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Can US Media ‘Get a Grip’ on Iraq Coverage?

Iraq Invasion

A government building burns during US bombardment of Baghdad in March 2003. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

There’s been a rising tide of criticism of mainstream media coverage of the US response (real or desired) to the new crisis in Iraq, from Maddow to Maher and with even Megyn Kelly joining in. The reliance on officials and journalists who were so wrong back in 2003, and often for years after, has been decried, culminating in a segment this morning on one of the networks that has joined in the disgraceful resurrection of ye olde Iraq hawks.

Brian Stelter hosted a segment on his Reliable Sources today, introducing it with a reference to my recently updated book and ebook on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long. Then he introduced one of the heroes of that book (one of the few in the press who was not “wrong”), Jonathan Landay, of McClatchy; and Peter Beinert, who favored the war but has repeatedly attempted to repent.

Landay said:

There seems to be this historical habit of the American media to rehabilitate people… On the Iraq invasion, I mean, you have people on CNN who were mouthpieces for the Bush administration and were handing out misleading and inaccurate information to the American public and the world—who are treated as legitimate, credible political commentators. I think that is a very serious problem for the media that it needs to get a grip on.



Beinart:

I think it’s definitely true that the media’s foreign policy conversation has an instinct towards kind of Beltway insiders who share basic assumptions. And some of the people who had the intellectual foresight and creativity to question the assumptions that led us to Iraq still don’t get on the air, which is a big problem…

But I don’t have a problem putting on people who were architects of the Iraq war on to talk today—as long as they have to reckon with what happened in the past. We shouldn’t treat the past as if it’s irrelevant. It’s not irrelevant. It’s highly relevant.

David Carr at The New York Times joins in today with a column on the media and the war—and Micheal Hastings' new novel, set at the beginning.

Here’s video of the full CNN segment:

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Greg Mtichell’s book, So Wrong for So Long, which covers ten years of media malfeasance, starting with the run-up to the Iraq war, features a preface by Bruce Springsteen.   This is his final week at The Nation.  His popular personal blog is Pressing Issues.

Take Action: Tell President Obama: No Military Intervention in Iraq

Read Next: Obama sets us a on a slippery slope to war in Iraq.

From the World Cup to the Washington Football Team, Indigenous People Fight to Be Seen

Indigenous leader Cacique Babao of the Aldeia Tupinambá Serra do Padeiro people at the launch of the 2014 World Cup campaign. (Courtesy Frontline Defenders/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A thirteen-year-old boy from Brazil’s Guarani tribe makes a political stand in front of 70,000 soccer fans and what he thinks is an international audience. A movement led by indigenous women in the United States beats a billion-dollar brand of the big, bad NFL. These two stories share more than the fact that they took place during the same week. They have in common the ways that people in power have been reduced to combatting their courage by trying to render them invisible. They both demonstrate how if you are an indigenous person, you can be on the highest possible cultural platform practically surrounded by fireworks, sparkles and neon signs blaring “LOOK AT ME” and your very presence can still be denied.

Before the opening game of the World Cup, FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, thought it would be a good idea to have three Brazilian children each release a “dove of peace”. One of those children was a 13-year-old from the Guarani tribe, Jeguaká Mirim. The Guarani are Brazil’s largest tribal group. They have also been subject to incredible levels violence by ranchers who occupy their land for cattle and sugar production. Forcibly herded onto reservations where disease and malnutrition are rife, their situation may actually be getting worse. The ruling Workers Party is attempting to take away even more of their land, which led to violent confrontations—and dramatic images—on the eve of the World Cup in the capital city of Brasilia.

The effects on the tribe are brutal. There is poverty, there is infant mortality, and in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Guarani-Kaiowá suffer the highest suicide rate on earth. Jeguaká Mirim wasn’t going to allow himself to be feel-good FIFA scenery while his people suffered. After releasing the dove, he unfurled a banner that read, “Demarcação,” or “Demarcation Now!” This is the highly charged slogan used by indigenous groups attempting to retain their land rights.

Jeguaká’s father, Olívio Jekupe, said he had no idea that his son was going to do such a thing. Olívio did say that the action “showed the world that we are not standing still.… My son showed the world what we need the most: the demarcation of our lands.” There was only one problem however with this brave display; the cameras quickly cut away. His actions went undiscussed by broadcasters and analysts on the scene. They also met with a series of non-comments by FIFA itself as to who made the decision to cut the cameras. Whoever was responsible for censoring Jeguaká Mirim, the end result was that the only politics that FIFA allowed to be on display would be the banality of doves.

There is a similar dynamic happening in Washington, DC, where federal trademark court made legal what was obvious: that the name Washington Redskins is racist as all hell. For now, the team has no trademark protection because the name, it was ruled, “disparages” an entire group of people. This effort to recognize the moral bankruptcy of the name has been led by powerful indigenous women such as Suzan Harjo, Jacqueline Keeler and the person whose name was on the trademark lawsuit, Amanda Blackhorse. It is a movement that stretches back decades but in recent years, the tribal councils of the Oneida Nation, the Seminole Nation, the Choctaw Nation, and the oldest Native American civil rights organization the National Congress of American Indians have all called upon the team to change the name. A commercial funded by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation that aired during the NBA Finals has been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times.

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And yet, the response to the victory by DC sports radio host Steve Czaban was that this was really a win for guilt-ridden white liberal sportswriters.” Czaban said, “Go ahead, dance around and do whatever it does that assuages your white liberal guilt, but nothing has changed.… Maybe we can get therapy for [them], chip in, get to the core of their guilt and understand what is it that’s nagging you.”

In response to Czaban and his broadcast partner, Chris Cooley, who made similar statements, the NCAI put it perfectly. They said that these comments “represent a sadly typical attempt to dehumanize Native Americans by pretending we do not exist. In this case, Mr. Cooley insultingly pretends that the Native American groups representing hundreds of thousands of Native Americans haven’t been leading the fight to end the Washington team’s use of a racial slur”

One has to wonder if the Czabans, Cooleys and Chris “Mad Dog” Russos of the world realize how racist it comes off to just willingly ignore the very existence of those who have been “leading the fight.” This gets to the heart of the connective tissue between Brazil and the United States—two nations who share a conjoined, horrific history in their treatment of indigenous people—as well as between Jeguaká Mirim and Amanda Blackhorse. The battle by indigenous groups across the hemisphere is for land, recognition, respect and, most of all their own humanity. It is an unassailable argument. Their opponents increasingly realize that they have lost the debate, so they are reduced to pretending their opponents do not exist. But by branding Natives with invisibility, they have provided the most damning possible evidence of both the persistence of anti-Native racism and the power of a new hemispheric-wide movement for indigenous rights.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on Brazilian Government's Ousting of Favela Residents to Make Room for the World Cup 

Human Rights Groups Blast Obama’s Plan to Open New Immigrant Family Detention Centers

Brownsville detention center

Child detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

The Obama administration on Friday announced a plan to open new detention facilities to house families apprehended while crossing the southwest border, drawing criticism from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights groups who say there are more humane ways to handle migrants.

“Human rights require that detention be the last resort, not the first,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Joanne Lin in a statement. “Families should be moved out of detention as soon as possible and be released under humane and reasonable supervision, including community-based alternatives to detention which have proven to be cost-effective and efficient.”

The push for ramped-up detention is the federal government’s response to an unprecedented surge of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border, which both Democrats and Republicans are calling a humanitarian crisis. The plan also calls for more judges and immigration officials in the area to expedite deportation proceedings. While the majority of children detained near the border are traveling alone, the new detention centers will specifically house children who came with families.

Clara Long, an immigration policy researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Nation, “We’re really concerned that, especially where children are detained, that these centers will not be under compliance with international law.”

“The underlying approach to such a program should be ‘care’ and not ‘detention,’” Long said, stressing that children under detention are entitled to education, legal aid, counseling and recreation. Alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring via ankle bracelets, should be considered, Long added.

US Border Patrol says it has captured 47,000 unaccompanied minors since October 1 and estimates say that number could reach 90,000 by the end of this fiscal year. Most of the minors arrived from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries plagued by rampant gang violence. Researchers for the UN human rights commissioner for refugees found that many of the children crossing the border are fleeing threats of violence in their home countries. Fifty-eight percent of 400 unaccompanied minors interviewed by researchers “raise potential international protection needs.” UNHCR guidelines minors who are seeking asylum “should not, as a general rule, be detained.”

“As a human rights organization, it bothers us that they see detention as the only option. It doesn’t matter how many more beds they have, this will continue to happen,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Texas-based Border Network For Human Rights. “We need policy solutions, not just infrastructure.”

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Garcia told The Nation that the federal government should find a way to grant asylum to migrants fleeing violence in their home countries. There should also be legal path for migrants to reunite with families are already living in the US, he added.

Congressional Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Luiz Guiterrez (D-IL), also spoke out against the detention plan. In a statement offered to BuzzFeed, Senator Menendez said, “Using up our nation’s resources to jail families will not be a deterrent—these kids are fleeing violence and are willing to risk their lives to cross the border. The threat of a jail will not stop these families from coming here. Instead, we need to fully address the root causes of the crisis.”

On Thursday, Senator Menendez released a twenty-point plan to address the border crisis. The plan recommends Obama administration to continue cracking down on human smugglers and traffickers taking advantage of the surge. It also calls for increased efforts to provide detainee children with legal representation.

 

Read Next: This Is what an overcrowded holding center for migrant children looks like

Days After Decrying Flat Wages, McConnell Proposes Lowering Wages by $13 Billion

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Senator Mitch McConnell made his pitch that Republicans are the ones looking out for the working class, “whose wages have remained stubbornly flat.”

At a press conference in Northern Kentucky this afternoon, McConnell presented his new fundraising plan to replace an obsolete bridge connecting the state to Ohio: lowering the wage of construction workers.

At issue is the Brent Spence Bridge running over the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky, which is outdated and long in need of being replaced with a new bridge. However, that effort has stalled for many years, as there just aren’t enough federal Highway dollars coming through to make it happen. The current state proposal is to use tolls to fund a new bridge, but many locals are viscerally opposed to that idea. McConnell has long deflected questions on funding the bridge by saying that it is a state issue that he has nothing to do with. Back in the pre–Tea Party days—when McConnell was the King of Pork, running in 2008 on all of the gifts he brought back home—he could have just snuck in a giant earmark or two to get the project going, but ever since his new Republican colleagues stormed the castle in 2011, Mitch’s hands have been tied.

Today’s press conference was announced suddenly, billed as McConnell’s new secret plan to fund the bridge and save Kentuckians from paying tolls—pivoting away from his years of indifference. And that plan is to simply pay for the bridge by repealing the federal prevailing wage law so that workers are paid less, supposedly saving $13 billion over ten years. As McConnell and his campaign later said, Davis-Bacon is just a “depression-era law” and “red tape.” So much for those stubbornly flat wages, construction workers.

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But how would $13 billion into the federal coffers over ten years help rebuild the Brent Spence, since the federal Highway Trust Fund is already running on fumes with dozens of other projects also waiting for funding? One of those projects is the Ohio River Bridges Project down the river in Louisville, whose residents are also set to pay bridge tolls—why is there no similar promise to them? Not to mention the fact that the repeal of Davis-Bacon—a longtime fantasy of conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation—is a pipe dream with no realistic chance of happening in Congress.

According to Amanda VanBenschoten of The Cincinnati Enquirer, reporters grilled McConnell with these questions, but he didn’t seem thrilled about going into too much detail.

Alison Lundergan Grimes ripped the McConnell plan as a desperate election-year flip-flop, and countered with a plan—released just before McConnell’s announcement—to free up $75 billion over ten years by cutting tax loopholes for the wealthy, such as corporate deductions for excessive stock options and the corporate jet loophole, and cracking down on companies’ use of overseas tax havens.

Grimes’s plan—which is similar to Obama’s infrastructure plan—would likely go nowhere in the current Congress, or whatever we’ll end up with next year, just as the case with McConnell’s plan to get rid of the prevailing wage. Unless something dramatic changes in the political landscape of Kentucky and DC, these Kentuckians will be paying tolls to cross the bridge, if it’s ever built. However, Grimes can at least present her option for the bridge to voters as being paid for by cutting off loopholes used by billionaires, while McConnell is protecting his wealthy friends so he can make sure that workers have a smaller paycheck.

For a Grimes campaign that is intent on portraying McConnell as an out-of-touch, uncaring career politician who is bought and paid for by wealthy CEOs, today’s press conference was likely music to their ears.

 

Read Next: Mitch McConnell says he’s for the little guy

Christie Panders to Christian Right at ‘Faith and Freedom’ Event

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority event in Washington, Friday, June 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

How do you fit a round peg in a square hole? Especially when the round one is Chris Christie and the square ones are members of the Christian right’s Faith and Freedom Coalition? Well, it’s not easy.

Governor Christie, who’s busy preparing to launch his 2016 presidential bid—despite some annoyances at back at home in New Jersey—paid a visit on Friday to Ralph Reed’s FFC, which is holding its 2014 “Road to Majority” event in Washington this week. Reed, of course, is the boyish-looking, 53-year-old former executive director of the Christian Coalition, brought into that spot by the weirdly offbeat, conspiratorially minded Pat Robertson. Since founding the FFC in 2009, Reed has used it to try to revive the otherwise fairly scattered and moribund Christian right movement, although many activists at the grassroots level consider Reed, Robertson and others to be far too attached to the Republican establishment. Still, since 2009 presidential candidates have trooped to the FFC’s national and statewide events to get Reed’s blessing. And Christie, hardly a favorite of the Christian right, is just the latest to make the pilgrimage. (Last year, Christie skipped the FFC and spoke instead in Chicago at Bill Clinton’s “Conversation on Leadership.”)

Other speakers at the FFC get-together included Christian right favorites such as Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Gary Bauer and Michele Bachmann, and Christie was clearly the odd man out, with plenty of skepticism about his credibility as a social conservative. But Christie, if he runs, will have to reach out to social conservatives, and the organizers of the event gave Christie credit just for showing up. “There’s probably been more agreement than disagreement,” Reed told The Wall Street Journal in advance of Christie’s talk, in a less-than-enthusiastic comment. And Kellyanne Conway, a conservative pollster who also spoke to FFC, told the Journal that the audience viewed Christie with “a mix of appreciation, curiosity and skepticism.” And, said Reed:

He’s the first pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade. He’s line-item vetoed state funding for Planned Parenthood every year he’s been governor. He vetoed a same-sex marriage bill that the Democratic legislature sent him. And he’s a faithful Catholic. We don’t agree with him on every issue, but we wanted to give him an opportunity to share his story and make his case. I think people may be surprised at the reception he gets.

In less-than-convincing fashion, Christie made his appeal. He didn’t pretend that he’s the standard-bearer for Christian conservatives, but he did describe himself as “pro-life”—though some might question whether that’s always been in true during Christie’s political career, just as he’s evolved (toward the right) on issues such as gun control. So he told the FFC that to be “pro-life” means to be “pro-life for the whole life,” that is, including after babies are actually born. And no, that didn’t mean that Christie opposes the death penalty, only that the GOP ought to think carefully about education and drug-law sentencing, too. Said Christie:

When we say we’re pro-life, we need to be pro-life for the entire life. We need to stand up for the hurt and the wounded. From the womb until natural death, we need to be there even for those who stumble and fall, to be there to lift them up. To me that’s the true meaning of being pro-life.

And, in a backhanded way of asking Republicans to be tolerant of differing views within the party, Christie slammed the Democrats for their alleged, “intolerant” refusal to allow anti-abortion people to, say, address its national convention, while Republicans, he said, have often allowed pro-choice GOPers to speak, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Tom Ridge.

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Christie also appealed to the FFC faithful by criticizing President Obama over foreign policy issues, including support for Israel, which is a key plank for the Christian right’s views of the Middle East. Said Christie, citing Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Iran and North Korea:

We are seeing now all across this world that this administration’s pulling back of American influence and American ideas around the world is having catastrophic effects.… All of these things are happening, in my opinion, because of a lack of clarity and principled American leadership.… [Israel] no longer convinced America is their unwavering friend. That’s wrong, Israel is our friend, and we need to stand up and fight for it.

After pandering to the Christian right, Christie hopped on a plane and headed up to New Hampshire, perhaps the most important state for Christie if he runs in 2016. (That’s because he’s not going to win Iowa, which is packed with evangelical Christian voters, but might do well in the Granite State, where Republicans are not as religious and where independents can vote in the Republican primary.)

Read Next: Would the Tea Party welcome Jeb Bush?

For Women’s Office Wear, Who’s Making the Rules?

Workplace Dress

(Shutterstock)

It’s summer, and it’s hot, so women are now plunged into the murky waters of dressing appropriately for work, while not wearing so much clothing they’ll get heat stroke. Some, like a reporter who was thrown out of a courtroom for having bare shoulders, will cross a vague line and get penalized. When women dress themselves for a professional setting, from prominent politicians to eager interns, they’re trying to conform to an unspoken set of rules that were crafted with men in mind in the first place.

The gender policing of clothes was even stricter before it was widely acceptable to have women in the workplace at all. In 1960, Lois Rabinowitz, a secretary who went to a courthouse to pay her boss’s speeding ticket, was ejected for wearing slacks and a blouse. As Gail Collins relates in When Everything Changed, women were arrested for walking around in slacks on the street at night. For any women who did work, the professional dress code was “stockings, heels, gloves, and hats.” But really, women weren’t supposed to have careers, and they weren’t supposed to wear pants: the lines were very clear.

Women can now wear pants without fear of retribution, and women who work have become the norm. But clothes are still a tricky issue. In the 1970s, when women started making more inroads into the workforce, they had to figure out how to adapt men’s business attire, namely suits, to their bodies. At first they wore big bows in place of ties. Women in the ’80s donned suits with enormous shoulder padding. This was the age of the power suit: “a suit that exaggerated a woman’s shoulders, giving her a more aggressive and masculine silhouette,” as defined by Vogue. Office attire was meant to make women look more like men in suits, rather than to find a kind of dress that was both professional and feminine.

Today, clothing companies seem to have figured out how to design suits and work clothes for women’s bodies. But women’s choices still come fraught with tripwires they might not even know are there. Is your clothing too brightly colored? Do you leave the collar of your shirt out of the suit jacket or tucked in? Skirt or pants? You should wear heels, but not stilettos. You shouldn’t look frumpy, but don’t dare show cleavage. Don’t “dress like a mortician,” but also avoid your “party outfit.” Wear a nice suit, but not always an Armani one.

Not to mention the invisible line separating dowdy and slutty. Hillary Clinton, whose fashion choices never cease to fascinate us, is a living example of how difficult it is to chart these waters: for so long chastised for dressing in sexless turtlenecks, she got an entire article written up the one day she showed a very small amount of cleavage.

The fact that women are faced with an unclear dress code while men know what they should wear—a suit if it’s a formal workplace, dress shirt and pants if it’s business casual—is one more sign that the workplace has still not totally dealt with the fact that women will be half of the inhabitants. That we endlessly discuss female politicians’ fashion choices and single out female employees for their clothing faux pas marks them as aliens entering someone else’s territory—they are an other, an outlier, and their clothing is one more reminder of that fact.

Our fashion choices aren’t just frivolous. They have a big impact on how we’re perceived. A study in 1985 found that female interview subjects were significantly more likely to be viewed favorably for hire if their clothes were seen as more masculine. “[F]emale applicants’ clothing is an avenue for influencing the selection decision for management positions,” authors Sandra Forsythe, Mary Frances Drake, and Charles E. Cox concluded. Forsythe followed up with a study in 1987 that found that more masculine clothing conveys more masculine managerial traits. The perception of a woman in her workplace can be influenced by everything from how much makeup she wears to her hair length.

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Even more fraught choices face women of color or with lower incomes. As Juliana Britto wrote at Feministing, many women of color feel the need to buy bigger clothes or ones that don’t make them look too sexy so that they can conform better to white bodies. And it’s not just enough to have professional clothes, but new, expensive looking ones so that they don’t come off “tacky.”

There are plenty of more obvious and perhaps more detrimental ways that the modern workplace still hasn’t adapted to the entry of women (and thus two working parents). Few workers get paid family leave for a new child or paid sick days to care for an ill kid. Childcare is still prohibitively expensive and yet often of very poor quality, so it’s unclear what parents are supposed to do now that June Cleaver isn’t home. And women keep coming up hard against the glass ceiling.

But it’s a telltale sign that we still haven’t figured out what they’re even supposed to wear to the workplace. Just 16 percent of parents think it’s best for children to have a mother who works full-time. Have we accepted the idea yet that women are going to work either out of necessity, passion or both? If so, we might want to come up with some clearer ideas of what they should put on in the mornings.

Read Next: Gaiutra Bahadur on “India’s Missing Women

Obama Sets the US on a Slippery Slope to War in Iraq

Obama

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Obama’s statement and answers to questions at a mini–news conference at the White House yesterday—and you can read the whole transcript at the White House’s site—signals a major shift by the United States on Iraq, which Obama has been trying to forget since 2011. And it’s s sign—as I’ve argued repeatedly here and as The Washington Post reported in a separate piece today, noting that the administration “has begun to consider the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as a single challenge”—that the civil war in Syria and the civil war in Iraq have become one. But it’s a crisis that needs a political-diplomatic response, and not a military one. Unfortunately, Obama is doing both, and that’s not good.

On one hand, the president is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Europe, the Middle East and Baghdad in a diplomatic push, and the United States is signaling to all of Iraq’s political factions that it favors getting rid of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and creating a government of national unity there. Because doing so means getting buy-ins from Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, accomplishing that will require some intricate diplomatic maneuvering, and finding a replacement for Maliki—who won’t go easily—will be very, very difficult. (Believe it or not, there’s even talk that Maliki might be replaced by that wily wheeler-dealer Ahmad Chalabi, though he’s likely no one’s first or second choice.)

But, on the other hand, Obama has set into motion actions likely to expand the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT, “rhymes with jihad”) from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and North Africa deep into Iraq, too, with drones and airstrikes. In his announcement that he’s sending an additional 300 US forces to Iraq, the president made it clear that the US military is getting ready to target the bad guys of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the air. He said that the United States has “significantly increased our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets so that we’ve got a better picture of what’s taking place inside of Iraq [and] positioned additional US military assets in the region.” And he added ominously, “Because of our increased intelligence resources, we’re developing more information about potential targets associated with [ISIS]. And going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action.”

Worse, it seems clear that the United States is also considering a significant expansion of military support to Syria’s “moderate” rebels in the civil war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and in this context the president cited his just-announced $5 billion “Counterterrorism Partnership Fund.” Never mind that, in fact, the United States is thus on both sides of the same war, fighting Sunni rebels in Iraq and supporting them in Syria. (Both Iran and Saudi Arabia exhibit no such schizophrenic behavior, with Iran backing the governments in Baghdad and Damascus and Saudi Arabia backing the Sunni rebels, though not ISIS, in both Syria and Iraq.) The real problem with bombing ISIS is that there’s no way to avoid civilian casualties, which will increase Sunni tribal and Baathist support—already strong—for the ISIS-led offensive. And unless a new government of national unity, inclusive of Sunnis, comes into power tout de suite in Baghdad, the United States will be going to war on Maliki’s behalf, and jointly with Iran, against Iraq’s Sunni minority—or at least that’s how it will be seen by those on both sides of Iraq’s sectarian divide.

On the diplomatic front, Obama made it pretty clear that he’s calling for regime change in Iraq—“a new government should convene as soon as possible”—and that Kerry’s mission is designed to foster that:

The United States will lead a diplomatic effort to work with Iraqi leaders and the countries in the region to support stability in Iraq. At my direction, Secretary Kerry will depart this weekend for meetings in the Middle East and Europe, where he’ll be able to consult with our allies and partners. And just as all Iraq’s neighbors must respect Iraq’s territorial integrity, all of Iraq’s neighbors have a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq does not descend into civil war or become a safe haven for terrorists.

Above all, Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq’s future. Shia, Sunni, Kurds—all Iraqis—must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence. National unity meetings have to go forward to build consensus across Iraq’s different communities. Now that the results of Iraq’s recent election has been certified, a new parliament should convene as soon as possible. The formation of a new government will be an opportunity to begin a genuine dialogue and forge a government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis.

And Obama signaled to Iran that Tehran can help stabilize Iraq:

Our view is that Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we’re sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it’s inclusive and that if the interests of Sunni, Shia and Kurd are all respected. If Iran is coming in solely as an armed force on behalf of the Shia, and if it is framed in that fashion, then that probably worsens the situation and the prospect for government formation that would actually be constructive over the long term.

Indeed, since the beginning of the ISIS offensive Iran has said repeatedly that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds need to work together against ISIS. On the other hand, Iran will exercise its veto power over the next prime minister of Iraq, which means that someone like Ayad Allawi—the secular Shiite who has lots of Sunni support—won’t be named. And just as the United States is getting involved militarily in Iraq, Iran is already deeply engaged with Iraq’s armed forces and Shiite militia, and General Qassem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force has been visiting Baghdad to explore how Iran might get even more involved.

The action by Obama is something ordered up by neoconservatives, however, but by pro-military, liberal interventionists inside the administration. Outside the administration, they’re allied with people such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and with think tanks such as the Center for American Progress and the Center for a New American Security, both Democratic-leaning. (It’s especially ironic to see the Center of American Progress and its chief national security analyst, Brian Katulis, supporting airstrikes in Iraq, having led the charge in 2008 for the United States to withdraw unilaterally from Iraq.)

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At yesterday’s news conference, Jim Acosta, evidently a dim bulb, stupidly asked Obama if he had any “regrets” about his “decision” to leave Iraq in 2011, picking up on a nonsensical trope from neocons and Dick Cheney who accuse Obama of abandoning Iraq when the last US forces pulled out back then. Did Acosta not know that the decision to pull the troops out in 2011 was made by President George W. Bush in 2008, and that in fact Obama—disappointing his antiwar base—tried to extend that deadline, but that Iraq said no? Anyway, Obama set him straight. Here’s the full exchange:

Q Just very quickly, do you wish you had left a residual force in Iraq? Any regrets about that decision in 2011?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me; that was a decision made by the Iraqi government. We offered a modest residual force to help continue to train and advise Iraqi security forces. We had a core requirement which we require in any situation where we have US troops overseas, and that is, is that they’re provided immunity since they’re being invited by the sovereign government there, so that if, for example, they end up acting in self-defense if they are attacked and find themselves in a tough situation, that they’re not somehow hauled before a foreign court. That’s a core requirement that we have for US troop presence anywhere.

The Iraqi government and Prime Minister Maliki declined to provide us that immunity. And so I think it is important though to recognize that, despite that decision, that we have continued to provide them with very intensive advice and support and have continued throughout this process over the last five years to not only offer them our assistance militarily, but we’ve also continued to urge the kinds of political compromises that we think are ultimately necessary in order for them to have a functioning, multi-sectarian democracy inside the country.

Take Action: Tell President Obama: No Military Intervention in Iraq

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on how to fix the Iraq crisis

Will President Obama Use Executive Action to Improve Working Conditions?

Construction worker

A construction worker on the site of the SoMa at Brickell apartment building in downtown Miami (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Once upon a time, the term “government job” was not synonymous with boondoggles, corruption or the perennial “waste, fraud and abuse.” During the New Deal, the state proudly created jobs and spent public money as a vital intervention to check the excesses of market capitalism. Today, the public is disgusted with both fiscal policy and the free market. Yet some advocates are pushing for a re-priming of the pump, with an executive order that would uplift millions of workers by pulling federal purse strings.

According to a new report by Demos, the White House could immediately improve the working conditions of the country’s low-wage workers with a strong executive order that establishes model labor policies at workplaces linked to federal programs. These policies could in turn promote greater equity for the private-sector labor force as well. The proposal—a set of rules that ensure decent labor standards and protect collective bargaining rights—could affect 21 million people nationwide.

Demos proposes executive actions the White House could take right now without having to go through Congress. In recent months, President Obama has moved ahead of the legislature with executive measures that strengthened anti-discrimination protections and raised the wage floor for low-wage contract workers.

Advocates, along with some progressive members of Congress, hope the White House builds upon the earlier pro-worker measures by enacting a more comprehensive framework for improving working conditions. The proposed “Good Jobs Executive Order” is far from radical, though. It would simply codify crucial workplace protections: the right to collectively bargain, to a living wage and comprehensive benefits, solid regulations on wages and hours as well as health and safety rules. And finally, it would compel workplaces to set reasonable limits on executive salaries to prevent the massive wealth imbalance that pervades corporate America: ‘Limiting executive compensation to fifty times the median salary paid to the company’s workers.”

The proposed executive order would target the “federally supported workforce” workers whose income is supported by a federal contract or direct federal payment—which includes workers for federally contracted production of goods and services, Medicare and Medicaid-related services, “Concessions and leasing arrangements in federal facilities, parks, and other properties,” and existing infrastructure and welfare programs.


(Courtesy of Demos)

This labor force, which is about 14 percent of all private-sector workers, is 70 percent female and nearly half people of color—workers who have been hit hard by the recession, benefit particularly from anti-discrimination protections for public sector workers, and have historically been economically marginalized in the private sector.

Despite the relentless conservative attacks on social programs over the years, federal purchasing power remains huge, according to Demos: “Across the two major categories of government purchasing—contracting for public goods and services and health-care purchasing through Medicare and Medicaid—federal spending totals about $1.3 trillion, and total revenues of federally-funded employers are about $2.2 trillion, or roughly 9 percent of gross output in the economy as a whole.”

At the same time, private employers and pro-business lawmakers have been steadily eroding labor protections during the “recovery,” opening further opportunity for Washington to check patterns of inequity through workforce policy.

The proposed order would seed pro-worker policies that could extend to private-sector jobs as well—for instance, adopting company-wide collective bargaining policies both for contract and for non-contract projects, “not just those directly performing federal work.” This would build on other policies that used federal investment to spur reform, like bans on segregation in Medicaid-funded hospitals. (Of course, federal contract policy can also be wielded in regressive ways—as in no-strike pledges brokered between unions and the government as a condition of securing work.)

Some of the measures are already solidly in place in some states and localities—such as paid sick leave or occupational safety standards. And instead of costing Uncle Sam, these measures tend to yield significant returns on government investment. Demos projects that implementing good jobs standards would “raise the wages of nearly 8.3 million workers comprising the lower-paid half of the federally-supported workforce.”

Implementing the Good Jobs policies would actually lead to fiscal savings, according to the report. Bigger paychecks mean those workers require less in welfare subsidies like food stamps, and the government would absorb extra tax revenue. Additionally, proposed measures to limit executive salaries at big firms and cut subsidies for CEO pay could also save billions, while narrowing the pay gap between the highest—and lowest—ranked workers. These savings would collectively bring more than $20 billion into federal coffers, which is “enough to entirely offset the federal government’s share if it were responsible for 60 percent of the policy’s cost or less.”

On balance, Demos says, “we will see additional GDP growth of about $31 billion annually along [with] more than 260,000 additional jobs.”

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And the group notes that some benefits fall outside their calculations, like the peace of mind of having paid family sick leave in case a child falls ill, or the sense of dignity that comes with organizing fellow workers for a fair contract.

Ultimately, these policies shouldn’t have to be tacked onto a government contract; they should come automatically with every job in any public or private workplace. Historically, workers have relied on the federal government to spearhead vital worker protections through contracts with private firms, from banning segregation to supporting unionization. But the Good Jobs plan might go one step beyond: Washington’s expansion of collective bargaining could encourage further local labor activism at the grassroots. Once an executive pen sets workers in motion, many will be spurred to assert their rights at work on their own—ensuring that good jobs are no longer the exception but the new rule.

 

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Why Scott Walker Will Never Be President

Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Scott Walker, an ardent Ronald Reagan fan from his youth, was never likely to follow Reagan’s footsteps to the White House. The Wisconsin governor lacks his hero’s way with words, skill for crossing lines of partisan and ideological division (especially within the Republican Party) and confidence on the national campaign trail.

Yet Walker has wanted to believe in the possibility so badly that he has spent the two years since his 2012 recall election win positioning himself as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He penned a campaign book, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge, which was so transparent in its ambitions that Glenn Beck’s The Blaze refers to it as “the prototypical book about someone running for president who doesn’t want to come out and actually say that he is running for president.” He jetted off to Las Vegas to to try and impress Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, but Adelson missed the Wisconsinite´s speech. He even persisted in making the rounds nationally after polls showed that his enthusiasm for presidential politics did not sit well with the Wisconsin voters he must face in a November re-election bid.

But with the release of documents in which Wisconsin prosecutors allege Walker helped to engineer an expansive “criminal scheme” to coordinate efforts by conservative groups to help his recall campaign—by circumventing campaign finance laws—Walker’s presidential prospects look less realistic even than those of his mentor, scandal-plagued New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

The headlines in Wisconsin Thursday were damning:
   “John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of ‘criminal scheme’
   “Prosecutors accuse Walker of running ‘criminal scheme’

And the national headlines were just as rough. “Prosecutors: Scott Walker part of ‘criminal scheme,” read the headline of a Politico story that opened with a breathless report that

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker participated in a “criminal scheme” to coordinate fundraising for the Republican in response to efforts to recall him and state senators from office, local prosecutors argue in court documents released Thursday.

Walker, his chief of staff and others were involved in the coordination effort with “a number of national groups and prominent figures,” including Karl Rove, says special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

“[T]he evidence shows an extensive coordination scheme that pervaded nearly every aspect of the campaign activities during the historic 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin Senate and Gubernatorial recall elections,” Schmitz wrote in a December motion, on behalf of five attorneys from some of the state’s most liberal counties, just now unsealed by an appellate court judge.

Even worse for a governor who has already had to try an explain away highly controversial emails from former aides, as well as the investigations, prosecutions and convictions of aides, appointees, allies and campaign donors, are the actual details of the documents that were ordered unsealed by Federal Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook.

“The documents include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that (veteran Wisconsin Republican operative R.J.) Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson is also Walker’s longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group active in the recall elections,” reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s largest paper.

The May 4, 2011, e-mail to Rove read: “Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities).”

Walker, who is certainly no stranger to controversy, claimed Thursday that he had been vindicated by judges who have restricted—and even attempted to shut down—the “John Doe” investigation into political wrongdoing. But other judges have sustained the inquiry.

Walker allies argue that he is the victim of a “witch hunt” organized by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and other top prosecutors, who they allege are out to silence conservatives and harm Republicans. Chisholm is a Democrat, but he is also a respected prosecutor who has gone after Democrats and worked with Republicans.

Lawyers for targets of the probe are fighting to shut it down and, in this unsettled and uncertain post–Citizens United period with regard to state and national campaign finance laws, they believe they will succeed.

Attempts to halt the probe, which have been cheered on by advocates for a no-holds-barred “big money” politics, are part of a broader strategy to gut remaining campaign-finance laws. One way to super-charge the influence of major donors and corporate interests is to undermine bans on coordination between candidates and their campaigns with “independent” groups that operate under different and more flexible rules for raising and spending money during a campaign.

“If you don’t have restrictions on coordination, then the contribution limits become meaningless,” Paul S. Ryan, the senior counsel for the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, explained. Ryan told Politico that without the restrictions, a donor “could max out under the limits [for donating to a candidate], but then you could also just say to the candidates, ‘Hey give me an ad script and we’ll walk down to the TV station and do this ad for you.’”

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But even if the probe is prevented from going forward, the documents that have now been released—in combination with the February release of 27,000 pages of e-mails from the seized from the “secret e-mail system” computers of a former Walker aide who has been convicted of political wrongdoing—paint a picture of a governor whose political style does not say “statesman.”

There is no question that Walker is a hero to some Republicans, and to some conservatives.

But Republicans and conservatives who want to win back the White House have to be realistic enough to recognize that Walker has a paper trail that is unlikely to read well on the 2016 campaign trail.

In fact, if the Wisconsin polls that have Walker tied with Democratic challenger Mary Burke are to be believed, Walker might have trouble getting past the 2014 election.

 

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