengthening through training. It was a good deal for both workers and passengers; improvements in productivity and job satisfaction followed, and turnover dropped.

At BWI, UNITE HERE says it supports any advancement toward better paying, more sustainable jobs, including pro-worker legislation. But it still aims to secure that union contract narrowly missed in 2004. Cohorst says, “While a living wage is a great first step, there are many benefits to unionization (a formalized grievance process, language defining full-time work and benefits, etc.) that wouldn’t be included otherwise.”

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According to Anastasia Christman, policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project, government mandates and unionization can be complementary organizing strategies.

Even a local minimum wage hike could lay the groundwork for worker organizing, she says via email, because better pay could “give them an incentive to stay on the job, could raise their morale, and could help them to think about other ways to improve their jobs and the operation of the airport.”

Even if the unionization effort isn’t yet ready for take-off, BWI concession workers are getting a lift from fellow airport laborers nationwide, as they defy corporate developers by charting a more balanced course to economic empowerment.


Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on sex workers

Rupert Murdoch Has Dropped His $80 Billion Bid to Take Over Time Warner

Rupert Murdoch

News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

One bit of good media news this week: Rupert Murdoch is not going to buy Time Warner and destroy what little media diversity we still have left. At least not yet.

A merger of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and Time Warner would have “created a colossus that loomed over the industry, combining the two biggest movie and television studios in Hollywood,” writes Sydney Ember of The New York Times.

But in a rare rejection for Murdoch, the media mogul was forced to withdraw his $80 billion bid for Time Warner. His failure might have been due less to Time Warner’s objection to the attempted hostile takeover than to his own non-voting shareholders, who, Ember says, “have been driving down the price of 21st Century Fox’s stock since news of the offer broke, fearing he would overpay to secure victory.”

Either way, the slap-down of the father of Fox News is good for creative and political freedom—for, say, Bill Maher and John Oliver, whose shows on Time Warner’s HBO might not have survived. It’s maybe not so good for Jon Stewart, who’s been running a fake Kickstarter campaign to buy CNN—to save it from both Rupert and its own mediocrity.

It’s good for media competition. “Diversity of ownership, diversity of opinion is so vitally important to this democracy,” Times columnist and CNBC contributor James Stewart said, noting that a Murdoch-owned Time Warner would have reduced “control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.” (In 1983, he adds, “50 companies owned 90 percent of the media consumed by Americans. By 2012, just six companies—including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner—controlled that 90 percent…”

And rebuking Rupert is good for the earth. In an interesting bit of speculation, Chris Mooney finds that one reason English-speaking countries are among the biggest climate deniers out of twenty nations, according to a new study, is that they are home to Murdoch’s media empire.

Not only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile, is the seventh worst….

Indeed, the English language media in three of these four countries are linked together by a single individual: Rupert Murdoch. An apparent climate skeptic or lukewarmer, Murdoch is the chair of News Corp and 21st Century Fox. (You can watch him express his climate views here.) Some of the media outlets subsumed by the two conglomerates that he heads are responsible for quite a lot of English language climate skepticism and denial.

In Australia, Murdoch’s native country, significant strides had been made in environmental regulations—and he attacked them with a vengeance. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters writes:

Australia’s carbon emissions repeal represents a dramatic U-turn for a country that just a few years ago was seen as a leader on the global issue under the guidance of previous Labor Party prime minsters, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd….

Murdoch set his plan in motion to target the carbon tax four years ago. “After the 2010 election—which resulted in a minority Labor government—Murdoch summoned his Australian editors and senior journalists to his home in Carmel, California,” Australia’s The Conversation reported. “He made clear that he despised the Gillard government and wanted regime change.”

Only a few years earlier, Murdoch was gung-ho green. “Climate change,” he said in 2007, “poses clear, catastrophic threats.” He pledged to make News Corp. carbon neutral, and even said that he’d be “subtly introducing [the climate issue] into our content.” (Did you know that not only did Dow Jones go carbon neutral but, according to a recent company eco-update, it uses soy-based ink to print The Wall Street Journal?)

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We’re not out of the Fox-ridden woods yet. Never one to take no for answer, Murdoch could come back for Time Warner or other media trophies at any time. Says Jeffrey Goldfarb at the Times:

Yet Mr. Murdoch can walk away looking like a disciplined buyer ready to repurchase more shares and with his stock back on the rise. [Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeffrey] Bewkes, on the other hand, faces a bigger challenge. Though Time Warner shareholders may have become too greedy, they will now expect the company to deliver soon at least what was on offer from the takeover. If Mr. Bewkes can’t, Mr. Murdoch may yet turn out to be crazy like a fox.


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What ‘Nation’ Interns Are Reading the Week of 08/08/14

Roxane Gay

(© Justine Bursoni Photography)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats,” by Nick Hanauer. Politico Magazine, July/August 2014.

This has been a highly read story by zillionaire Nick Hanauer, which is interesting in both the many preconceptions it slashes and those it embraces. As Hanauer points out, the failure of considering workers as consumers is creating a society where most cannot afford the production of industry. There is actually a profit motive to advocating the minimum wage, as better paid workers would make more avid consumers. Zillionaires should therefore jump on the 15-NOW bandwagon! How lovely. Yet, Hanauer embraces a few highly problematic myths: firstly, that of capitalism as a vehicle for progress, which promotes some form of mild, necessary inequality, which simply has to be reduced and kept in check for capitalism to better strive. You can be poor insofar as we still profit. Then, he fearmongers on how the blood-lust of the unsophisticated masses will take over if we don't do anything. Reform, zillionaires, or you shall be killed. This is an abject vision of the disenfranchised as prone to passions and violence, not simply asking for basic rights and justice. If this sparks reform, it would be for the wrong reason—yet, in an odd and cynical way, it could lead to more worker rights, which we're hardly in a position to reject, unfortunately.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

Fifth-graders defend their South Shore neighborhood.” Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2014.

The narrative of the South Side of Chicago being a war zone, aptly nicknamed "Chiraq," is an issue even the youngest of its residents take to heart. In an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, fifth-graders at the Bradwell School of Excellence in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood call out the media on how it fails to put a human face behind its news coverage in the area. Even in elementary school, these fifth-graders know that they and their neighbors are more than just "another statistic."

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

Fitting The Description.” Doifitthedescription.tumblr.com.

As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed over the weekend, I came across a hashtag, #ChiCopWatch. Curious about what this was, I clicked on the link and read through a number of testimonials about being harassed by Chicago police for “fitting the description.” #ChiCopWatch was launched by a grassroots group, We Charge Genocide, and is dedicated to revealing the “epidemic of police violence” in the city of Chicago. Along with the Twitter campaign (among other community organizing) is a site called Fitting The Description, a series of beautifully composed portraits of individuals holding whiteboards with three words to describe themselves.

“Focused, Motivated, Hopeful”
“Powerful, Progressive, Passionate”
“Feminist, Queer, Anti-Racist”

The social media campaign is an effort to both break down the stereotypes of those who are most brutally harassed by police, while also calling on communities to “copwatch” and report police abuse. This is of particular relevance and importance with recent outcries of police brutality as anational crisis, from New York to Chicago and beyond.

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

"Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist is a manual on 'How to Be a Human,'" by Nolan Feeney. TIME, August 5, 2014.

If you haven't heard about Roxane Gay's new collection of essays—personal and scholastic—Bad Feminist, count yourself among the fallen (and now saved, because you're currently reading this sentence and the collection recently came out. Praise be). Time interviewed the professor and author of An Untamed State to discuss questions for those interested or at odds with contemporary feminist doctrine, from combating ignorance like the Women Against Feminism campaign to discussing Beyoncé as a target and then bringing feminism back to the basics—humanity and empathy. America needs this brand of imperfectly human commentary, written as both a shedding of self and a loud, earnest exhalation that teaches its readers how to better move through the world as woman, as man, as human. For this I would (if I could) scream from a mountaintop and say, so it might land on the heads of the many who need to read these essays, Thank you, Roxane.

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

"The GOP's mixed message to minorities", Jill Lawrence. Al Jazeera America, August 6, 2014.

Jill Lawrence writes about the battle within the Republican Party and its official aim of reaching out to voters of color, while its members in Congress, channeling its most fringe constituents—those who chose to spend their Fourth of July weekend screaming invectives at child migrants fleeing deplorable violence—offer the worst possible message, lacking any compassion or logic. The striking contrast of Reince Priebus reaching out to the National Urban League as the House Republicans sue President Obama on spurious charges of abuse of power paints a picture of a party that has alienated the people of color in the country, which will shrink their party.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

Gaza Calls! Day of Rage August 9th, Jantar Mantar, Delhi,” by Nivedita Menon. Kafila, August 7, 2014.

Indians who protest Israel's assault on Gaza face similar resistance to Americans who are against the attacks—India has a military and trade relationship with Israel that many Indians do not wish to jeopardize. This week, Indians opposed to the war will meet to protest at Jantar Mantar, a famous Delhi landmark, to demand that the Indian government impose a military embargo on India, a boycott of all direct and indirect collaborations with Israel, including academic collaborations, and encourage increased educational and cultural exchange with Palestine. The Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel also campaigns for greater awareness of the destruction of Gaza.


—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

Understanding Israel’s War as Racist Is Crucial to Ending Occupation,” by Sonali Kolhatkar. Truthdig, July 31, 2014.

Twelve years ago, Jewish right-wing journalist Uri Elitzer referred to Palestinians as "snakes" in an article, and called for Palestinians and their mothers to be killed. Last month, a Danish reporter came across a group of Israeli's gathered outside in the Israeli town of Sderot with folding chairs and popcorn cheering and clapping as a bombs dropped on Gaza. This past May, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu called for Israel to be formally defined as a Jews-only state. And this year, Upper Narazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso called for his city to be "Jewish Forever." He was quoted saying, "If you think I'm a racist, then Israel is a racist state." It's no doubt that racism might very well be the driving force for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What's even more sobering, as Sonali Kolhatkar points out in her July 31 Truthdig article, is that their Jews-only logic is not unique. "Just as Zionism is based on the belief that God granted Jews the land that Palestinians were living on," she writes, "white settlers in the United States believed they had a God-given right to the land they were settling—a Manifest Destiny." American settler colonialism was not thought of as racist at the time. But we know better now, or at least we should. So maybe it's time we take a more critical look at the very blatant racist behavior, rhetoric and policies towards the displaced, dying and disheartened Palestinians living in Gaza.

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—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora, immigration, black feminist thought, and police brutality.

I was wrong about Gaza: Why we can no longer ignore the horrors in Palestine,” by Brittney Cooper. Salon, August 5, 2014.

For centuries, religious texts have been used to justify the genocide and oppression of African-American communities. Today they've formed another barrier—but this time by halting solidarity with another marginalized group. African-American communities are disproportionately evangelical Christians, and stories of the Promise Land have left this community deeply rooted in a pro-Israel political agenda. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the violence and occupation that Americans for so long have been taught to support. Brittney Cooper eloquently deconstructs the lies Americans—and specifically people of color—have been told about the history and suffering in Palestine. Communities of color are not unfamiliar with racial and ethnic police brutality and political oppression, and what Cooper comes to realize is that "as a black person attuned to the processes of colonization, slavery and apartheid that built the West on the backs of black and indigenous people, [she] cannot help seeing these acts of war and terror as interconnected." With this understanding, it is hard to consume the sermons that use religion to morally justify the Israeli occupation of the Gaza. "Having come from people who have risen up, rioted and rebelled against oppressive state forces that confined us to land, restricted our movement and denied our humanity, [resisting] the urge to characterize all forms of resistance as terror" and evaluating religious understanding, may be difficult—but it is necessary. To read Biblical texts with a sociopolitical agenda—as many in power have been doing for centuries—only continues the cycle of violence and occupation. America has used religion to justify its "sordid history of settler colonialism, slavery, mass incarceration and other racially driven social ills, [and this] teaches us a lot about why our country identifies with Israel and it teaches us everything we need to know about why we shouldn’t." 

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

The CIA Must Tell the Truth About My Rendition At 12 Years Old,” by Khadija al-Saadi. Gawker, August 6, 2014.

This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee is battling the CIA and White House over redactions made in a Congressional report on the agency’s use of detention and rendition. At stake, is the possibility of one victim’s story “being hidden under a sea of black.” Khadija al-Saadi was just a child when her family was flown to Libya, surely to be tortured for her father’s opposition to Colonel Gaddafi. Her story is one that should be familiar to most Americans: rendition, secret prisons, our government’s complicity and involvement in heinous acts. Now, at 23, she hopes her name isn't one that’s been redacted from the report. Khadija al-Saadi’s story allows us to reflect on our post-9/11 world and empathize with the CIA’s victims. As al-Saadi’s family moves forward, she hopes to gain closure as a result of “a full admission of what has taken place in the past.”


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Why Has It Taken This Long for a Men’s Pro-Sports Team to Hire a Female Coach?

Becky Hammon

Becky Hammon takes questions after being introduced as the assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. August 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

The biggest line of horseshit you will ever hear in professional sports not uttered by Dan Snyder is that no one in the executive suites cares if you are black or white, male or female, gay or straight. As long as you can help the team win, there is a place for you. Wrong. The pivot of all executive decisions is not “How can the team win?” but “How can I keep my damn job?”

The front office fear is that if they bring in a “distraction” and the team flounders, they’ll be scapegoated for bringing in this “distraction,” quickly dispatched, unemployed or otherwise ass out. (And Lord do I hate that word “distraction” as a stand-in for “triggers someone else’s bigotry.”)

That impulse to avoid difference rewards cowardice—politely called “risk-averse behavior”—as teams bypass players that differ from established norms, even if they can help. Someone has to choose to not be the coward. It took the St. Louis Rams’s Jeff Fisher to make the decision to not be another NFL milksop and draft Michael Sam at the end of the seventh round.

Gregg Popovich, coach and Kaiser of the San Antonio Spurs, is no one’s idea of cowardly. So predictably, even obviously, it was Coach Pop who made the decision to hire Becky Hammon as the first full-time female assistant coach in any major professional men’s sport in the United States.

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” Popovich said. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”

Hammon comes to the Spurs after sixteen years in the WNBA, her last eight with the outfit in San Antonio where she got to know the Spurs operation. But Becky Hammon on a bench was going to happen. As Kate Fagan wrote in her indispensable piece on the hire, “If you know Becky Hammon, one thing has always been clear: She would become a coach after she finished playing….

“She could see a play once and know all its options and offshoots, categorize them from most to least effective. And she could do this for every position on the court, instantly—as if the X’s and O’s had been coded into her DNA.”

Becky Hammon by all accounts has the skills to coach. Yet that glass ceiling would have been a glass fortress if not for Pop’s being Pop. Of course it was going to be Coach Pop. Beneath the military crew-cut and Roger Murtaugh demeanor, Coach Pop lives his life as the reality of Phil Jackson’s image. He doesn’t talk in New Age riddles and hang out with lefty celebs while, when it matters, scoffing about keeping politics out of sports.

Instead, Coach Pop looks for real ways to make his corner of the world a little more just. Hiring Becky Hammon on the merits of her ability—while not giving one holy hell about the fallout in Texas or beyond—is how he does it. I don’t know if a part of Pop is also fighting for the idea that there is a place for women in sports beyond being sexist clickbait, but that’s the result. I do know from my interactions with the man that he admires those who have historically risked their perch of privilege in pro sports to impact the works. He thinks about the world beyond sports and wants it to be better.

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American sports—structured and codified over a century ago as a leisure pastime created by men for male consumption—just got marginally better, and that is cause for celebration. While the NFL seems to see disrespecting its female fan base as part of its mission statement, Coach Pop—by just being Pop—lives by a different code. Because of that code, Becky Hammon will be a coach in the NBA. It feels great to tell my young daughter about the news. Hell, it feels great to even type the words.


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Remembering the Folly of ‘Blank-Check’ War and ‘Escalation Unlimited’


A napalm strike erupts in a fireball near US troops on patrol in South Vietnam, 1966 during the Vietnam War. (AP Photo)

“I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States,” declared Oregon Democrat Wayne Morse during the August 7, 1964, debate that preceded the US Senate’s 88-2, vote in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. “I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake. I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.”

After just forty minutes of debate on August 7, 1964, the US House voted 416-0 to authorize President Lyndon Johnson to use of “conventional” military force in Southeast Asia. The Senate debate took longer—roughly nine hours—giving voice to the deceit, deception and fantasy that would serve as the excuses for what came to be known as the Vietnam War. Yet it also solidified the reputations of two dissenting senators as visionaries.

One was Morse, a proud maverick who had served as a Republican, independent and Democrat in the chamber. As the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon notes:

Senator Morse formally opposed the resolution on constitutional grounds, declaring that Article I of the Constitution would be violated if Congress surrendered its authority to check the President’s power. The Constitution establishes the President as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but to balance and check this power the Constitution invests Congress with the power to declare war.

When the resolution passed, Morse declared that Congress had surrendered its authority, and therefore the authority of the people it was elected to serve. Morse also deplored the open-ended nature of the approval and condemned Congress for giving the president and the military a “blank check” that would be cashed with taxpayer’s money and citizens’ lives.

The other foe was Ernest Gruening, a former editor of The Nation who helped lead the territory of Alaska to statehood before his election as the new state’s senator.

Gruening shared Morse’s constitutional concerns. But as a long-time participant in great debates about issues of colonialism, empire and democracy, Gruening outlined a second set of reasons for opposing the resolution.

Echoing arguments made by the Johnson administration, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution claimed that “naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United States naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace.” Historians and scholarly analysts would eventually call much of what was claimed into question, debunking key practical and political arguments for the resolution; but Gruening acknowledged a measure of conflict.

What he argued was that the troubles in the region needed to be seen context. And he said that they did not justify providing what The New York Times described as “Congressional prior approval of ‘all necessary measures’ that the president may take ‘to repel any armed attack’ against United States forces and ‘to prevent further aggression.’”

To Gruening and a few others, that seemed dangerously open-ended. One of the youngest members of the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Gaylord Nelson, proposed an amendment explicitly stating that Congress wanted no extension of the existing military conflict and no direct military involvement by the United States. Nelson was told by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman William Fulbright, D-Arkansas, that the amendment was not “contrary to the joint resolution,” but Fulbright said it could not be added for procedural reasons. With that assurance, Nelson grudgingly supported the resolution.

But Gruening, a World War I veteran who in the aftermath of that awful conflict campaigned for anti-imperialist Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr.’s 1924 presidential run (as did a young Wayne Morse), refused to write the blank check. The Alaskan had already advised the Johnson administration, to “disengage immediately, to relieve all our military of combat assignments and bring them home at once”—telling the Senate in March 1964, “I consider the life of one American boy worth more than this putrid mess. I consider every additional life that is sacrificed in this forlorn venture a tragedy. Some day…if this sacrificing is continued it will be denounced as a crime.” Now, he announced on the Senate floor that he would oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

“Regrettably, I find myself in disagreement with the President’s Southeast Asian policy,” he told the chamber. “The serious events of the past few days, the attack by North Vietnamese vessels on American warships and our reprisal, strikes me as the inevitable and foreseeable concomitant and consequence of U.S. unilateral military aggressive policy in Southeast Asia.”

Gruening described, with eerie foresight, how Johnson and then President Richard Nixon might use the resolution to extend an undeclared war.

“We now are about to authorize the President if he sees fit to move our Armed Forces…not only into South Vietnam, but also into North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and of course the authorization includes all the rest of the SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organization] nations,” the 77-year-old senator said. “That means sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business, which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated. This resolution is a further authorization for escalation unlimited. I am opposed to sacrificing a single American boy in this venture. We have lost far too many already.”

More than 58,000 Americans would be killed in action, along with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and hundreds of thousands more in neighboring countries.

But, as is so often the case in politics, foresight was not rewarded. In 1968, Gruening was defeated for re-election, as was Morse. Gaylord Nelson, who within weeks of the vote was warning that the president was exceeding the authority he had been granted, survived politically and became a leading antiwar voice in the Senate. Long after a 1970 amendment vote in the Senate renounced the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, Nelson was still paying homage (in interviews with this writer and others) to Morse and Gruening for getting it right when it mattered.

American history contains the stories of a number of brave representatives and senators who have recognized the folly of surrendering “blank-check” authority over matters of war and peace to the executive branch.

Bob La Follette, the Wisconsin progressive who so inspired Gruening and Morse, led a lonely band of senators and House members who in 1917 opposed Woodrow Wilson’s rush to enter World War I.

Jeannette Rankin, who as a young House member from Montana joined La Follette in opposing World War I, cast the sole vote and against declaring war following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Montana, cast the only vote against authorizing President George W. Bush to wage an initially ill-defined and open-ended “war on terror” in 2001.

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Like the others, Ernest Gruening well understood the constitutional risks. What remains striking, even now, fifty years on, is the extent to which he also saw the overarching threat posed by entry into wars in which “we have no business” and of the ensuing “escalation unlimited.”

It gave Gruening no pleasure that he was right. Indeed, he devoted the last years of his life, in the Senate and then as a citizen, to ardent opposition to the war—opening a 1969 article for The Nation by declaring, “It is, and for some time has been, obvious that the most important issue facing our nation is to get out of the war in Southeast Asia. All our other issues and problems are slighted, impaired and unresolved until we halt the fighting, stop the concomitant continuing drain of blood and treasure, and turn to the long-neglected and pressing needs at home.”


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Why It’s Absolutely No Surprise Mayor de Blasio Is Defending ‘Broken Windows’

Bill de blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Last week, before medical examiners had ruled the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner a homicide as the result of a chokehold, pictures surfaced of NYPD apparently placing 27-year-old Rosan Miller in a similar hold. Miller is seven months pregnant and the police were arresting her for illegally grilling outside of her apartment in East New York.

Today the de Blasio administration is defending the “broken windows” theory and practice, the idea of which says if you crack down on small/”quality of life” crimes then you prevent more serious crimes in the future. This, even after video surfaced of Garner being killed by NYPD because he was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. This, even after NYPD put a pregnant woman in a chokehold for grilling. This, even though all the evidence suggests that the “broken windows” theory doesn’t hold up. Mayor de Blasio is sticking to his guns.

To say I’m disappointed would imply that I had expectations that things would be different. De Blasio showed his hand when he appointed Bill Bratton, the architect of “broken windows” in New York City, as police commissioner. Though he rode his anti-stop-and-frisk stance to victory, it never meant that de Blasio was going to usher in a new era of progressive community policing and nonviolent mediation of disputes. He just didn’t like this one tactic being used so much.

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The de Blasio administration says it supports “broken windows” so long as it is done in a “respectful” manner. But that’s impossible. It is by definition disrespectful and oppressive. As Jamelle Bouie lays out over at Slate, incidents like Garner’s and Miller’s are the inevitable result of “broken windows” policing. When you empower police to harass people for supposed crimes that harm no one, they will do just that. When property is deemed more worthy of protection than human beings, lives will be lost. And those who suffer the most will continue to be black, brown and poor, those who are already vulnerable.

The police don’t have to have meetings where they determine they will go out into the streets and choke black people (and then tell us that what we saw wasn’t a chokehold). The “criminal element” has already been defined for them and the laws that afford them power have been written. All they have to do is show up.

So long as the mayor, the commissioner, and other supporters of “broken windows” hold tight to the idea that they’re preventing crime through this tactic, more people will be harassed, choked, stomped, beaten and killed. But when the cost of doing business is black and brown bodies, even the so-called progressives appear to be willing to pay the price.

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Does Senator Vitter Really Think Cancer Prevention Groups and Wildlife Nonprofits Are Part of a Nefarious Cabal?

Oil spill

Oil floats on the surface in Pass A Loutre near Venice, Louisiana (Reuters/Sean Gardner)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Louisiana Senator David Vitter made headlines on conservative websites in the last few days by releasing a report called “Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Below the lengthy title is a report that claims breathlessly that environmental and public health foundations are part of “a close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats,” a cabal responsible for spreading “bogus propaganda disguised as science and news to spread an anti-fossil energy message to the unknowing public.”

The report goes on to list groups such as the American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists as “agenda-driven far-left elites” obsessed with using “secretive backroom deals and transfers” to hide their agenda from the public. To shine a light on these organizations, the Vitter report details annual budget numbers and board membership lists scrubbed from annual tax forms that these nonprofits, like any nonprofit, are required to publish.

Though the report scolds the nonprofits as untrustworthy and elitist, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appear to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combatting global warming as well as reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.

If there is a conspiracy afoot, as alluded to in “Chain of Environmental Command,” perhaps Vitter himself is involved.

In 2009, Vitter co-sponsored the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act, legislation to require several federal agencies to work together on a comprehensive plan for reducing lung cancer mortality. The American Lung Association, one of the groups targeted by the Vitter report as a purveyor of “bogus propaganda,” helped pass the legislation, which was signed into law last year.

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Or what about the RESTORE Act, which funds coastal restoration and economic recovery projects along the Gulf Coast using fines generated from the 2010 BP oil spill? The legislation was supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation. All four groups were named in Vitter’s report as members of the pernicious “Club of Billionaires.” Vitter regularly boasts that he was a champion of this environmental group-backed legislation, which was signed into law in 2012.

A request to comment from Vitter’s office was not returned.

The change in tone from Vitter corresponds closely to his new perch as the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, a position he secured last year. Since 2013, Vitter has positioned himself as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, attempting to block the confirmation of the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and going so far as to proclaim, “God bless the Koch brothers.”

Fossil fuel companies have leaned on congressional Republicans to block new environmental regulations. But with little influence within the Obama administration and without control of the Senate, lawmakers close to the industry have lashed out at public health advocates and scientists. Just as Vitter is now targeting NGOs, the GOP on the House Science Committee has begun subpoenaing scientists that have researched air pollutants, a move widely condemned by observers.


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