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10 Questions All Politicians Should Answer About Gun Control

NRA Gun Convention

National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

For years, the National Rifle Association has pressed candidates for local and national offices to answer questions about gun control policy. The highly publicized results, which help form a candidate’s often sacred “NRA rating,” not only affect races in the short term but help shape policy long after as politicians are hemmed into a particular position on guns before even taking office.

Now, a leading pro-gun control group is launching a counter-effort: Everytown for Gun Safety, funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will soon present federal candidates in the 2014 midterms with a ten-part questionnaire about gun control policy. Bloomberg has committed to spending $50 million on the midterms, and the questionnaire is a good starting point for evaluating where candidates stand.

In many cases, this is the first time these candidates will be asked in detail about gun control policy. Among the questions, which you can read in full here:

  • Does the candidate support closing the gun show loophole?

  • What about loopholes that allow people to buy guns online without a criminal background check?

  • Does the candidate support increased penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking?

  • Should the size of ammunition clips be restricted? (There is no baseline given).

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Some of the questions are traps, in a sense, for candidates who normally hew close to the NRA line and oppose any restrictions on gun rights whatsoever. For example, one question asks if the candidate supports laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who have been convicted of stalking or of abusing a dating partner. (Current federal law only prohibits gun ownership by people convicted of spousal abuse, but not domestic violence more generally.) Any sensible answer to the question would be yes, and a “no” answer is a campaign ad waiting to happen.

Other questions are clearly designed to build political support among potential members of the next Congress for things like expanded background checks or even smaller-bore policy items like increased funding for the federal background check database.

But there is one curious omission, especially for a group whose name is supposed to recall the horror of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut: no question asks about an assault weapons ban. There was notable state-level action around restricting assault weapons after Newtown, but congressional Democrats dropped this from last spring’s major gun control legislation. Apparently Everytown for Gun Safety isn’t too interested in pushing Congress forward on this issue.

 

Read Next: David Cole on the one Supreme Court decision we can celebrate

Before the World Cup Ends, Will the Media Tell the Truth?

FIFA protest

Brazilians protest FIFA. Photo by author. 

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter was strutting like a rooster over the weekend about the absence of mass protests during Brazil’s World Cup. “Where is all this social unrest?” he asked in mocking snark that, along with bribery and corruption, has become his trademark. Then Blatter waxed rhapsodic about how “football is more than a religion” in Brazil, as if that explains the absence of millions of people marching on his “FIFA quality stadiums”. Similar, sentiments were expressed by Brazil’s Deputy Minister of Sports Luis Fernandes , who said that “during the World Cup, the passion for football has taken over.”

This position has been echoed continuously in the US media. The Washington Post has carried headlines that have read, “In Brazil,smiles, parties have replaced protests” and “A nation’s haves, have nots unite for a common cause.” No need to pick on the Post, as this has been “the line” in multiple media outlets over the last several weeks.

As is often the case with the mainstream media, they have started with an indisputable truth and then have chosen to draw conclusions that match their own embedded perspective: a perspective shaped by Sepp Blatter, his broadcast partners and a blinkered reality of hotels and black SUVs. It is certainly true that the million-person protests have not taken place during the World Cup, as they did during the 2013 Confederation’s Cup. But the conclusion that now everything is awesome and “parties have replaced protests” is simply not true. I recently returned from Brazil and saw a different reality. The fact is that there are protests, strikes and battles with police happening every day. In the favelas, there are demonstrations against the police occupations that are happening because of the Cup. (Here is a terrific photo essay by Andalusia Knoll that shows images from all the World Cup protests that are not happening.)

If the protests are far smaller than the ones a year ago, it is because the streets are militarized down to the last inch, ruled by a military police force who are tear-gassing any group of people who attempt to gather and raise political demands.

I attended one of these “FIFA Go Home” demonstrations, and it was a fearful exercise in state intimidation. The gathering was at a public square. An hour before the start of the march, the square was already surrounded by riot police with machine guns in hand. One would have had to gently push aside and say “excuse me” to someone with a machine gun and a badge just to get there. This was daunting for me as a gringo journalist. Imagine if you are someone with a family, a job and a life that you had to return to following the Cup.

Then once we gathered together, the police would, every few minutes, randomly pick out someone in the crowd of 500 and search their bag. People would chant and yell at the police, but five other officers surrounded the one doing the searching, all with their fingers on the trigger of their automatic weaponry. One protester took out a horn and played Darth Vader’s theme music from Star Wars, but other than that there was little anyone could do. Then when the march was finally underway, the demonstrators were gassed by the military police. One police officer, as caught by the Associated Press, fired live ammunition in a panicky fashion over the heads of protesters. Then the riot police moved in with baseball bat–sized batons.

It was an altogether ugly exercise that provoked chants calling FIFA “Brazil’s new dictatorship.” In other words, the demonstrations aren’t bigger because the military police have created a reality that it is terrifying for people to express their dissent, all to the joy of Sepp Blatter.

Larissa, an activist from São Paulo, explained the size of the demonstrations to Al Jazeera by saying, “Some of us are in jail, others are just being cautious. During our latest protests at Rio’s Maracana stadium, fifteen of us were arrested and are now in jail. The police beat many of us…. I love football. I actually play football myself. I just hate the whole industry around it, which—in the name of FIFA—has been eating up whole neighbourhoods here in Brazil. They think they can do anything in the name of football.”

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It would be helpful—even novel—if the US media would tell this story: a population angry about the Cup, but terrorized into compliance. But to tell that story one would actually have to talk to Brazilians who aren’t their cab drivers and concierges. There is still time in the next week, before the World Cup ends, for the media to wear out some shoe leather, hire some translators and tell the truth about what is happening in Brazil. With the 2016 Olympics coming to Rio, the anger and discontent over these mega-events is not going anywhere. The next two years should be a time when the stories of regular Brazilians are told and reckoned with, instead of ignored in the name of nerfy, feel-good narratives.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on FIFA’s negligence and the Belo Horizonte overpass collapse

What Happened When One Country Required All Corporate Boards to Be 40% Women

Female Executive

(Shutterstock)

Call it the Sheryl Sandberg theory of feminist progress: help more women get into the tippy top of the company pyramid and change will spread to the bottom ranks. You could also call it trickle-down feminism: focus on equality at the top and the rewards will flow downward. There are some real life examples that show this doesn’t always pan out. Take Marissa Mayer reducing flexible scheduling after she became the first female CEO at Yahoo, or Sandberg herself, who didn’t realize pregnant women needed reserved parking lots close to the building until she was pregnant.

But a new study quantifies just how far the effects of putting women in leadership can, and can’t, go. Marianne Bertrand, Sandra E. Black and Sissel Jensen examined what happened after Norway instituted a quota in 2003 that required public companies to make their boards at least 40 percent female. The quota did get many more women onto corporate boards, and it may have helped boost their pay, as the wage gap between male and female board members fell.

Additionally, it may have helped increase the number of female executives at these companies. While the researchers couldn’t look at the exact genders of those in the C-suite, when they looked at the gender makeup of the five most highly paid people at the companies they found that more female board members begot more women in that group. “[A] higher share of female directors may increase the chance that a female employee…is one of the top five earners,” they report. Women who joined a company’s board were also more likely to end up among its top executives.

The march of progress, however, mostly stops there. An increased number of women on a company’s board had no impact on increasing women’s ranks at any other wage levels below the very top. And not much else got better for the lower-downs. “We also see no improvements on gender wage gaps…and find no evidence of changing work environments,” the researchers write. Generally, they found no evidence that increasing women’s representation on boards boosted female employment overall or employment for women with business degrees or children in particular. They also didn’t find evidence that seeing more women at the top spurred younger women to get a business degree or go into the field.

So does this mean quotas are a public policy failure? Not at all. That’s not what quotas do. The study shows that quotas increase women’s representation among top leadership and even narrow their pay gaps. But to believe that setting aside a certain share of seats that the top for women will mean that everyone below them does better is to believe change can come more easily than it does.

Quotas, instead, serve to bring gender equality to one specific area: positions of power. We can never say we live in a country rid of patriarchy while women hold less than a quarter of all political offices, 5 percent of CEO positions and less than 15 percent of executive officer positions, and less than 17 percent of board seats. And change isn’t coming voluntarily. Women have held about the same share of executive officer roles for four years and the same share of board seats for eight. Countries that have quotas, or even just strongly suggested goals, are making much faster progress.

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There are a variety of reasons why individual women in leadership don’t signal broader change. Patriarchy still has a very firm stranglehold on our society, and trying to loosen its grip can prove to be too hard a task for a woman all on her own. (In fact, research has found that it takes at least three women on a company’s board to make a real difference.) Individual people are also flawed and have limited perspectives—had Sandberg never become pregnant, she may not have realized what pregnant women at work need, as many well-meaning male bosses likely don’t. And women are put into these roles to do their jobs and often to focus on shareholder value, not to stage a gender revolution, and those two things can sometimes be in conflict, as with Mayer and her belief that telework was hurting Yahoo’s work culture.

Still, we could use a quota, or at least a strongly suggested target to make equality at the top move faster. That doesn’t mean it would transform things for everyone else. There’s plenty of other of work to do to bring about gender equality in the workplace. But it would start to dilute the white male cabal currently running our largest institutions.

 

Read Next: Does feminism have a class problem?

ISIS: The Spoils of the ‘Great Loot’ in the Middle East

ISIS Guard

ISIS fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul in 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) 

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

“So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy.”    – T.E. Lawrence, February 1915

It was a curious comment by the oddball but unarguably brilliant British agent and scholar, Thomas Edward Lawrence. The time was World War I, and England and France were locked in a death match with the Triple Alliance, of which Ottoman Turkey was a prominent member. But it was nonetheless true, and no less now than then. In the Middle East, to paraphrase William Faulkner, history is not the past; it is the present.

In his 1915 letter, Lawrence was describing French machinations over Syria, but he could just as well have been commenting on England’s designs in the region, which Allied leaders in World War I came to call the “Great Loot”—the imperial vivisection of the Middle East.

As Iraq tumbles into yet another civil war, it is important to remember how all this came about, and why adding yet more warfare to the current crisis will perpetuate exactly what the “Great Loot” set out to do: tear an entire region of the world asunder.

Divide and Conquer

There is a scorecard here filled with names, but they are not just George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—though the latter helped mightily to fuel the latest explosion.

They are names most people have never heard of, like Sixth Baronet of Sledmere Mark Sykes and French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot. In 1915, these two mid-level diplomats created a secret plan to divvy up the Middle East. Almost a century later that imperial map not only defines the region and most of the players, but continues to spin out tragedy after tragedy, like some grotesque, historical Groundhog Day.

In 1915, the imperial powers’ major goal in the Middle East was to smother any expression of Arab nationalism and prevent any unified resistance to the designs of Paris and London. France wanted Greater Syria, Britain control of the land bridges to India. The competition was so intense that even while hundreds of thousands of French and British troops were dying on the Western Front, their secret services were blackguarding one another from Samarra to Medina, maneuvering for position for when the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was the compromise aimed at ending the internecine warfare. France would get Greater Syria (which it would divide to create Lebanon), plus zones of influence in northern Iraq. Britain would get the rest of Iraq and Jordan and establish the Palestine Mandate. All of this, however, had to be kept secret from the locals, whom the British and French incited to rebel against imperial Ottoman rule even as they plotted to impose their own.

The Arabs thought they were fighting for independence, but London and Paris had other designs. Instead of the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and access to the Mediterranean the Arabs had been promised, they would get the sun-blasted deserts of Arabia and the rule of monarchs, who were easy to buy or bully.

However, to run such a vast enterprise through the use of direct force was beyond the power of even London and Paris. So both empires transplanted their strategies of exploiting religion, sect, tribe and ethnicity—which had worked so well in Indochina, India, Ireland and Africa—to divide and conquer, adding to it a dash of chaos.

The French put the minority Christians in charge of Lebanon to keep down the majority Sunnis and Shiites. They recruited the minority Alawite Shiites in Syria to head up the army that ruled over the majority Sunnis, while the British installed a Sunni king in Iraq to rule over the country’s majority Shiites. In Palestine the British used Zionism much as they were using Protestantism in Northern Ireland to keep down the native Catholic Irish and keep both communities divided. Communities ended up fighting one another rather than their imperial masters, which, of course, was the whole point of the matter.

Now those demons are on the loose.

Names on the Ledger

There are new players in the Middle East since Sykes and Picot drew up their agreement. Washington and Israel were latecomers, but eventually replaced both imperial powers as the major military forces in the region.

The enemy of the “Great Loot” was secular nationalism, and the United States, France and Britain have been trying to overthrow, isolate, or co-opt secular regimes in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya since they first appeared. The rationale for the hostility is that secular regimes were run by dictators. Many have been, but they’re arguably no worse than the Wahhabi fanatics in Saudi Arabia or the monsters the Gulf monarchies have nurtured in Syria and northern Iraq.

Why is Syria called a dictatorship when Saudi Arabia is not? This past February, the kingdom passed a law equating anything that offends “the nation’s reputation or its position”—including dissent, the exposure of corruption and campaigns for reform—with “terrorism.”

The list of names on the ledger of those who nurture terrorism in the Middle East is long. Yes, it certainly includes the Bush administration, which smashed up one of the most developed countries in the region, dismantled the Iraqi state, and stoked the division between Sunnis and Shiites. But also the Clinton administration, whose brutal sanctions impoverished Iraq and eviscerated its middle class. And further back, during the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush pounded southern Iraq with toxic depleted uranium, inflicting a massive cancer epidemic on places like Basra. It was Jimmy Carter and the CIA who backed Saddam Hussein’s rise to power, because the Baathist dictator was particularly efficient at torturing and killing trade unionists and members of the Iraqi left.

Not to mention members of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, along with associated states Morocco and Jordan—that fund the Islamic insurgency in Syria. Some of those countries may decry the excesses of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, but it was they who stoked the fires in which ISIL was forged.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also on that list. It is through Turkey’s borders that most fighters and supplies pass into Syria. So is the Obama administration, which farmed the insurgency out to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and is now horrified by the creatures that those Wahhabist feudal monarchies produced.

France’s Imperial Grudge

And don’t forget T.E. Lawrence’s French.

Paris has never forgiven the Syrians for tossing them out in 1946, nor for Damascus’s role in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, which dethroned the French-favored Christian minority who had dominated the country since its formation in 1943.

The French have been enthusiastic supporters of the insurgency in the Syrian civil war and, along with the British, successfully lobbied the European Union to drop its ban on supplying the rebels with military hardware. Paris has also earned favor from Saudi Arabia by trying to derail efforts to find a solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. France is a member of the group of powers known as the P5+1—France, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and Germany—involved in talks with Tehran.

The Gulf Council praised France’s attempted sabotage, and Paris promptly landed a $6 billion contract to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s air defense system. It is negotiating to sell $8 billion worth of fighter-bombers to the Emirates and almost $10 billion worth to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia recently donated $3 billion in aid to the Lebanese Army on the condition that it be used to buy French weapons and ammunition. It is a somewhat ironic gift, since the major foe of the Lebanese Army lately has been Saudi-supported Wahhabists in the country’s northern city of Tripoli.

And that’s not all. Apparently French President François Hollande met with the foreign ministers of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates last September to discuss a plan for Pakistan to train a 50,000-man Sunni army to overthrow the Syrian government and defeat Al Qaeda–affiliated jihadist groups.

Members of that army may already be on their way to Europe, much as the mujahedeen from Afghanistan did a generation ago. According to Western intelligence services, more than 3,000 European Union citizens have gone to fight in Syria—ten times the number who went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The gunman who killed four people on May 24 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a veteran jihadist from the Syrian civil war.

Sowing Chaos

For now, the Gulf monarchies see themselves as pulling the strings, but they have virtually no control over what they have wrought. Those Wahhabi fanatics in Syria and northern Iraq may do what Osama bin Laden did and target the corruption of the monarchies next.

The gulf countries are rich but fragile. Youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia is between 30 and 40 percent, and half the country’s 28 million people are under 25 years of age. In other Gulf nations a tiny strata of superrich rule over a huge and exploited foreign workforce. When the monarchies begin to unravel, the current chaos will look like the Pax Romana.

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But chaos has always been an ally of imperialism. “The agenda has always been about imposing division and chaos on the Arab world,” wrote longtime peace activist Tom Hayden. “In 1992, Bernard Lewis, a major Middle East expert, wrote that if the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common identity…. the state then disintegrates into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions, and parties.” And that is just the kind of disintegration that foreign powers have sought to exploit.

Military intervention by the United States and its allies will accelerate the divisions in the Middle East. If the White House is serious about stemming the chaos, it should stop fueling the Syrian civil war, lean on the Gulf monarchies to end their sectarian jihad against Shiites, pressure the Israelis to settle with the Palestinians and end the campaign to isolate Iran.

And tell the French to butt out.

 

Read next: John Nichols on how to express patriotism with restraint abroad

Is Obama Throwing Immigrant Children Under the Bus?

US Border Patrol

Undocumented immigrants wait in a holding facility at the US Border Patrol detention center in Nogales, Arizona (Reuters/Jeff Topping)

On Monday, President Obama ripped into the GOP for turning its back on the country’s immigration crisis, and announced that he was preparing to take unilateral action by the end of the summer to change the country’s enforcement policies. The announcement stirred up bluster from the usual suspects about executive overreach—never mind that it was John Boehner himself who, in a meeting on June 24, reportedly informed Obama that reform legislation is dead in the House, at least for the rest of the year.

Despite mounting pressure from immigrant rights groups, Obama has refrained from revising heavy-handed enforcement policies for months, ostensibly to create political space for Republicans to move their own legislation forward, something they claimed—and continue to claim—they want to do. Now that the charade is over there’s no reason for the president not to act. Republicans have never explained what else he could do to earn the “trust” they say is lacking; Obama has already presided over a record-breaking 2 million deportations, and Senate Democrats even offered to change their legislation so that it wouldn’t go into effect until a new administration takes over in 2017.

If Obama has given up trying to appease the GOP and wants to shift away from a policy that emphasizes deportations, it’s hard to explain why he is considering weakening a law intended to ensure that children aren’t removed to violent situations and to protect victims of child trafficking, in order to more quickly remove the unaccompanied minors flooding over the borders.

“It’s an utter devastation of due process for our most vulnerable community members,” Ruthie Epstein of the ACLU said in response to the administration’s acknowledgement that it is considering changes to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. That law shields children from countries who do not share a border with the United States from immediate deportation. It mandates that they must instead be handed over to Health and Human Services, which helps them access legal counsel to advise them on the process of applying for asylum, and in some cases releases them to US relatives. The new proposal would let Border Patrol agents make the decision to deport the children they arrest after only a brief screening interview, denying the children access to legal counsel.

Obama said on Monday that speeding up the deportation of children was intended to send “a clear message to the parents in these countries not to put these kids through this. The problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are.” According to the White House, “a deliberate misinformation campaign” led by “criminal syndicates in Central America” is responsible for encouraging children to travel to the United States. But there’s ample evidence that those kids aren’t chasing misleading rumors in hopes of catching the American dream. They’re fleeing violence and extreme poverty.

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The Department of Homeland Security itself cited these underlying causes in a document obtained by the Pew Research Center. Five percent of all of the children arrested at the border since October are from a single city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula; both the city and the country have the highest murder rate in the world. The bulk of the children arriving in the recent surge are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where homicide rates have risen by 99 percent in the last decade, according to one recent study. Those three countries are also among the poorest in Latin America.

In other words, what’s happening at the US-Mexico border looks more like a refugee crisis than the invasion the right wing describes. It’s true that the arrival of tens of thousands of children has overwhelmed Border Patrol stations and Health and Human Services’ shelter system. Accordingly, the administration says that moves to “streamline” the deportation process are being made out of humanitarian concerns, a claim that might hold up if streamlining referred to increasing the resources available to those children so that they could more quickly access legal counsel and get a fair hearing in court. The desire for an expedient solution, however, should not undercut their right to due process.

Obama is sending a convoluted message about his position on enforcement. Immigrant rights groups have long awaited the shift in policy he prefaced on Monday by announcing his intention to move unilaterally to “make the immigration system work better.” Now it’s becoming less and less clear what he mean by “better.” Having conceded that the GOP will block legislation for the foreseeable future no matter what he does, the president no longer has a political excuse for prioritizing a tough stance over humane policy. And yet, when it comes to kids at the border, Obama is advocating for weaker legal protections and a building-up of the country’s deportation machinery—a clear win for immigration opponents and the private companies running detention centers, but a bleak development for immigrants themselves.

Read Next: Mychal Denzel Smith, Americans insist on being delusional about racism

Deadly World Cup Legacy Continues as Overpass Collapses in Brazilian Host City

Brazil overpass collapse

Rescue workers try to reach vehicles trapped underneath collapsed bridge in Belo Horizonte. July 3, 2014. (Reuters/Carlos Creco) 

At least two people are dead and nineteen have been injured in the World Cup host city of Belo Horizonte after the sudden collapse of an unfinished highway overpass. The overpass had been constructed to handle the bus lines to and from the World Cup games being held at Mineirão soccer stadium, less than three miles away. Instead, unfinished, it fell upon two construction trucks, a commuter bus and an automobile.

This tragedy now casts a shadow over the remainder of the tournament. It is a tragedy not only because it happened but because it did not need to happen. Brazil’s politicians and assumedly FIFA as well, had been warned as early as January that this was a possibility according to ESPN’s Leonardo Bertozzi. Make no mistake about it: this blood is on the hands of the international soccer governing body FIFA and Brazil’s ruling Workers Party. To conclude otherwise would be an act of willing blindness, but not only because of the early warning. It would be an act of blindness to the ways in which infrastructure projects were rushed with little regard for commuter safety or workers rights.

In the lead-up to the World Cup, FIFA went on a public relations blitz against Brazil’s lack of readiness for the tournament. This is a tried and true FIFA tactic that I saw firsthand in South Africa in 2010. Using a combination of threats, insults and public shaming, they bring their whip-hand down upon a host country, demanding that the promised infrastructure, security and stadiums be built on time and on schedule.

It started in January with reptilian FIFA chief Sepp Blatter’s saying that Brazil “is the country which is the furthest behind since I’ve been at FIFA.” This was only the beginning. In what was described as a “stark warning” by NBC sports in a headline that blared, ‘FIFA warns host cities in Brazil, as rush to finish venues continues’, FIFA’s secretary general Jerome Valcke said in February that “none of the twelve cities can afford to sit back and relax.” One host city, Curitaba, was told that its games would be pulled if it did not step up the pace and that it would be “monitored on a daily basis.” In March, Valcke said specifically that Brazil’s transport infrastructure needed “a kick up the backside.” In May, Valcke said, “We’ve been through hell” in Brazil. With thirteen days before the start of the cup, Valcke described the country as being in a “race against time.” Most egregiously, in April, Valcke seemed to pine for Brazil’s old dictatorship remarking, “Working with democratically elected governments can complicate organizing tournaments.”

FIFA was whipping the Brazilian government to crack down on strikes and safety regulations to get the massive construction projects done, as if laborers were just undermotivated to finish. Workers endured eighty-four-hour work weeks, and rotating twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week shifts. This was not implemented without resistance. There were a series of strikes in response to the speedups and unsafe conditions. According to workers I spoke with, they also struck against overflowing toilets and cafeteria food described to me as “infested with vermin.” As Antônio de Souza Ramalho, president of the Sintracon-SP civil construction workers union of São Paulo, said to Al Jazeera earlier this week, “The construction workers are among the poorest in Brazil and are often not aware of their rights. And the world soccer body FIFA has never shown any concern about the workers.”

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True to form, rather than address these conditions, the government’s response was either to summarily fire the complainers or promise bonuses for the extra work. They were using either the carrot or stick, with the goal of getting these projects done by any means necessary. These were the orders from Zurich to Brasilia, and President Dilma Rousseff committed to making this a reality.

The pressure on the Workers Party came not only from FIFA but Brazil’s all-powerful, politically connected construction industry. The almighty Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht employed their own private security force to make sure that news cameras were kept at bay and workers kept their heads down. We have already seen the bitter fruits of these priorities in previous months as nine workers died in construction accidents in the rush to provide “FIFA quality infrastructure.”

I reached out to Christopher Gaffney, a Rio-based activist and journalist who has been monitoring the planning for the World Cup. Gaffney said to me, “The repercussions of the collapse will reveal the extent to which Brazilian authorities can be held accountable for the projects associated with the World Cup. These hastily conceived, quickly built projects have dubious benefits for the long term and when the basics fail, it is even more difficult to have confidence in the so called legacy.”

The unfinished overpass had been lauded as yet another of the World Cup infrastructure legacy projects that would benefit all Brazilians. That is clearly not the case. Like the favela children living under military occupation, killed or injured by police since the start of the World Cup, today’s tragedy in Belo Horizonte did not need to happen. They are what results when breakneck neoliberalism arrives with a soccer ball in one hand and a gun in the other.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on Exporting Gaza to Brazil

The Media Are Suffering From ‘Hillary Fatigue’

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The same media that are obsessed with Hillary—asking nonstop will she or won’t she, when will she, what’s that pause in her voice mean, is she likable enough—that same media have decided they are experiencing “Hillary fatigue.”

And Hillary, they say, should be worried about it. “I think that the thing she has to fear is fatigue among the media,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said on Morning Joe earlier this week. “The media is going to have Clinton fatigue before the country. I don’t think the country has Clinton fatigue. I think the media has Clinton fatigue. You can sort of feel it sometimes in the way the coverage—"

Then, in the next beat and without a glimmer of self-awareness, MJ co-host Willie Geist asked Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller, “Let’s play the parlor game…. who would be the strongest challenger” to Hillary Clinton? (Lewis obliged, suggesting Rubio and Christie, two nonstarters, but if they somehow luck out, they could rise to ranks of fatigue-makers, too.)

The fatigue galloped on. On yesterday’s MJ, Mike Barnacle asked, as if he were stuck in the political junkie’s version of 50 First Dates: “Chuck, it’s obviously July 2014, but do you sense, within the media, already, right now, Clinton exhaustion, just from covering the early stages of not even a campaign yet?” Chuck spent another chunk of segment explaining that he sure does sense that.

Of course, it’s not just Morning Joe that’s exhausting itself over Hillary. All of the MSM’s endless, repetitive, obsessive speculation about Hillary (or, really, about anyone or anything that stimulates their mass fantasy) is little more than media masturbation—getting themselves excited in the easiest way possible, without actual reporting, excited enough to fill the required twenty-four hours of “news” and to do it all again the next day.

“Hillary fatigue” isn’t just a media ailment. It’s also a GOP talking point. It’s been around, on and off, for years. But Tom Kludt at Talking Points Memo says the meme got a huge boost recently, when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared on last Sunday’s Meet the Press, “There’s Hillary fatigue already out there. It’s setting in. People are tired of this story. And I just happen to believe that this early run for the White House is going to come back and bite them. And it already is.”

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From there, Kludt traced “Hillary fatigue” to U.S. News & World Report, as well as to Morning Joe. But “[in] fairness,” he adds, “this storyline bubbled on the left two days before Priebus appeared on Meet the Press. Liberal comedian Bill Maher urged Clinton on Friday to ‘just go away’ before her 2016 run. Otherwise, he warned Clinton, ‘you’re going to blow this.’”

None of this is to say that Hillary fatigue isn’t a real, palpable thing. A lot of people, in and out of the media, are tired of Hillary—of her politics, aspects of her personality and/or of the incessant coverage of her.

But like any catchy term, “Clinton fatigue” can be overused and misleading. “A Clear Case of Clinton Fatigue,” the New York Times headlined a story, in 1999. There was a spate of such headlines then, most asking whether Al Gore should keep his distance from Bill Clinton for his 2000 presidential run.

Now, the rearview wisdom is that Gore would have done better by ignoring the fatigue warnings and basking instead in the Clinton good-economic-times aura. 

 

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Northwestern Reshapes Its Sexual Assault Policy

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(Chase Carter / Flickr)

This post originally appeared in The Daily Northwestern and is reposted here with permission.

Northwestern officials say they are prepared to comply with a new rule proposed by the White House under the Violence Against Women Act that would require colleges to compile statistics for incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.

The proposed rule falls under amendments to the Violence Against Women Act that went into effect in March. University officials said they have been working to comply with the amendments.

“Northwestern has been making good faith efforts to comply with the VAWA amendments since they were enacted,” said Joan Slavin, director of Northerwestern University’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office and Title IX coordinator, in an e-mail to The Daily. “We are currently working on making revisions to our complaint resolution procedures to make sure they comply with best practices under VAWA and Title IX.”

Slavin also said the university is investigating adding new prevention-related training for students, staff and faculty regarding sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence.

Tara Sullivan, assistant dean of students and Director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, said in an e-mail to The Daily that the University has been expecting a requirement for schools to report these statistics for “quite some time.”

“I share the hope that reporting this information will provide students with a better understanding of what is happening on campus and allow them to make choices that are best for them regarding their individual safety and security.”

Sullivan said before the proposed rule, the university had a “gold standard policy” regarding how it handles sexual misconduct, stalking and dating and domestic violence. She said the current policy is being reviewed, but that she anticipates any changes to be minor.

“We are in the process of developing a new student conduct process,” Sullivan said. “The new process has already been written with much of this in mind, but we will certainly review it to ensure that everything is incorporated before it is launched in the fall.”

In addition, Slavin said updates to the university’s policy will be included in its upcoming annual security report, which will be available in the fall.

The proposed rule would require universities to not only compile these statistics but also make other policy changes as well.

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Changes under the proposed rule include expanding the definition of hate crimes under the Clery Act to include gender identity and national origin as categories of bias; adopting a more inclusive definition of rape; requiring universities to guarantee their proceedings regarding these incidents are “prompt, fair, and impartial;” strengthening policies to protect victim confidentiality; and “specifying requirements for programs to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

Slavin said she feels there has been heightened awareness about sexual violence and assault on all campuses, including Northwestern. She said campus groups, such as the Title IX Coordinating Committee and the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence have been key in bringing together other interested groups to discuss these issues and possible solutions.

“I have really appreciated the activism we have seen here on our campus,” Sullivan said. “I am encouraged by the community’s interest in ensuring that Northwestern is not only in compliance, but also doing what is best for our community.”

 

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Americans Insist on Being Delusional About Racism

trayvon rally

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

The headline to this ThinkProgress story reads “A Black College Student Has The Same Chances Of Getting A Job As A White High School Dropout.” At the same time, this Pew Research Center study shows that 63 percent of Americans believe “Blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for own condition.”

How do these two things square with each other?

They don’t. But that doesn’t actually matter. Americans aren’t swayed by facts or statistics but by narratives. The narrative we have internalized with regards to racism is one of unimpeached progress. We’ve gone from slavery to Jim Crow to civil rights to a black president without a hitch.

Meanwhile, the thing that black parents across the country have told their children for generations about having to work twice as hard to get the same things that are handed to white people, remains true. Yet 63 percent of Americans choose to believe black people are unambitious, or lazy or incompetent. Racism, the kind that limited opportunities for black Americans, is a thing of the past, we would like to believe.

This was the entire point of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s June cover story for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” He built his argument not around the injustice of slavery but the injury suffered from redlining and housing discrimination, racist public policies with roots in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. He illustrates that we don’t have to reach so far back in American history to see the treatment of black people as second-class citizens. Truly, we don’t have to look beyond today’s headlines.

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In his essay “The Little Man at Chehaw Station,” Ralph Ellison wrote: “Perhaps we are able to see only that which we are prepared to see, and in our culture the cost of insight is an uncertainty that threatens our already unstable sense of order and requires a constant questioning of accepted assumptions.”

The United States isn’t prepared to see its racist past or present, as it would upset the narrative that has become a source of national pride. We aren’t yet brave enough to forge a new identity.

 

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