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Forty-Five Years Later, John Carlos and Tommie Smith Have Never Been More Relevant

Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, US athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner after while receiving their respective gold and bronze medals at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (AP Photo)

Dave Zirin is the co-author of The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.

October 16 marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the day two young athletes brought protest to that most unlikely of places: the Olympic Games. After the 200-meter dash, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black gloved fists to the heavens, with Australian silver medalist Peter Norman standing in solidarity and creating an image for the ages.

We may know that medal-stand moment. But it was more than a moment. It was a movement called the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Carlos, Smith and Norman all wore patches with those five simple words. Today, in 2013, the issues have certainly changed, but the need to revive, rebuild and relaunch an Olympic Project for Human Rights has never been more urgent.

In 1968, the main demands of OPHR centered around the removal of open bigot “Slavery” Avery Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee, ceasing participation of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, hiring more African-American coaches and restoring Muhammad Ali’s boxing title, stripped over his resistance to the United States’ war in Vietnam. Today, Avery Brundage, Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa are thankfully in history’s dustbin, African-American coaches are hired without controversy and Muhammad Ali has become a living saint.

Yet the intersection of the Olympics and injustice remains if anything more pungent than in 1968. Today, the Olympics arrive on the shores of a host-nation like a neoliberal virus, displacing the nation’s poorest residents in the name of massive construction projects. Global corporations, with exclusive International Olympic Committee seals of approval, force local businesses to shut down as they brand the festivities like it’s a NASCAR event. The poor of a city are herded off, jailed or even disappeared in the name of making an Olympic city pristine for visiting dignitaries. Today, we are witnessing the mass evictions of thousands Rio de Janeiro’s poorest residents in the name of the 2016 games, and, as in London in 2012, the introduction of surveillance drones to monitor the proceedings. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has outlawed demonstrations for sixty days before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics amidst both a shocking attack on the nation’s LGBT population, as well as an unprecedented carnival of graft.

The idea of a new Olympic Project for Human Rights could have demands that directly address these issues. No involuntary evictions. No pre-emptive arrests of citizens. No awarding the games to countries that violate internationally recognized standards of human rights. No punishing athletes for speaking their minds and using the Olympics to take a stand for something other than McDonald’s and Pepsi.

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Would athletes be taking one hell of a risk by speaking out? Absolutely. Look at what Carlos, Smith and Norman suffered. First, there was the media barrage as the Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute” and the Chicago Tribune called their actions “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” But the most shameful display was by a young reporter for the Chicago American named Brent Musburger who called them “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers”, a slur for which he has never apologized.

Then upon returning home, Carlos, Smith and Norman faced the daily struggles of being pariahs and having to scrap just to survive. As Dr. Carlos said to me in 2003, “I don’t feel embraced, I feel like a survivor, like I survived cancer. It’s like if you are sick and no one wants to be around you, and when you’re well everyone who thought you would go down for good doesn’t even want to make eye contact. It was almost like we were on a deserted island. That’s where Tommy Smith and John Carlos were. But we survived.” This sacrifice of privilege and glory, fame and fortune, for a larger cause is something they never regretted. The best way to honor their sacrifice is not just to learn their story, praise their courage and pat ourselves on the back that we no longer face the specters of Avery Brundage and Rhodesia. It is to make the history come alive and demand justice from an International Olympic Committee that now has more in common with a criminal cartel than a guardian of what is best about sports.

Dave Zirin looks at Bob Costas’ very public stand in the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins.

Praying for Broken Hearts in the GOP

An interfaith group of Americans sings prayers for reconciliation in Washington, DC.

Yesterday in the Canon House Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill, Rabbi David Shneyer led an interfaith group of approximately 150 clergy leaders, locked-out workers, and people of faith, in song.

“Of love and justice I will sing,” sang the rabbi, playing a guitar and riffing off of Psalm 101.

As the others joined in, their voices rang out powerfully and could be heard clearly a floor below.

The group had gathered to participate in an action organized by Faith in Public Life and the Washington Interreligious Staff Community. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and others marched on the offices of key Republican Members—including GOP Leadership—and urged a vote to immediately end the shutdown and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions. Petitions with over 32,000 signatures were simultaneously delivered to members’ home district offices around the country.

When the song ended, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, offered a prayer: “It is the common good that is the way forward for our nation…. And so let us pray for their courage that they can act on behalf of all of our people. And may our walking these halls, and praying with Congress, be the bridge that you need for healing and for some sanity in caring for all.”

The group then began its procession while singing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns. Police officers quickly told them to keep their volume low and stay to the sides of the corridors, or risk arrest. The group complied. It wasn’t that they feared arrest—many of these faith leaders have engaged in civil disobedience in the past—but that wasn’t their mission on Tuesday.

“The softer tone actually made it feel like a pilgrimage,” said Rabbi Shneyer, director of the Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community. “Like a witnessing.”

The group divided in two so there would be sufficient time to visit congressional offices in the Cannon, Rayburn and Longworth buildings. When Sr. Simone arrived with her delegation at Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s office door they were greeted by staffer Joyce Meyer.

Good to see you again,” said Meyer to Sr. Simone.

Sr. Simone told Meyer that they had come to pray that Representative Ryan “has the courage and insight to do the work that needs to be done to care for the common good.”

“We have furloughed workers who are with us,” she said.“This is not just about numbers, this is about people. Congressman Ryan, I know, understands that. We pray that his heart is broken by it so that he will act courageously.”

One of the participating workers was Alex Vasquez, a food worker at the Smithsonian, who said in a released statement, “Before the shutdown I was struggling to support my unemployed father and little sister. Now I’ve gone from low wages to no wages. Tea Party Republicans need to stop these political games.”

While Meyer was polite and told the marchers that she appreciated what they had to say, other staffers indicated that their bosses share the marchers’ urgency to end the shutdown.

According to one clergy member invited into the office of Congressman Dave Joyce of Ohio, a staffer said that the representative had a “strong desire to end the shutdown [and] knows that people are hurting.” A staffer for Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf distributed copies of a recent floor statement in which the congressman said, “For those of us who think Obamacare is a disaster…its future will not be decided by shutting or opening the government.”

As the meetings drew to an end, Sr. Simone shared that she “had been feeling a little discouraged, but coming together in faith makes me think, ‘Yes, there is a way forward in this desert time.’”

The group closed by singing “We Are Marching,” and as they did, Reverend Cathy Rion Starr of All Souls Church Unitarian offered these impromptu remarks: “We are the changemakers. It is us, and those we are connected to in our congregations and communities, and we need to keep coming back and forth and back and forth. This is the way that we walk in the light of God, in the light of life, in the light of love. So let us keep marching together.”

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So what is next for these faith leaders and the marchers? What about the fact that so many of the Republicans who have shut down the government and are willing to default already consider themselves people of deep faith?

“It is true that some think they are people of faith, but it seems to me that they don’t know the struggle of the working poor people,” Sr. Simone told me. “They have a head for figures but not a heart for the people. Maybe faith for them is more research and theory and less the story of people.”

“Perhaps the faith community needs to engage with Congress more often and have serious discussions [about] morality and ethics,” said Rabbi Shneyer. “Maybe that would help Congresspeople and staffers open their hearts to surveying the people in a more just and compassionate way.”

Greg Kaufmann previously blogged about what Republican efforts to defund Obamacare mean for impoverished Americans.

Updated: Glenn Greenwald Exits 'The Guardian' to Help Launch a New Media Outlet

(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Wednesday Updates Pierre Omidyar just out with his own statementAmong other things"I developed an interest in supporting independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest. And, I want to find ways to convert mainstream readers into engaged citizens. I think there’s more that can be done in this space, and I’m eager to explore the possibilities."

Jay Rosen just interviewed Omidyar, his longest chat so far. 

At the core of Newco will be a different plan for how to build a large news organization. It resembles what I called in an earlier post “the personal franchise model” in news. You start with individual journalists who have their own reputations, deep subject matter expertise, clear points of view, an independent and outsider spirit, a dedicated online following, and their own way of working. The idea is to attract these people to NewCo, or find young journalists capable of working in this way, and then support them well.

Earlier:  Glenn Greenwald, in this case, had to deal with a hot news leak himself. News about him leaving The Guardian, apparently on okay terms, got out late yesteday afernoon before he had a chance to decide how he would describe the new media venture he is helping to launch. What this means about the future of further Edward Snowden/NSA stories was unclear. Buzzfeed reported it first:

Greenwald declined to comment on the precise scale of the new venture or on its budget, but he said it would be “a very well-funded… very substantial new media outlet.” He said the source of funding will be public when the venture is officially announced.

“My role, aside from reporting and writing for it, is to create the entire journalism unit from the ground up by recruiting the journalists and editors who share the same journalistic ethos and shaping the whole thing—but especially the political journalism part—in the image of the journalism I respect most,” he said.

Greenwald will continue to live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he said, and would bring some staff to Rio, but the new organization’s main hubs will be New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

But who was the moneyman behind the new venture? A short while later Reuters was the first to report this scoop on the man behind the offer: “Glenn Greenwald, who has made headlines around the world with his reporting on U.S. electronic surveillance programs, is leaving the Guardian newspaper to join a new media venture funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, according to people familiar with the matter.”

The Washington Post claims the new outlet is seeking to hire Laura Poitras (the filmmaker and writer who was a key part of the Snowden bombshells) and Jeremy Scahill. Those two have not commented.

More from the Post:

Omidyar, who grew up in the Washington area, founded eBay in 1995 and became a billionaire two years later with its initial public stock offering. Forbes estimated that his net worth was $8.5 billion in September.

He has been involved in funding journalism projects before, including Backfence, a defunct network of “hyper-local” news sites in the Washington area...


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Greenwald, 46, who left Salon for The Guardian last year, offered this statement to Buzzfeed:

My partnership with the Guardian has been extremely fruitful and fulfilling. I have high regard for the editors and journalists with whom I worked and am incredibly proud of what we achieved. The decision to leave was not an easy one, but I was presented with a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline.

And Erik Wemple at his media blog at the Post adds:

The new media organization, said Greenwald, will be a general-interest proposition, including coverage of sports and entertainment. Greenwald told BuzzFeed that his role would be to build the “entire journalism unit,” particularly the part that bears on political coverage. It will be online in time to publish NSA-related stories that stem from the documents he received from Edward Snowden. He would not hazard a guess on the launch date.

Should the outlet seek headquarters outside the legal reach of the US? Greenwald said it was “an important question.”

Rick Perlstein discusses Greenwald’s sizable fanbase.

No Cartoon Characters in the NYC Mayoral Debate

Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio (AP Photo/File)

One of the more striking things about Bill de Blasio is that he’s not a “character.” The probable next mayor of New York City isn’t easy to caricature—and I mean that not in a political sense (he’s been easy enough to cast as a Marxist who’ll bring back the grimy, crime-ridden ’70s and cede City Hall to a squeegee-man collective), but in terms of personality. Recent mayors of America’s most theatrical city can usually be held in the imagination with a personal quality or two: Bloomberg, the fussy plutocrat; Giuliani, the pit bull; Dinkins was a beleaguered gentleman; Koch, an irrepressible loudmouth.

Over time and under pressure of a media that will create characters where none exist, de Blasio’s image may change, but right now he doesn’t hit us over the head with a core, ever-so-slightly comical persona. It’s not that he’s bland; it’s more that his prominent qualities—highly intelligent, good listener, cares about those on society’s lower rungs—aren’t grafting onto the usual egghead and bleeding-heart stereotypes. Maybe that’s because his most prominent physical characteristic—his height—militates against casting him as some kind of weak sister. At the same time, though, his non-cartoonishess may be due to him pulling back on that height. “His towering height (he is six foot five) seems to have given way to a compensatingly soft delivery,” Michael Greenberg writes in The New York Review of Books, “as if he has conditioned himself not to intimidate or overwhelm.”

In fact, the real “character” in de Blasio’s candidacy is his family. As Greenberg puts it: “He represents an almost fairy-tale idea of how many New Yorkers wish to see their city: racially harmonious, enlightened, empathetic—a wish that finds assurance, perhaps, in de Blasio’s ever-so-vaguely patrician demeanor.”

De Blasio will go up against his GOP rival, Joe Lhota, in their first of three debates tonight. Lhota, though he comes off as more hard-edged and impatient than de Blasio, isn’t a sharply drawn Noo Yawk type, either. Neither man is nondescript exactly—and they're “descript” enough for the Times today to chart each man’s “Go-To-Gesture” (de Blasio: “Constant Clintonian figure jab”; Lhota: “Arms outstretched for a hug that never comes”) and to advise de Blasio to cut the “didactic delivery” and Lhota to “smile more, mumble less.”

But not being a character has its upsides. These are two smart, accomplished men, and without a cartoon version to get in the way, we might be able to more clearly see their crisp ideological differences. They have strong, almost diametrically opposed ideas on charter schools, stop-and-frisk police tactics, taxes, and visions of the city. Things to look for: Will de Blasio bland-out about real-estate developers, with whom he’s been accused of being too friendly? Will Lhota come off as overwrought and out of touch, trying to pin de Blasio as a socialist, when the city is thirsty to balance its growing economic inequality?

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Of course, the real question, in this or any other race, isn’t “Are they characters?” but “Do they have character?” Debates don’t always answer that question.

Leslie Savan discusses the character of Bill de Blasio’s parents.

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Protesters lay on the ground dressed in red at Monday’s die-in at Columbia University, New York, as part of Take Back Manhattan, which celebrates indigenous culture and history. The act was meant to symbolize the sinister significance of Columbus Day for many of the continent’s native peoples. (Courtesy of Jerry Levy)

Monday marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day—which counters the federal holiday known as Columbus Day. As evidenced by the current debate surrounding the Washington football team’s name, words are profoundly important. In the United States, Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes the self-determination of indigenous peoples in the Americas against colonization. But a recent well-intentioned effort that sought to improve Columbus Day by calling it Bartolomé de las Casas Day essentially erases the work of Natives who worked to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and instead attempts to unnecessarily create a new white hero.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first officially marked in Berkeley in 1992. The year was significant because it signified 500 years after Columbus’s arrival to island on which the Dominican Republic and Haiti now exist. Indigenous resistance to colonization and its celebration has never enjoyed the luxury of downtime—but the years leading up to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival were particularly crucial. Part of the reason is that Natives had moved to cities in unprecedented numbers in the decades leading up to the 500 mark.

The middle of the last century was one in which the US federal government became fixated on dissolving Native identity and tribal assets. The Termination Era, as it’s called, set the context for what happened in an ultimately failed attempt by white lawmakers to disappear Natives and their remaining land. In the late 1940s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, began airlifting provisions onto the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe because of particularly brutal winters. The food helped some Natives get through some seasons, but didn’t reach everyone. The BIA soon concluded that bringing in much-needed food didn’t solve the lack of resources, and the agency began opening relocation points in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Denver. The program provided moving expenses, as well as job training and job placement services for Navajo and Hopi citizens. Within a couple of years, an expanded program known as Urban Indian Relocation Program shipped Natives off of their nations into a dozen urban cities—including San Francisco and Oakland. What Vine Deloria described as Red Power, a pan-Indian freedom movment, was probably most visible less than two decades later, when Natives took Alcatraz Island for nearly two years, beginning in 1969.

One of the people closely associated with the movement was Mildred “Millie” Ketcheschawno. A Mvskoke, or Muskogee Creek Nation citizen, Ketcheschawno took advantage of the relocation program, and moved to Oakland. Ketcheschawno was no stranger to relocation. As a child, she had left her community at Shell Creek in Oklahoma to attend an Indian boarding school in Kansas. By the time she arrived to Oakland, other Natives were arriving as well, during the height of the Termination Era—a time during which the US federal government conveniently sought to end its treaty obligations to Natives while still taking possession of Native lands and resources.

Nevertheless, Ketcheschawno thrived in her new home. She became increasingly involved among the Bay Area’s urban Indian community, and eventually moved to Los Angeles and then back to Oklahoma for some time. But she made the decision to move back to the Bay Area to continue her education—and to organize. In 1991, with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival looming, Ketcheschawno’s work in the group known as the Resistance 500 was crucial in getting the Berkeley City Council to adopt a name change.

In Berkeley in 1992, the entire year was known as the Year of Indigenous Peoples, and October 12 was dubbed Indigenous Peoples Day. Today, most Natives and their allies will refer to the holiday with this name, to honor the resilience of indigenous peoples over the avarice of a colonizer.

For clarity, when we write about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we should note that the apostrophe goes after the “s,” and not before it. If the apostrophe were placed before it, we would collapse all indigenous peoples into one (keep in mind that the US government recognizes nearly 600 Native tribes and nations within its borders—and that doesn’t begin to count indigenous peoples in the rest of the Americas). In Berkeley and elsewhere, the day is celebrated as Indigenous Peoples Day, with no apostrophe—which drives the same point. On this day, we don’t just think about the land and resources that we take advantage of, but of the people themselves, and their self-determination.

That is why I was dismayed to read Matthew Inman’s Columbus Day comic. In it, Inman debunks several persistent and celebratory myths about Columbus, and draws attention to Columbus’s bloody rampage instead. Although the beginning is far from perfect, it’s a good start that leaves the reader to question why we would celebrate Columbus to begin with. But it goes completely downhill from there.

Inman urges that we instead celebrate Bartolomé de las Casas, whom he describes as a wealthy adventurer who underwent changes in the Americas and eventually became the Defender of the Indians. As it went viral, Inman’s analysis drew increasing fury from those who rightly pointed out that de las Casas had argued for the enslavement of African peoples, even though he later renounced his support for it. Inman tacked on an addendum explaining that de las Casas had, indeed, promoted the African slave trade. Although Inman flippantly acknowledges this truth, he also dismisses it too soon.

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But Inman also never stops to consider the damaging narrative that de las Casas embodied—one in which indigenous peoples wait in silence to be saved by a white charity complex. By centering on de las Casas, Inman and others who descend from settlers are still lauding a white “hero.” When I celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day yesterday, I celebrated my Guarani people, and I celebrated our capacity to exist for so long in the face of terror. I didn’t celebrate a new hero because I already have those who came before me.

What saddens me most is Inman’s failure to acknowledge the work of people like Millie Ketcheschawno, who embodied resistance in the face of Indian boarding schools, and the relocation program in the middle of the Termination Era. Ketcheschawno and others like her, and not de las Casas and others like him, paved a path for us to celebrate the survival of indigenous peoples. Let’s not forget that.

Dave Zirin looks at how Rick Reilly’s plan to use his in-laws to defend the Redskins name backfired.

The Time To Divest: A Response to Harvard President Drew Faust

Students at Harvard University are urging the administration to divest from fossil fuels. (Flickr/Kelly Delay)

We are taking our future into our own hands.

Harvard students, alongside thousands of others worldwide, are pushing our university to divest from fossil fuels. Our message is simple: if we do not uproot the political influence of the fossil fuel industry, we will face catastrophic climate change.

Harvard University President Drew Faust made a statement on October 10 opposing divestment and siding with the fossil fuel industry. We look to leaders like President Faust to support efforts that better the world and are disappointed that she has chosen the wrong side of history.

President Faust’s response reveals fundamental misunderstandings about our movement. We do not expect divestment to have a financial impact on fossil fuel companies, as President Faust implied. Divestment is a moral and political strategy to expose the reckless business model of the fossil fuel industry that puts our world at risk. It exposes the fossil fuel industry’s influence on our democratic system, its perpetuation of climate change denial, and its continued extraction of hydrocarbons that heat our planet. Divestment calls on citizens to build a powerful climate movement and pressure elected representatives to enact meaningful legislation.

The time has come for institutions to take a stand on climate change by divesting. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group I report (IPCC WGI) shows that the world is currently warming ten times faster than at any other point in the last 65 million years. The globe is on track to warm over four degrees Celsius by 2100, a level that is incompatible with current civilization. We need political climate action now, and neither Harvard nor any other university can responsibly rely solely on research and campus greening to push forward such action. Claiming that research and education alone can achieve necessary political legislation is idealistic.

When the science of human-induced global warming became clear two decades ago, fossil fuel companies could have adapted their business to be compatible with a stable future. Most major environmental groups advocated for this shift with substantial effort and resources. Yet fossil fuel corporations continued to extract carbon reserves in the pursuit of profit, foisting unfathomable costs on our generation and beyond.

In dismissing our calls, President Faust accuses our movement of hypocrisy because “we are extensively relying on those [fossil fuel] companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day.” But we do not claim to be above the system in which we live. It is nearly impossible not to use fossil fuels because industry-crafted policies block a transition to renewable energy sources. Divesting is a step towards transitioning to the energy economy that we need. Institutional action is necessary to confront systemic failures like the climate crisis.

President Faust wrote that Harvard should not be a “political actor” and insisted that endowments are not tools for social change. This myopic view denies Harvard’s proud history of political action, which includes divestment from tobacco corporations and oil companies supporting genocide in Darfur as well as partial divestment from apartheid South Africa. More importantly, it fails to acknowledge that investments are inherently political whether we like it or not. Claiming neutrality at this moment in history is claiming ignorance of the world’s problems.

Many leaders, including President Faust, suggest shareholder engagement with the industry rather than divestment. But Harvard has proven this strategy’s inadequacy. In 2011, its Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility voted against a shareholder resolution to establish a committee within ExxonMobil that would shift the company towards environmentally sustainable energy. Harvard considered the resolution “unreasonable in asking the company to address such a major shift in its business focus.” Given this decision, it’s hard to believe that shareholder engagement can ever convince an industry to write off most of its assets or even convince the fossil fuel industry to confront climate change.

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Our generation and the generations to follow will judge today’s institutional leaders on whether they chose to defend our future. True leaders do not cling to the status quo of climate degradation and false neutrality—they transform the world for a better tomorrow.

We call on Harvard and institutions around the world to stand up for our futures.

Alex Suber argues that divestment can't be viewed as a panacea for fossil fuel consumption.

GOP Congressman Explains Why He Wants to Defund a Health Program He Supports

Lee Fang catches up with Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS).

Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo has a problem. The program he’d like to use to help solve the healthcare crisis in America is … part of Obamacare already.

Though his party has made opposition to the healthcare law its defining issue, the Affordable Care Act is full of Republicans’ ideas, from the individual mandate to state-based exchanges to the unnecessary exclusion of congressional staff from the ordinary federal insurance marketplace.

The law also includes billions to expand and operate federal health centers, a program that has traditionally enjoyed years of Republican support. President George W. Bush called loudly for boosting such centers. Though Bush doubled spending “from $1.34 billion for FY 2002 to $2.1 billion in FY 2008,” Obamacare invests another $11 billion. Federal health centers typically provide comprehensive services—from primary to specialty care, including dental and mental health—regardless of their patients’ ability to pay.

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(Since health centers are funded by the discretionary budget, the shutdown has acutely impacted health centers more than any other aspect of health reform. The National Association of Health Centers also reports that the sequester alone threatens care for 900,000 patients.)

For Pompeo, an ardent opponent of Obamacare, the congressman has gone on record stating that health centers are the best solution for caring for people who cannot afford health insurance. At a town hall last year, he pointed to GraceMed and Hunter Health Clinic, two centers in his district, as examples of the right path for reform.

It’s not clear if the congressman has ever acknowledged that the two clinics received substantial funding from the law he would like to repeal. Hunter Health Clinic received $1.67 million and GraceMed $525,000 from the Affordable Care Act.

On Capitol Hill last week, we caught up with Pompeo after a vote to ask him if he supports repealing even ACA money for health centers. The conversation was about as productive as the last two weeks of congressional CR negotiations.

Asked if he supports the health reform money already going towards health centers, Pompeo replied, “I’ve supported the community health centers very consistently, I’ve been out there, they’re great people. Have you been out there? Have you been to GraceMed in Wichita?”

After telling him I had not, but would be happy to travel there, I asked again. “I’ve said I support community health centers. We need to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a disastrous piece of legislation,” Pompeo replied.

After more prodding, Pompeo reiterated his stance, telling us: “I support the community health centers. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t make sense. It’s going to bankrupt America. It’s gonna be a really bad outcome.”

So health centers are great, but money for them is going to bankrupt America?

Although Pompeo’s reasoning may be difficult to follow, his approach is not unique.

As I’ve reported, many Republican lawmakers have attempted to repeal Obamacare with one hand while asking for health reform cash with the other. Freedom of Information Act requests revealed letters from lawmakers—including Paul Ryan, Hal Rogers, and Jeff Denham, among others—asking the administration to approve ACA grants, in some cases health center funding, for their constituents.

Some have been brazen enough to use health reform funding announcements as props to gain friendly media attention. Congressman Michael Grimm has presented jumbo-sized check to announce an ACA grant in his district. Senator Jerry Moran posed at the groundbreaking ceremony for an ACA-funded clinic in his state.

Katrina vanden Heuvel opines that the right is still setting the terms of the shutdown debate.

The Right Is Still Setting the Terms of the Debate

The government shutdown is in its third week with no end in sight and there are signs that the United States is closer to the first default in the nation’s history. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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

The government remains closed. The unimaginable—default on our national debt—looms, with unknown but foreboding consequence. Tea Party Republicans remain willing to undermine trust in the full faith and credit of the United States in this unnecessary and manufactured crisis. And for some, the impending calamity seems to increase rather than temper their lunacy. At the right-wing Values Voter Summit this week, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) claimed that if Republicans refuse to lift the debt ceiling and the United States defaults, it would be an impeachable offense by the president. Go figure.

In Washington, this folly is measured by poll numbers. Republicans, and particularly the Tea Party, are “losing” because their public approval numbers have plummeted. Republicans are said to have “surrendered,” since they abandoned their threat to default on US debts unless Democrats agreed to defund or delay Obamacare. Now Senate Republicans are offering to reopen the government and fund it at current levels only until mid-January. Supporters of the deal argue that it would allow for negotiations on a real budget before the next harsh across-the-board sequester cuts kick in, but it means that Republicans will use the threat of the sequester—and the next round of the debt ceiling showdown—to exact longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

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Surrender? Any more “victories” like this, and Democrats will end up paying annual tribute to Republican party coffers. If Democrats accept these terms, it will only encourage Republicans to hold the country hostage over and over again.

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

Separate and Unequal Voting in Arizona and Kansas

Anissa Jackson carries Confederate battle flags as she runs past the Civil Rights Memorial outside the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

In its 2013 decision in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Arizona’s proof of citizenship law for voter registration violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

In 2004, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that included provisions requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the proof of citizenship requirement, which it said violated the NVRA. Under the 1993 act, which drastically expanded voter access by allowing registration at public facilities like the DMV, those using a federal form to register to vote must affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Twenty-eight million people used that federal form to register to vote in 2008. Arizona’s law, the court concluded, violated the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to the documents needed to prove citizenship.” The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling, finding that states like Arizona could not reject applicants who registered using the NVRA form.

Now Arizona and Kansas—which passed a similar proof-of-citizenship law in 2011—are arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision applies only to federal elections and that those who register using the federal form cannot vote in state and local elections. The two states have sued the Election Assistance Commission and are setting up a two-tiered system of voter registration, which could disenfranchise thousands of voters and infringe on state and federal law.

The tactics of Arizona and Kansas recall the days of segregation and the Supreme Court’s 1896 “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. “These dual registration systems have a really ugly racial history,” says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “They were set up after Reconstruction alongside poll taxes, literacy tests and all the other devices that were used to disenfranchise African-American voters.”

In the Jim Crow South, citizens often had to register multiple times, with different clerks, to be able to vote in state and federal elections. It was hard enough to register once in states like Mississippi, where only 6.7 percent of African-Americans were registered to vote before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And when the federal courts struck down a literacy test or a poll tax before 1965, states like Mississippi still retained them for state and local elections, thereby preventing African-American voters from replacing those officials most responsible for upholding voter disenfranchisement laws.

The Voting Rights Act ended this dichotomy between federal and state elections by prohibiting racial discrimination in voting in all elections. Section 5 of the Act, which the Supreme Court eviscerated earlier this year in Shelby County v. Holder, prevented states with the worst history of voting discrimination—like Mississippi—from instituting new disenfranchisement schemes. It was Section 5 that blocked Mississippi from implementing a two-tiered system of voter registration following the passage of the NVRA in 1993, which the state claimed applied only to federal elections. (A similar plan was stopped in Illinois under state court.) Arizona—another state previously subject to Section 5 based on a long history of discrimination against Hispanic voters and other language minority groups—is making virtually the same rejected argument as Mississippi in the 1990s, but, thanks to the Roberts Court, no longer has to seek federal approval to make the voting change. The revival of the dual registration scheme is yet another reason why Congress should revive Section 5.

The proposed two-tiered system of voting and the harmfulness of proof-of-citizenship laws warrant legal scrutiny. Over 30,000 voters were prevented from registering in Arizona after its proof-of-citizenship law passed in 2004. In Kansas, 17,000 voters have been blocked from registering this year, a third of all registration applicants, because the DMV doesn’t transfer citizenship documents to election officials. The ACLU has vowed to sue Kansas if the state continues its noncompliance with state and federal law.

Proof-of-citizenship laws and the new two-tiered voting scheme are the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has done more than just about anyone to stir up fears about the manufactured threat of voter fraud. As the author of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law and Mitt Romney’s nonsensical “self deportation” immigration plan, he’s fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. Kobach helped the American Legislative Exchange Council draft model legislation for proof of citizenship laws based on Arizona’s bill, which were adopted in three states—Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee—following the 2010 election.

To justify his state’s new voting restrictions (Kansas also has a strict voter ID law), Kobach told The Huffington Post, “We identified 15 aliens registered to vote,” but he seems unconcerned that 17,000 eligible Kansans have been preventing from registering. Moreover, there’s no evidence these fifteen alleged non-citizens actually voted—just as there’s no evidence that dead people are voting in Kansas, another erroneous claim from Kobach. As Brad Friedman noted, Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah wrote last year that Kobach “has a way of lying” about the threat of voter fraud.

Kobach claimed in 2011 that sixty-seven non-citizens had illegally registered, out of 1.7 million on the state’s voter rolls, but he “was unable to identify a single instance of a non-citizen illegally casting a vote, or any successful prosecution for voter fraud in the state,” according to the Brennan Center. As I’ve asked before, why would a non-citizen, who presumably is in the United States to work, risk deportation and imprisonment in order to cast a ballot? Kobach once suggested in a radio interview that perhaps their coyote was paying them to vote, which defies all logic.

There’s also no evidence that using the NVRA’s federal form to register leads to higher incidents of voter fraud. “Nobody has ever been prosecuted for using the federal form to register to vote as a non-citizen,” Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, told me earlier this year.

In reality, the two-tiered system of registration being set up in Arizona and Kansas has less to do with stopping voter registration fraud, which as shown is a very rare problem in both states, and more to do with “nullifying” federal laws that Republicans don’t like, such as Obamacare. There’s symmetry between shutting down the government and creating separate and unequal systems of voter registration. It’s a strategy that dates back to Jim Crow, when fierce segregationists like John Calhoun of South Carolina tried to prevent the federal government from taxing the Confederacy and Southern Democrats instituted a policy of “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools.

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Wrote Sam Tanenhaus in “Why Republicans Are The Party of White People”:

When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun’s ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.

The Confederates and Dixiecrats of yesteryear are the Republicans of today.

Ari Berman writes about how the redistricting of Southern states helps keep their white GOP politicians in office

Should It Cost Less to Get Out of Jail if You’re Rich?

From 1992 to 2006, the average bail amount for people who are detained more than doubled from $39,800 to $89,900. Bail in the United States has become so expensive that eight in ten people would have to pay over a full year’s wages just to make the average amount.

Of course, most people don’t have that kind of money lying around. This is where the commercial bail industry steps in. Loans from bondsmen allow pretrial defendants to stay out of jail, but with a catch: the bondsmen keep a nonrefundable fee of around ten percent, even if the defendant is found innocent.

There are better systems; in fact, the United States is one of only two countries that use commercial bail. But any changes would entail fighting the American Bail Coalition, a powerful lobbying group that spends millions of dollars fortifying the bail industry.


Our new Prison Profiteers video, produced in partnership with the ACLU and Beyond Bars, sheds light on the bail bondsmen, insurance companies and wealthy investors behind the skyrocketing cost of bail in the United States—and the devastating effect their lobbying has on prisoners and their families.


The commercial bail industry isn’t alone in profiting off mass incarceration. Visit our Prison Profiteers action page to learn about other profiteers and to find out how you can fight back.


The Nation’s Liliana Segura gives an overview of the massive scope of the crisis of companies profiting off mass incarceration: “With 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States,” she writes, “prisons are big business.”

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