The Nation

This Is What Happens When the Security State and Anti-Muslim Paranoia Collide

NSA Headquarters

National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Maryland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

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.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

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

Anti-Pot Activists May Care Too Much About the Prescription Drug Industry’s Health

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

The Hillary Clinton Juggernaut Courts Wall Street and Neocons

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

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.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

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.


Read Next: Christie’s gun control veto sparks anger in New Jersey.

What Does the Democratic Party Actually Believe?

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool)

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.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

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.

A Grassroots Labor Uprising—at Your Bank?

Bank of America

(Reuters/Fred Prouser)

You might think the Great Recession taught us all a lesson about the dangers of letting market speculation, corporate oligarchy and an overheated financial system take over the global economy. And yet, even as workers and governments remain scarred from the 2008 financial disaster, Wall Street and its political cronies are already hard at work penning an international program to further deregulate the financial infrastructure. And this time, they’re targeting the inner gears of capital: the financial service sector.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) builds on the template of past free trade deals like NAFTA, but focuses on the financial service sectors, like computer technicians and bank tellers. And as service worker unions join the resistance to free trade alongside factory workers and farmers, a campaign is underway to organize Wall Street’s rank and file.

According to negotiating documents released online by Wikileaks last month, the finance section of the TISA draft reads as a wish list of deregulatory measures penned by Wall Street, and it would expand market liberalization to more than two dozen countries, including those of the European Union, Switzerland, Mexico, Israel, Turkey and Australia. Trade ministers are seeking to make it easier for financial services and other professional labor—from loan officers to security guards to data processors—to be traded like global commodities and undermine working conditions in the process.

The labor sectors covered by TISA relate to many of the services that help society run, including core public programs like healthcare, telecommunications infrastructure, the post office or municipal water systems. But one of the major aims of TISA is to “liberalize” private sectors beyond the earlier trade deals’ provisions for trades in goods and lowering of tariffs. Although financial markets are already intermeshed globally, TISA would further whittle down regulatory safeguards on transnational financial services, such as marketing of insurance, and on the labor these firms use. So the workers that process financial transactions may find their jobs increasingly digitized and “exportable”, just like bank transfers or stock trades. By further deregulating the infrastructure of wealth itself, TISA gives companies greater leeway to outsource and offshore “white collar” jobs once deemed insulated from free trade.

In response, TISA has drawn protests from both civil servants and bank clerks worldwide. They fear that while earlier waves of trade liberalization led to factory closures, deregulating the service economy could bring similar devastation to “white collar” employees.

In a joint statement of opposition, the union association Public Services International, together with various civil society, labor and rights groups, denounced the TISA’s “hyper-deregulation-and-privatization agenda” and the lack of transparency in the trade talks:

Democracy is eroded when decision-making about important sectors– such as financial services (including banking, securities trading, accounting, insurance, etc.), energy, education, healthcare, retail, shipping, telecommunications, legal services, transportation, and tourism– is transferred from citizens, local oversight boards, and local or provincial/state jurisdiction to unaccountable “trade” negotiators who have shown a clear proclivity for curtailing regulation and prioritizing corporate profits.

A unique feature in the opposition to TISA is the prominence of finance workers—the tellers, loan officers and customer service agents that conduct the daily mechanics of global commerce. They’re generally not a sector known for its alignment with anti-capitalist struggles, but UNI Global, an international service union association based in Switzerland, sees these workers as a fulcrum in financial infrastructure. Its UNI Finance division has launched the Global Finance Workers Alliance to organize for reform from within the sector.

Corporate impunity is both a labor issue and a moral issue for finance labor. They see the corruption of the big banks as reflected in the mistreatment of workers and the offshoring and displacement of service jobs, which firms can now do easily online in cheaper markets—by outsourcing to call centers, for example.

Despite some efforts by regulators to rein in the big banks since the 2008 disaster, an analysis of TISA’s financial provisions by Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland indicates that the accord would lead to a drastic erosion in the oversight and regulation of financial institutions.

One proposed provision, for example, would require that countries set financial rules in a way that would “expedite the ability of licensed insurers to offer insurance services across borders” giving massive insurance firms greater access to domestic markets, while minimizing government oversight. Another proposal would deregulate specific public finance programs, like state-run pension funds or disaster insurance. Other provisions would expand corporations’ ability to keep their data secret to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

As with previous free-trade deals, the accord would be enforced through an extralegal framework that allows corporations to challenge government regulations as virtual sovereigns, potentially undermining commercial, environmental and public health regulations.

Elise Buckle, UNI Finance global policy coordinator, tells The Nation, “The TISA regulation is really for the banks to be able to do whatever they want, to shift people around, have a kind of free flow of information, IT and people. And that’s of course [to allow] them to reduce their cost, but at the expense of human rights.”

In addition to mobilizing finance workers against the TISA and related trade deals, UNI Finance is seeking to build long-term solidarity and labor consciousness throughout the financial services industry. With the turmoil of the Great Recession and ongoing attacks on labor power such as TISA, the group believes that the conditions are right for a worker awakening in the nerve center of global capital: Wall Street.

In collaboration with Communications Workers of America, UNI is coordinating an alliance of US labor and community organizations known as the Committee for Better Banks, with the aim of campaigning nationally and globally for better working conditions and union rights for US bank workers. The coalition is organizing in solidarity with UNI Finance and finance sector unions in other countries, as part of an international effort to raise labor standards across the global financial system as a whole, and thus push back against the trend of offshoring financial jobs to squeeze labor costs.

The group’s recently published survey of the finance workforce shows that in contrast to their bosses, who have seen hefty pay hikes and bonuses following the financial collapse, frontline employees struggle with extremely low wages (more than a quarter rely on public assistance), and are constantly stressed by low job security, strenuous schedules and mass layoffs.

Sometimes the industry pressure pushes workers toward risky, perhaps unethical marketing tactics. One worker testified that her “mentally abusive” boss had created a high-pressure workplace where “they don’t care about their customers and just want them to open more products. ... As an employee, we push sales just to be able to keep our job.”

At their recent inaugural rally in Manhattan, activists with the committee highlighted the economic gulf between bank workers in the US and in countries where bank workers are unionized: in poorer countries like Tanzania and Brazil, for example, bank employees enjoy more generous health and retirement benefits, along with job security protections. Yet their American counterparts, they argued, are not only impoverished but often terrified about challenging their bosses due to fear of losing their jobs in retaliation.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Seeding labor consciousness in such a precarious workforce is a challenge, but the committee envisions a grassroots labor uprising from within the banking sector that can press for curbs to exorbitant CEO pay, demand stronger government regulations and encourage whistleblowers to call out corruption.

“We really think the employees are at the center of the ethical transformation that banks have to do to avoid another crisis,” Buckle says.

They may never totally overturn Wall Street from within, but the workers who occupy capitalism’s underbelly are well positioned to leverage their labor power against a morally bankrupt system.


Read Next: Why the Supreme Court’s attack on labor hurts women most

How Obama Could Become the Good Jobs President and Help 21 Million Americans Join the Middle Class

Obama Light

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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.

Last Monday, President Obama defied Republican threats to file suit against him for his use of executive orders. “If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions,” the president said, “the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill, solve a problem.”

Republican obstruction is so extreme that House Speaker John Boehner can’t even get what he wants done, much less what the country needs. House Republicans have blocked countless jobs plans, stonewalled immigration reform, stopped a hike in the minimum wage and prevented emergency unemployment benefits from even getting a vote.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

So Obama has begun to act—often belatedly and timidly in his supporters’ view. He has tempered deportation of the “dreamers,” kids born in the United States to undocumented immigrants, and promises more action on immigration. He has ordered that the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act not be enforced against gay couples. He has issued a bevy of minor common sense measures on gun control (like making it harder for the mentally ill to get a permit). His push for executive action on climate change will have real impact. And recently, he lifted the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, shaming Republican obstruction of this long overdue measure.

Republicans are simply drinking the Kool-Aid if they think they can make Obama’s initiatives an issue in the fall elections. Americans want action, not more dysfunction.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.


Read Next: Dear Democrats, economic inequality is not an act of God.

What’s Stopping Congress From Reversing ‘Hobby Lobby’?

Hobby Lobby

(AP photo/Ed Andrieski)

Democrats in the House and Senate will unveil legislation that would reverse the immediate effects of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and force closely held corporations to provide contraceptive coverage to employees regardless of whether the owners object.

A common misconception about the case is that the Court ruled the Affordable Care Act violated the religious freedom precepts laid out in the Constitution by requiring contraceptive coverage. It clearly didn’t—rather, the Court’s five conservatives ruled it violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forbid the federal government from “substantially burden[ing] religious exercise without compelling justification.”

All it would take, then, to undo the immediate effects of the ruling would be for Congress to go back and pass legislation overriding the RFRA.

That’s what Democratic Senators Patty Murray, Mark Udall and Dick Durbin are proposing to do with their bill unveiled Wednesday morning, the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act. In the House, Representatives Louise Slaughter, Diana DeGette and Jerrold Nadler have a companion bill with the same name.

The legislation would explicitly forbid employers from refusing to offer health coverage, including contraceptives, that is otherwise guaranteed by federal law, and would make explicit that the RFRA cannot override the Affordable Care Act. It would still allow exemptions for houses of worship and religious non-profits.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

“After five justices decided last week that an employer’s personal views can interfere with women’s access to essential health services, we in Congress need to act quickly to right this wrong,” said Murray. “This bicameral legislation will ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care, period. I hope Republicans will join us to revoke this court-issued license to discriminate and return the right of Americans to make their own decisions, about their own health care and their own bodies.”

The immediate prospects of the legislation are fairly dim: or rather, it is certainly dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House, and faces a tough path in the Senate, where it will come for a vote next week.

But the idea is to begin legislative momentum now for an eventual reversal of the RFRA—and in the meantime, put Republican Senators on the record now about whether they think corporate executives should be making healthcare decisions for their female employees.


Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on Hobby Lobby and the religious rights of Muslim prisoners

Losing to Germany Wasn’t Actually the Worst Thing to Happen to Brazil This World Cup

Brazil fan World Cup

A Brazil fan reacts while watching a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup Semifinal. July 8, 2014. (Reuters/Uselei Marcelino)

The key numbers in Brazil are not 7-1, the score of yesterday’s historically lopsided World Cup semifinal loss to Germany. Yes, those numbers matter. Yes, it was a dark day in the history of Brazilian sports that will be remembered in shocked silences for as long as a soccer ball is kicked around in the country. Yes, it may even sway a presidential election in the country this October. But these are still not the key numbers.

Here are some other numbers that will have much more bearing on both Brazil’s present and future. These are the numbers that animate far more debate and discussion inside of Brazil than the US media, with their view from Copacabana beach, have portrayed.

$11-14 billion. That is how much the World Cup is going to end up costing the country. No one in government, when asked, is actually even sure as to what the final bill is going to be. This is not unique to Brazil by any means. Mega-events produce this kind of economic uncertainty and graft wherever they nest. But in a country where health and education are pressing issues, it stings.

250,000. That is the number of people—overwhelmingly poor—who may be displaced by the time all the confetti has been swept away. Many of those losing their homes live in Brazil’s favelas. These communities, under constant attack by real estate speculators and the military police, have formed the backbone of Brazil’s urban culture for over a century. Several of these communities have been under military occupation during the Cup leading to brave, albeit uncovered, protests far from the public eye.

2016. That’s the year the Olympics are coming to Rio de Janeiro. If people in Brazil were this upset about hosting a soccer tournament, how will they feel about paying for Olympic golf? Also if people in Brazil found FIFA to be imperious, wait until they get a load of the IOC. One of their lovely aristocrats in charge will undoubtedly say some variant of “Let them eat horse dressage” before it’s all said and done.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Yes, a 7-1 loss is a brutal way to exit the World Cup. But masses of people throughout the country have already committed themselves to fighting a different kind of brutality: the hosting of mega-events on their backs. That anger isn’t going anywhere. The question will be whether Brazil can sustain the level of militarization that has muted the protests during the World Cup. It is probably economically unsustainable to maintain the FIFA police state for the next two years. That will open more space for dissent, and these dissenting voices must be heard. It’s Brazil now. FIFA and the IOC have both stated their desires to return the Olympics and World Cup to the United States. Unless we want to experience this brand of weaponized gentrification-on-steroids, we would do well to amplify Brazil’s fighting voices and encourage those around us to listen. It’s not about solidarity. It’s about common survival.

Read Next: Dave Zirin on the truth about militarization and the World Cup

It’s Official: Corporations Are Religious People

Tom Tomorrow

(Click to Enlarge)

Support independent cartooning: join Sparky's List—and don't forget to visit TT's Emporium of Fun, featuring the new book and plush Sparky!