Winston-Salem -- In 1940, 19-year-old Rosanell Eaton took a two-hour mule ride to the Franklin County courthouse in eastern North Carolina to register to vote. The three white male registrars told her to stand up straight, with her arms at her side, look straight ahead, and recite the preamble to the Constitution word-for-word from memory. Eaton did so, becoming one of the few blacks to pass a literacy test and make it on the voting rolls in the Jim Crow era.
Eaton, a granddaughter of a slave, is one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. She’s devoted her life to expanding the franchise, personally registering over 4-5,000 new voters before losing count. “My forefathers didn’t have the opportunity to register or vote,” she said. “It is my intension to help people reach that point when they could do something.”
Now, as a result of North Carolina’s new voting restrictions – widely regarded as the most onerous in the country – the 93-year-old activist could be disenfranchised by the state’s voter ID requirement because the name on her birth certificate and driver’s license does not match the name on her voter registration card.
Eaton testified in federal court in Winston-Salem this week against North Carolina’s voting law, as part of a challenge brought by the Justice Department and civil rights groups to enjoin key provisions before the 2014 election under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. “Voting should be free and accessible to everyone,” she told Judge Thomas Schroeder of the Middle District Court of North Carolina.
Eaton was always the first one in the courtroom, looking resplendent in a fashionable pantsuit and matching hat. Her presence and testimony was a reminder of the long struggle to win the right to vote and the serious consequences of restricting that right today.
Eleven witnesses – a mixture of civil rights activists, legislators and election experts - testified against the law, known as House Bill 589, over the course of four days. I spent the week in court alongside Eaton. Here are my ten takeaways from the hearing:
1. The law disproportionately burdens African-American voters
The plaintiffs, including DOJ, the ACLU and the Advancement Project, focused on three specific provisions of the law – the reduction of early voting from 17 days to 10 days, the elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period and the prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast in the right county but wrong precinct. 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 comprised 42 percent of new same-day registrants.
“It is as if House Bill 589 were designed to deter the very practices that encourage turnout among blacks,” testified expert witness Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
2. The case is not about voter ID (yet)
The most controversial provision of the new law doesn’t go into effect until 2016 and thus wasn’t discussed much in court. But the state is doing a test run in 2014, where poll workers will ask for photo ID but voters don’t have to show it. Because of the potential for confusion, the North Carolina NAACP asked Judge Schroeder to enjoin the test run. Expect to hear a lot more about voter ID when the case goes to a full trial in July 2015.
3. Voter fraud is not a problem in North Carolina
During the 2004 and 2008 elections, there was 1 case of voter impersonation out of 7.8 million votes cast. “I am not aware of specific instances of voter impersonation,” North Carolina elections director Kim Strach said in her videotaped deposition, which was shown in court.
The state presented no tangible evidence of voter fraud to justify the new restrictions. “There is no evidence we had problems with these enhanced forms of participation,” Senator Dan Blue, the Democratic minority leader, testified. (Ironically, the law does nothing to restrict absentee voting, where the potential for fraud is greatest.)
Lawyers for the state seemed to be arguing, in the vein of Donald Rumsfeld, that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. “If you don’t look for voter fraud, how can you find it?” testified Phil Strach (husband of Kim Strach), the former general counsel for the North Carolina GOP. (If a tree falls in the forest…)
Chris Coates, the former head of the Voting Section in the Bush Justice Department, who represented Judicial Watch, said the state was under no obligation to produce instances of fraud as a rationale for the law, despite the rhetoric of the GOP legislators who passed the bill. “If the interest trying to be achieved is combatting voter fraud, there does not have to be evidence that fraud has been committed in the state,” he said.
4. The Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision transformed the legal and legislative landscape on voting rights
A month after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Section 4 of the VRA, the North Carolina Senate took a 16-page bill passed by the House, which dealt exclusively with voter ID, and transformed it into a 57-page voter suppression behemoth.
“It was a 90 % different bill,” testified Rep. 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.”
5. Section 2 is no substitute for Section 5
Not only did North Carolina not 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.
Under Section 5, North Carolina could not implement any voting change that left minority voters worse off. 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.
“As a practical matter, African-Americans will have less opportunity than white voters to register, cast a ballot and have that ballot counted,” DOJ attorney Bert Russ argued.
North Carolina Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters countered that voters had no constitutional right to expanded voting opportunities like early voting. “The fact that they were good policies doesn’t mean they are entitled to them.”
“We’re not contending that Section 2 requires the adoption of early voting, same-day registration or the counting of out-of-precinct ballots,” Russ responded. “But in cases where these reforms were already adopted, where black voters disproportionately relied on them…when the state chooses to eliminate them without good reason, we’re likely to prevail on the merits.”
North Carolina is the first post-Shelby challenge to new forms of vote denial and abridgement other than voter ID (a judge in Wisconsin struck down a voter ID law under Section 2 for the first time in May.) There are few relevant precedents in this area, which makes the outcome more uncertain.
6. North Carolina history cannot be ignored
In 1965, black registration lagged fifty points behind white registration in the state. Decades after the passage of the VRA, the gap narrowed but remained significant. That changed starting in 2000, with the adoption by the legislature of early voting (2000), the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots (2005) and same-day registration (2007). North Carolina became one of the most progressive states in the country with regard to voting rights. As a consequence, black turnout increased 65 percent from 2000 to 2012 – in 2008 and 2012, African-Americans registered and voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time in state history.
A year later the legislature repealed the reforms that boosted black participation. “In one bill, they obliterated what many of us worked on for twenty to thirty years to increase voter participation,” Blue testified.
MIT political scientist Charles Stewart, an expert witness for DOJ, said the elimination of same-day registration will reduce black participation by 3 percent – a significant number in a state known for close elections, where Obama won by 14,000 votes in 2008.
In 1996, North Carolina ranked forty-third nationally in voter turnout. By 2012, that number had jumped to eleventh. Now North Carolina is poised to tumble downward again. “Based on my experiences, you will have angry voters, you will have long lines, people will leave without voting,” testified Gary Bartlett, the head of the state board of elections from 1993 to 2013.
7. This is not just a black versus white issue
“Young voters are uniquely targeted by this law,” argued Democratic super-lawyer Marc Elias, on behalf of a group of student voters. HB 589 ended pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds, and eliminated state university IDs as an acceptable voter ID. (You can enter federal courthouse with a state university ID but you won’t be able to vote with one in North Carolina in 2016). In addition, young voters comprised 8.9 % of the electorate in 2012, but 25 percent of same-day registrants. Elias is making the novel argument that the abridgement of young voter participation violates the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Judge Schroeder seemed skeptical of this argument.
Blacks and students weren’t the only ones from benefitting from the state’s voting reforms. Dale Ho of the ACLU noted that in 2010, 200,000 North Carolinians voted early, 27,000 used same-day registration and 5,000 cast out-of-precinct provisional ballots.
8. As goes North Carolina, so goes the nation
Control of the US Senate may hinge on the outcome of the Senate race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis in North Carolina. A drop in voter turnout because of the voting restrictions could swing the election to Tillis and the Senate to the GOP.
“If the court doesn’t grant an injunction, there will be African-Americans who won’t be able to use same-day registration, who won’t have their provisional ballots counted, who won’t be able to get to early voting or will face obstacles if they do,” Russ argued. “Even though the problem will be magnified in a presidential election, there will be problems in November.”
On a more fundamental level, North Carolina brazenly took advantage of the Shelby decision to pass the country’s most sweeping package of voting restrictions since 1965. If the state gets away with it, expect other states to follow suit.
9. The voting restrictions could lead to a voter backlash
In 2012, we saw that efforts to restrict the right to vote in states like Ohio led to higher voter turnout among targeted groups. While I’m somewhat skeptical of the “voter suppression leads to higher voter turnout” theory, the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina has done a superb job of organizing voter discontent against the GOP legislature.
On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the North Carolina NAACP is placing 50 young organizers in 50 counties with a goal of registering 50,000 new voters. “How many of you are going to leave here and remember the blood of the martyrs?” Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP asked at a “Moral March to the Polls” rally in Winston-Salem after the first day of court hearings. Hundreds of hands went up.
10. This is just the beginning of the legal battle
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. “I’m not here to decide the ultimate merits of the case,” Schroeder said. “The question is the urgency of the injunction….What is the irreparable harm before November?”
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.
As for the judge, Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, is regarded as one of the smartest and most conservative judges on the Middle District of North Carolina. He asked the plaintiffs a lot of questions about the standard he should use to examine the evidence and the harms to prospective voters in 2014. He seemed to grasp the significance of the case and struck me as tough but fair. He’s expected to issue a ruling sometime in the next month.
The Department of Justice will not investigate whether the Central Intelligence Agency illegally spied on staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee and removed documents from committee servers, McClatchy confirmed Thursday. The CIA also claimed committee staffers took documents from the intelligence agency without authorization, and that claim will also not be investigated.
“The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr told McClatchy.
It’s a fizzling denouement to one of the more fascinating political dramas of the Obama era. Earlier this year, without any warning, Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein took the Senate floor and delivered a lengthy, forceful speech directly accusing the CIA of spying on private committee computers and removing sensitive documents. It was an unprecedented public eruption of tensions between the security state and the legislative branch.
The backstory is that the Intelligence Committee conducted an extensive investigation into Bush-era torture, and produced a 6,300-page report that is not yet public. It’s reportedly a “searing” indictment of the agency—and the CIA responded by denying many of the damning charges.
The problem is that investigators came across what’s known as the “Panetta review,” an internal review ordered by the former CIA director that reportedly confirms most of the worst findings about torture by CIA agents. It’s this review that Feinstein publicly charged the CIA with removing from private committee computers after gaining illegal access.
This is a serious charge—it’s not substantially any different from CIA agents breaking into a physical Senate office and removing files.
What’s odd about Justice’s refusal to pursue a formal investigation is that Feinstein claims Brennan essentially admitted the cyber break-in. This is what she said during her speech back in March:
[O]n January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search”—that was John Brennan’s word—of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.
According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.
Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.
A second-party retelling of a confession may not be enough to obtain a conviction, but it’s hard to imagine there is not enough smoke here to at least pursue an investigation. Aside from the immediate implications regarding Bush-era torture—and, with the revelations this week about CIA spying in Germany, an agency that may essentially be going rogue—the incident raises grave concerns about constitutional separation of powers, as Feinstein herself noted in her speech.
Feinstein said she is at least happy that Justice won’t investigate the CIA’s claim that committee staffers essentially stole the Panetta report from CIA computers, a charge she firmly rebutted, at length, in her March speech.
Others took a more aggressive stand. Senator Mark Udall, a member of the committee, doesn’t think this is over:
As DOJ says they won’t wade into CIA/Senate spat, Sen. Mark Udall says: “We shouldn’t let this drop.” He says Senate needs to take a stand.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) July 10, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t directly criticize the Justice Department on Thursday, but did restate that he believed the CIA was engaged in wrongdoing.
Read Next: Rebecca Gordon asks, Does America Still Torture?
Constitutional amendments are often proposed but rarely advanced to the stage of serious debate. What moves any meaningful amendment from mere paperwork to serious consideration is the popular will of the great mass of Americans. And the popular will of the great mass of Americans have been abundantly clear since the United States Supreme Court struck down barriers to corporate control of democracy with its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
Sixteen American states and roughly 600 communities have formally told Congress that the Constitution must be amended to make it clear that corporations are not people, money is not speech and citizens and their elected representatives have a right to organize elections that are defined by votes rather than dollars.
Once dismissed even by many reformers as an appropriate yet impossible initiative, the movement for a “Money Out/Voters In” amendment to the Constitution has grown so strong—and been proven to be so necessary—that it has now achieved what most organizers of amendment movements only imagine.
On Thursday, the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 to endorse an amendment that would undo the damage done to democracy by a series of High Court decisions—and to restore reasonable limits on financial contributions and expenditures intended to influence elections.
Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, a former prosecutor and the senior member of the Senate, framed the vote with a declaration that “I have served in the Senate for nearly 40 years and as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for nearly ten. I have always believed that amending our Constitution must be subject to the highest measure of scrutiny. It is something that should only be done as a last resort. But when the voices of hardworking Americans continue to be drowned out by the moneyed few, and when legislative efforts to right this wrong are repeatedly filibustered by Republicans, more serious action must be taken.”
Leahy’s position was echoed by committee Democrats who joined him in backing an amendment that declares:
SECTION 1: To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.
SECTION 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.
SECTION 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.
That’s more cautious language than many activists would like to see. And it may be that, as the amendment movement grows in strength, and as the congressional debate evolves, a final amendment will feature more specific language regarding all the issues that arise when the courts and Congress extend special rights to corporations.
But no one should doubt the significance of the fact that, in four short years, a grassroots movement has changed the calculus of the money-in-politics debate. With little money and almost no major media coverage, the movement started by groups such as Move to Amend and Free Speech for People, and advanced by People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Citizen has staked out bold positions and made overly cautious Democratic officials and even a few Republicans move toward them.
“This vote is an important step forward for the movement to take back our democracy from billionaires and corporations,” declared Marge Baker, the executive vice president of People for the American Way, which was part of a broad coalition of groups that delivered petitions signed by two million Americans asking the committee to back a Twenty-Eighth Amendment proposal based on an approach initially advanced by Senator Tom Udall, D-New Mexico.
“In the wake of cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the voices of everyday Americans are being overpowered by the money of special interests,” said Baker. “That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. People understand that. Americans have made it clear that all of our voices should be heard. We look forward to a full Senate vote on this important piece of legislation.”
With Judiciary Committee backing and forty-five cosponsors, the Udall amendment as it currently stands has traction in the Senate. There is a dawning recognition that, as Udall says, “the Supreme Court has left us one option for real reform. We must pass an amendment that will restore integrity to our elections, so that a billionaire in one state cannot have more influence than working families in the other forty-nine. That is not the equality envisioned by our founders, and is in direct contradiction to the kind of democracy they intended to create.”
“The amendment is crucial to strengthening and restoring the First Amendment, which has been weakened and distorted by a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings,” explained Weissman. “Specifically, the amendment would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and its misguided holding that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as real, live, breathing human beings to influence election outcomes. It will overturn McCutcheon v. FEC, with its holding that the only justification for limits on campaign donations is to prevent criminal bribery. And it will overturn Buckley v. Valeo—the case holding that ‘money equals speech’ and imposing Supreme Court-made constitutional obstacles to imposing limits on what can be spent on elections.”
But that does not mean that the amendment will move easily through Congress. Senate Republican leaders, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, have grown increasingly militant in their opposition to efforts to reduce the overwhelming political influence of corporations and billionaire donors such as the Koch brothers. During Thursday’s Judiciary Committee session, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and his fellow Republicans trotted out all the talking points that have been developed as part of a cynical campaign to prevent limits of election spending focusing especially on the fantasy that corporations and wealthy Americans have a right to shout down everyone else.
Because sixty-seven votes are required to secure Senate approval of an amendment, majority support—even if it is bipartisan—will not be sufficient. So the organizing work that got the proposal this far will have to continue. That work is likely to face growing opposition from powerful interests. “We’ve now seen the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers take notice of the overwhelming public demand for far-reaching action to restore our democracy. In the coming weeks, we’ll see those defenders and advocates of the 21st Century Gilded Age leverage their power and money to oppose a constitutional amendment that threatens their grip on American politics,” argues Weissman.
But, he adds, “The tide of history is against them, however. The day is not long away when Americans will celebrate the 28th Amendment and the return of control over our elections and our country to We the People.”
Read Next: William Greider asks what the Democratic Party really believes.
Republicans are furious about the flood of children streaming across the US-Mexico border, and are criticizing the president for not deporting the children fast enough. But now that Obama has asked for nearly $4 billion to help kick the kids out more quickly, they don’t want to fund the emergency measures.
The $3.7 billion Obama requested would boost border security as well as housing and legal services for the children, the majority of whom are fleeing violence in Central America. According to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has become the GOP’s figurehead on the issue, too much of that money is going to shelter, healthcare and legal assistance, and not enough to enforcement. “President Obama’s appropriations request only deals with one aspect of the current crisis on our southern border, while barely addressing its root cause: an unsecured border,” Perry wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday. He wants Obama to send surveillance drones and 1,000 National Guard troops to the border.
Most minors are simply handing themselves over to border patrol agents, suggesting that a porous border isn’t really the problem. And even if the border were completely sealed, there’s still the question of what to do with the tens of thousands of children here already. Perry ignored the fact that the Obama administration is bound by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which bars the government from immediately deporting children from countries that do not share a border with the United States—such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where the bulk of the children are from. The law requires border patrol to turn the children over to Health and Human Services and entitles them to due process so they may apply for humanitarian relief. Obama is trying to speed up deportations, to the consternation of immigrant rights and humanitarian groups. But unless Congress changes the trafficking law, the only way to do so is to make the legal system work faster by paying for more lawyers and judges.
Republicans are considering all sorts of roadblocks to the emergency funding bill. Some want any spending to be offset with cuts elsewhere. Others are insisting that Congress amend or repeal the trafficking law before they authorize any funding, a move that would deny children due process and, even if it were ultimately blocked by Democrats in the Senate, would at the very least hold up resources that are badly needed in the shelters where the children are housed.
Republicans, Perry included, are paying lip service to the idea that the crisis is a humanitarian one, but they don’t want to provide any humanitarian relief. As Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker suggest in The New York Times, that’s because approving such funding “would help get [Obama] out of a situation that they believe is of his own making.” According to Perry, it’s more important for Obama to visit the border than it is for Congress to do something to address the situation. For Republicans, it’s more palatable to perpetuate the crisis and blame it on the president than to do anything that could be considered a “win” for the Democrats. Certainly it won’t be kids who win if Congress does agree to fund a smoother pathway to mass deportation.
It’s ironic that the same people who are apoplectic about Obama’s use of executive authority are now claiming that he’s the one not doing enough to fix the border crisis. Even House Speaker John Boehner, who is suing the president over his unilateral moves, had the gumption to attack the White House for not acting on its own in this instance. “He’s been president for five years! When is he going to take responsibility for something?” Boehner reportedly shouted at a press conference on Thursday morning. “We’re not giving the president a blank check.”
Republicans complain that Obama is cutting them out of the legislative process. As the border crisis demonstrates, however, it’s hard to detect real will on the part of the GOP to legislate.
Read Next: William Greider, “What Does the Democratic Party Actually Believe?”
Let’s review the bidding on whether or not the United States is seriously making an effort to prevent war in Gaza and perhaps beyond, with at least seventy-six Palestinians already dead. You’ll recall that in 2009, just before President Obama took office, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pretty much let Israel run amok in Gaza. Is the Obama administration doing any better?
First, here are the official statements. In a July 8 White House briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest said:
Well, let me start by saying that we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks. At the same time, we appreciate the call that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has made publicly to act responsibly. We’re concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides. This means both the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes and the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s violence. As you know, Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu a couple times over the weekend and reiterated the United States’ concern about escalating tensions and our willingness to engage robustly in helping to stop the rocket fire and restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible. So these kinds of consultations are ongoing. It is not in the interest of either side for this violence to continue and even to escalate. So we are hopeful that even as Israel exercises their right to self-defense that they’ll leave open a channel for diplomacy to prevail and for a ceasefire or at least a de-escalation in the violence to commence.
You’ll note, obviously, that the White House condemned rockets fired by “terrorist organizations” but said that it appreciates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “call” to act responsibly, without a word about massive Palestinian casualties. In Tel Aviv, the American embassy is closed, and over at the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki weirdly complained that there is difficult “time change challenge,” given that Secretary of State John Kerry is in China. And then there was this exchange with reporters, in which Psaki said that there is “strong difference between attacks, rocket attacks launched by a terrorist organization that is based in Gaza and the right of Israel to defend itself,” even if Israel recklessly bombs targets like a seaside café in which people were gathered to watch the World Cup. Here’s the exchange:
QUESTION: Okay. He also made very clear time and time again Israel’s right to self-defense. And I asked you about the Palestinians’ right to self-defense. Let me ask you this: The population in Gaza, is it largely Hamas operatives or largely innocent civilians? And if there are larger Hamas operatives, then an argument can be made that they could be targets. But if they are largely civilians, then they should have, certainly, the right to self-defense—
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would simply say there’s a—
QUESTION:—or to protection.
MS. PSAKI:—strong difference between attacks—
QUESTION: Right, I understand.
MS. PSAKI:—rocket attacks launched by a terrorist organization that is based in Gaza and the right of Israel to defend itself. At the same time, as you know, we work closely with the Palestinians. We work closely with the Israelis. And it’s important at this point in time to see if all sides can take steps to de-escalate.
QUESTION: How could you follow or do you have any means of following what is going on on the ground in Gaza in terms of the humanitarian suffering, people that lack water, lack the—of medical care, lack of food, things of that nature. Do you have anyone—
MS. PSAKI: How do we—
QUESTION: Do you have anyone on the ground in Gaza that can monitor the situation?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think we are concerned about any humanitarian suffering around the world. As you know, that isn’t about sides. That’s about what’s right morally.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the administration is “sharply limit[ed]” in its ability to help de-escalate the crisis, given the recent collapse of Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy, and so the United States has no plans to send Kerry to the region to prevent war. Despite loud calls from the Palestinians for the United States to get involved and broker a cease-fire, the Journal reports:
But with the crisis escalating just two months after formal US-led peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians collapsed, the White House isn’t preparing to dispatch Mr. Kerry to the region to broker a cease-fire, these officials said.
In an editorial, the always hawkish Washington Post dismisses the crisis as a “mini-war” and adds that no diplomatic blitz is required:
Obama administration officials argue that this deterioration proves that it was right to pursue a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. In our view, the failed US effort, with its tight timetable and disregard for the obvious unwillingness of leaders on both sides, merely raised expectations that could not be met, making a backlash inevitable. What’s needed is not another diplomatic blitz but a more patient, incremental and sustainable effort to restore trust between Israelis and Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, and create the foundations for an eventual settlement. That is if the fire in Gaza can be put out.
At the Electronic Intifada, Medea Benjamin urges President Obama to visit Gaza. But the chances of that happening are about as high as the chance that Obama will preach from the mosque in Mosul, Iraq, where the head of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria just appeared.
The Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision of late June returned birth control to the center of the national conversation. One might have thought that unnecessary this far into the twenty-first century; one would have been wrong.
A depressingly relevant—if fascinating—exercise it is, then, to revisit a special issue about birth control The Nation published on January 27, 1932, featuring contributions from some of the most authoritative writers on the subject, at that time and ever. Much of the material in the issue is surprising. Some of it is downright shocking.
An introductory editorial—presumably written by then–managing editor Freda Kirchwey—cited “the overshadowing importance of the question at this grave juncture of the world’s economic history.” In the midst of the Depression, when so many had so little to eat, birth control was treated as an economic issue as much as it was a social one.
It is also worth keeping in mind that the topic motivating The Nation’s 1932 special issue was not employer-guaranteed access to contraception—as is the issue today—but the right to distribute information about birth control at all. The Nation’s January 1932 editorial demanded that “no limits of any kind be set to the dissemination of facts about birth control and to urge its practice.”
The editorial continued:
In the first essay in the issue, Margaret Sanger writes that Pope Pius XI’s position on birth control is evidence of a more profound separation between ordinary people and the dictates of that embodiment of organized religion:
That last phrase is sure to set off alarm bells in the minds of progressives in 2014. As well it should.
One of the more uncomfortable aspects about the rise of the birth control movement in the United States is its intimate connection to the concurrent rise of eugenicism: each saw the other as an instrument for its own ends. Arguments for the scientific pruning of the population served as arguments for the technology which could, with relative humanity, get the job done. But it is easily and somewhat conveniently forgotten that these were not two movements partnered together for strategic or political purposes. Rather worse, some of the early twentieth century’s birth control pioneers widely and willfully employed eugenicist language to argue for the proliferation of birth control among lesser human beings.
The Nation special issue from 1932 is loaded with such language.
The theme develops slowly.
Witness this passage from the essay by Henry Pratt Fairchild, a sociologist who was president of the American Eugenics Society and a founder of Planned Parenthood:
The most significant aspect…of birth control is as an indispensable instrument in the hands of modern, socially conscious man, to be used in the subjection of population growth to the same deliberate, rational, and farseeing manipulation that he prides himself on applying to every other great human interest. This is something quite apart from its utility in solving the problems of personal and family life. It is a phase of that broad, intelligent, scientific self-direction of human groups which can rightly be designated social engineering.
The essay by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, best known by graduates of American high schools as the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” is surely the most cringe-inducing contribution to the special issue. Titled, not subtly, “Birth Control, Religion and the Unfit,” Gilman’s essay begins with an excoriation of “admitted defectives living on our taxes. They are not only passively injurious as not earning their own livings, but actively injurious as consuming the livings of useful people.
We are mortified at our moronic average, alarmed at the increasing numbers of those far below it. Further, we find that the unfitter they are, the more lavishly they fulfill what some religionists assure us is the divine command—to increase and multiply and replenish the earth. Confronted with this difficulty, we propose to check the undesirable increase by the simple device of sterilizing the unfit. Unfortunately, when urging necessary legislation on the subject, we meet not only religious objections, but those of the unfit who are voters.
On further thought, seeking to antedate the disadvantageous reproduction, we seize on the benefits of birth control, a practice which does not interfere with the pleasures of the unfit but saves society from their reduplication. Again we are met by the indifference of the unfit as voters, and mere ignorance and stupidity are likewise often backed by the enormous power of religion.
The plea that concludes Gilman’s essay demonstrates as well as any other text of the era how deeply intertwined progressive and feminist arguments for birth control were with what might be called, to adapt a phrase, “a troublesome inheritance.”
Even on an issue so directly, almost exclusively, related to women, it cannot be wrong to conclude with the wisdom of John Dewey. His contribution to The Nation’s 1932 special issue on birth control is worth quoting at length:
The suppression of information about birth control was ended by a Court of Appeals case in 1936. It was the beginning of a long line of victories for the emancipation of women and for reproductive rights. In the Hobby Lobby case and in its subsequent exemption of Wheaton College from the assurance of birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a majority of Supreme Court justices have demonstrated their willingness to initiate a widespread rollback of those successes. History should inform our defensive strategy, as should a renewed and long-overdue debate about what progress really means.
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Read Next: George Zornick asks if Congress can reverse the Hobby Lobby decision
When the first reports based on the Snowden leaks were published last year, the layperson could be forgiven for not knowing exactly what to make of the surveillance programs they revealed. Words like “metadata” and “upstream collection” made the whole affair seem impersonal, quarantined off from our real lives by some trick of technical language. The sheer scale of data collection should have been alarming, but it also blurred the implications.
The ways in which the NSA’s surveillance programs touch individual lives has come sharply in focus in the past week. On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that nearly half of conversations in a cache intercepted and stored by the NSA involved US citizens. Some of those digital files reportedly contained medical records, résumés, exchanges about religion and politics, photos of women in their underwear and children on swings.
A report published Wednesday by The Intercept tightened the focus still further, to the faces of five US citizens: Hooshang Amirahmadi, Nihad Awad, Asim Ghafoor, Faisal Gill and Agha Saeed. According to the report, e-mail addresses belonging to those five individuals appear on a spreadsheet of surveillance targets that the NSA monitored between 2002 and 2008, under a program intended to target foreigners and terrorism suspects. Among the five is a former Homeland Security official in the Bush administration with a top-secret security clearance; the executive director of a prominent Muslim civil rights organization; and a defense lawyer who handled terrorism cases.
None has been charged with a crime. Though the report cautioned that “it is impossible to know why their emails were monitored, or the extent of the surveillance,” what links the five men is their Muslim heritage and their civil liberties work. Several told The Intercept they believed they were targets because of their faith and their activism, which are protected under the First Amendment.
Muslim Advocates, a law firm, said the report “confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage.” The Center for Constitutional Rights likened the surveillance of one target, Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the FBI’s spying on Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.
The article also describes institutionalized Islamophobia within the NSA, summed up in a template for an internal memo that uses “Mohammed Raghead” as a substitute for John Doe.
Forty-four groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Islamic Society of North America to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and the Presbyterian Church called on the Obama administration to account for the surveillance of the five Americans, and to overhaul Department of Justice guidelines against racial profiling to bar wider forms of discrimination, including on the basis of religion.
“While we do not know all of the facts of the individual reported cases, we believe the government has an obligation to explain the basis for its actions. Moreover, we cannot presume that the government acted without prejudice or bias,” reads their letter. “Too often, both in the past and in the present, we have observed the government engaging in patterns of discriminatory and abusive surveillance.”
As the letter notes, the allegations made in the Intercept article arise in a “broader context” of federal and local agencies singling out Muslims and other minorities for extra scrutiny. For years the New York Police Department monitored and infiltrated mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and Muslim student groups, without generating any leads. In San Francisco, the Federal Bureau of Investigation spied on mosques and Muslim organizations under the pretense of “community outreach” activities. The FBI continues to target Muslims in sting operationsinvolving informants, while individuals who refused to work as informants themselves report that the agency punished them by adding their names to the no-fly list.
The fact that the NSA, too, targeted Muslim-Americans, particularly prominent lawyers and activists, is not surprising. It is, nonetheless, outrageous. The Intercept report lends specificity to fears, voiced soon after the first stories based on the Snowden leaks were published, that the NSA’s surveillance programs and the legal framework they rest on could facilitate politically motivated spying on American citizens. The report also has critical legal implications: for the first time, individuals have confirmation that the government used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to target their communications specifically, giving them standing to sue.
The political reaction to the report has mostly centered on the damning “Mohammed Raghead” detail. White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told The Guardian that the administration was taking the reported use of the slur “very seriously,” and has ordered the director of national intelligence to conduct “an assessment of intelligence community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance, and as necessary, make any recommendations changes or additional reforms.” This is not the first time the Obama administration has investigated the use of anti-Muslim materials within the intelligence community; it did so in 2011, after the disclosure of offensive counterterrorism training documents that, among other things, characterized “mainstream” Muslims as terrorists.
However, the administration pushed back aggressively on the allegation that well-documented Islamophobia within the intelligence community has led to discrimination in practice. “It is entirely false that US intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” reads a joint statement from the Director of National Intelligence and the DOJ. “Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”
At least one lawmaker isn’t convinced that a dearth of political correctness at the NSA is the extent of the problem. “I share the concerns of many Americans who feel the NSA has violated their civil liberties by monitoring them without cause,” Representative Keith Ellison said in a statement. “The Intercept report is particularly troubling because it suggests that Americans were targeted because of their faith and civic engagement. Unfortunately, the NYPD’s spying on Muslims with the CIA’s help and the FBI’s use of hateful anti-Muslim training materials makes this concern legitimate.”
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on the religious rights of Muslim prisoners
Why is so much of the funding for anti-marijuana activist organizations coming from pharmaceutical companies? Joining Chris Hayes on All In last night, Lee Fang explained the tangled links between big pharma companies who make opioid prescription drugs and anti-legalization activist groups that he uncovered while reporting his article, “The Real Reason Pot Is Still Illegal.”
According to Fang, the anti-drug activists who focus on pot have their priorities misplaced, as prescription painkiller abuse is an “epidemic” that is sweeping the country. “The CDC says it kills over 16,000 people a year,” Fang told Hayes.
—Hannah Harris Green
She’s sailing, pretty much unopposed, to the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and, if current polls are any indication, to the White House in 2017. The latest poll, from Quinnipiac, finds that Clinton leads Elizabeth Warren by 58-11 percent, with Joe Biden at 9 percent. And matched against would-be challengers on the Republican side, including Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan, Clinton leads each by seven to nine points, and her favorability rating (“likable enough”?) is 48-43 percent positive.
The Clinton-vs.-GOP numbers are likely to tighten as a candidate emerges from the pack, and as the Republican party’s avalanche of negative ads gains momentum: Benghazi! That 1975 rape case! Umm, and what about that Whitewater/Vince Foster thing? But none of that is likely to stick, and she’s by far the strongest candidate as the presidential season gets underway. But, as a series of recent articles underscores, Clinton is the quintessential über-establishment candidate, with close ties to Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, and a passel of neoconservatives. So, just as the Tea Party is going to face the unpalatable choice in 2016 of (1) holding its nose and voting for whatever GOP establishment figure gets the nomination, (b) staying home on election day and handing a lopsided victory to Clinton or (c) bolting the party for an independent or third-party standard-bearer, liberals, the left, and progressives have the same difficult choice to make, in the other direction.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, even before the race gets started Clinton is distancing herself from an increasingly unpopular President Obama on both foreign policy and economic policy. For anyone who’s paid attention to Clinton’s political arc since 1992, however, it’s clear that she won’t run either as an Elizabeth Warren–style populist or as a peace candidate. Though her rhetoric might veer back and forth, she’s almost certain to run as one more hawkish than Obama on world affairs and as a candidate who won’t challenge Wall Street’s egregious record of criminality, reckless speculation and staunch defense of the privileges of the 1 percent.
In its important July 5 piece by Jacob Heilbrunn—called “The Next Act of the Neocons: Are Neocons Getting Ready to Ally with Hillary Clinton?”—The New York Times described how an important faction of the neoconservative movement, led by Robert Kagan and Max Boot, and including Michael McFaul, are edging their way into Clinton’s camp, where they’re likely to get a cautious welcome. (Clinton and Kagan have been close in the past, and in 2011 she appointed him to her Foreign Affairs Policy Board when she was secretary of state.) Especially if the GOP’s anti-interventionist, libertarian wing gets traction in 2016, neoconservatives are likely to flock toward Clinton. In the beginning—that is, back in the 1970s—the neoconservatives were almost all Democrats, working in the offices of right-wing Democratic senators such as Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and working for liberal, hawkishly pro-Israel media outlets. So, in a sense, they could be returning to their roots.
Parallel with its exploration of Clinton’s relationship with the neoconservatives, two days later The New York Times also examined Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. The article opens:
As its relationship with Democrats hits a historic low, Wall Street sees a solution on the horizon: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Under pressure to sound off as a populist, Clinton, Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation all maintain intimate ties to Wall Street’s biggest players, and while her spokesman told the Times that she’s committed to “reducing inequality and increasing upward mobility,” she’s hasn’t seemed willing to confront Wall Street. One Clinton backer, Bill Daley, the pro-business ex-mayor of Chicago who served as President Clinton’s secretary of commerce and then as President Obama’s White House chief of staff, told the Times:
I think there’s a potential window for Democrats to come back, but if it is one wing of the party pushing the populist line—anti-big banks, punishing people whether or not they had anything to do with the crisis—they’ll lock this crowd into a Republican alternative.
By “this crowd,” Daley—now a hedge fund manager—meant the people Obama in 2009 called “fat cats.”
Lately, of course, Clinton has rightly drawn heavy fire for claiming in an interview that she and Bill Clinton were “dead broke” in 2001, even as they reaped many tens of millions of dollars on lucrative speeches and other ventures. Way back in April 2008, The Washington Post reported that the Clintons earned $109 million between 2001 and 2008, including $30 million from best-selling books and $15 million from “an investment partnership with one of her top presidential campaign fundraisers.” More recently, on June 26, the Post reported that Bill Clinton alone earned $104.9 million for 542 paid speeches between 2001 and 2014, including nearly $20 million from Wall Street. (According to the article, Bill Clinton has earned $1.35 million from Goldman Sachs alone, speaking eight times.) Regarding Hillary Clinton, the Post reported:
Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.
The Clintons, it must be admitted, are not “Romney rich.” They’re not rich like the Koch brothers, George Soros, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers or the Internet-era billionaires such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. (Hillary Clinton’s own, rather inelegant way of making this point is to say that she and Bill are not “truly well off” and that they pay ordinary income taxes, not capital gains taxes.) But that’s not the point, really: in the end, the truly wealthy are independent and not beholden to anyone, while the Clintons are essentially 1 percent’s hired guns, well-paid servants of the ultra elite.
If Clinton runs against, say, Jeb Bush, in a dynasty vs. dynasty clash of the rich, her Wall Street ties and enormous wealth might be neutered. But if her challenger is someone like Christie or, less likely, Rand Paul, she’ll find herself having a difficult time posing as the friend of the middle class, the workers and the poor, since she’ll be by far the wealthier, better-off one. And, as the National Post reported, that ought to worry Democrats. The Washington Post, reporting on Clinton’s 1 percent status, ran a piece on June 22 titled: “Some Democrats fear Clinton’s wealth and ‘imperial image’ could be damaging in 2016.” In it, Philip Rucker reported that her “$5 million Washington home” is “appointed like an ambassador’s mansion”:
Mahogany antiques, vibrant paintings and Oriental rugs fill the rooms. French doors open onto an expertly manicured garden and a turquoise swimming pool, where Clinton recently posed for the cover of People magazine.
And the Post added:
On her current book tour, the former secretary of state has travelled the country by private jet as she has for many of her speaking engagements since stepping down as secretary of state last year. Her fee is said to be upwards of $200,000 per speech; the exceptions tend to be black-tie charity galas, where she collects awards and catches up with friends such as designer Oscar de la Renta and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
To put it crudely, the dilemma facing the Democratic party comes down to this: Will Dems decide next time to stand with the working people, or will they stick with their big-money friends in finance and business? Some twenty years ago, Bill Clinton taught Democrats how they can have it both ways. Take Wall Street’s money—gobs of it—while promising to govern on a heart-felt agenda of “Putting People First.”
It worked, sort of, for the party. Not so much for the people. New Democrats prevailed. Old labor-liberals lost their seat at the table. Among left-wing malcontents, Bill Clinton became “slick Willie.”
Now economic adversities have blown away the Clinton legacy, which is rightly blamed for much of what happened to middle-class wage earners. New voices like senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherod Brown are demanding a new new politics—big governing reforms that really do put people first. The old New Dems are stuck with their moderation and obsolete economic doctrine that is utterly irrelevant amid the nation’s depressed circumstances.
Sooner or later I expect politics will change, because the injuries and adversities will not go away in the absence of stronger government interventions. For now, however, the Clintonites are the Democratic Party, having deliberately excluded liberal thinkers and activists from the ranks of government policymakers for two decades. Economic experts recruited by the Obama administration are more likely to have been trained at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. They do not personally share the public’s anger.
So here is the unspoken subtext for 2016 and beyond: What does the Democratic Party actually believe? Democrats argue among themselves, but try not to provoke fratricidal accusations. The question is sufficiently hot that it is no longer a subterranean discussion. The Washington Post and The New York Times are chewing on it too.
A recent Post article warned Democrats to lay off the “inequality” talk for fear of sounding like “class warfare.” Well, yes, it is. As billionaire Warren Buffett remarked, the class warfare has been underway for some years . “Our side won,” he said.
The president has made several fine speeches on the issue, but the Post says the White House has already decided to drop it. Talk specifics, but keep it cool. Robert Borosage, director of the Campaign for America’s Future, suggests this is a recipe for “passive voice populism.”
The New York Times produced a tougher piece on the Dems’ intramural debate. It described in disturbing detail how closely Hillary has relied on the financial constituency. “As Wall St. Faces Scorn, It Warms to Clinton,” the headline said. She was, after all, a senator from New York. And when she ran for president and lost in 2008, organized labor was enthusiastically on her side.
Still, Hillary Clinton is dangerously out of step with the new zeitgeist. If she already has the 2016 nomination locked up, as her campaign gremlins keep telling us, it’s hard to imagine she would desert the finance-friendly politics that supported her rise to power.
The Hillary question has many corners to it. On one hand, it could achieve the epic breakthrough of electing a woman. On the other hand, it might postpone the restoration of progressive economic polices for another four years.
For that reason and some others, Clinton could run and lose the election. Still, many Dems see her as as the best prepared candidate and the best compromise among contending party factions. Dems do realize the need to hold onto the White House and Supreme Court appointments in order to derail the Roberts Court’s attack-happy right-wingers. Or, who knows, maybe she will decide not to run.
In other words, this dilemma will not be resolved by one election, or maybe several elections, because it is larger than individual candidates and their personal qualities. Nor is it limited to Democrats (witness the nervous breakdown of the Republican Party). We are really looking at the capture of representative democracy deformed by the deadly embrace of capitalism.
Only the people themselves can dig themselves out of this trap. My personal hunch is that Democratic office holders will not find the courage to embrace the future and the reform vision that some of their colleagues are advocating until their party feels threatened by its own constituencies. That is, the Dems need to experience more of the surprise rebellions that took down some old bulls in the GOP. If the people cannot get either major party to lead the way, maybe they will need to create a new party that will.
Read Next: On NSA spying, Hillary Clinton is either a fool or a liar.