The IRS is under siege for investigating conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status. But the real problem wasn’t that the IRS was too aggressive. It was that the agency focused on the wrong people—“none of those groups were big spenders on political advertising; most were local Tea Party organizations with shoestring budgets,” writes The New York Times—and wasn’t aggressive enough. The outrage that Washington should be talking about—what my colleague Chris Hayes calls “the scandal behind the scandal”—is how the Citizens United decision has unleashed a flood of secret spending in US elections that the IRS and other regulatory agencies in Washington, like the Federal Election Commission, have been unwilling or unable to stem.
501c4 “social welfare” groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform—which don’t have to disclose their donors—spent more than $250 million during the last election. “Of outside spending reported to the FEC, 31 percent was ‘secret spending,’ coming from organizations that are not required to disclose the original sources of their funds,” writes Demos. “Further analysis shows that dark money groups accounted for 58 percent of funds spent by outside groups on presidential television ads [$328 million in total].”
IRS guidelines for 501c4 groups state that “the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office…a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.” It’s ludicrous for groups like Crossroads GPS—which spent at least $70 million during the last election—to claim that its primary purpose is not political activity. Only the likes of Karl Rove would believe that running attack ads against President Obama qualifies as social welfare.
So what did the IRS do about this blatant abuse of the tax code by some of the country’s top corporations and richest individuals? Virtually nothing. “When it comes to political spending, the IRS is more like a toothless tiger,” wrote Ken Vogel and Tarini Parti last year in a story headlined, “The IRS’s ‘feeble’ grip on big political cash.”
It’s obvious that our Wild West campaign-finance system needs more, not less, scrutiny and much tighter, not looser, regulation. Yet conservative groups are exploiting the IRS scandal to further dilute regulatory agencies that are already on life support. Writes Andy Kroll of Mother Jones:
The IRS’s tea party scandal, however, could hinder the agency’s willingness to ensure politically active nonprofits obey the law. The IRS will likely operate on this front with even more caution, taking pains not to appear biased or too aggressive. That in turn could cause the agency to shy away from uncovering 501(c)(4) organizations that do in fact abuse their tax-exempt status by focusing primarily on politics.
The Rove’s of the world would like nothing more than for the public to believe that conservative groups had too few opportunities to influence the 2012 election and were wrongly persecuted by evil Washington bureaucrats. Yet the 2012 election should have taught us precisely the opposite lesson—that our patchwork regulatory system is far from equipped to deal with the new Gilded Age unleashed by Citizens United. As Rep. Keith Ellison told Hayes last night: “We need to redouble our efforts to bring real campaign-finance reform forward.”
Read Ari Berman on why North Carolina’s voter ID bill is reminiscent of a poll tax. The bill has since passed state House of Representatives.
A screenshot from the RT video showing alleged spy “Ryan Fogle.”
As if President Obama’s week hasn’t been bad enough, with catastrophic scandals emerging over IRS political targeting and the Justice Department’s scary spying into the Associated Press—never mind the trumped-up, but badly bungled flap over Benghazi—now the White House has to deal with a spy crisis in Moscow.
Although most spy flaps involving the United States and Russia are usually swept under the Top Secret carpet, this one could not come at a worse time. It blew up on the virtual eve of a summit meeting between Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and just at the start of a critical effort aimed at ending the civil war in Syria.
The Russian broadcast network RT has helpfully posted video of the alleged American spy, whose appearance in photos and video is eerily reminiscent of the photos of the Boston bombers: young, tousled hair, baseball cap and all. The man, Ryan C. Fogle—is that his real name? And did he really go spying about in Moscow carrying his real ID and embassy papers? While also carrying wigs and other disguises? Oy vey!—was nabbed with stacks of 500-euro notes and a written pledge to give $1 million to an informant (i.e., a spy) he was trying to recruit.
The FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, says:
“FSB counter-intelligence agents detained a CIA staff member who had been working under the cover of third political secretary of the US embassy in Moscow.… At the moment of detention, special technical equipment was discovered, written instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited, as well as a large sum of money and means for altering appearance.”
The Russians are kicking him out, but they’ve summoned Ambassador Michael McFaul to the woodshed for a talking-to.
McFaul, who’s been something of an agent provocateur himself—chumming it up too often with Russian dissidents and human rights groups, who, while often well-meaning, aren’t exactly at the heart of US-Russia relations—is a troublemaker. And while the CIA often does what it wants to overseas with only limited notification to the American ambassador, Obama could recapture the high ground with Moscow by firing McFaul, who’s past his sell-by date.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the event unfolded as a “previously scheduled session on U.S. support for Russian civil society began.”
The spying effort seems so twentieth century, with all the accouterments of the run-of-the-mill spy movie. As the Journal reports:
State-run media also posted a series of photos released by Russian security services that purportedly showed Mr. Fogle’s detention.
One appeared to show Mr. Fogle being handcuffed on the ground while wearing a baseball cap, a light-blue checked shirt and a dirty-blonde wig. The series of photos also included an image of what appeared to be Mr. Fogle’s U.S. Embassy identification card and another of his official Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomatic card. The diplomatic card was set to expire on April 29, 2014, three years after its issue date.
Another image shows a table strewed with the items recovered from Mr. Fogle’s detention. On the table are two wigs, three pairs of glasses, three Ziploc bags filled with thousands of euros, a microphone, a knife and an RFID Shield, a sleeve that protects passports and credit-cards with computer chips from being read remotely.
Again, oy vey. The embassy third-secretary was also caught with (get this) a compass. Yes, a compass. As The Washington Post reports:
“Who uses a compass these days?” asked Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies Russian security affairs. “This would be a phenomenal breach of tradecraft. This isn’t what they teach you at the CIA.”
The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement that hit the right note, namely, that the events are a poor counterpoint to the upswing in diplomacy between Washington and Moscow:
“While our two Presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against international terrorism…such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”
Precisely. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Over the course of the past week, actions by offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement have brought attention to the issues of student tuition hikes and food sovereignty.
In New York, a group of students at Cooper Union took over the college president’s office last week to protest a decision to begin charging tuition for the first time in at least a century. The trustees’ decision caused an uproar at Cooper, previously one of the last remaining free colleges in the country. The school claims it has no choice as it faces a $12 million annual deficit and, as a result, has decided to reduce its financial aid to 50 percent scholarships.
Activists believe the decision will lead to dire consequences, including limiting access to education. Occupy Wall Street states at its website that Cooper Union is by far the most diverse of all elite colleges: “white students are a minority here and two-thirds of the student body attended public high schools.”
In response, fifty students took over President Jamshed Bharucha’s office on the seventh floor of the school’s Foundation Building in Manhattan and signed a statement of no confidence in the president. Nine full-time members of Cooper Union’s art faculty signed onto the petition.
“Out of deep concern about the direction of the Cooper Union under President Jamshed Bharucha, the full-time faculty of the School of Arts adopts a resolution of a vote of No Confidence in President Jamshed Barucha,” the statement reads.
As of Tuesday, Bharucha’s office is still occupied.
“In case you were wondering if last night was the end the office is STILL occupied. Twenty-four students beginning to wake. #BharuchaStepDown,” Free Cooper Union tweeted.
“Institutions funded by philanthropy and real estate earnings are clearly unsustainable as foundations for a quality education, but the school’s economic problems and its board’s regressive solutions mirror the situation currently taking place at countless other universities, both public and private,” OWS states. “From CUNY tuition hikes to the torpedoing of Medgar Evers College to NYU’s unprecedented land grab, students across the city are fighting back. As student struggles continue across the globe, Cooper Union is a flashpoint for something much larger than itself.”
“The ongoing fight at Cooper Union is but one part of the broader struggle against austerity, debt, and all other symptoms of capitalism,” the group states.
Occupy could have also included Buena Vista High School in its list of austerity consequences. The Michigan school was closed six weeks early because the district—comprising 400 mostly black, mostly poor students—doesn’t have enough money to continue operations. The district has laid off all its teachers and all but three employees.
On the West Coast, another offshoot of the Occupy movement, Occupy The Farm, experienced a resurgence this week when activists returned to a plot of land owned by the University of California where a few of them had been arrested earlier in the day.
The activists had moved in over the weekend in order to plant crops.
Last spring, I wrote about Occupy the Farm’s efforts to highlight the issues of food sovereignty, climate change and the overall health of society. At the time, OTF activists had moved onto the Gill Tract, a patch of land along the San Pablo Avenue in Albany, California. The location was chosen because Gill Tract contains the last acres of Class One soil left in the urbanized East Bay. According to the group, ninety percent of the original land has been paved over and developed, irreversibly contaminating the land.
“We envision a future of food sovereignty,” OTF stated, “in which our East Bay communities make use of available land—occupying it where necessary—for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.”
Food sovereignty is really an issue of food security, which is why this movement has been embraced at a global level. La Via Campesina, an international movement that coordinates peasant organizations of small producers, agricultural workers, rural women and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe, defines food sovereignty as “the right of people to define agriculture and food policy, including prioritizing local agricultural production, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds and credit.”
A healthy society eats good food and ensures the sovereignty and dignity of the people growing its food.
OTF activists have returned a year later to Gill Tract in order to fight the same battle. “This space is really important,” said organizer Lesley Haddock. “We’re not going away.”
“We feel that as public land, we all have a stake on what happens to it. We like to see it turned into an urban farm and we intend to see that happen,” said Haddock.
The university plans to develop the lot into a senior housing complex and a national chain grocery store.
University police officers have warned the activists they could be arrested for trespassing, but thus far the standoff remains peaceful.
While Congress dallies on immigration reform, groups are calling for the Obama administration to stop deporting people who are set to gain documented status. Read Aura Bogado’s take.
Tim Tebow as a Florida Gator, November 2009. (Reuters/Scott Audette)
Of the legions of unemployed in the United States, the most famous may be a person best described as, “Tim Tebow: Full Time Icon/Part-Time Quarterback.” After being released from the New York Jets last week, the man who was the toast of the NFL just one year ago cannot find a team willing to sign him. Even the Canadian Football League, long the refuge for quarterbacks cast out of Babylon, doesn’t want any part of “Tebowmania.”
We know that Tim Tebow isn’t very good at the whole throwing thing—always a drawback for a quarterback—but he has shown tremendous ability as an athlete and a divine flair for leading dramatic comebacks in the fourth quarter. He also would be an upgrade from several quarterbacks currently littering NFL rosters. There have simply never been so many bad quarterbacks leading NFL teams, yet Tebow’s phone isn’t ringing.
His inability to get signed, as Yahoo! Sports columnist Mike Silver laid out very persuasively, owes less to his abilities under center than all the frenzy that surrounds him. Tim Tebow is a neon distraction in a league that prefers the equivalent of men in gray flannel suits. If Tom Brady is the Don Draper of quarterbacks, then Tim Tebow is Megan Draper, flashing some skin and singing French pop songs, equal parts transfixing and excruciating. In other words, even if many an NFL owner shares Tim Tebow’s politics, they don’t share his need for attention. Our pro football bosses like doing their political business in the shadows, and Tim Tebow has become a living, breathing avatar for those fighting the Gary Bauer/Focus on the Family culture war like it’s still 1992.
Tebow is the only NFL player who can be described as having a base: a group of rabid fans who love him independently of his play and extol his greatness on the basis of his religiosity, his support for Focus on the Family or his wholesome whiteness. His base extends the tentacles of the culture war into any locker room he inhabits, turning any team he’s on into catnip for a media fiending to follow his every move, which only further alienates his teammates. The most compelling critique of Tebow, in my humble view, is that he has resisted any effort to disavow either his base or media attention, seemingly welcoming the distraction and even trying to leverage it to leapfrog toward more playing time. Your typical control-freak NFL head coach would rather have a player with a communicable plague than a player—especially a quarterback—who would relish this kind of constant distraction.
That’s what made Monday’s speech by congressional Neanderthal Representative Steve King all the more tragic for the future career prospects of Mr. Tebow. In the well of the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams risked arrest and assassination by inveighing against slavery, King decided to talk about his favorite subject, “the gays.” (Dan Savage doesn’t dwell on the “LGBT lifestyle” as much as Steve King.) Normally, whenever the Iowa congressman speaks, you roll your eyes, check your phone and, just in case, put the Southern Poverty Law Center on speed dial. But in this case, he invoked the name of Tim Tebow as a contrast to the athlete he sees is “undermining Western Civilization”: Jason Collins. Collins, of course, just became the first active, male, North American athlete to come out of the closet.
As King said, “We’ve got Tim Tebow who will kneel and pray to God on the football field. Meanwhile we have a professional athlete that decides he’s going to announce his sexuality and he gets a personal call from the United States to highlight the sexuality of a professional ballplayer. These are ways that the culture gets undermined, where it gets divided. The people over on this side take their followership from that kind of leadership. One notch at a time, American civilization, American culture, western civilization, western Judeo-Christiandom are eroded.”
First of all, “followership” is not a word. Second, moments like this are precisely why Tim can’t find work, and it’s a shame. As long as he’s not on my team, I actually like Tim Tebow. In the “No Fun League,” the one thing you would never accuse Tim Tebow of being is boring. But while NFL owners might financially support the Steve Kings of this world, people like him are seen as strangely gauche: the relative you keep locked in the attic when company arrives. Tim Tebow, if he so desired, could disavow Representative Steve King, the same way he cancelled a speaking engagement at a new $130 million Dallas megachurch after finding out its pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress, believed Jews, Muslims and gay people were going to hell (it’s worth noting that Tebow did not condemn these comments and, according to Jeffress, has plans to reschedule). But at this point, the former Heisman trophy winner may have better future prospects as a speaker on the evangelical gravy train than as a quarterback, and if there is one thing we know about Tebow Inc., it knows where its bread is buttered. I fear, however, it will soon learn that the true Sunday megachurch in the USA is an NFL stadium. Without a team, Tim Tebow in time may find himself without a flock.
Meanwhile, two progressive congressmen are calling for a constitutional right to vote. Read John Nichols’s take.
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks about a strategy to fight cyberstealing in February. AP has protested the seizure of its phone records in a letter to Holder. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin.)
When the news broke yesterday afternoon it was at first hard to believe, yet, when one thought about it for a bit, it seemed all too part of a pattern. The Associated Press itself broke the news that the US Department of Justice had notified AP last Friday that it had secretly obtained telephone records for more than twenty separate telephone lines assigned to AP journalists and offices (both cell and home phone lines).
Their report continued, “AP is asking the DOJ for an immediate explanation of the extraordinary action and for the records to be returned to AP and all copies destroyed. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt protested the massive intrusion into AP’s newsgathering activities in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder…. Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual and largely unprecedented.”
Of course, the Obama administration has aggressively gone after leakers and brought six cases against whistleblowers, more than previous administrations combined.
Pruitt (who I met several times a few years back when he headed McClatchy), wrote:
There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know. We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.
Kathleen Carroll, the longtime AP executive editor, said on MSNBC this morning: “I’ve been in this business more than thirty years and our First Amendment lawyers and our lawyers inside the AP and our CEO is also a well-known First Amendment lawyer—none of us have seen anything like this.” Glen Greewwald at The Guardian hits the DOJ, as you might expect.
While no explanation was given, speculation quickly centered on an AP scoop from last May about a foiled terror plot coming out of Yemen, involving plans to blow up an airliner bound for the United States.
Response was swift and angry—from left and right (the latter perhaps mainly happy to have another Obama “scandal” to exploit), all the way to The Daily Show late in the dayBen Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project called it an “abuse of power.” The Newspaper Association of America, a leading trade group, declared, “These actions shock the American conscience and violate the critical freedom of the press protected by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Others defended the move, noting that it had been handled through proper channels—that is, a judge had approved it. The White House said it had no involvement in the action at all.
It is disturbing enough that the government appears to have violated its own regulations for subpoenas to the news media. However, this revelation also shows that we have a severe problem in protecting the privacy of our communications. It is critical to update our privacy laws and our understanding of the Constitution, and reflect the realities of what law enforcement can determine from our records and other metadata about our communications stored with our communications providers, be they phone companies, ISPs or social networks.
Greg Mitchell’s current books are So Wrong for So Long (on media failures and Iraq war) and the wild tale of MGM and Harry Truman scuttling a 1947 anti-nuclear epic, Hollywood Bomb. His personal blog, updated several times day, is Pressing Issues.
A man awaits deportation. (Reuters)
Congress has a long road ahead on immigration reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee has started to consider some 300 amendments challenging the nearly 900-page bill crafted by the Gang of Eight. Lawmakers are hopeful that legislation will pass both houses by the end of summer. But from now until then, the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants may continue full force. A group of advocates is now making a renewed call on President Obama to suspend deportations of those people who would gain status in the bill’s final version later this year.
Senator Chuck Grassley filed seventy-seven amendments to the bill—more than any other legislator—amid suggestions that hundreds of amendments will make the bill insurmountable in committee. The bill already includes a potentially problematic trigger that stipulates that no undocumented immigrant will be eligible to apply for provisional status until there’s a certain measure of border security. Grassley submitted an amendment to require the southern border be secure for six months before the application process began. Senator John Cornyn argued that migrants “wearing some form of turban” were regularly crossing at the southern border—indicating not only some lawmakers’ anxiety about the presence of people of certain perceived religions and ethnicities but also the profound confusion about the kinds of people that migrate north seeking work. The amendment was ultimately defeated, but demonstrates the will on the part of some lawmakers to drag out the legalization process as long as possible.
As legislators hammer away at what the final proposal will look like, the current bipartisan bill already defines those people who will qualify to remain in the United States once a bill is signed. Advocates are now calling on Obama to issue an executive order to stop ongoing deportations of those who would be eligible under a new bill. The detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants often gets lost in numbers, rather than highlighted as individual stories—and some advocates say that’s part of the problem. Pablo Alvarado, who heads the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) says that when immigration is debated at the Capital, it gets divorced from what’s happening to communities on the ground. “Suspended deportations would ground the debate in reality,” says Alvarado.
That reality is typified by people like Carmen Yvette Martinez, who was driving with her husband Roger Tabora Martinez in Boston in February when they were pulled over. The police officer informed them that he believed there was a warrant on the car. When Carmen—who is a US citizen—tried to explain that the car was in her name and there was no warrant, the officer asked both husband and wife to show proof of identification, and began to inquire about their immigration status. Upon learning Roger was undocumented, the officer took him in to custody. Although he has a clean criminal record and helps support his wife and stepson, Roger was held in immigrant detention for nearly three months before being deported to Honduras last week because of an immigration order stemming from nearly a decade ago.
Under the bipartisan immigration proposal, Roger would be eligible to apply for relief and gain provisional status as he started his thirteen-year journey towards finally becoming a US citizen. But because Congress is taking its time to debate amendments in committee, he was deported instead. His wife, Yvette, says that she became a single mom overnight, and that both her and her son have been deeply affected by Roger’s deportation. “It doesn’t make any sense to take away a good person,” she says. “I don’t want any other family to go through what we have.”
Yvette and Roger’s story is one of twenty-five featured on a website tracking deportation cases, started just about one month ago. Fourteen cases are ongoing; seven have resulted in a stay and four have resulted in deportation. NDLON, along with the AFL-CIO, MALDEF and United We Dream, is also asking people who represent organizations invested in immigration reform to sign a petition on the site to urge Obama to suspend the deportations.
Obama met with representatives from more than a dozen progressive unions and business leaders in February, and declined a similar request to halt deportations at that time. Advocates point out that this time is different, because the bipartisan Gang of Eight has moved forward, and the move to suspend deportations would work around the current proposal. In February, Obama stated that he didn’t want to start a controversy that could derail the bill in Congress. But by his not heeding the voices of the families whose loved ones have been removed, the controversy of record high deportations continues.
Bradley Manning is escorted out of a Maryland courthouse in 2012. (Reuters/Jose Luis Magana.)
At the end of April, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Committee announced that Bradley Manning, a Nobel Peace Prize–nominated gay veteran and whistleblower currently languishing inside a military prison for releasing classified military documents to Wikileaks, would be a grand marshal at this year’s pride parade. But mere hours after the news broke, San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee President Lisa Williams released a statement rescinding the honor and calling the decision “a mistake that never should have been allowed to happen.”
The controversy has divided the LGBT military community and drawn significant attention to what some critics have seen as Pride’s backing away from contentious issues and embracing of corporate sponsors. As a long time queer youth and antiwar activist, I couldn’t keep silent.
Let’s start with William’s own words. Williams claims, “the hint of support for actions that placed in harm’s way the lives of our men and women in uniform…will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It…would be, an insult.” But contrary to William’s intentional misrepresentation of the facts, investigations have demonstrated that no military personal have been harmed as a result of Manning’s actions. Rather, Manning’s bravery has revealed to Americans the gruesome reality behind US wars and occupations abroad. The only people endangered by Manning’s actions are the politicians and military officials accountable for engineering, covering up and justifying the US war efforts.
Most glaring in William’s statement is her blatant disregard for the lives of LGBTQ people beyond the borders of American soil. What about the violence carried out by US military forces against the LGBTQ people of Iraq and Afghanistan? The death and destruction inflicted by military drones against the people of Pakistan and Yemen, plenty of them queer? Or the countless LGBTQ Palestinians forced to endure the trauma of living under Israeli apartheid and occupation in Gaza and the West Bank? Do the lives of Arab, Muslim and brown queer people, and what Bradley Manning’s actions have done to highlight the injustices carried out against them by our government, not matter to the San Francisco Pride Committee?
While the board feels it necessary to bar Manning from the post of grand marshal, they are more then willing to embrace a slew of corporate sponsors that commit enormous levels of economic violence on working-class and poor communities and violate countless laws and regulations in their pursuit for profit. Writing in The Guardian, a publication that picked Manning as its “Person of the Year” in 2012, blogger Glenn Greenwald highlighted how corporations like AT&T, Bank of America and Wells Fargo underwrite San Francisco Pride for their own marketing purposes.
It would be nice to be able to say that the committee’s decision is surprising. Unfortunately, pride parades across the country have become increasingly corporatized and visibly less connected to political activism and social justice. Half-naked glittered men, dykes on bikes and spectacular drag queens still parade through major city streets in June, but they do so “sponsored by” massive Budweiser floats, Bank of America tents and opportunistic politicians eager to court queer money and voting power. So, it’s ironic to see Williams charge those who pushed for Manning to be chosen as grand marshal as symbolizing “a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBTQ community’s highest aspiration” when it’s her and the forces she represents who have steered Pride away from its original radical and defiant sprit.
The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 and the first Gay Freedom Day parades organized in its aftermath began as demonstrations for sexual and gender freedom and opposition to injustices everywhere. Solidarity and resistance to all forms of oppression, not obedience to corporate America and the military-industrial complex, were the spirit of the Gay Liberation Movement.
Bradley Manning’s bravery to stand in solidarity with occupied people everywhere by speaking truth to power makes him a hero who stands in the best tradition of LGBTQ history. He deserves to be honored as grand marshal. The San Francisco Pride Committee doesn’t speak for the vast majority of LGBTQ people, most of whom still believe in a basic commitment to social justice, human rights and solidarity. I’ll be at Pride this year, holding the biggest “Free Bradley Manning” sign I can find, and I hope you will be too. It’s time to take Pride back.
Read Dave Zirin’s post about Olympian and activist John Carlos’s take on NBA player Jason Collins coming out.
Voters stand in line in North Miami, October 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. Scalia was right. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us, “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements, and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.”
Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison want to do something about that.
The two congressmen, both former state legislators with long histories of engagement with voting-rights issues, on Monday unveiled a proposal to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” explained Pocan, who announced the initiative at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where the Republican state assembly speaker recently announced plans to enact restrictive “voter ID” legislation before the 2014 election. “At a time when there are far too many efforts to disenfranchise Americans, a voting rights amendment would positively affirm our founding principle that our country is at its strongest when everyone participates. As the world’s leading democracy, we must demand of ourselves what we demand of others—a guaranteed right to vote for all.”
Without that clear guarantee, argues Ellison, politicians continue to propose and enact legislation that impedes voting rights. Noting recent wrangling over voter identification laws, burdensome registration requirements and reduced early voting opportunities in various states, as well as a challenge to the Voting Rights Act that is now under consideration by the US Supreme Court, the Minnesota Democrat, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says, “Even though the right to vote is the most-mentioned right in the Constitution, legislatures across the country have been trying to deny that right to millions of Americans, including in my home state of Minnesota. It’s time we made it clear once and for all: every citizen in the United States has a fundamental right to vote.”
If approved by the Congress and then ratified by three-fourths of the states, it would add to the founding document this declaration:
SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
There is nothing radical about that language. It outlines a basic premise of the American experiment, and a concept that the United States has proudly exported. Indeed, when the US has had a hand in shaping the destinies of other lands, as well as international agreements, the primacy of the right to vote has been well understood and explicitly stated.
The constitution of Iraq guarantees that “Iraqi citizens, men and women, shall have the right to participate in public affairs and to enjoy political rights including the right to vote, elect, and run for office.”
In Afghanistan, the constitution provides every citizen with “the right to elect and be elected.”
The German constitution crafted in the aftermath of World War II declared that every adult “shall be entitled to vote.”
In Japan, the constitution announced, “Universal adult suffrage is guaranteed.”
And, of course, when former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the commission that outlined a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document declared:
1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Americans have considered right-to-vote amendments in the past. But the frequency with which contentious debates are erupting nationwide—just this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than eighty bills to restrict voting have been introduced in more than thirty states—has already inspired significant activism on behalf of constitutional reform.
“The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy,” says FairVote executive director Rob Richie. “Adding an affirmative right to vote to the US Constitution is the best way to guarantee that the government, whether at the federal, state, or local level, cannot infringe upon our individual right to vote. Building support for this amendment offers an opportunity to inspire a twenty-first-century suffrage movement where Americans come together to protect voting rights, promote voter participation and debate suffrage expansion.”
John Nichols is the author (with Robert w. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it examines a host of voting rights and democracy issues—including the case for a right-to-vote amendment to the Constitution.
Glenn Greenwald speaks at the University of Arizona. (Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC 2.0.)
While those on the right frequently refer to Glenn Greenwald (now at The Guardian) and Bill Maher (eternally at HBO) as liberals or lefties, that is, of course, a gross simplication. So what else is new? Naturally they don’t see eye to eye on many issues, so when Greenwald was scheduled for last Friday night’s Maher show you could predict that some fur would fly.
Well, the debate started when Maher went into one of his weekly rants against the Muslim religion as being particularly and uniquely guilty of inspiring hatred and violence in the modern world. Greenwald pushed back strongly and Maher nearly lost his temper in responding. It was an unsually extended and testy set of exchanges for the show these days, and rather than summarize it, I’ll suggest you watch it here.
But what happened next was: Critics, and not just from the right, jumped on Greenwald for allegedly declaring that the United States was fully to blame for Muslim extremists and most of the other ills of the world. Greenwald, indeed, did place a lot of blame on America, but also clearly qualified that. He posted about that on Saturday at The Guardian, calling Maher “one of the most vocal and extreme advocates of the view that—while religion generally should be criticized—Islam is a uniquely threatening and destructive force and that Muslims are uniquely oppressive and violent, and that mentality has infected many of his policy views.”
In any case, the anger directed at Greenwald as a blame-America-first zealot provoked longtime ace blogger Digby (a.k.a. Heather Parton) to rise to his defense. You can read her lengthy defense here. One excerpt:
To me, it is simply indisputable that the United States’ sometimes well-intentioned but often brutal and violent use of its global dominance as a military and economic power has resulted in the blow-back we call terrorism. Is it everything? Of course not, and Greenwald was careful to say he didn’t believe so either. It’s economics, culture and yes, religion as well. All these factors play into this problem. But there’s only one factor that Americans have any direct influence over—the actions of their democratically elected government. So that’s probably the smartest first step to try and correct, don’t you think?
Do I think Islam, fundamentalist or otherwise, is unusually lethal as religions go? No, frankly, I don’t. I think the embrace of fundamentalist Islam—and especially terrorism—among a sub-set of Muslims is driven mostly by the politics of the era, probably at the hands of opportunistic leaders who use it to keep their followers on their path to power.
Greg Mitchell’s current books are So Wrong for So Long (on media failures and Iraq war) and the wild tale of MGM and Harry Truman scuttling a 1947 anti-nuclear epic, Hollywood Bomb. His personal blog, updated several times day, is Pressing Issues.