The Nation

‘We Tortured Some Folks’

Tom Tomorrow

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Jezebel’s Porn Problem and the Price of Social Media



Yesterday the staff of Jezebel revealed that they and their readers have, for the past several months, been deluged by violent rape GIFs courtesy of trollish commenters. Worse, they said, the higher-ups at Gawker Media, Jezebel’s owner, refuse to do anything about it.

“The images arrive in a barrage, and the only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter,” Jezebel’s staff wrote in a piece posted on the site. But because the commenter accounts are untraceable and anonymous, the trolls just set up new ones. “It’s like playing whack-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra,” they wrote.

They’ve asked about tools that would allow them to record—and thus ban—IP addresses, which would make it harder to create multiple fake accounts from the same computer. But nothing is happening. Further, they wrote, while new moderation tools are supposedly being developed, “change is not coming fast enough. This has been going on for months, and it’s impacting our ability to do our jobs.”

They are not alone. On Sunday, The Guardian’s reader editor published a long piece on the “the online abuse that follows any article on women’s issues,” describing how moderators get bogged down weeding out offensive or off-topic comments. “Perhaps it is time to assess whether anonymity should be an option rather than the default position,” wrote the editor, Chris Elliott. “While it has always been argued that commenters build an identity around their pseudonym, those who express opinions under their own name carry more authority and are obviously more careful about what they say.”

Rethinking online anonymity is a good idea. But we also need to rethink the mandatory social media interaction increasingly being demanded of journalists. At the very least, we should acknowledge that the burdens placed on men and women in the industry are unequal.

Obviously, there are women who love the interactive side of contemporary journalism, who thrive on Twitter and Tumblr, do battle in comments sections and are fine letting people they don’t know follow them on Instagram. But those who don’t love it don’t have much of a choice. If you want to be a journalist today, maintaining a public persona accessible to random strangers is increasingly part of the job.

Consider the New York Times Innovation Report, a panicky internal document leaked to Buzzfeed in May. It shows a newspaper leadership that has lost confidence in its industry and is eager to hop on the “disruption” bandwagon, somehow convinced that it needs to be more like Vox, The Huffington Post and even First Look Media, despite the fact that the latter still hasn’t fully launched. There are lots of suggestions in the report, some of them perfectly sensible, but one takeaway is that even the most serious journalists will now be judged according to their facility with social media and their talent for self-promotion.

At one point, the report criticizes Andrea Elliott for taking two days to tweet about her amazing “Invisible Child” series, a five-part project, over a year in the making, about a 12-year-old homeless girl named Dasani and her family. By contrast, it praises the reporters and writers who engage with readers: “KJ Dell’Antonia, our Motherlode blogger, spends about an hour every day replying to commenters. Gina Kolata writes back to all readers who email her. Chris Chivers makes time, even in war zones, to manage social accounts on eight different platforms.”

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One needn’t knock the initiative of writers who are good at social media—particularly those like Chivers who are also great, intrepid reporters—to note that sometimes a journalist has to choose between spending time on Twitter and spending time immersing herself in a real-world drama. We already know that the requirements of brand-building are an enormous time-suck for the permalancer class, but now even those who land a full-time job at the most prestigious media company in the world have extra audience outreach responsibilities. And if it’s no longer enough for a journalist to do intensive reporting and write great stories, that has particular implications for women, who increasingly must open themselves to a constant pelting of personal abuse, from the snide to the violently pornographic, as the cost of a career in media.

I don’t know if there’s any way out of this, short of a drastic change in the architecture of social media itself. But we’re demanding a punishing new form of emotional labor from women in journalism, and we should recognize it.


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Washington’s Sketchy Pro-Israel/Anti-Iran Camp

FDD conference

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer discusses Iran with Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at the group's summit in April. (Screengrab: Foundation for Defense of Democracies/YouTube)

My colleague Eli Clifton has a new piece up at Salon about the pro-sanctions group United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI) and its somewhat murky links to a billionaire precious-metals investor named Thomas Kaplan. I suggest everyone check it out: it’s a fascinating tale of colliding interests; namely, that the head of UANI also helms ventures with the billionaire that stand to, by its own account, make a lot of money in the case of instability in the Middle East—up to and including “confrontation” with Iran.

Eli mentions in the course of his reporting a recent New York Times article that describes an intervention by the Justice Department to protect information held by UANI from being disclosed in court. There’re a lot of granular details about the case—a defamation suit by Victor Restis, a Greek shipping magnate whose company UANI accused of being “frontmen for the illicit activities of the Iranian regime”—but for our purposes here the important parts revolve around UANI’s ties to Israel. The suit alleges that UANI dispatched an Israeli businessman (otherwise unconnected to UANI) in order to broker a resolution to the dispute over the alleged defamation, and raises suspicions that Meir Dagan, a former Israeli spy chief and UANI advisory board member, provided information to the group about Restis’s company.

Now, UANI has former officials from a host of countries on its advisory board, but an observer would need to be willfully blind to miss the consistent pattern among pro-sanctions hardliners in Washington: most, if not all, align with DC’s right-leaning pro-Israel camp. Indeed, one need only listen to members of Congress raise Israel’s security as they vie to take the toughest positions on sanctions. Despite its diversity, UANI delivers on this front, with staunch Israel supporters, such as Joseph Lieberman, on its board, and with its staff drawn from and moving among pro-Israel activist and media circles.

One of the most active and most hardline groups on Iran, of course, is the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), whose influence Eli and I discussed at length in our recent Nation feature. (UANI and FDD officials have appeared together at events sponsored by dedicated pro-Israel groups.) The neoconservative think tank is certainly no exception to the pro-Israel bent of Iran hawks in DC. But even the extent to which the group serves as a pro-Israel outfit has been obscured in the course of its thirteen-year history.

FDD’s origin myth is, in fact, just that: a myth. Today the group’s website proclaims, “FDD was founded shortly after 9/11 by a group of visionary philanthropists and policymakers who understood the threat facing America, Israel and the West.” But according to its application for tax-exempt nonprofit status, FDD was “incorporated or formed” on April 24, 2001—five months before the September 11 attacks.

The FDD application also homes in on a narrower focus than its stated purpose today, which is “to promote pluralism, defend democratic values and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism.” Instead, the group was founded to concentrate almost solely on Israel advocacy. “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Inc. (‘FDD’) was incorporated in New York on April 24, 2001, as EMET: An Educational Initiative, Inc. (‘EMET’),” says the application, which is dated January 30, 2002. (Emet is Hebrew for “truth.”) “The initial purpose of EMET was to provide education meant to enhance Israel’s image in North America and the public’s understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.”

“These goals continue as part of FDD’s purpose,” the application says. It continues:

As a result of the terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the Board of Directors determined that EMET’s mission should be expanded. The Board has recognized the sad fact that Israel is no longer the only democracy in the world facing the scourge of terrorism.

The application goes on to list things the FDD board “believes.” Among the five bullet points are two focused exclusively on Israel. One states, “The way to achieve peace in the Middle East is not by compromising Israel’s existence as the only democracy in the region, but rather by defeating terrorism.” Defending Israel, in other words, remained central to FDD’s work, despite the expanding mission.

Indeed, FDD has a disproportionate focus on Iran—of twenty-one officials and experts listed on its website, more than half are described as Iran specialists of one sort or another—which, as I’ve said before, is an Israel issue in Washington. And looking at other groups working intently on Iran, as described by Eli and myself in our feature, one needs not look very hard to find the Israel angle: one of the groups we spent a great deal of time on was the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, America’s pre-eminent pro-Israel organization.

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This is not to say all pro-Israel groups oppose diplomacy with Iran, of course: two of Washington’s most astute pro-diplomacy groups, Americans for Peace Now and J Street, hail from the liberal pro-Israel camp. But the center of gravity of Israel advocacy trends right, and many of these groups and their staffs have staked out aggressive pro-sanctions or outright hawkish pro-war positions.

Pro-Israel advocates recoil at the notion that they played a major role in the build-up to the Iraq war. But if diplomacy with Iran fails due to measures pushed by these groups, a confrontation over its nuclear program becomes all the more likely. With all their activism against negotiations and compromise, it won’t be difficult to draw a line from pro-Israel groups like FDD and deeply Israel-linked groups like UANI to the potential conflict.


Read Next: How Israel’s shriveling peace camp failed the public

Could Stronger Unions Make China More Democratic?

Han Dongfang

Chinese Labor Activist Han Dongfang at his studio in Hong Kong (Reuters/Kin Cheung)

Han Dongfang, a longtime Chinese labor activist, has some ideas about democracy in China. But unlike most of the liberal Western critics and prominent exiled dissidents, Han is not focused on freeing Tibet, street rallies for human rights, or freedom of the press—though he understands that all those issues are vital to the debate on China’s political future. He thinks democracy begins not by casting a ballot for far-away political leaders, but electing your shop steward. And the interesting part is that the foundation for this emerging in workplaces across the nation that is defining, for better or worse, our global economy.

As an early leader of one of China’s first independent trade union movements and a veteran of the Tiananmen Square uprising, Han now heads China Labour Bulletin (CLB), a Hong Kong–based labor advocacy and research organization group. Speaking with me on a recent visit to New York, he explained how he sees organized labor as a unique nesting ground for a democratic polity in the new China.

He draws from the past quarter-century of observing China’s capitalist transition, the breakneck industrial development and ferocious pace of urbanization, along with the more recent opening to neoliberal global trade regimes and digital technology. Yet he’s also informed by an older legacy of trade unionism and workplace-justice activism going back to the emergence of democratic socialism in Europe. If you graft the trendlines of the Industrial Revolution onto China’s economic trajectory over the past generation, you start to see the basis for comparison between two histories of political and economic transformation. Han’s ideal is to use collective bargaining and industrial relations as a vehicle for restructuring power in the workplace. And perhaps, he says, China can develop independent trade unions that could sow new forms of social and economic citizenship, as they did in Germany and Sweden.

It may sound naive, but there’s overall more political space for labor unrest in China today than there is for any other form of social conflict. Anything smacking of political insurgency or harsh criticism of the one-party state is likely to meet with some degree of suppression or censorship.

But in the past few months alone, China has seen scores of wildcat strikes, demonstrations, periodic riots and even the occasional boss taken hostage. The government generally treats this strife as part of the dynamics of China’s astronomical growth. And the labor market is, in a way, akin to the country’s churning consumer market: the state knows it cannot control every aspect of Chinese society and is willing to allow a measure of market “freedom” as a self-regulating social ecosystem. Fostering commercial exchange keeps workers busy and fed and keeps factories humming. On the factory floor a parallel balancing of interests plays out, between workers—who, at established firms, generally belong to the government-run union—and employers—who, like their Western counterparts, want to keep profits flowing above all else. Manufacturing workers typically have some form of labor contract and are hooked into a national, employer-funded social insurance system, at least in theory. The system works if labor has enough autonomy to exert some control over their working conditions, through negotiation with bosses or bringing legal complaints. That doesn’t happen nearly enough. So CLB seeks to equip workers with collective bargaining skills and legal savvy to represent themselves to their employers and the government.

According to Han, the first step toward empowering the workforce is to wrest power from the bosses and the official state-run union.

“Now the biggest problem with the unions in China is that the factory unions are completely controlled by employers,” Han says. His organization seeks to “create some formula for trade union reform and collective bargaining in workplaces…establish a peaceful means of collective bargaining…and at the same time, through the collective bargaining process, we can encourage the workers to elect the factory representatives into the factory union, and therefore take away the employer control over the factory union.”

Now that China in capitalist transformation has entwined neoliberal economic cycles with modified authoritarianism and a creaky welfare state, workers are being vastly exploited by their bosses and constrained politically by the regime. Yet Han believes the union structure still offers an opening for labor representation. Advocates need to know the right pressure points in the triangular relationship among the state and official union, management, corporate power structure and rank-and-file—and they must understand how to use their leverage.

Under China’s reformed market economy, the government strives to maintain stability and contain social unrest, he says, so “they don’t want the labor relationship to become a political drama.” Ultimately, under a free enterprise-based workplace, particularly in the private sector, the government cannot control corporations nor can they control workers, or enforce labor laws effectively. Since the locals of the official All-China Trade Union Federation tend to be ineffective and aligned with management, he continues, “workers are always unhappy.… there’s no collective bargaining mechanism. The natural reaction is to strike.”

Labor protests spring up fairly regularly, ranging in size from a local union rebellion at a single Walmart branch, to the 30,000-strong Yue Yuen shoe factory strike earlier this year. The problem is that once workers down their tools, he says, “no one knows how to bargain.” CLB trains workplace organizers and legal advocates “to create a rational part, instill the self-confidence and balance [in the workplace, and] pair it with a strong-enough militancy, the willingness to go on strike. So it’s all about balance.” He notes that officials have an interest in rooting out political and business corruption, too, so if populism acts as a check on corporate abuse, the party indirectly benefits.

Han sees the strike as an effective tool for airing grievances, but only if channeled through a collective bargaining structure that engages employers and workers as equal parties. “If you look around the world, the strike is a natural tool for workers,” he says. But in the long run, “what is not necessarily natural is bargaining skills, and organized power, rather than massive, wildcat power… That is more important for a trade union movement than chaos.”

Han isn’t gunning for class warfare; he’s trying to map out a way to build up labor power so workers can get what they want and are entitled to: a decent livelihood, safe working conditions


and control over the terms of their employment. Han accepts that more radical left labor scholars and activists will dismiss this as an overly conciliatory stance that fails to challenge the ideologies of neoliberalism or the fundamental structures of the country’s increasingly aggressive capitalism.

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But having lived through the heaviest period of unrest in contemporary Chinese history, Han is resigned to the kind of utilitarian advocacy that prioritizes workers’ basic entitlements. And that starts with the simple act of casting a ballot for a local union representative.

“This is a very, very important, solid democratic practice: making democracy first in people’s daily work and life, rather than first putting a banner there, giving you a piece of paper to vote, to elect the premier.… Before you have the right to vote for president, why not go first to vote for your own representative in the workplace and practice this democracy in your daily life?”

To hear an audio version of this interview, tune in to tonight’s episode of Asia Pacific Forum at 9 pm ET on WBAI 99.5 FM New York.

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Congress Needs to Assert Checks and Balances on Any New Iraq Mission


(AP Photo)

It is not a lack of sympathy with the historic and current circumstance of Iraq’s religious minorities—or of other persecuted peoples in that traumatized country—that leads some of the most humane and responsible members of Congress to say that President Obama must seek approval from the House and Senate before committing the United States military to a new Iraq mission.

Nor is it isolationism or pacifism that motivates most dissent.

Rather, it is a healthy respect for the complex geopolitics of the region combined with a regard for the wisdom of the system of checks and balances and the principles of advice and consent outlined in the US Constitution.

Consider the case of Barbara Lee.

Few members of the House of Representatives have a so long and distinguished a record of commitment to respecting and protecting the interests of vulnerable populations in distant lands than Lee, a California Democrat who has been deeply engaged in international human rights advocacy since her days as an aide to former Congressman Ron Dellums, D-California.

Since her election to Congress in 1998, Lee has been the essential author or co-author of major pieces of legislation dealing with international HIV/AIDS issues, including the measure that created the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. She organized bipartisan coalitions to respond to genocide in Darfur.

She was a leader the effort to establish the position of special adviser for orphans and vulnerable children. She has served as a US representative to the United Nations. And she has argued, well and wisely, that the hard work of diplomacy, the provision of humanitarian aid, the steady support of international institutions and the recognition of distinct regional issues is invariably more likely to help the world’s most vulnerable peoples than war-making.

Of course Barbara Lee supports immediate and intensive efforts to provide vital aid to the Yazidi people, a religious minority facing harrowing threats from the militant forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Of course, she wants to aid and protect religious, cultural and ethnic minorities.

That is why she was one of the first members of the House to express support for “humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.”

Lee praises the president for announcing that “there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”

But she still expresses legitimate concern about “US mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.”

Within hours of President Obama’s announcement that, in addition to humanitarian efforts, he was authorizing military airstrikes on ISIS forces, Lee called for the president “to seek congressional authorization before any combat operations.”

“For too long, Congress has abdicated its Constitutional role in matters of war and peace,” she explained. “The President should come to Congress for authorization of any further military action in Iraq.”

Lee is not alone in w orrying about the threat of US mission creep in Iraq .

Congressman Jim McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who has been an outspoken advocate for hunger relief and related humanitarian initiatives, warned with regard to the airstrikes ordered last week by the president, “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. “

In July, the House voted overwhelmingly for a resolution written by McGovern, Lee and Congressman Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, which explicitly signaled opposition to any prolonged US military intervention in Iraq without congressional approval. “We made it very clear that we believe Congress has a significant constitutional role to play,” says McGovern, who explains, “When we bomb ISIS, which is a horrible group, we have to realize that we are heading down the path of choosing sides in an ancient religious and sectarian war inside Iraq. While choosing sides may be something Congress decides that it wants to support, it goes beyond the humanitarian mission of providing relief to civilians stranded on a mountain in imminent danger of dying of hunger and thirst. It goes beyond protecting our military and diplomatic personnel. I am concerned that we are already seeing these different missions blur into one in the press and in Congress. That is deeply troubling.”

Congressman John Garamendi, a California Democrat who has remained deeply involved with conflict resolution in the African region where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer, was quick to voice support for the “ongoing humanitarian mission of airdropping food and water” into Iraq. But he added, “I am seriously concerned that these targeted strikes may become a slippery slope.”

Garamendi says, “Congress needs greater clarity on the objectives of this expanding action.”

That clarity will benefit not just Congress but President Obama.

Even close allies of the president, such as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat in the Senate, insist that escalation “is not in the cards.”

“We cannot send the troops, we must not send the troops,” Durbin argued on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Escalating it is not in the cards. Neither the American people nor Congress are in the business of wanting to escalate this conflict beyond where it is today. I think the President’s made it clear this is a limited strike. He has, I believe, most Congressional support for that at this moment. To go beyond is really going to be a challenge.”

Arizona Senator John McCain and his neoconservative allies take a different view, as do some liberal interventionists. But the necessity of congressional debate is about more than partisanship and ideology. All sides should recognize not just the requirement of congressional consent but the value of the process.

There is a mistaken notion that the system of checks and balances threatens the authority of the presidency. In fact, it can, and often does, provide necessary definition for a commander in chief. When a president seeks the advice and consent of Congress for military intervention, the process itself conveys authority—along with a broad understanding of the mission that is being proposed.

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This is as the founders of the American experiment intended, and that intent remains entirely appropriate. If a president proposes a fool’s mission, Congress should be able to prevent him from embarking upon it. If a president proposes a necessary mission, Congress can and in all likelihood will give approval—not always as quickly as the commander in chief would prefer, but on a timeline (and wi th parameters) that will balance executive urgency with legislative caution.

It is not a lack of conscience, or humanity, that inspires the demand that every president—be he a Democrat or she a Republican, be he a conservative or she a liberal—seek the approval of Congress before intervening militarily in a distant land. It a basic premise of the American experiment, as outlined in our Constitution and in our common sense of who we are and how we might best respond to a dangerous and difficult world.


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How Cash Assistance Could Help Pregnant Women Break Free From Abusive Relationships

Pregnant woman

(Reuters/Regis Duvignau)

Say you’re expecting your first child and struggling financially. You need cash assistance, so you apply through the state’s welfare program for low-income families. If you live in California, how far along you are in your pregnancy can determine whether you’re a candidate. Three months or fewer from your delivery date (or already parenting other kids) and you could be eligible immediately. But any earlier and you’re insufficiently in the family way to qualify for this family program. So you wait.

This wait can take an otherwise healthy pregnancy off course, advocates in California say, so they’re pushing for a law that would move the CalWORKs eligibility period up from the third to the second trimester. This week, they’ll find out whether legislators think state coffers can support the change, which wouldn’t extend the amount of time a family receives the benefit but would start the clock earlier. The additional cost is expected to be around $7 million.

A broad range of groups is supporting the bill, called the Healthy Babies Act, from California Latinas for Reproductive Justice to the California Catholic Conference. But the loudest voice in the effort to get it passed has come from the domestic violence prevention community. Service providers and activists committed to the issue say the law would especially help people facing violence from an intimate partner.

“I realized I was getting a lot of calls from women that were pregnant,” Mariya Taher, a social worker with WOMAN, Inc., told me. She helps cover the San Francisco organization’s twenty-four-hour domestic violence support line and is working with bill author Assemblyman Mark Stone’s office to pass the bill.

According to Taher, the bill addresses two pressing issues facing the women she works with: Pregnancy is often a time when abuse starts or escalates. A Centers for Disease Control review of studies finds a possible association between unintended pregnancy and abuse that supports Taher’s observations. A 2005 CDC report found that homicide was a leading cause of traumatic death among pregnant women and new mothers, particularly those who are young or black.

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Advocates also say women stay often because they can’t see how else they’d survive. Taher says about a fourth of callers to the WOMAN, Inc. help line are surviving financial abuse, meaning someone is controlling their income, ruining their credit, not allowing them to work or otherwise keeping them dependent. For some, accessing the CalWORKs safety net means the difference between continuing to put their health and potentially their pregnancy at risk and being able to leave.

It’s all an interesting counterpoint to the debate earlier this summer about whether intact, married families are safer than those led by single parents. In June, an op-ed published on The Washington Post’s site argued that married, biological fathers are less likely to abuse people in their families, making women and girls in such arrangements safer than others. Critics convincingly challenged that the stigma facing single parents often keeps women in bad situations, making them even more vulnerable to abuse. Taher of WOMAN, Inc. agrees with those critics and has argued that that’s yet another reason why Californians need the Healthy Babies Act.

The state’s senate appropriations committee is expected to vote on the bill August 14.


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North Carolina Becomes the Latest Casualty of the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act Decision

Moral March to the Polls

A protester at a "Moral March to the Polls" rally in Winston-Salem on July 7

On Wednesday, August 6, the country celebrated the forty-ninth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the most impactful civil rights law ever passed by Congress. Two days later, a federal judge in North Carolina denied a preliminary injunction to block key provisions of the state’s new voting law, widely described as the most onerous in the country.

North Carolina’s new voting restrictions will now be in effect for the 2014 midterms and beyond, pending a full trial in July 2015, a month before the fiftieth anniversary of the VRA. The federal government and plaintiffs including the North Carolina NAACP and the League of Women Voters argued during a hearing last month that three important parts of the law—a reduction in early voting from seventeen to ten days, the elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period, and a prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct—disproportionally burdened African-American voters in violation of Section 2 of the VRA and should be enjoined before the 2014 election.

As evidence, plaintiffs showed that in recent elections African-Americans were twice as likely to vote early, use same-day registration and vote out-of-precinct. In 2012, for example, 300,000 African-Americans voted during the week of early voting eliminated by the state, 30,000 used same-day registration and 2,500 cast out-of-precinct ballots. Overall, 70 percent of blacks voted early and African-Americans made up 42 percent of new same-day registrants.

Judge Thomas Schroeder of the Middle District of North Carolina disagreed. “Plaintiffs’ complaints state plausible claims upon which relief can be granted and should be permitted to proceed in the litigation,” he wrote in a 125-page opinion. “However, a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy to be granted in this circuit only upon a ‘clear showing’ of entitlement…. Even assuming Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits, they have not demonstrated they are likely to suffer irreparable harm—a necessary prerequisite for preliminary relief—before trial in the absence of an injunction.” 

Basically, Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, said that even if African-American voters face burdens as a result of the new restrictions, they will still be able to openly participate in the electoral process and will not face “ an inequality of opportunity to vote.”

It’s important to note that this is just a preliminary opinion and the outcome was not surprising. The most contentious aspect of the law—the requirement that voters produce specifics forms of government-issued ID to cast a ballot—doesn’t go into effect until 2016 and was not the focus of the injunction pleadings. In April, a federal judge in Wisconsin blocked the state’s voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA following a full trial.

As I wrote following the four-day hearing in Winston-Salem last month, it’s very possible the plaintiffs could lose the preliminary injunction hearing and win the trial in July 2015, when they’ll have more time, more expertise and more evidence, like voter ID, to draw on. It’s tougher for plaintiffs to win a preliminary injunction than a full trial, especially in an off-year election when voter turnout is lower and restrictions on voting are perceived as less costly.

That said, this is a significant opinion, and one that shows why Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is no substitute for Section 5. Indeed, North Carolina is the perfect case study for what happened after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. (If the ruling leads to diminished voter turnout, particularly among African-Americans and young voters, it could also swing the close Senate race between Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis, which could very well determine which party controls the Senate next year.)

Let’s review the legislative history. In April 2013, the North Carolina House passed a sixteen-page voter ID bill that required a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, but also accepted student IDs from state universities and public employee IDs. The bill languished in the North Carolina Senate until the Supreme Court overturned Section 4 of the VRA, freeing states like North Carolina with the worst history of voting discrimination from having to clear their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5.

Within a month of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Senate introduced a fifty-seven-page “monster” (so dubbed by Democracy NC) that required strict voter ID (no student IDs, no public employees IDs allowed), cut early voting, eliminated same-day registration, repealed out-of-precinct voting, axed pre-registration for high school students, ended public financing of judicial elections, increased the number of poll challengers and even got rid of Citizen Awareness Month, which urged North Carolinians to register to vote.

“It was a 90 percent different bill,” testified Representative Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Cumberland County. “It was an ambush on the people of North Carolina.”

The Senate took only two days to debate the new bill, which repealed or curtailed nearly every reform that encouraged people to vote in the state. The House passed the Senate’s version in a matter of hours, with no amendments offered or public input. “It was, bar none, the worst legislative process I’ve ever been through,” Glazier said. “If you were writing a textbook on legislation, this was a textbook example of how not do it.”

Not only did North Carolina no longer have to approve its voting changes with the federal government thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, the burden of proof shifted from the state to the voters most impacted by the law, as did the legal standard needed to show discrimination under the VRA. “You have the burden of showing clear evidence,” Judge Schroeder reminded the plaintiffs several times during the hearing.

Under Section 5, North Carolina could not implement any voting change that left minority voters worse off. That was clearly the case with regards to the new voting law, since African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 34 percent of those without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration.

But under Section 2, plaintiffs have to show that the “totality of circumstances” leaves a minority group with “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process.” The simplicity of Section 5 has been replaced by the complexity of Section 2. What would have been a slam-dunk case for the government and civil rights groups is now a long slog, with a very uncertain outcome.

As Judge Schroeder noted in his opinion, “Vote-denial claims under Section 2 have thus far been relatively rare, perhaps due in part to the fact that since 1965, many jurisdictions—including many North Carolina counties—were under federal control and barred from enacting any new voting procedure without first obtaining ‘pre-clearance’ under Section 5 of the VRA from the DOJ or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.”

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“If this ruling stands,” wrote Rick Hasen, “it shows that Section 2 and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause are poor substitutes in protecting voting rights for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Members of Congress introduced legislation in January to resurrect Section 5. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has 171 co-sponsors in the House, but no Republican co-sponsor in the Senate. There is little urgency in Congress to pass it. In a perfect world, this week’s North Carolina ruling would change that.


Read Next: North Carolina will determine the future of the Voting Rights Act. 

Why Some People Just Aren’t Buying Glenn Beck’s ‘Evolved’ Politics

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck on CNN. Screenshot. 

Glenn Beck claims to have “evolved.” He says he said some stupid things in the past, like that Obama was a racist. He says he no longer wants to call people names when he disagrees with their politics. In fact, he hates politics. He thinks our “cold civil war” will get hot “unless we talk to each other.”

But he still believes a caliphate is coming to get you and that you should stockpile food for the coming economic collapse. “I’m still a conservative,” he says. “I still believe the same things that I did. Do I believe in exactly the same way I did? No. But that’s what it means to be alive.”

That was Beck’s spiel in the first part of a two-part interview with Brian Stelter on CNN’s Reliable Sources last Sunday. (Part two will air this Sunday.) Beck was nothing if not self-dramatizing. He claims he told himself that if he didn’t leave Fox News when he did “you’ll lose your soul.” (Though he was basically kicked off the channel, for going too far out there.) He seems sorry for his role in dividing the country, but he repeats several times how “all of us” have contributed to that. When Stelter asks, “Is there some specific quote, something you wish you hadn’t said,” Beck seems perplexed, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Meghan McCain, who’s had a long-time feud with Beck, isn’t buying any of his purported evolution.

“The most fucked up, disgusting, worst, most insulting things anyone has ever said about me, hands-down, ever, in my entire life, came out of this man’s mouth,” she said on Pivot’s TakePart Live on Monday. “So, what I want to know is, does he regret that?”

“Do you regret barfing into the camera and pretending to barf for fifteen minutes at the idea of me doing a PSA for skin cancer?”

“[If] you’re the type of person who’s going to divide America, which I believe Glenn Beck has played a part in doing, are you now taking culpability?”

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Then she threw out a dare: “In all seriousness, if Glenn Beck wants to come on this show, I’m open to having a conversation with him. I think pigs will fly out my ass sooner than that man will come on my show, but we can try.”

Here’s part one of the interview on CNN:

Second video:


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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.

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