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Is the Fog of Pre-War Again Descending on ‘The New York Times’?

nytimes building

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

If you suspect that The New York Times still hasn’t learned all it should from its hawkish coverage in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, you’re right.

Back then, the Times, led by the self-admitted “testosterone”-drugged Bill Keller, tilted heavily toward publishing pro-war op-eds as well as misleading front-page pieces, most notably and disastrously by Judith Miller, now of Fox News.

Surely now, as we decide what to do about the current Iraq crisis, the Times would check its reflex to again hand valuable real estate over to the neocons. You know, fool me once…

But no. As the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Sunday, readers on “high alert” about the fog of pre-war again descending on the paper are right to worry.

Readers, she writes, have been complaining “that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.”

Sullivan cites documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who tweeted: “Another day, another NYT article about a neocon and Iraq! Where are the articles about hundreds of thousands against escalation?”

So she counted:

I went back with the help of my assistant, Jonah Bromwich, and reread the Iraq coverage and commentary from the past few weeks to see if these complaints were valid. The readers have a point worth considering. On the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now.

But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.

She found that today’s anti-interventionist arguments are largely in-house, from Times editorials and columnists, some of whom have changed their minds since 2003. For instance, Sullivan says, Thomas Friedman “was a leading voice for intervention last time, and has since said that he was wrong. He wrote recently: ‘For now, I’d say stay out of this fight…’” (I’d watch out for that “for now.”)

Sullivan ends on the hope that “the editors—on both the news and opinion sides—will think hard about whose voices and views will get the amplification that comes with being in The Times.”

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Only days later, however, the Times ran a front-page story on Ahmad Chalabi that, as Eric Boehlert writes, indicates the paper is still struggling with its own history:

Here’s what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here’s what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq’s supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove [the] Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war.

While the Times published “something of a mea culpa about its war coverage” in 2004, acknowledging “its flawed reliance on Chalabi as an ‘occasional source’ for its stories,” Boehlert writes, it “never mentioned Miller by name…”

Read Next: Wilbert Rideau and Linda LaBranche on dominatn presence of prison newspapers in the US.

Surging Violence Against Women in Iraq

Hurt woman Iraq

Iraqi Woman and Seucrity Control Forces in Dalli Abbas, Iraq. (Reuters/Stringer)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

Shortly after their conquest of Mosul, young men armed with assault rifles went door to door in Iraq’s second-largest city, taking “women who are not owned” for jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad.

From June 9-12, women’s rights activists documented thirteen cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or DAIISH, the Arabic shorthand for the group’s name. Of the thirteen women, four committed suicide because they couldn’t stand the shame. One woman’s brother committed suicide because he could not bear the fact that he was unable to protect his sister.

The dispatches from Mosul are just one account of the extreme violence that has plagued Iraq since Sunni ISIS militants seized control over large portions of the country. Being a woman in Iraq was difficult before the current conflict. But the latest wave of militarization threatens to make life even worse.

“Women are being taken in broad daylight,” said Yanar Mohammad, co-founder and president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “Men have the weapons to do whatever they want and [ISIS’s] way of dealing with things is to kill.”

Now military leaders are handing guns to young, untrained, undereducated and unemployed Shia men. These men are promised big salaries if they leave their homes to fight, according to an anonymous Global Fund ally in Baghdad.

“When we [women] commute to our office, walk in the street or take the bus, we experience harassment,” added the Global Fund ally, who remains anonymous due to security concerns. “But now, all of the men have weapons. I think maybe he will kidnap or shoot me if I don’t do what he wants. They will shoot and do anything, and because of the fatwa [urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists] no one asks questions.”

Sectarian Violence Slows Women’s Progress

With a death toll of 1,000 and rising since the beginning of June, the sectarian conflict has forced most women’s rights organizations to scale back their programs.

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq was in the middle of a campaign against Article Seventy-Nine of the Jaafari Personal Status Law—which, among other women’s rights violations, would grant custody over any child two years or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and fifteen for boys, and even open the door for girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval. Now it takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.

“We cannot speak of women’s rights now unless we are speaking of the livelihood of those who are totally jeopardized, such as women who lost families and young girls who are vulnerable to corrupt officials or clerics,” said Yanar Mohammad. “We went from legal work and improving the rights of women to working in a state of emergency and trying to find the lowest chain in society and get them to safety.”

The Tangled Web the US Wove

Such extreme sectarian violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Iraq, said Mohammad, who is “sick and tired” of Western pundits saying there is no hope for Iraq.

“The mainstream media trashing Iraqi people is unbearable and is a total manipulation of the facts of America’s role in dividing the Iraqi people,” she said. “The political process that the US government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.”

The damage comes in the form of, among other things, a generation that didn’t have access to education.

“This generation listens to whatever the clerics and politicians say,” said Mohammad. “They are ready to throw themselves in the fire and they do it in the name of their imam.… Both politicians and religious heads are pushing the country into a very sectarian divide, and it’s frightening.”

Refugees Flee to Kurdish Region

As the fighting intensifies in northern and western Iraq, more than 300,000 people have already fled to the Kurdish region for safety, where the United Nations and relief organizations have set up a refugee camp in the arid region of Khazer.

“It is very hot and there is no water; we were not prepared for this influx of refugees,” said a Global Fund ally in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The situation is by no means sustainable. The majority has nowhere to go and is staying in parks. Entire families are left without the most basic of shelter, food and clothes.”

While these waves of displacement to Kurdistan include Shia, Sunni and Christian families, the pressure on Iraqi Christians has been strongest due to the infamous brutality of ISIS.

“Christian women in the areas controlled by ISIS are forced to wear hijab or face death,” said a Global Fund ally who lives in Baghdad. “They must pay a protection tax, or jizyah, to ISIS to stay safe.”

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If the violence is not seriously addressed, our ally in Erbil says, Iraqi women know exactly what is going to happen next because they have endured it repeatedly since the US invasion in 2003, and during the Iran-Iraq War and Persian Gulf War before it.

“We know what has happened to women in Iraq—a lot of murders and violations—and we have already suffered to an unbearable extent,” said the Global Fund ally in Erbil. “There is nothing they haven’t done to us, which is why panic spreads among women as soon as we hear of another crisis. Women are used as a weapon for retaliation.”

Read Next: Aaron Ross on Sex Trafficking in the Middle East

DREAMers in Grad School

DREAM activists

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

This piece originally appeared in Generation Progress and is reposted here with permission.

Amidst calls for Obama to end deportations and for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, college access remains a prominent issue among immigrant rights activists. In the last six months, New Jersey, Washington, Florida and Virginia have granted in-state tuition to undocumented students.

The focus of these wins have focused on DREAMers seeking an undergraduate education. In addition to access into colleges and universities, student affairs professionals are proactively providing retention resources to support DREAMers through to graduation. Programs at Arizona State University and UC, Berkeley, for instance, address the needs of current undocumented students through direct service and broader campus education.

The higher education pipeline for undocumented students continues to be plagued with leaks. Approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, and face severely limited opportunities to pursue a college degree.

Currently, there are estimated to be about 13,000 undocumented students attending college. Hence, the movement for in-state tuition, financial aid and increased retention services is key for the success of those who are able to attend a college or university.

However, missing from the mainstream analysis on educational equity for DREAMers are the stories of those attending graduate school.

Recent stories of success include Sergio Garcia and Jirayut Lattivongskorn.

Garcia attends law school, but was initially denied admission to the California bar. After a six-year legal struggle, the California Supreme Court ruling in 2014 finally made it possible for Garcia to fully access the benefits of his degree.

Lattivongskorn will be the first undocumented student to attend the University of California, San Francisco for medical school. Graduate school offers opportunities for career advancement and greater financial earning over the lifetime. For many DREAMers who pursue higher education, empowering their communities is a key motivator.

For Sofia Campos, a UCLA alumna and currently a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her motivation to pursue a master’s in urban planning stems from her community.

As an undergraduate, Campos, unable to drive, rode a bus two hours each way to and from class. This gave her the “opportunity to really and directly see the differences between my own neighborhood, which is a mostly Latino neighborhood, a low-income neighborhood, and neighborhoods that UCLA is surrounded by, like Bel Air and Melrose, which are really nice places. To just seeing the differences in resources and the community that lives there and the physical environment that surrounds them was really drastic. It just made me question, ‘Why is that?’ and ‘Why do these inequalities exist?’”

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Fortunately for Campos, she had access to mentors and other undocumented students who had successfully navigated the graduate school application process. However, given the challenges that exist at the undergraduate level, graduate school may appear to be completely out of reach.

“Education is always a viable option,” Kaegy Pabulos said, former financial aid advisor at UC, Berkeley. “The main challenge lies in the fact that there are federal and state policies that limit student aid eligibility for undocumented students.”

“Some of the challenges for an undocumented student applying to graduate school, include the criteria that requires some students to have professional experience before and after the program,” Pabulos said. “However, there has also been a movement to challenge these requirements. For example, UC Irvine and UC, San Diego medical schools recently welcomed undocumented / DACA students to apply.”

Structural and resources issues lie at both the point of access, and within the university once undocumented students enter.

 

Read Next: From Pride to Freedom Summer to ‘Aycock’ Hall, students mass for racial justice.

Is Obama on a Slippery Slope Toward Mission Creep in Iraq?

President Obama

President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Let’s parse, if you will, Rear Adm. John Kirby’s press briefing at the Pentagon, which focused heavily on Iraq and the American actions so far is trying to stem the tide of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) nee the Islamic State-cum-Caliphate. His comments, especially in response to questions from a fairly skeptical media corps—thankfully, more skeptical than the 2002–03 media on Iraq—reveal a potentially slippery slope toward escalation in Iraq, in which President Obama has already ordered an incremental series of military deployments there.

As Admiral Kirby laid it out, to begin with:

So the first order was the on the 16th of June for 270—actually, it was up to 275, is what the War Powers Resolution letter said, but roughly 270 is what we ordered up inside the military channels. A hundred and seventy of them got on the ground that same day—actually, as you know, they kind of flowed in a little bit before the war powers letter went to Congress. So back then, we had a total of 270 authorized, 170 in country.…

The second order, the second War Powers Resolution letter went on the 26th of June. That authorized up to 300 advise and assess troops, advisers. And on the 27th of June, 180 had been in country. That’s—so you have 90 supporting the joint operations center in Baghdad and another 90 that comprised our assessment and advise teams. That brought the total to 570 authorized, but 350 actually on the ground.…

The third order came on the 30th of June yesterday. That was for an additional 200 in the security assistance mission, separate and distinct from the assessment mission, an additional 200, and all 200 of them are now in and around Baghdad.

So in total the president sent troops to Iraq three times, on June 16, June 27 and June 30. As Kirby put it: “And then so all that comes down to the bottom there, a total of 770 authorized, 650 on the ground. And that’s where we are right now.”

The first question involved the weaponry that the troops are bringing with them, including helicopters, drones and so on. Kirby said that the aircraft include “a mix of helicopters and UAVs [drones],” adding, “The helicopters are attack helicopters, Apaches.” And, he said, they’ll be flown by American crews, not Iraqis.

Kirby was asked about whether the stepped-up deployment is a sign that things are getting worse in Iraq, and if that means that more deployments might follow, and he didn’t quite answer, saying only that “our assessment teams are, are just getting, well, not just now starting, they’ve been working. We need to give them time to get out and about and to come back with their findings, so I’m not going to get ahead of that work or what they’ll report back.” Which led to this exchange:

QUESTION: So you can’t say now if the situation is getting worse or not?

ADM. KIRBY: I’m not—I’m not—I certainly wouldn’t—I would be in no position to declare, you know, the meter today one way or the other. It continues to be very dangerous. The threat continues to be very real.

When a reporter asked if there is “ceiling that the Pentagon won’t go beyond that when it comes to number of troops,” Kirby said only that the president as commander in chief “makes these decisions.”

Still, the media pushed him, asking, “Should we expect additional deployments in the near term?” Kirby didn’t answer that one. So the press tried again:

QUESTION Nonetheless, the president has added three times in the last two weeks additional troops, and you have just acknowledged that, in your words, there is no grand total limit on this at this point. So my question is, with all respect, how is this not escalation? How is this not mission creep?… What is the exit strategy?

ADM. KIRBY: …There’s—there’s no mission creep, because the missions have been clearly defined from almost the outset.

Since first getting back in, the United States has now moved to protect the airport in Baghdad and the access road linking the capital to the airport, which during the 2003–11 war was a major point of contention between the United States and the insurgency. A reporter asked a bout the airport deployment, and about why the Iraqis can’t protect their own airport, but Kirby made it clear that the United States doesn’t trust Iraq in regard to the safety of US troops who will be flying into the airport. And then this:

QUESTION: I don’t mean to take too much time here, but one more time. Two weeks ago, there was no discussion of needing to have U.S. troops at the Baghdad airport. For whatever reason now.…

ADM. KIRBY: No, that’s not true.… Two weeks ago, when—on the 16th of June when we ordered those 100 airport security personnel into the region—now, we kept them outside of Iraq, but we ordered them into the region because we had even back on the 16th of June reason to be concerned about the security of our facilities and our people at the airport.

Since the ISIS offensive began, Iraq has gotten help from both Iran and Russia. Iran, a close ally of Iraq, will defend Baghdad as it’s defended Damascus in Syria’s civil war (also against ISIS), and recently Russia has sent fighter jets, technicians and pilots to Iraq, amid broad hints from Iraqi officials that they’ll turn to Moscow if Washington doesn’t step up:

QUESTION: Can you confirm a report that the Russian pilots are going to fly these fighter jets that Iraq has purchased? And if they are, does this building have concerns about Russian forces operating aircraft over top of U.S. forces operating on the ground?

ADM. KIRBY: No, I can’t confirm—you know, the Russian Ministry of Defense should talk about what they’re doing with their pilots. I can’t do that. It’s my understanding that these aircraft were purchased for the use—for use by Iraqi pilots, but you’d have to talk to Moscow about what they’re doing with their planes and their pilots.… There are no active discussions with the Russian military now about what they are or are not doing in Iraq. These are—Iraq is a sovereign nation.

And this follow-up:

QUESTION: How concerned are you—the Iraqi ambassador this morning was talking about if Iraq doesn’t get what it needs from the U.S., again requesting air strikes, says they may turn to Iran for those types of capabilities. To what extent, as you put more and more forces on the ground, does it concern you that Iraq is saying “not enough and you’re not doing the job, so we’ll turn to the Iranians.”

ADM. KIRBY: Again, it’s a sovereign state, sovereign government. They have the right to speak to whoever they wish to in terms of security discussions. I would just go back to what I said before, that we continue to urge all nations involved and interested in this to whatever actions they take, whatever decisions they make, that it doesn’t further inflame the sectarian tension on the ground there.
And we’ve had that message consistently from the beginning, particularly that’s been our message to Tehran and it doesn’t change. But we can neither control nor can we dictate the discussions that one head of state has with another.

Asked if the involvement of Iran might make the United States role “untenable,” Kirby said that, in fact, the United States might be able to work alongside Iran, as least in parallel if not in direct cooperation.

Then, answering a follow-up on drones, Kirby said that the drones now in Iraq are not either Predators or Reapers, the deadly drones used in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but apparently smaller ones. He said that the United States will be sending Iraq additional F-16s soon, and more Hellfire missiles for Iraqi aircraft. “There’s hundreds of other Hellfires that I know are being expedited to go to Iraq,” he said.

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The press followed up on Iran:

QUESTION Do you see any possible cooperation with Iran to counter ISIS in Iraq? As you may know, Chairman [of the Joint Chief General Martin] Dempsey last Friday didn’t rule out the possibility to—to cooperate with—with Iran. So what’s your reaction on that?

ADM. KIRBY: I would say what I’ve said before, alright. There are no plans right now to collaborate or communicate about military activities between the United States military and either the Quds Force or the Iranian military, no plans to—coordinate military activities at all.

As I’ve written before, the United States is backing Maliki in Baghdad and battling Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran supports both Maliki and Assad. And ISIS is fighting both. So the American policy is clearly schizophrenic. If the United States were to end its support for the anti-Assad forces, they would free Assad’s troops to crush ISIS in Syria’s northern and eastern areas, and that would ease the pressure on Baghdad. As Leslie Gelb wrote in a New York Times op-ed on July 1:

But instead of capitalizing on Mr. Assad’s anti-jihadi instincts, the Obama team now proposes to do what it has resisted doing for almost three years—to send hundreds of millions of dollars in arms aid for the Sunni rebels battling the Assad government. This move has American priorities backward. It will turn Mr. Assad away from the jihadis in Iraq, and back to fighting American-backed rebels in Syria.

The greatest threat to American interests in the region is ISIS, not Mr. Assad. To fight this enemy, Mr. Obama needs to call on others similarly threatened: Iran, Russia, Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, Jordan, Turkey—and above all, the political leader with the best-armed forces in the region, Mr. Assad. Part of the deal would need to be that the Syrian regime and the rebels largely leave each other alone.

 

Read Next: Syria’s chemical weapons removed in major success for US-Russia-Iran cooperation

Half a Century After Freedom Summer, It’s Time for America to ‘Earn Our Insurgencies’

Freedom Democratic Party

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington, September 17, 1965. (AP Photo/ William J. Smith)

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.

Shortly after 11 pm on June 24, the media declared six-term Republican Senator Thad Cochran the winner of Mississippi’s hard-fought Republican runoff primary. The reason, the pundits quickly concluded, was an unprecedented surge in black Democrats—some 13,000 or more—crossing over to support Cochran over his virulently anti-government Tea Party opponent, Chris McDaniel. “It should send a message,” retired school principal Ned Tolliver said. “It shows that we have the power to elect who we want to elect when the time is right.”

Around the time the polls closed, a very different view of Mississippi was playing out on PBS, in the form of a documentary called Freedom Summer. Grippingly recounting the 1964 effort that brought more than 700 college students—primarily white Northerners—to register black voters in Mississippi, the film is part of a flood of fiftieth-anniversary commemorations, from conferences to children’s books. In grim and grainy black-and-white footage, interspersed with interviews from the heroic Americans who risked beatings and firebombings and even death, these tributes remind us of the long road to African-Americans having the power to elect who they want to elect and celebrate those who made it possible.

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And there is much to celebrate. Mississippi—where only 28,000 blacks were registered to vote in 1963—now boasts more black elected officials than any other state, including the recently reelected first black mayor of Philadelphia, the site of the brutal murders of three civil rights workers. The “WHITES” and “COLORED” signs have long since come down. A black man sits in the Oval Office.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: Why the Mississippi Republican winner should thank Freedom Summer fifty years later.

The Saga of Christie, Samson and the American Dream Megamall: Part II

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The following is Part II of a Christie Watch investigation into the American Dream mega-complex at New Jersey Meadowlands. In Part I, published yesterday, Christie Watch reported how Christie’s mentor, David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority and founder of the powerful Wolff & Samson law firm, was involved with several Christie aides on nearly every side of the project. In Part II we continue the story, including how Wolff & Samson and its allies found the cash to restart American Dream.

Conveniently, when Lori Grifa, the Wolff & Samson attorney and former Christie appointee at the Department of Community affairs, left the DCA at the end of 2011 to return to Wolff & Samson, she brought Triple Five, the builder of the American Dream complex, with her as a client. Triple Five clearly expected the firm to get them the funding they needed to make the project a reality—and, so far, they haven’t been disappointed. Although construction has not restarted, an April agreement between the firm and labor unions appears to be one of the last remaining obstacles. Triple Five agreed to pour $1 billion more into the project—but only if the state came up with money from the public coffers. Perhaps they counted on the fact that, ever since taking office, Christie has supported huge corporate tax breaks to get companies to stay in New Jersey, and Wolff & Samson’s lobbyists worked hard to persuade state legislators to pass bills favoring those tax breaks. Many of Wolff & Samson’s clients ended up as recipients, and the largest tax break went to Wolff & Samson’s client, Triple Five and the Meadowlands Xanadu project, newly renamed as the American Dream.

Now, enter Michele Brown, yet another of Christie’s former assistant US attorneys. Brown is exceedingly close to Christie, who once improperly helped provide her with a personal loan. In 2009, Brown worked alongside Marra during the Big Rig III sweep that burnished Christie’s reputation as a tough prosecutor. Back then, Brown was suspected by some of secretly providing help to candidate Christie from her position at the US Attorney’s office, according to The Jersey Sting, a book by Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin, two reporters then with the Newark Star-Ledger. After he was elected governor, Christie appointed Brown to head New Jersey’s powerful Economic Development Authority (EDA). And it was Brown’s EDA that, in 2013, arranged the tax break for Triple Five. In November 2013, EDA backed a $390 million development grant for the project, telling the EDA board that the agency had coordinated closely with Marra’s NJSEA, the state treasurer and county officials to work out the financing package for the developer.

The EDA grant is part of the financing package arranged by Triple Five. It involves an incredibly convoluted and risky set of arrangements, according to which as much as $500 million in bonds issued by the tiny town of East Rutherford, New Jersey (population: 8,000), in turn will be sold to the Bergen County Improvement Authority, and then sold again. The BCIA is a quasi-autonomous body that helps its parent, Bergen County, and county towns access funding for projects.

At a meeting in March, 2013, advisers told the BCIA Commissioners, with some understatement, that the bond deal was “very large, very unique, very complicated.” The bonds from the EDA, which are to be paid by sales tax revenue derived at the project, and the BCIA-East Rutherford bonds, which are linked to property taxes from the developer, are tied together in a number of ways.

Jeff Tittel, director of NJ Sierra Club, told Christie Watch the whole financing scheme, with each part dependent on the other, “sure looks like a Bernie Madoff house of cards.”

There are two real dangers for taxpayers in all this. One is that the county will lose much needed tax revenues, as former Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney warns. Triple Five and its supporters argue that the mega-complex is so unique and has so many activities that people will travel many miles to come there and spend money they otherwise would not. Thus the county will have a net gain of tax revenues. But opponents say that the project will simply divert money that would have otherwise been spent elsewhere in overbuilt North Jersey’s web of shopping malls and entertainment facilities.

Second, there is significant concern about how much the county, town and state are on the hook if the whole project goes bust. Who pays the legal fees if bondholders sue, and will insurers back the bonds if the company defaults? The company has assured East Rutherford and the BCIA that they won’t be on the hook. But, as the Bergen Record noted:

If issued, the bonds would be tax-free, which means investors would pay no taxes on the bond payments they receive. They also would be non-recourse bonds, which means investors must agree in advance that they understand the risks associated with the bonds and have no recourse to sue the borough or Bergen County should anything go wrong. Of course, labeling the bonds “non-recourse” doesn’t mean that if the bonds somehow lose tax-exempt status—thereby costing investors millions of dollars—those investors won’t try to sue anyway.

Like an arms dealer that sells weapons to all sides in a many-sided conflict, Wolff & Samson has been intimately involved with the financial operations of all these government agencies and private entities. While the law firm may not have officially advised either the county, the town of East Rutherford, the Bergen County Improvement Authority or the EDA on these specific bonds, it has done extensive bond and legal work for all of them. In fact, it is the top bond counsel in the state, advising on over 30 percent of all public financings in the first half of 2013.

Consider Wolff & Samson’s record: Since 1982, Wolff & Samson is one of a select group of law firms that serve as bond counsel to the EDA. The firm is bond counsel to Bergen County on tens of millions of dollars of school, hospital and general obligation bonds. Wolff & Samson has acted as bond counsel to the BCIA on a number of cases, including one involving the area’s major medical center. Wolff & Samson has also acted as special legal counsel for the authority, defending it in sex and employment discrimination cases. Wolff & Samson has acted as the lawyer for Bergen County. And a Wolff & Samson lawyer, Arthur Goldstein, was counsel to the transition team of Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, a Republican, after her 2010 election.

Also involved is Alan Marcus, a major power broker and real estate mogul in Bergen County and North Jersey. Putting the icing on the Meadowlands cake, Marcus ran Donovan’s election campaign and headed her transition team. He is the spokesman for Triple Five.

Perhaps Wolff & Samson can find weasel-worded legal justifications for its many-sided involvement in the American Dream boondoggle. But to most outsiders, it looks like a conflict-of-interest web, especially by coming before the BCIA and East Rutherford representing Triple Five, a company that is seeking millions of dollars in funding?

In January the Bergen County freeholders urged the county executive not to award any more contracts to Wolff & Samson. In early March, they called on Samson to resign from the Port Authority chairmanship. (He did, of course, resign.) A week later Wolff & Samson gave up its lucrative role as lawyer for both the county and the BCIA.

Jim Tedesco, a Democratic Bergen County Freeholder, now the Democratic candidate for county executive, pressed for Samson’s resignation. In an interview with Christie Watch, Tedesco said:

David Samson failed New Jersey and Bergen County as Chairman of the Port Authority. He fostered a culture that put politics above the public good and ultimately compromised the safety and well-being of Bergen County residents. Mr. Samson’s first priority should have been to seek out the facts—not help seek retribution against the one person with the courage to stand up and reopen the lanes. The ethical cloud surrounding Samson also called into question ties his law firm had to Bergen County government. How could anyone vote to award Wolff & Samson legal work that is funded by taxpayers after he showed such disregard and contempt for Bergen County residents? Mr. Samson does not represent the values and ideals of Bergen County and as such the Freeholder Board voted to no longer accept any resolutions from County Executive Kathe Donovan that awarded work to his firm.

Triple Five also has to find equity investors for the project. They enlisted Macquarie Group Ltd. as adviser on that quest, and they will be putting as much as $100 million of their own money into it, too. David Samson is very familiar with the company, a huge multinational firm that provides banking, financial and advisory services on a host of industries including real estate, energy and infrastructure, since Wolff & Samson is the lawyer for a Macquarie company that owns oil storage tanks at the Bayonne Bridge. And when Samson chaired the Port Authority, a Macquarie-led consortium won a $1.5 billion contract to design, build, finance and maintain a replacement of the Goethals Bridge. US Attorney Paul Fishman, who is investigating Bridgegate, has already subpoenaed Port Authority documents relating to David Samson and the Macquarie contract.

Beyond the conflict of interest issues related to Wolff & Samson is the very real question of whether public funds and resources should be used for yet another New Jersey mega-mall.

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Jon Whiten, deputy director of the think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective told Christie Watch:

The use of public dollars to back private investment that might not occur on its own is not a bad thing on the face of it. There are any number of important projects undertaken by private entities that could truly benefit an area and may be worth public financial support: housing projects that would help people find affordable homes, supermarkets and other shopping amenities that would reach people in underserved areas or smart-growth commercial projects that would help get more people onto mass transit, just to name a few. The difference between those kinds of projects and the American Dream project is pretty clear. While the former offer a clear benefit to society and the residents of New Jersey, we’ve yet to figure out what real benefit—beyond a few thousand construction jobs and thousands of permanent low-wage jobs—that this megamall will bring to the Garden State.

But this past April Christie, Triple Five executives and labor unions held a splashy press conference at the complex to announce that, with labor agreements now in place, the project was about to move forward and would be ready to open in the fall of 2016, when of course Christie hopes to be in the White House, far away from ugly mess sitting beside the NJ Turnpike.

 

Read Next: The Saga of Christie, Samson and the American dream megamall, Part I

When the Republicans Really Were the Party of Lincoln

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (AP Photo)

The Republican Party was, for a vital century, the major American political party that most frequently aligned with the cause of civil rights. The invariably realistic Frederick Douglass explained, “I knew that however bad the Republican Party was, the Democratic party was much worse. The elements of which the Republican Party was composed gave better ground for the ultimate hope of the success of the colored man’s cause than those of the Democratic Party.”

Well into the twentieth century, many leading Republicans took seriously their party’s history and the responsibility that went with it. They worked to earn the votes of African-Americans and all supporters of equal justice under law, declaring in the party’s 1960 platform that

[t]his nation was created to give expression, validity and purpose to our spiritual heritage—the supreme worth of the individual. In such a nation—a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—racial discrimination has no place. It can hardly be reconciled with a Constitution that guarantees equal protection under law to all persons. In a deeper sense, too, it is immoral and unjust. As to those matters within reach of political action and leadership, we pledge ourselves unreservedly to its eradication.

True to their word, top Republicans in Congress provided advice, counsel and support that was essential to the development and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While Democrats struggled with their party’s internal contradictions on the issue—deferring far too frequently to the demands of Southern segregationists who held powerful committee chairs in the House and Senate, and who commanded machines that delivered needed electoral votes—Republicans demanded action. “When President John F. Kennedy failed to submit a promised civil rights bill, three Republicans (Representatives William McCulloch of Ohio, John Lindsay of New York and Charles Mathias of Maryland) introduced one of their own,” noted The New York Times in recalling the great struggles of the era. “This inspired Mr. Kennedy to deliver on his promise, and it built Republican support for what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

When the key votes in the House and the Senate came fifty years ago, Republicans were significantly more supportive of the Civil Rights Act than were Democrats. The measure passed the House on a 290-130 vote, with support from 61 percent of House Democrats (152 in favor, ninety-six opposed). But Republican lawmakers gave it 80 percent backing (138 in support, just thirty-four against).

The critical test came in the Senate in June, 1964. Republicans aligned with northern Democrats to break the segregationist filibuster. Then, 82 percent of Republican senators backed the final passage of the measure, as opposed to two-thirds of Senate Democrats.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, he is said to have told an aide, “We [Democrats] have lost the South for a generation.”

But that statement did not just apply to the Democrats. Republicans were, necessarily, part of the change equation.

The change began to develop quickly. Two weeks after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the Republican National Convention in San Francisco nominated for the presidency Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, one of the handful of Republican senators who had opposed the measure.

Two months later, a key Democratic foe of civil rights, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, switched his party affiliation and began working to remake the Republican Party so that it could appeal to Southern white voters. Thurmond was an essential backer of the campaigns of Goldwater in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. His influence on Nixon, who developed a so-called “Southern strategy” to help realize Thurmond’s vision of a transformed political map, was immense. It extended deep into the decision-making process for the selections of a vice president and Supreme Court nominees.

At the same time, civil rights advocates within the Republican Party either left or were defeated. House minority leader Charles Halleck, the Indiana Republican who worked closely with the Johnson administration to pass muscular civil rights protections was deposed the following January by his own caucus. John Lindsay, who was rejected in his own party’s 1969 New York City mayoral primary (winning instead on the Liberal Party line), became a Democrat in 1971. His ally in the 1963 civil rights push “Mac” Mathias was so unsettled by the GOP’s move to the right that he threatened to run for the presidency in 1976 as a progressive independent. Others champions of civil rights, such as California Senator Thomas Kuchel (the Republican floor manager in the fights to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965), New Jersey Senator Clifford Case and New York Senator Jacob Javits, would eventually lose primaries to conservative challengers.

The senators who were rejected did not lose merely because of their civil rights advocacy but because of their Lincolnesque vision of a progressive Republican Party that, in Kuchel’s words, “brought to politics the philosophy of governing for the many.”

That philosophy was replaced by a more rigid and divisive politics. “The Republican Party that had been ceased to be sometime in the 1980s, and the modern party—the radical conservative party—not only has little or no interest in honoring its history, it is actively hostile to it,” Geoffrey Kabaservice, the author of the brilliant 2012 book Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party from Eisenhower to the Tea Party explained to Todd Purdum.

Purdum, who has written his own fine book on the battle to pass the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, marked the anniversary of the signing of the act with an article headlined, “Why the Civil Rights Act Couldn’t Pass Today.”

Purdum is appropriately critical of both major parties, but his most damning statement is an observation that “the Party of Lincoln became the party of white backlash, especially in the South.”

Thurmond was certainly not the only Southern Democrat to switch his party affiliation in the period following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act—Jesse Helms made the change in 1970; Trent Lott, an aide to a segregationist Democratic congressman, ran for the House as a Republican in 1972; Virginian Mills Goodwn Jr., whom The New York Times described as “a pillar of his state’s policy of ‘massive resistance’ to the racial integration of schools” during his years as a Democratic state legislator, was elected governor as a Republican in 1973. But Thurmond was the most prominent, and the most influential of the party switchers. Over time, he evolved his rhetoric away from the crude language of his 1948 States Rights Democratic Party presidential run and his Senate filibusters to a more politically palatable critique of “big government.” The senator would eventually say that “if I had been elected president in 1948, history would be vastly different. I believe we would have stemmed the growth of Big Government, which had begun with the New Deal and culminated with the Great Society.”

That statement conveniently neglected the fact that Thurmond and his allies in 1948 did not just talk about the size of the federal government. The same States Rights Democratic Party platform that declared its opposition to “the totalitarian, centralized bureaucratic government and the police nation called for by the platforms adopted by the Democratic and Republican Conventions” also announced, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”

Thurmond left the Democratic Party the first time, in 1948, because the Democrats were becoming more like the Republicans on the issue of civil rights—as both parties moved, slowly but surely, toward a recognition that Hubert Humphrey was right when he told the 1948 Democratic National Convention it was time “to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

For a time in the 1950s and 1960s, enlightened Democrats and Republicans competed to be the party of civil rights. And the Republicans were in the lead through much of the period—encouraging Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, the first African-American elected to the Senate in the modern era, to observe that the Republican Party “was, I believe, much more progressive than the Democratic Party.”

Republicans were not the party of Thurmond, they were explicitly and proudly the party of Lincoln. That 1960 GOP platform read:

Equality under law promises more than the equal right to vote and transcends mere relief from discrimination by government. It becomes a reality only when all persons have equal opportunity, without distinction of race, religion, color or national origin, to acquire the essentials of life—housing, education and employment. The Republican Party—the party of Abraham Lincoln—from its very beginning has striven to make this promise a reality. It is today, as it was then, unequivocally dedicated to making the greatest amount of progress toward the objective.

The tragedy of the Democratic Party through much of its history was an unwillingness to stand strong against its Southern wing and to clearly align itself with the cause of social and economic justice. The tragedy of the Republican Party is that when Democrats began to do the right thing, key figures in the GOP welcomed Thurmond into its fold and began to craft not just a “Southern strategy” but a politics of reaction. There were plenty of Republicans who resisted the trend at the time, and there have been plenty of Republicans since (notably former Congressman Jack Kemp and former Secretary of State Colin Powell) who have sought to broaden the party’s focus and appeal.

But as one of the great Republican advocates of civil rights, John Lindsay, noted when he left the GOP in 1971, “Today the Republican Party has moved so far from what I perceive as necessary policies…that I can no longer try to work within it.”

John Avlon, the longtime speechwriter for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who has since become a prominent advocate for centrist projects such as the “No Labels” movement, wrote several years ago: “The Republican Party was right on civil rights for the first one-hundred years of its existence. It was right when the Democratic Party was wrong. Its future strength and survival will depend on rediscovering that legacy of individual freedom amid America’s essential diversity. To win in the 21st century, the Party of Lincoln needs to start looking like the Party of Lincoln again.”

This is true.

It is also true that Republicans have a right to reflect proudly on the role the GOP played in securing approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This anniversary belongs to both parties—to Democrats who recall Johnson’s leadership, to Republicans who recall the role played by congressional Republicans.

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Unfortunately, the Republican Party that has spent much of its energy in recent years promoting restrictive Voter ID laws and that is currently entertaining a telling debate about Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s outreach to African-American voters in last month’s runoff election fight, often finds itself at odds with the legacies of Lincoln and the Republicans who championed civil rights in the mid-1960s.

“There’s also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” Powell said on NBC’s Meet the Press last year. “What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities.”

Powell recommended that his party “take a very hard look at itself.” In particular, the Republican Party should take a very hard look at its past—and it should embrace that past.

 

Read Next: Michelle Chen on New York’s exploited food workers.

‘The Nation’ Welcomes Canada Into Existence… With a Shrug

Fathers of Confederation by Robert Harris

(Public Domain)

On this day, 147 years ago, the Confederation of Canada thundered into existence. Birthed by an act ratified by the British parliament in March 1867, Canada was initially comprised only of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In an editorial published May 30, 1867, The Nation basically shrugged:

Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at rkreitner@thenation.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

Low-Wage Workers’ Newest Ally Is a Washington Bureaucrat

Tennessee Auto Worker

Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans in Chattanooga, Tennessee (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

It’s no secret that the floor has fallen out from beneath American workers. The minimum wage is now 25 percent lower than its peak in 1968. Collective bargaining rights are being stripped away. Businesses are downright stealing from their employees, to the tune of $185 million in 2008—three times more than what was stolen in all bank, gas station and convenience store robberies. Others are skipping out on their obligations by misclassifying their workers as independent contractors.

Given the political climate, the prospects for reversing the race to the bottom across low-wage industries seem a bit grim. There are, however, glimmers of success in the minimum-wage campaigns throughout the country. And there’s also a new bureaucrat in town, one whose role is little discussed but of real significance in the effort to restore eroded wages and workplace standards.

In early May, Boston University economist David Weil took over as director of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division, where he’s responsible for enforcing a slate of statutes that set minimum requirements for employers and protect some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers. He’s the first permanent administrator in a decade, and was confirmed only after Senate Democrats changed the filibuster rules so that a simple majority could approve a nominee. Weil previously advised the division on strategic labor law enforcement, and is known for his work on the franchise industry and on labor violations in the construction industry.

The laws under Weil’s oversight—including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act—are the bedrock of American labor rights, but for decades the agency has been criticized for lax oversight. The Government Accountability Office issued a scathing report on the Wage and Hour division in 2009, writing that the agency “left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn.” The result, the GAO wrote, “is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.”

Weil is keenly aware of the sorry state of low-wage labor, and the challenges facing his division. “We are in a period of time where working people have experienced—for a long time—the diminishment of their voice,” he said in an interview.

Weil described the division’s challenges as two-fold, the first being basic resource constraints. Historically, the bulk of Wage and Hour’s enforcement activity was investigating individual complaints—a strategy that amounted to a game of whack-a-mole, considering that the DOL has only 1,100 investigators to oversee 135 million workers in more than 7 million businesses.

Perhaps more critical are structural changes in the workplace that have occurred over the past two decades. As Weil explains it, market pressure pushed firms to farm out more and more activities that weren’t considered “core” to their business, relying on third-party contractors and franchise systems. Weil has studied this trend extensively; he calls it “fissuring,” referring to a rock breaking apart. (He credits his wife, a geologist, for the term.)

“The more a rock fissures, the fissures get deeper. Once you started shifting out this work to other parties, those parties in turn started shifting out the work,” he explained. “The employment relationship gets pushed further and further out to firms that are in more head to head competition.… Practices like off-the-clock work start popping up more and more and more and start defining the competitive position for the firms operating in those industries.” The effects cascade, as cheaters make it more difficult for responsible employers to compete. “The costs, obviously, are borne by the workers who are deprived of their wages, or sometimes their rights.”

Weil is now presiding over a major shift in how the division polices the workplace. Although the department will still respond to individual complaints, Weil is directing the bulk of his resources to targeted investigations in industries and sectors where labor exploitation is endemic. Those industries tend to employ many low-wage, low-skill or undocumented workers who, Weil said, “because of that are much more or much less likely to exercise the rights the law gives them to do things like complain.”

Weil said the division will also put extra effort into educating workers about their rights, and employers about the law, in the hopes that outreach will improve compliance. “But if we find employers…who are essentially competing on the basis of not complying and are playing the kind of games we see in, let’s say, misclassifying employees as independent contractors…there we’ll use the full range of enforcement tools we have available.”

The aim of the targeted strategy is ambitious: to not just resolve complaints against individual employers, but to change norms and employer behavior in entire industries. “In all of this work, whether it’s thinking about how we allocate our time to outreach, how we use our enforcement tools, how we respond to complaints, we’re constantly asking these questions: What’s the impact? How is this action ultimately going to bring this industry or this sector or this part of the country into greater compliance with the law?” Weil said.

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Weil will also play a key role in raising standards, not just enforcing them. He’s responsible for a portfolio that includes raising the salary threshold at which employees are eligible for overtime pay, raising the wage floor for federal contractors, and implementing an extension of minimum wage and overtime protections to home healthcare workers. With action to lift the minimum wage and other standards across the economy unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled House at any point soon, it’s the Wage and Hour division that will leave a greater mark on the American workplace.

Weil’s record as a scholar and critic of exploitative employment structures is some reason for optimism about his ability to make the Wage and Hour division a more effective ally for American workers. Indeed, the president of the International Franchise Association (a trade group that is currently suing to block Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage hike), called his views “downright frightening.”

“He’s the most knowledgeable wage and hour administrator in 35 years,” said Ross Eisenbrey, the vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, of Weil. “He’s really devoted himself to studying labor standard issues, and enforcement of wage and hour issues in particular.”

Workplace trends like wage theft and misclassification may seem like small issues compared to the scale of the gap between rich and poor in the US. But the race to the bottom is one of the defining elements of the American inequality crisis, and its certainly a place to start. The enforcement and regulatory agenda that Weil oversees is, he said, fundamentally “about redressing what has become an increasingly problematic political climate in which to address inequality.”

He continued, “People feel how out of whack we’ve gotten in the specific case of the minimum wage, but I think more generally people understand that standards in our workplace have eroded. I feel fundamentally—maybe this is partly my roots as an educator—that an important part of what we do is to make the connection with what people feel in their daily or weekly or monthly budgeting, and some of these trends and why we need to turn them around. Because this has been going on for too long.”

Read Next: Michelle Chen takes a look inside New York’s food industry