Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.
Edinburgh, Scotland—Among the most high-profile opponents of Scottish independence are a number of non-Scots. British Prime Minister David Cameron has toured Scotland this week, urging a “no” vote on Thursday’s referendum on whether to separate from the United Kingdom. That’s to be expected. What was less expected was the intervention of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumed front-runner in the 2016 race for the presidency of the United States.
When Clinton traveled to Scotland earlier this year to accept an honorary degree from University of St. Andrews, she was explicit in her opposition to the proposal.
“I would hope it doesn’t happen,” she declared.
“I would think it would be a loss for both sides,” added Clinton, who told BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman that “I would hate to have you lose Scotland.”
That brought a reminder from Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond that “Scotland is not a property to be lost but a nation about to take a precious and consensual and democratic decision.”
Clinton is not the only American who has weighed in on the Scottish vote. President Obama said in June, “There is a referendum process in place and it is up to the people of Scotland.” That was a reasonably balanced statement. But then he added what sounded to many like a slightly subtler appeal for a “no” vote, suggesting that “we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner.”
On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated the president’s earlier remarks, while acknowledging in response to a question about how the United States would respond to a “yes” vote by saying, “I suspect that there’s somebody at the administration who’s been thinking about that at some level.”
The notion of a “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom is not new. And Obama and his aides have every right to mention it, just as Clinton has every right to urge Scots to vote “no” on September 18.
But the notion that voting “yes” would represent “a loss for both sides,” as Clinton suggests, is every bit as debatable as the notion that the separation in 1776 of the United States from the Great Britain represented “a loss for both sides.” Britain obviously did not approve, as the long war that followed the American Declaration of Independence confirmed. But the idea that prominent Americans would go around discouraging others from declaring independence—especially via an orderly and nonviolent electoral process—does seem rather, well, hypocritical.
“It was very interesting hearing Obama in his own equivocal way telling the Scots ‘don’t do it,’ and Hillary Clinton in a much more vicious argument—‘Scotland shouldn’t do it,’ etcetera, etcetera,” observed the author and activist Tariq Ali, who noted that the United States supported the break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.
“That’s all fine. But when it happens to one of your allies, then you scream: Oh, no, no, Scotland, don’t do it, don’t do it. Why not?” asks Ali, who worked with Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign to secure a “yes” vote. “There’s no principle. All that’s at stake is imperial interest.”
It is true, up to a point, that Scottish independence would create some complications for the United States. An independent Scotland could, for instance, demand the removal of British Trident missiles, which are carried on submarines that are based in Scotland. Scotland could well deviate from Britain on a variety of defense and foreign policy issues, and it would certainly deviate on the question of austerity—as one of the prime arguments for an independent Scotland is, as the Yes Scotland campaign says, to “protect our public services and welfare system.”
The Yes Scotland campaign argues that is it possible to “build a more prosperous and fairer nation,” and such a nation might well offer a fresh alternative to the model of cuts and redistribution of wealth upward that has taken hold not just in Britain but in the United States.
So, yes, an independent Scotland might require officials in Washington to make some foreign policy adjustments. Ultimately, however, the United States could have a “special relationship” with Britain and with an independent Scotland, which economists say would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. After all, it has quite good relations with Norway, an oil-rich country with a slightly smaller population than Scotland. And Salmond has gone so far as to say with regard to Britain and an independent Scotland, “America has two great friends and allies here rather than one.”
Clinton and Obama and others should be thinking a good deal more about the adjustment they are making in the signal we send to the world. By speaking against independence—especially in the absolute terms used by Clinton—they signal that the United States is more interested in immediate geopolitical goals than in the vision that inspired the nation into being. That vision was outlined 238 years ago in a document that began with a rather warm embrace of self-determination: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”
Despite what Clinton and Obama may say, supporters of Scottish independence note with some relish that the American declaration concluded by stressing that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.”
This was noted earlier this year by Salmond, the Scottish nationalist who has forced the issue of independence and campaigned aggressively for a “yes” vote.
“Rather more than 200 years ago, America had to fight for its independence,” recalled Salmond. “We are very fortunate in Scotland that we have a democratically agreed, consented process by which we can vote for our independence.”
“So in summary,” says Salmond, “I suppose my message to President Obama is: Yes we can.”
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Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out August 12 and August 29. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. The OneNewark Shutdown
In Newark, the school administration has blatantly ignored students and community members and force-fed us a corporate plan, “OneNewark,” which disguises itself as a means of giving students more school choices while eliding our lack of funding, accountability from the state and the voices of students. In response, the Newark Students Union organized a two-day boycott, demanding Superintendent Cami Anderson’s immediate resignation, a halt to her OneNewark plan and full local control of our schools. On September 10, we shut down Broad Street, the busiest street in New Jersey’s biggest city, laying down and chanting for nine hours—and enduring hostility and an injury from police. Until our demands are met, we will escalate our actions—with the hope of creating change that ripples across the country.
2. The Future of Academic Freedom
On September 11, six weeks of organizing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign came to a head as Steven Salaita, whose appointment to the American Indian Studies faculty was revoked by UI’s chancellor on August 1, allegedly due to criticism of Israel’s invasion of Gaza on Twitter, was further rejected by the UI board of trustees. Hundreds of students and faculty from across the Midwest gathered at the board meeting and delivered public comments demanding the board uphold the university’s principles of academic freedom and diversity. While one trustee broke ranks, a majority vote upheld Salaita’s firing. Following the meeting, supporters rallied across campus, demanding the reinstatement of Salaita and mobilizing university workers to unionize. The case of Salaita—a professor with little job security—has sparked joint pressure from the labor and social justice movements on the UI administration.
3. The Weight of Sexual Violence
On the first day of the fall term, Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a dorm mattress with her everywhere she went on campus, and will continue to do so for as long as she and the male student she says raped her both attend Columbia. This action, Mattress Performance: Carry that Weight, comes in the wake of a Title IX complaint filed against Columbia by twenty-eight students, federal investigations of more than seventy-five colleges for the way they handle sexual violence cases and expansive media coverage of Emma’s ordeal. In response to Mattress Performance, students at Columbia University have begun organizing collective carries of the mattress to support Emma and all survivors of sexual violence on campus. Carrying the Weight Together held the first collective carry on Wednesday, September 10, and plans to hold further carries for the duration of Mattress Performance. On September 12, students held a speak out and rally, Stand with Survivors—and brought our mattresses as a show of solidarity.
4. At Florida State, Students Confront the Kochs
On September 5, Florida State University students and faculty were removed, with students threatened with arrest, for reading aloud a call to restructure FSU’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee. The following week, arrest threats continued for students who clapped or snapped during PSAC meetings. Our purpose has been to call out the current two-thirds majority of corporate representatives on the committee, including five members tied to the Charles Koch Foundation or ALEC. In May, PSAC motioned to fast-track State Senator John Thrasher, a Koch -funded legislator, without an application; this month, its vice chair threatened graduate assistants with arrest and funding cuts for distributing anti-Thrasher literature. Throughout this fight, students have spoken up about links between ALEC, PSAC members and recent revelations of the Kochs’ corrupt influence over hiring and curriculum at FSU; multiple faculty have threatened resignation; and FSU donors are withholding support.
5. At Burlington College, Students Oust the President
In November 2013, following a series of faculty firings, the Burlington College student government was voluntarily dissolved by students and replaced with a student union—which has been steadily building power. On August 29, thirty Burlington College Student Union members attempted to enter a board of trustees meeting to deliver a vote of no confidence in the school’s president, Christine Plunkett—but the door was shut in our face. Under Plunkett, Burlington College has used money from a memorial scholarship fund on operating costs, been put on probation by accreditors due to financial concerns and withheld employee retirement funds. Following the meeting, students surrounded Plunkett’s car and demanded her resignation. She responded, “Ok, I resign. Happy?” She was replaced in three days—with no input from faculty or students—by a board controlled by commercial real estate developers. The presidential transition team includes a city councilor who helped gut Burlington’s livable wage ordinance and the former Vermont head of a regional telecom facing a strike for labor abuses.
—Burlington College Student Union
On Tuesday, September 9, dozens of community members rallied in front of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles to “Restore TRUST for 3,” highlighting the cases of Samuel Sixtos, Wilman Exady Juarez and Sergio Flores, all of whom have been imprisoned in violation of California’s TRUST Act. Both Samuel and Wilman are being detained in Adelanto Detention Center, while Sergio has had weekly visits by ICE officials. After a five-day hunger strike, Samuel was placed in solitary confinement; in August, personnel at Adelanto assaulted Wilman, threatening that further media attention to his case would lead to his deportation. Just as deferred action has helped thousands of immigrant youth avoid deportation, executive action from Obama—delayed September 6—could have done the same for the families of Samuel, Wilman and Sergio. On September 19, the Immigrant Youth Coalition, RAIZ and advocates from across the state will gather to strategize next steps to fight every deportation—with or without executive action from the White House.
On September 5, the Black Student Alliance at the University of Virginia gathered students, faculty, staff and Charlottesville community members to the steps of Old Cabell to rally against police brutality and media misrepresentations of black and brown people. The rally began with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by a march across the university’s historic Lawn and Academical Village with words, poems and chants from students and community speakers, including “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Black Lives Matter!” At many stops, the crowd paused to observe a moment of silence and a reading of the names of slain, unarmed victims—Ezell Ford, Dante Crawford and Eric Garner, to name just a few. In coalition with student and community groups, we have begun to facilitate solution-driven dialogues to police brutality, among other issues, with the aim of implementing our ideas with local police.
8. A Campus-Wide Labor Coalition
On September 5, more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and campus workers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, rallied to demand fair contracts for all university staff. The rally was organized by UMass Unions United, a coalition of five unions—representing graduate student-workers, facilities and custodial staff, faculty, librarians and administrative staff—all currently negotiating new contracts. The coalition coalesced over the summer as we recognized common challenges at the bargaining table—ranging from slow progress to concessionary demands to pat rejection of union proposals—as well as common goals, including fair wages, the preservation of professional rights, improved job security and adequate protections against overwork. Concurrently, members of the Graduate Employee Organization, a member-led, social justice union, has organized in solidarity with an emerging anti-racist movement on campus, which convened 100 people for a speak-out and march to protest Michael Brown’s murder, and the Western Mass Coalition for Palestine, which has held weekly actions in downtown Northampton and is organizing a community teach-in on September 27.
9. A New Movement for Democracy
From Massachusetts to California, student workers are not only unionizing, but reforming their unions around issues of democracy and social justice. Inspired by these bottom-up efforts, members of the recently recognized Graduate Student Organizing Committee of the UAW have formed NYU Academic Workers for a Democratic Union. As GSOC-UAW enters into a second semester of contract negotiations with the university, NYU AWDU, which is running a slate of progressive candidates for union office, is committed to fighting for comprehensive healthcare coverage for all workers and their families, raising wages—especially for NYU-Poly student workers, many of whom currently make $10 per hour—securing tuition remission for working master’s students, limiting ballooning class size and making the union’s operations more open to members. We believe substantive member mobilization and pressure is the surest way of obtaining a robust contract—while deepening solidarity with others fighting for social and economic justice, from domestic and fast-food workers to custodians on our own campus.
—Natasha Raheja and Nantina Vgontzas
10. What’s Next for Title IX?
This month, Know Your IX, a national student campaign against campus sexual violence, is launching a Campus Action Network, a forum for activists to share tactics and narratives to build effective survivor-centered local campaigns. The idea is to provide a space for survivors to build national intercampus solidarity, identify and highlight common patterns of institutional betrayal and organize for state and federal policy changes to address those abuses. The Campus Action Network will work to hold schools and policymakers accountable and build a more inclusive movement centered on amplifying the voices of marginalized survivors. IX-CAN is supported by a broader network of allies working to empower and support us to end violence on our campuses.
—Know Your IX
On the eve of the September 11 anniversary, President Obama revealed his strategy to combat terrorism, particularly the threat posed by ISIS. On Monday morning Phyllis Bennis appeared on Democracy Now! to explain why the US strikes against Iraq are “politically driven, not strategically driven.”
What’s the best US response to ISIS? That’s the question that Katrina vanden Heuvel and Rich Lowry of National Review tackle on this episode of the radio program Both Sides Now. Vanden Heuvel explains that “when there are no military solutions the alternative is not nothing.” For vanden Heuvel, patience and diplomacy have fallen out of favor—yet she affirms the fact that there are voices of dissent going against the current jingoistic, hawk-like calls for increased militarism.
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One thing the public doesn’t hear about from the pro-war pundits on cable news: how military action in Iraq and Syria could benefit their pocket books. Lee Fang, a contributing writer with The Nation, appeared on Democracy Now! Monday morning to discuss his latest piece, “Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?” In that piece and on the show, Fang describes how many of the pundits and contributors on cable news networks urging aggressive military escalation have conflicts of interest and current ties to military contractors that the public is unaware of. And those conflicts could be skewing public perception of the threat ISIS poses. “Military opinion is not monolithic,” Fang said. “But on many of these networks, you hear from a limited set of opinions.”
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Women’s wombs are ground zero in the Washington’s culture wars, and the casualties are the communities that are systematically denied even the most basic forms of reproductive healthcare. The clash between science and religious zealotry exploded this year with the Hobby Lobby case, in which a company’s religious objection to IUD birth control led the Supreme Court to side with the employer and potentially impede contraceptive insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At the same time, the highly effective IUD, along with similar hormonal implants are becoming widely available. The expansion of these contraceptive methods, collectively known as long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), could dramatically improve contraceptive care—if only politicians could stop panicking at the mere notion of women controlling their reproductive futures.
Compared to birth control pills, the IUD is far much more cost-effective and medically effective: according to the research group Guttmacher Institute, the rate of unintended pregnancy over one year on the pill is forty-five times greater than that on the IUD, a device that can last several years after insertion.
The ACA was supposed to expand access to LARC by ensuring coverage for a full range of birth control options. But the barriers of cost and lack of awareness still keep poor women from getting the best possible care.
Much of the problem comes from the entanglement of science with cultural warfare: IUD opponents erroneously believe it’s designed to terminate, rather than prevent, pregnancy, arguing that fertilization per se is the moment “when life begins.” Actually, the medical consensus is that pregnancy begins at implantation of a fertilized egg, but that has not stopped the Hobby Lobbyists from derailing the IUD policy discussion into another abortion battle.
Yet the real dilemma facing women and the IUD is a classic reproductive justice question—how to ensure choice, access and equity. As with many other social barriers to healthcare, these structural limitations acutely affect poor and marginalized women.
As Rachel Benson Gold writes in the Guttmacher Policy Review, “Starting an implant or IUD can cost a month’s salary for a woman working full time at minimum wage.” Additionally, healthcare providers often lack the “training and experience” needed to provide comprehensive LARC services. The devices can also be prohibitively costly for patients and providers.
However, although the science on LARC is straightforward, the politics of equal access, as Gold points out, is complicated by a history of reproductive injustice: while disadvantaged women have been economically deprived of access to contraception and abortion services, they were in the past systematically denied their right to independent reproductive and sexual decision-making, on their own terms.
Beyond the scaremongering myth that dominates reproductive health debates today, there is a very real history of coercion. In North Carolina, for example, eugenics-based state medical programs sterilized thousands of people, often young, poor women of color, without informed consent from the 1930s through the late 1970s. As recently as the 1990s, several states had policies linking welfare benefits to obtaining the hormonal contraceptive Norplant—effectively paying poor women to relinquish their ability to have children for years. Globally, the governments of China and India, among others, have used mass sterilization as a form of coercive population control.
That ugly history has led to the enactment of a number of safeguards on contraceptive care, which generally aim to ensure that women are comprehensively informed about the full range of contraceptive methods available, and that services are voluntary. But they have also led in some cases to tighter restrictions on publicly funded services, which raises the question of whether they go too far to protect women from coercion and end up overly restricting choice. For example, Medicaid rules impose a blanket ban on sterilization under age 21, but some advocates argue this measure “may block access to services for young people who freely and truly desire to terminate their childbearing ability,” Gold writes. Similarly, any policy that encourages or incentivizes any particular contraceptive method could have the effect of steering women’s decisions at the expense of independence of choice. When women are facing heavy economic and social pressures around childbearing, the reproductive health community has a responsibility to develop “the best way for practitioners to convey that some methods are more effective than others, while still ensuring that women are given the full information they need” to make the best personal decision.
Gold explains via e-mail that real informed consent hinges on mutual trust and autonomy: “patients must possess the capacity to make decisions about their care; their participation in these decisions must be voluntary and they must be provided adequate, appropriate information to make the decisions before them.”
On the ground, the implementation of Obamacare and other public health programs is still undermined by institutional barriers and lack of awareness. A report from the New York–based healthcare network IUD Task Force found widespread misperceptions: “A 2009-2010 study of office-based providers and Title X family planning providers found that 30 percent of those surveyed had misperceptions about the safety of the IUD” for women who had never borne children. Among young patients, about one in three “reported incorrectly that birth control pills were more effective than IUDs for preventing pregnancy.”
Meanwhile, advocates fear the Hobby Lobby decision might further narrow contraceptive coverage for working women (though the Obama administration is developing reforms to accomodate the ruling). And with the hobbling roll-out of Obamacare, some insurers are simply failing to offer coverage for the full range of contraceptive methods.
And the most pernicious barriers to reproductive choice aren’t merely about coverage but about profound racial and economic inequality. According to Guttmacher, “The number of women in need of contraceptive services and supplies increased 11 percent between 2000 and 2012,” with the rate of increase was even greater for publicly funded programs aimed at poorer women. Women of color generally suffer higher rates of uninsurance. Many immigrants face restrictions on Medicaid or are excluded from the ACA’s insurance provisions.
Reproductive rights are just one pillar of a woman’s ability to lead a full life and exercise essential human rights, whether she’s trying to finish college or to get an IUD. The polarization of the wealth gap between genders, institutionalized racism in the healthcare system, and a culture that systematically marginalizes women for seeking to claim full control over their bodies and sexuality—all are reproductive injustices. The tragedy that Hobby Lobby exposed is the distance between the conversation in Washington, fixated on litigating the politics of embryos, and the real debate on economic justice that we can’t have, because politicians are too busy dictating women’s lives to hear their voices.
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“I’m baaack!” With those two words, delivered Arnold-style, Hillary Clinton revealed a lot about what’s wrong with her probable candidacy.
“Hello, Iowa!” she beamed from a stage at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola over the weekend. Then, raising her arms, she delivered the Terminator’s catchphrase, showing herself to be tone deaf to the negative perception of her as an indestructible robot, as “inevitable,” the same presumption that hamstringed her campaign in 2008.
Not to mention the annoying factor. “I’m baaack!” is the greeting from people whose return is at best tiresome.
Watch the video:
Maybe Clinton used the phrase to evince a get-back-up-on-your-feet gumption. That’s what it seemed to mean to her many fans, who cheered wildly at her return to Iowa, where she came in third place in the ’08 Democratic primary in a defeat she’s called “excruciating.”
But for the rest of us, quoting a cyborg is yet another sign (like her disingenuous comments about her wealth) that she’d make a poor candidate who can’t help but step on her own feet.
Most of the press didn’t mention this awkward moment. They were abuzz instead with their usual, insufferable will-she-won’t-she game, marveling at how adept she was at teasing them.
“I’ve got a few things on my mind these days,” Hillary told the Iowa crowd, bringing up Chelsea’s pregnancy and adding slyly, “Then, of course, there’s that other thing.”
But voters also have other things on their minds. When NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked some twentysomethings at a Des Moines coffeehouse the rah-rah question—“When you look at Hillary Clinton, what do you see first—a politician, a woman, a president?”—they didn’t respond in kind.
“I think people see kind of the cronyism on Wall Street,” a woman named Carla told Mitchell.
“I’d love to see the first woman president, but it doesn’t matter more to me than my progressive values.”
UPDATE: After a movie-quote geek-out in the comments section below--was Hillary channeling The Terminator or Poltergeist II or maybe even The Shining?--The Colbert Report nailed an absolute doppelganger Monday night. It’s in the first two minutes:
Pop phrases migrate and mutate over time, as they’re used and re-used, and fused. The Schwarzenegger catchphrase “I’ll be back” was born in the first Terminator, in 1984; when “Poltergeist II” came out two years later, there was some sense even then that “They’re baaack!” was conversing not only with the 1982 Poltergeist’s “They’re heeeere!” but with “I’ll be back.” Randy Quaid’s tauntingly defiant “I’m baaack!” in 1996’s Independence Day was likely a child of both by-then classic movie catchphrases. Schwarzenegger’s cyborg clipped it to “I’m back” in Terminator III (2003), and variations of the “[pronoun] [verb] back” formula have been interchangeable in popular usage ever since.
But all this misses the larger point. For years, Hillary has been called, charitably, too studied, or, as Joe Scarborough said Monday, “a robot.” Many people cringed when she reached for “I’m back” even without pegging it to a specific movie. That’s because, whether the reference was to Arnold, a little girl in a ghost movie, or a guy seriously pissed-off at his alien abduction, the phrase suggests horror, revenge, and/or a threat. Jon Stewart picked up on that Tuesday night, showing Hillary’s arm-raised “I’m back!” and finishing the thought for her: “...even though you fucked me over!”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born feminist known for her ferocious hatred of Islam, is scheduled to give a talk at Yale tonight, though many campus groups object. Thirty-five student organizations, including the school’s J Street branch and its Women’s Center, have co-signed a letter from the Yale Muslim Students Association saying that they feel “highly disrespected by the invitation of this speaker.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s comments on Islam, they say, “have been classified as hate speech.” Further, they argue that she lacks the requisite qualifications. “Our concern is that Ms. Hirsi Ali is being invited to speak as an authority on Islam despite the fact that she does not hold the credentials to do so,” they write.
It’s striking how much these arguments echo those that have been made against Steven Salaita, the Palestinian-American professor who was de-hired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over his vitriolic tweets about Israel. “It is important to have an institution where people are not afraid to apply or attend because they feel their views are not respected,” University of Illinois trustee Patrick Fitzgerald—the former US Attorney—said about joining the 8-1 vote against Salaita last week. The Chicago Tribune praised the trustees’ decision, saying that Salaita’s tweets had crossed the line into “hate speech.” Some have claimed that the real issue isn’t the professor’s Tweets but his shoddy academic work. “Devoid of any real understanding, context, or nuance, stupidly dogmatic, and frequently given to hyperbolic fits of hatred, it should not qualify as scholarship,” Liel Leibovitz argued on Tablet.
Clearly, the similar rhetoric used against the two figures—coming, of course, from very different political camps—doesn’t mean that the two cases are identical. Ali’s supporters could point out that the standards for hiring a professor are much higher than those for letting someone speak on campus. (Last year, when Brandeis revoked its offer of an honorary degree for Hirsi Ali, many people, myself included, argued that she had a right to speak, though not to be honored for what she said.) Salaita’s could counter that much more is at stake for him, since both he and his wife had quit their previous positions at Virginia Tech and begun the process of moving in preparation for a job that he had every reason to believe was his. Further, the fact that the school seems to have bowed to pressure from pro-Israel donors will have a chilling effect that goes far beyond his individual case.
Still, it’s worth recognizing that arguments privileging “respect” and civility above freedom on campus are always double-edged. If you believe that Hirsi Ali shouldn’t be allowed to speak because she denigrates Islam and makes many students uncomfortable, then it’s hard to see how you can simultaneously claim that Salaita, a professor who has tweeted, “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948,” deserves a place in the classroom.
Simultaneously, if, like many conservatives, you think the value of Salaita’s work is negated by his febrile remarks about Zionism, then it’s hard to explain how Hirsi Ali should be excused her eliminationist language about Islam. As she told Reason in 2007, “I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself.… There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that.… There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.”
The fact is, both Salaita and Hirsi Ali are complicated, inflammatory figures who have, in the face of shocking moral outrages, said outrageous things. They will make some students intensely and understandably uncomfortable—some might even say “triggered.” If you’re going to argue that students have a right not to be so discomfited, then you’d have to take a stand against both of them, which would be a stand in favor of a grimly censorious, anodyne university climate. The alternative is to defend free speech and academic liberty, and not just for those whose views seem righteous.
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Roger Goodell has no place as commissioner of the National Football League. He is an amoral cover-up artist whose concerns—in the wake of the Ray Rice/Janay Rice video scandal—have been revealed as limited to profits and public relations. He is like the collective test-tube baby of the league’s ownership, a man who started working for the NFL over thirty years ago and has grown into adulthood as a crystallized reflection of their priorities.
For too long, and with much media burnishing, Goodell has played the role of “the Hammer,” the tough guy who will suspend and discipline players, all in the name of policing their “personal conduct.” His aphorisms, once the stuff of legend, are now the shovels being used to rightly bury his tenure in office. Oft-repeated phrases such as “Ignorance is never an excuse” and “My only responsibility is to protect the integrity of the Shield” are now apt justifications for him to leave. This tough demeanor now stands exposed as just another act of public relations, assuaging the public that, in a league 70 percent African-American, to have no fear because Commissioner Kipling is in control, civilizing his charges. He has played the “Mr. Drummond role” to the understandable chagrin of the players, and their public glee at his recent squirming is reason enough to show him the door.
Domestic violence has always been the exception to Goodell’s law-and-order reign. Public relations, along with a hyper-toxic masculinist culture, has made this the NFL way for decades, and Goodell has dutifully carried that tradition forward. During his tenure, fifty-six players were arrested on domestic violence charges, and have been suspended for a combined thirteen games. In the first fifty-five cases not caught on videotape, few noticed that this was happening, and Roger Goodell was only too happy to look the other way.
There is a certain justice to the fact that it was people actually witnessing a shocking video of domestic violence with their own eyes that could lead to his downfall. So much of Goodell’s job description involves keeping people from thinking about how the NFL sausages are made. Whether the issue was head injuries or pain killer addiction, his job has been to either cover it up or make people believe that the league is “dealing with the problem.” Now the public has had two sobering weeks to taste the nitrates and hog anuses that comprise how NFL business is handled, and it is appalled. It’s been an up-close and personal view at how Commissioner Accountability pushes domestic violence under the carpet. Goodell, that master of public relations, has become a PR liability and has got to go. (His loudest supporter in the ranks of ownership is the reptilian boss in Washington, Dan Snyder. This is because Goodell backs Snyder’s use of a slur as a team name. The commissioner does this while enacting penalties for players who use slurs on the field. That’s so Roger!) But chanting “Goodell Must Go” is the easy part. A tougher task would involve exerting public pressure to get an anti-Goodell as the next commissioner.
Yes, so many of the game’s moral failings—the assembly-line creation of head injuries, for one —will endure no matter who runs the show. This sport is a dangerous, violent occupation, and any effort to pretend that it isn’t just brings us back into Goodell’s relativist, PR-driven hell. But there is also so much that the league can do. They can set up institutions and avenues so survivors of domestic violence can come forward in confidentiality. They can offer health care for life so players aren’t bankrupted as they hit middle age. It can cease being a sponge of corporate welfare and pay for its own damn stadiums. It can stop offering corporate cover for Dan Snyder’s monetized racism. Few, if any, NFL owners want any of the above, of course. That will require a bionic form of public pressure. It will also require an attention span that sports fans, not to mention the sports media, often lack. Almost certainly, if Goodell goes, Condoleezza Rice will probably be begged to take the gig. That would be a cynical end to the ugly chapter Goodell has written. Any hope for actual substantive change would smolder in ruins, in a mushroom cloud, if you will.
Here is a different ending: hire co-commissioners. Hire former NFL player Don McPherson and the first woman to score a point in an NCAA Division I football game, Katie Hnida. They should be hired not because of their football résumés but because Hnida and McPherson are two forward-thinking, whip-smart critics whose perspective on the sport starts from inside the locker room. Both are veterans of the football world who have devoted their public lives to raising consciousness on gender equity and violence against women in and out of the athletic industrial complex. Both would start their first day in office thinking about how the sport can use its massive cultural platform to do the most good and the least amount of harm. For what it’s worth, I have heard from both Ms. Hnida and Mr. McPherson over Twitter, and both, if asked, would serve.
Tragically, I don’t think this will ever happen. But if these two remarkable people were tapped to lead, it would be the first NFL move in a long time that wouldn’t make us feel like we need to shower with steel wool as penance for the blissful escapism that the league supplies. The sport has more money than it could ever spend. It is, as one TV executive said to me, “the tent pole holding up broadcast television in 2014.” Let Commissioners Hnida and McPherson lead the NFL to a new day, where domestic violence is confronted, not covered up, and wearing a hometown jersey is a source of pride, not shame. We can try and fight for this. But step one is that Goodell must go.
Late Friday afternoon, a panel of Democrat-appointed judges on the Sixth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction from a Democrat-appointed district court judge striking down Ohio’s cuts to early voting. Two hours earlier, however, a trio of Republican-appointed judges on the Seventh Circuit overturned an injunction from a Democratic judge blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law.
This is why elections matter. And the courts are increasingly becoming the arbiters of who does and does not get to participate in them.
In May, Wisconsin district court Judge Lynn Adelman issued a strong decision invalidating the state’s voter ID law. Three hundred thousand registered voters in Wisconsin did not have a government-issued ID, Adelman found, and those without ID were disproportionately black and Hispanic. Wisconsin presented no evidence of voter fraud to justify the burdens of the new law.
The court axed Adelman’s ruling just hours after hearing the appeal, in a swift and stunning decision that allows Wisconsin to immediately implement its controversial law less than two months before the midterms.
The court’s one-page opinion said:
The district court held the state law invalid, and enjoined its implementation, even though it is materially identical to Indiana’s photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. It did this based on findings that it thought showed that Wisconsin did not need this law to promote an important governmental interest, and that persons of lower income (disproportionately minorities) are less likely to have driver’s licenses, other acceptable photo ID, or the birth certificates needed to obtain them, which led the court to hold that the statute violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act
After the district court’s decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury, and it also changes the balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief. The panel has concluded that the state’s probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.
The appeals court ruling is suspect on a number of fronts.
1. The Crawford case was not filed under the Voting Rights Act and did not center on racial discrimination in voting.
Section 2 of the VRA prohibits a voting system where the “totality of circumstances” shows that minority voters “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”
Adelman found that was the case in Wisconsin. “The evidence adduced at trial demonstrates that this unique burden disproportionately impacts Black and Latino voters,” he wrote. Data from the 2012 election “showed that African American voters in Wisconsin were 1.7 times as likely as white voters to lack a matching driver’s license or state ID and that Latino voters in Wisconsin were 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack these forms of identification.” According to a University of Wisconsin study, 78 percent of black men ages 18–24 in Wisconsin lack a government-issued ID.
In Crawford, the Supreme Court said that Indiana had a compelling interest in preventing voter fraud, even though the state presented no evidence of voter fraud to justify the law. Six years later, however, it’s clear there’s no practically no evidence of voter impersonation in America, whereas the burdens of voter ID laws are much better understood.
“The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” Adelman wrote. “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past…. It is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”
The absence of a compelling state interest and the presence of a discriminatory impact on blacks and Hispanics—which was not the case in Indiana—led Adelman to block the law.
2. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the Crawford decision, is now a critic of voter ID laws.
“My opinion should not be taken as authority that voter-ID laws are always OK,” he told The Wall Street Journal last year. “The decision in the case is state-specific and record-specific.”
Stevens now says he agrees with Judge Souter’s dissent in the case. “As a matter of actual history, he’s dead right. The impact of the statute is much more serious” on poor, minority, disabled and elderly voters than the evidence in the 2008 case indicated, Stevens said.
3. Approving a law of this magnitude less than two months before a major election is certain to cause electoral chaos. Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been blocked since March 2012—in four different lawsuits in state and federal court.
Nine percent of Wisconsin’s electorate lacks a government-issued ID, compared to Indiana, where 99 percent of registered voters had ID.
Even if these hundreds of thousands of voters possess the underlying documentation to obtain a voter ID—like a birth certificate (seven witnesses at the trial didn’t have access to theirs)—they’d still have trouble getting one.
According to an amicus brief filed by One Wisconsin Now, 257,000 voting-age Wisconsinites don’t have a car in their household. Moreover, only thirty-three of Wisconsin’s ninety-two DMVs are open full-time during business hours. Wisconsin is very different from Indiana in that respect, notes the brief:
41 [DMVs] are open just two days each week, seven are open just a few hours for one day each month, and three are open just one day every quarter.… Only one DMV service center in the entire state of Wisconsin is open on a Saturday. No other DMV in the entire state operates in the evenings or on weekends.
Nearly all of Indiana’s 140 BMVs are open five days a week, Wisconsin has only 33 full-time sites; Indiana has 124 that are open on the weekends, Wisconsin has one.
According to the DMV website, the 92 DMV service centers are open for a combined total of approximately 9000 hours per month. If the 330,000 electors [without ID] attempted to obtain their ID during the one-month period preceding the election, the DMV would need to process on average 37 eligible electors each hour, every day of operation for the entire month.
4. Wisconsin Republicans also eliminated early voting hours on nights and weekends in 2014, which further reduces access to the polls. Over 250,000 Wisconsinites voted early in 2012, one in twelve overall voters, favoring Obama 58 to 41 percent over Romney.
Take a look at this chart:
It just so happens that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a major proponent of voter ID laws and cutting early voting, is locked in a tight re-election race against Democrat Mary Burke. Is making it more difficult for people to vote his strategy for victory?