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The GOP’s Completely Incoherent Stance on the Border Crisis

US Border Facility

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

Republicans are furious about the flood of children streaming across the US-Mexico border, and are criticizing the president for not deporting the children fast enough. But now that Obama has asked for nearly $4 billion to help kick the kids out more quickly, they don’t want to fund the emergency measures.

The $3.7 billion Obama requested would boost border security as well as housing and legal services for the children, the majority of whom are fleeing violence in Central America. According to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has become the GOP’s figurehead on the issue, too much of that money is going to shelter, healthcare and legal assistance, and not enough to enforcement. “President Obama’s appropriations request only deals with one aspect of the current crisis on our southern border, while barely addressing its root cause: an unsecured border,” Perry wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday. He wants Obama to send surveillance drones and 1,000 National Guard troops to the border.

Most minors are simply handing themselves over to border patrol agents, suggesting that a porous border isn’t really the problem. And even if the border were completely sealed, there’s still the question of what to do with the tens of thousands of children here already. Perry ignored the fact that the Obama administration is bound by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which bars the government from immediately deporting children from countries that do not share a border with the United States—such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where the bulk of the children are from. The law requires border patrol to turn the children over to Health and Human Services and entitles them to due process so they may apply for humanitarian relief. Obama is trying to speed up deportations, to the consternation of immigrant rights and humanitarian groups. But unless Congress changes the trafficking law, the only way to do so is to make the legal system work faster by paying for more lawyers and judges.

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Republicans are considering all sorts of roadblocks to the emergency funding bill. Some want any spending to be offset with cuts elsewhere. Others are insisting that Congress amend or repeal the trafficking law before they authorize any funding, a move that would deny children due process and, even if it were ultimately blocked by Democrats in the Senate, would at the very least hold up resources that are badly needed in the shelters where the children are housed.

Republicans, Perry included, are paying lip service to the idea that the crisis is a humanitarian one, but they don’t want to provide any humanitarian relief. As Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker suggest in The New York Times, that’s because approving such funding “would help get [Obama] out of a situation that they believe is of his own making.” According to Perry, it’s more important for Obama to visit the border than it is for Congress to do something to address the situation. For Republicans, it’s more palatable to perpetuate the crisis and blame it on the president than to do anything that could be considered a “win” for the Democrats. Certainly it won’t be kids who win if Congress does agree to fund a smoother pathway to mass deportation.

It’s ironic that the same people who are apoplectic about Obama’s use of executive authority are now claiming that he’s the one not doing enough to fix the border crisis. Even House Speaker John Boehner, who is suing the president over his unilateral moves, had the gumption to attack the White House for not acting on its own in this instance. “He’s been president for five years! When is he going to take responsibility for something?” Boehner reportedly shouted at a press conference on Thursday morning. “We’re not giving the president a blank check.”

Republicans complain that Obama is cutting them out of the legislative process. As the border crisis demonstrates, however, it’s hard to detect real will on the part of the GOP to legislate.

 

Read Next: William Greider, “What Does the Democratic Party Actually Believe?

Obama Fiddles While Gaza Burns

Gaza

Smoke and flames are seen following what police said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 9, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer)

Let’s review the bidding on whether or not the United States is seriously making an effort to prevent war in Gaza and perhaps beyond, with at least seventy-six Palestinians already dead. You’ll recall that in 2009, just before President Obama took office, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pretty much let Israel run amok in Gaza. Is the Obama administration doing any better?

First, here are the official statements. In a July 8 White House briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest said:

Well, let me start by saying that we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks. At the same time, we appreciate the call that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has made publicly to act responsibly. We’re concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides. This means both the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes and the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s violence. As you know, Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu a couple times over the weekend and reiterated the United States’ concern about escalating tensions and our willingness to engage robustly in helping to stop the rocket fire and restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible. So these kinds of consultations are ongoing. It is not in the interest of either side for this violence to continue and even to escalate. So we are hopeful that even as Israel exercises their right to self-defense that they’ll leave open a channel for diplomacy to prevail and for a ceasefire or at least a de-escalation in the violence to commence.

You’ll note, obviously, that the White House condemned rockets fired by “terrorist organizations” but said that it appreciates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “call” to act responsibly, without a word about massive Palestinian casualties. In Tel Aviv, the American embassy is closed, and over at the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki weirdly complained that there is difficult “time change challenge,” given that Secretary of State John Kerry is in China. And then there was this exchange with reporters, in which Psaki said that there is “strong difference between attacks, rocket attacks launched by a terrorist organization that is based in Gaza and the right of Israel to defend itself,” even if Israel recklessly bombs targets like a seaside café in which people were gathered to watch the World Cup. Here’s the exchange:

QUESTION: Okay. He also made very clear time and time again Israel’s right to self-defense. And I asked you about the Palestinians’ right to self-defense. Let me ask you this: The population in Gaza, is it largely Hamas operatives or largely innocent civilians? And if there are larger Hamas operatives, then an argument can be made that they could be targets. But if they are largely civilians, then they should have, certainly, the right to self-defense—

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would simply say there’s a—

QUESTION:—or to protection.

MS. PSAKI:—strong difference between attacks—

QUESTION: Right, I understand.

MS. PSAKI:—rocket attacks launched by a terrorist organization that is based in Gaza and the right of Israel to defend itself. At the same time, as you know, we work closely with the Palestinians. We work closely with the Israelis. And it’s important at this point in time to see if all sides can take steps to de-escalate.

QUESTION: How could you follow or do you have any means of following what is going on on the ground in Gaza in terms of the humanitarian suffering, people that lack water, lack the—of medical care, lack of food, things of that nature. Do you have anyone—

MS. PSAKI: How do we—

QUESTION: Do you have anyone on the ground in Gaza that can monitor the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I think we are concerned about any humanitarian suffering around the world. As you know, that isn’t about sides. That’s about what’s right morally.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the administration is “sharply limit[ed]” in its ability to help de-escalate the crisis, given the recent collapse of Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy, and so the United States has no plans to send Kerry to the region to prevent war. Despite loud calls from the Palestinians for the United States to get involved and broker a cease-fire, the Journal reports:

But with the crisis escalating just two months after formal US-led peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians collapsed, the White House isn’t preparing to dispatch Mr. Kerry to the region to broker a cease-fire, these officials said.

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In an editorial, the always hawkish Washington Post dismisses the crisis as a “mini-war” and adds that no diplomatic blitz is required:

Obama administration officials argue that this deterioration proves that it was right to pursue a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. In our view, the failed US effort, with its tight timetable and disregard for the obvious unwillingness of leaders on both sides, merely raised expectations that could not be met, making a backlash inevitable. What’s needed is not another diplomatic blitz but a more patient, incremental and sustainable effort to restore trust between Israelis and Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, and create the foundations for an eventual settlement. That is if the fire in Gaza can be put out.

At the Electronic Intifada, Medea Benjamin urges President Obama to visit Gaza. But the chances of that happening are about as high as the chance that Obama will preach from the mosque in Mosul, Iraq, where the head of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria just appeared.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on protest, fraud and violence in Afganistan

The Shocking Ways We Talked About Birth Control in 1932

Denys Wortman

“The doctor’s here again and it ud better be a boy, ’cause there’s no more room in our bed.”
(This illustration by Denys Wortman appeared in the January 27, 1932, issue of The Nation. The Museum of the City of New York exhibited a major retrospective on Wortman in 2010.)

The Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision of late June returned birth control to the center of the national conversation. One might have thought that unnecessary this far into the twenty-first century; one would have been wrong.

A depressingly relevant—if fascinating—exercise it is, then, to revisit a special issue about birth control The Nation published on January 27, 1932, featuring contributions from some of the most authoritative writers on the subject, at that time and ever. Much of the material in the issue is surprising. Some of it is downright shocking.

An introductory editorial—presumably written by then–managing editor Freda Kirchwey—cited “the overshadowing importance of the question at this grave juncture of the world’s economic history.” In the midst of the Depression, when so many had so little to eat, birth control was treated as an economic issue as much as it was a social one.

It is also worth keeping in mind that the topic motivating The Nation’s 1932 special issue was not employer-guaranteed access to contraception—as is the issue today—but the right to distribute information about birth control at all. The Nation’s January 1932 editorial demanded that “no limits of any kind be set to the dissemination of facts about birth control and to urge its practice.”

The editorial continued:

In the first essay in the issue, Margaret Sanger writes that Pope Pius XI’s position on birth control is evidence of a more profound separation between ordinary people and the dictates of that embodiment of organized religion:

That last phrase is sure to set off alarm bells in the minds of progressives in 2014. As well it should.

One of the more uncomfortable aspects about the rise of the birth control movement in the United States is its intimate connection to the concurrent rise of eugenicism: each saw the other as an instrument for its own ends. Arguments for the scientific pruning of the population served as arguments for the technology which could, with relative humanity, get the job done. But it is easily and somewhat conveniently forgotten that these were not two movements partnered together for strategic or political purposes. Rather worse, some of the early twentieth century’s birth control pioneers widely and willfully employed eugenicist language to argue for the proliferation of birth control among lesser human beings.

The Nation special issue from 1932 is loaded with such language.

The theme develops slowly.

Witness this passage from the essay by Henry Pratt Fairchild, a sociologist who was president of the American Eugenics Society and a founder of Planned Parenthood:

The most significant aspect…of birth control is as an indispensable instrument in the hands of modern, socially conscious man, to be used in the subjection of population growth to the same deliberate, rational, and farseeing manipulation that he prides himself on applying to every other great human interest. This is something quite apart from its utility in solving the problems of personal and family life. It is a phase of that broad, intelligent, scientific self-direction of human groups which can rightly be designated social engineering.

The essay by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, best known by graduates of American high schools as the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” is surely the most cringe-inducing contribution to the special issue. Titled, not subtly, “Birth Control, Religion and the Unfit,” Gilman’s essay begins with an excoriation of “admitted defectives living on our taxes. They are not only passively injurious as not earning their own livings, but actively injurious as consuming the livings of useful people.

We are mortified at our moronic average, alarmed at the increasing numbers of those far below it. Further, we find that the unfitter they are, the more lavishly they fulfill what some religionists assure us is the divine command—to increase and multiply and replenish the earth. Confronted with this difficulty, we propose to check the undesirable increase by the simple device of sterilizing the unfit. Unfortunately, when urging necessary legislation on the subject, we meet not only religious objections, but those of the unfit who are voters.

On further thought, seeking to antedate the disadvantageous reproduction, we seize on the benefits of birth control, a practice which does not interfere with the pleasures of the unfit but saves society from their reduplication. Again we are met by the indifference of the unfit as voters, and mere ignorance and stupidity are likewise often backed by the enormous power of religion.

The plea that concludes Gilman’s essay demonstrates as well as any other text of the era how deeply intertwined progressive and feminist arguments for birth control were with what might be called, to adapt a phrase, “a troublesome inheritance.”

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Even on an issue so directly, almost exclusively, related to women, it cannot be wrong to conclude with the wisdom of John Dewey. His contribution to The Nation’s 1932 special issue on birth control is worth quoting at length:

The suppression of information about birth control was ended by a Court of Appeals case in 1936. It was the beginning of a long line of victories for the emancipation of women and for reproductive rights. In the Hobby Lobby case and in its subsequent exemption of Wheaton College from the assurance of birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a majority of Supreme Court justices have demonstrated their willingness to initiate a widespread rollback of those successes. History should inform our defensive strategy, as should a renewed and long-overdue debate about what progress really means.

* * *

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

 

Read Next: George Zornick asks if Congress can reverse the Hobby Lobby decision

This Is What Happens When the Security State and Anti-Muslim Paranoia Collide

NSA Headquarters

National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Maryland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

When the first reports based on the Snowden leaks were published last year, the layperson could be forgiven for not knowing exactly what to make of the surveillance programs they revealed. Words like “metadata” and “upstream collection” made the whole affair seem impersonal, quarantined off from our real lives by some trick of technical language. The sheer scale of data collection should have been alarming, but it also blurred the implications.

The ways in which the NSA’s surveillance programs touch individual lives has come sharply in focus in the past week. On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that nearly half of conversations in a cache intercepted and stored by the NSA involved US citizens. Some of those digital files reportedly contained medical records, résumés, exchanges about religion and politics, photos of women in their underwear and children on swings.

A report published Wednesday by The Intercept tightened the focus still further, to the faces of five US citizens: Hooshang Amirahmadi, Nihad Awad, Asim Ghafoor, Faisal Gill and Agha Saeed. According to the report, e-mail addresses belonging to those five individuals appear on a spreadsheet of surveillance targets that the NSA monitored between 2002 and 2008, under a program intended to target foreigners and terrorism suspects. Among the five is a former Homeland Security official in the Bush administration with a top-secret security clearance; the executive director of a prominent Muslim civil rights organization; and a defense lawyer who handled terrorism cases.

None has been charged with a crime. Though the report cautioned that “it is impossible to know why their emails were monitored, or the extent of the surveillance,” what links the five men is their Muslim heritage and their civil liberties work. Several told The Intercept they believed they were targets because of their faith and their activism, which are protected under the First Amendment.

Muslim Advocates, a law firm, said the report “confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage.” The Center for Constitutional Rights likened the surveillance of one target, Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the FBI’s spying on Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

The article also describes institutionalized Islamophobia within the NSA, summed up in a template for an internal memo that uses “Mohammed Raghead” as a substitute for John Doe.

Forty-four groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Islamic Society of North America to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and the Presbyterian Church called on the Obama administration to account for the surveillance of the five Americans, and to overhaul Department of Justice guidelines against racial profiling to bar wider forms of discrimination, including on the basis of religion.

“While we do not know all of the facts of the individual reported cases, we believe the government has an obligation to explain the basis for its actions. Moreover, we cannot presume that the government acted without prejudice or bias,” reads their letter. “Too often, both in the past and in the present, we have observed the government engaging in patterns of discriminatory and abusive surveillance.”

As the letter notes, the allegations made in the Intercept article arise in a “broader context” of federal and local agencies singling out Muslims and other minorities for extra scrutiny. For years the New York Police Department monitored and infiltrated mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and Muslim student groups, without generating any leads. In San Francisco, the Federal Bureau of Investigation spied on mosques and Muslim organizations under the pretense of “community outreach” activities. The FBI continues to target Muslims in sting operationsinvolving informants, while individuals who refused to work as informants themselves report that the agency punished them by adding their names to the no-fly list.

The fact that the NSA, too, targeted Muslim-Americans, particularly prominent lawyers and activists, is not surprising. It is, nonetheless, outrageous. The Intercept report lends specificity to fears, voiced soon after the first stories based on the Snowden leaks were published, that the NSA’s surveillance programs and the legal framework they rest on could facilitate politically motivated spying on American citizens. The report also has critical legal implications: for the first time, individuals have confirmation that the government used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to target their communications specifically, giving them standing to sue.

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The political reaction to the report has mostly centered on the damning “Mohammed Raghead” detail. White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told The Guardian that the administration was taking the reported use of the slur “very seriously,” and has ordered the director of national intelligence to conduct “an assessment of intelligence community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance, and as necessary, make any recommendations changes or additional reforms.” This is not the first time the Obama administration has investigated the use of anti-Muslim materials within the intelligence community; it did so in 2011, after the disclosure of offensive counterterrorism training documents that, among other things, characterized “mainstream” Muslims as terrorists.

However, the administration pushed back aggressively on the allegation that well-documented Islamophobia within the intelligence community has led to discrimination in practice. “It is entirely false that US intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” reads a joint statement from the Director of National Intelligence and the DOJ. “Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”

At least one lawmaker isn’t convinced that a dearth of political correctness at the NSA is the extent of the problem. “I share the concerns of many Americans who feel the NSA has violated their civil liberties by monitoring them without cause,” Representative Keith Ellison said in a statement. “The Intercept report is particularly troubling because it suggests that Americans were targeted because of their faith and civic engagement. Unfortunately, the NYPD’s spying on Muslims with the CIA’s help and the FBI’s use of hateful anti-Muslim training materials makes this concern legitimate.”

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on the religious rights of Muslim prisoners

Anti-Pot Activists May Care Too Much About the Prescription Drug Industry’s Health

Why is so much of the funding for anti-marijuana activist organizations coming from pharmaceutical companies? Joining Chris Hayes on All In last night, Lee Fang explained the tangled links between big pharma companies who make opioid prescription drugs and anti-legalization activist groups that he uncovered while reporting his article, “The Real Reason Pot Is Still Illegal.”

According to Fang, the anti-drug activists who focus on pot have their priorities misplaced, as prescription painkiller abuse is an “epidemic” that is sweeping the country. “The CDC says it kills over 16,000 people a year,” Fang told Hayes.
Hannah Harris Green

The Hillary Clinton Juggernaut Courts Wall Street and Neocons

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

She’s sailing, pretty much unopposed, to the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and, if current polls are any indication, to the White House in 2017. The latest poll, from Quinnipiac, finds that Clinton leads Elizabeth Warren by 58-11 percent, with Joe Biden at 9 percent. And matched against would-be challengers on the Republican side, including Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan, Clinton leads each by seven to nine points, and her favorability rating (“likable enough”?) is 48-43 percent positive.

The Clinton-vs.-GOP numbers are likely to tighten as a candidate emerges from the pack, and as the Republican party’s avalanche of negative ads gains momentum: Benghazi! That 1975 rape case! Umm, and what about that Whitewater/Vince Foster thing? But none of that is likely to stick, and she’s by far the strongest candidate as the presidential season gets underway. But, as a series of recent articles underscores, Clinton is the quintessential über-establishment candidate, with close ties to Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, and a passel of neoconservatives. So, just as the Tea Party is going to face the unpalatable choice in 2016 of (1) holding its nose and voting for whatever GOP establishment figure gets the nomination, (b) staying home on election day and handing a lopsided victory to Clinton or (c) bolting the party for an independent or third-party standard-bearer, liberals, the left, and progressives have the same difficult choice to make, in the other direction.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, even before the race gets started Clinton is distancing herself from an increasingly unpopular President Obama on both foreign policy and economic policy. For anyone who’s paid attention to Clinton’s political arc since 1992, however, it’s clear that she won’t run either as an Elizabeth Warren–style populist or as a peace candidate. Though her rhetoric might veer back and forth, she’s almost certain to run as one more hawkish than Obama on world affairs and as a candidate who won’t challenge Wall Street’s egregious record of criminality, reckless speculation and staunch defense of the privileges of the 1 percent.

In its important July 5 piece by Jacob Heilbrunn—called “The Next Act of the Neocons: Are Neocons Getting Ready to Ally with Hillary Clinton?”—The New York Times described how an important faction of the neoconservative movement, led by Robert Kagan and Max Boot, and including Michael McFaul, are edging their way into Clinton’s camp, where they’re likely to get a cautious welcome. (Clinton and Kagan have been close in the past, and in 2011 she appointed him to her Foreign Affairs Policy Board when she was secretary of state.) Especially if the GOP’s anti-interventionist, libertarian wing gets traction in 2016, neoconservatives are likely to flock toward Clinton. In the beginning—that is, back in the 1970s—the neoconservatives were almost all Democrats, working in the offices of right-wing Democratic senators such as Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and working for liberal, hawkishly pro-Israel media outlets. So, in a sense, they could be returning to their roots.

Parallel with its exploration of Clinton’s relationship with the neoconservatives, two days later The New York Times also examined Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. The article opens:

As its relationship with Democrats hits a historic low, Wall Street sees a solution on the horizon: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Under pressure to sound off as a populist, Clinton, Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation all maintain intimate ties to Wall Street’s biggest players, and while her spokesman told the Times that she’s committed to “reducing inequality and increasing upward mobility,” she’s hasn’t seemed willing to confront Wall Street. One Clinton backer, Bill Daley, the pro-business ex-mayor of Chicago who served as President Clinton’s secretary of commerce and then as President Obama’s White House chief of staff, told the Times:

I think there’s a potential window for Democrats to come back, but if it is one wing of the party pushing the populist line—anti-big banks, punishing people whether or not they had anything to do with the crisis—they’ll lock this crowd into a Republican alternative.

By “this crowd,” Daley—now a hedge fund manager—meant the people Obama in 2009 called “fat cats.”

Lately, of course, Clinton has rightly drawn heavy fire for claiming in an interview that she and Bill Clinton were “dead broke” in 2001, even as they reaped many tens of millions of dollars on lucrative speeches and other ventures. Way back in April 2008, The Washington Post reported that the Clintons earned $109 million between 2001 and 2008, including $30 million from best-selling books and $15 million from “an investment partnership with one of her top presidential campaign fundraisers.” More recently, on June 26, the Post reported that Bill Clinton alone earned $104.9 million for 542 paid speeches between 2001 and 2014, including nearly $20 million from Wall Street. (According to the article, Bill Clinton has earned $1.35 million from Goldman Sachs alone, speaking eight times.) Regarding Hillary Clinton, the Post reported:

Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.

The Clintons, it must be admitted, are not “Romney rich.” They’re not rich like the Koch brothers, George Soros, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers or the Internet-era billionaires such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. (Hillary Clinton’s own, rather inelegant way of making this point is to say that she and Bill are not “truly well off” and that they pay ordinary income taxes, not capital gains taxes.) But that’s not the point, really: in the end, the truly wealthy are independent and not beholden to anyone, while the Clintons are essentially 1 percent’s hired guns, well-paid servants of the ultra elite.

If Clinton runs against, say, Jeb Bush, in a dynasty vs. dynasty clash of the rich, her Wall Street ties and enormous wealth might be neutered. But if her challenger is someone like Christie or, less likely, Rand Paul, she’ll find herself having a difficult time posing as the friend of the middle class, the workers and the poor, since she’ll be by far the wealthier, better-off one. And, as the National Post reported, that ought to worry Democrats. The Washington Post, reporting on Clinton’s 1 percent status, ran a piece on June 22 titled: “Some Democrats fear Clinton’s wealth and ‘imperial image’ could be damaging in 2016.” In it, Philip Rucker reported that her “$5 million Washington home” is “appointed like an ambassador’s mansion”:

Mahogany antiques, vibrant paintings and Oriental rugs fill the rooms. French doors open onto an expertly manicured garden and a turquoise swimming pool, where Clinton recently posed for the cover of People magazine.

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And the Post added:

On her current book tour, the former secretary of state has travelled the country by private jet as she has for many of her speaking engagements since stepping down as secretary of state last year. Her fee is said to be upwards of $200,000 per speech; the exceptions tend to be black-tie charity galas, where she collects awards and catches up with friends such as designer Oscar de la Renta and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

 

Read Next: Christie’s gun control veto sparks anger in New Jersey.

What Does the Democratic Party Actually Believe?

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool)

To put it crudely, the dilemma facing the Democratic party comes down to this: Will Dems decide next time to stand with the working people, or will they stick with their big-money friends in finance and business? Some twenty years ago, Bill Clinton taught Democrats how they can have it both ways. Take Wall Street’s money—gobs of it—while promising to govern on a heart-felt agenda of “Putting People First.”

It worked, sort of, for the party. Not so much for the people. New Democrats prevailed. Old labor-liberals lost their seat at the table. Among left-wing malcontents, Bill Clinton became “slick Willie.”

Now economic adversities have blown away the Clinton legacy, which is rightly blamed for much of what happened to middle-class wage earners. New voices like senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherod Brown are demanding a new new politics—big governing reforms that really do put people first. The old New Dems are stuck with their moderation and obsolete economic doctrine that is utterly irrelevant amid the nation’s depressed circumstances.

Sooner or later I expect politics will change, because the injuries and adversities will not go away in the absence of stronger government interventions. For now, however, the Clintonites are the Democratic Party, having deliberately excluded liberal thinkers and activists from the ranks of government policymakers for two decades. Economic experts recruited by the Obama administration are more likely to have been trained at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. They do not personally share the public’s anger.

So here is the unspoken subtext for 2016 and beyond: What does the Democratic Party actually believe? Democrats argue among themselves, but try not to provoke fratricidal accusations. The question is sufficiently hot that it is no longer a subterranean discussion. The Washington Post and The New York Times are chewing on it too.

A recent Post article warned Democrats to lay off the “inequality” talk for fear of sounding like “class warfare.” Well, yes, it is. As billionaire Warren Buffett remarked, the class warfare has been underway for some years . “Our side won,” he said.

The president has made several fine speeches on the issue, but the Post says the White House has already decided to drop it. Talk specifics, but keep it cool. Robert Borosage, director of the Campaign for America’s Future, suggests this is a recipe for “passive voice populism.”

The New York Times produced a tougher piece on the Dems’ intramural debate. It described in disturbing detail how closely Hillary has relied on the financial constituency. “As Wall St. Faces Scorn, It Warms to Clinton,” the headline said. She was, after all, a senator from New York. And when she ran for president and lost in 2008, organized labor was enthusiastically on her side.

Still, Hillary Clinton is dangerously out of step with the new zeitgeist. If she already has the 2016 nomination locked up, as her campaign gremlins keep telling us, it’s hard to imagine she would desert the finance-friendly politics that supported her rise to power.

The Hillary question has many corners to it. On one hand, it could achieve the epic breakthrough of electing a woman. On the other hand, it might postpone the restoration of progressive economic polices for another four years.

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For that reason and some others, Clinton could run and lose the election. Still, many Dems see her as as the best prepared candidate and the best compromise among contending party factions. Dems do realize the need to hold onto the White House and Supreme Court appointments in order to derail the Roberts Court’s attack-happy right-wingers. Or, who knows, maybe she will decide not to run.

In other words, this dilemma will not be resolved by one election, or maybe several elections, because it is larger than individual candidates and their personal qualities. Nor is it limited to Democrats (witness the nervous breakdown of the Republican Party). We are really looking at the capture of representative democracy deformed by the deadly embrace of capitalism.

Only the people themselves can dig themselves out of this trap. My personal hunch is that Democratic office holders will not find the courage to embrace the future and the reform vision that some of their colleagues are advocating until their party feels threatened by its own constituencies. That is, the Dems need to experience more of the surprise rebellions that took down some old bulls in the GOP. If the people cannot get either major party to lead the way, maybe they will need to create a new party that will.

 

Read Next: On NSA spying, Hillary Clinton is either a fool or a liar.

A Grassroots Labor Uprising—at Your Bank?

Bank of America

(Reuters/Fred Prouser)

You might think the Great Recession taught us all a lesson about the dangers of letting market speculation, corporate oligarchy and an overheated financial system take over the global economy. And yet, even as workers and governments remain scarred from the 2008 financial disaster, Wall Street and its political cronies are already hard at work penning an international program to further deregulate the financial infrastructure. And this time, they’re targeting the inner gears of capital: the financial service sector.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) builds on the template of past free trade deals like NAFTA, but focuses on the financial service sectors, like computer technicians and bank tellers. And as service worker unions join the resistance to free trade alongside factory workers and farmers, a campaign is underway to organize Wall Street’s rank and file.

According to negotiating documents released online by Wikileaks last month, the finance section of the TISA draft reads as a wish list of deregulatory measures penned by Wall Street, and it would expand market liberalization to more than two dozen countries, including those of the European Union, Switzerland, Mexico, Israel, Turkey and Australia. Trade ministers are seeking to make it easier for financial services and other professional labor—from loan officers to security guards to data processors—to be traded like global commodities and undermine working conditions in the process.

The labor sectors covered by TISA relate to many of the services that help society run, including core public programs like healthcare, telecommunications infrastructure, the post office or municipal water systems. But one of the major aims of TISA is to “liberalize” private sectors beyond the earlier trade deals’ provisions for trades in goods and lowering of tariffs. Although financial markets are already intermeshed globally, TISA would further whittle down regulatory safeguards on transnational financial services, such as marketing of insurance, and on the labor these firms use. So the workers that process financial transactions may find their jobs increasingly digitized and “exportable”, just like bank transfers or stock trades. By further deregulating the infrastructure of wealth itself, TISA gives companies greater leeway to outsource and offshore “white collar” jobs once deemed insulated from free trade.

In response, TISA has drawn protests from both civil servants and bank clerks worldwide. They fear that while earlier waves of trade liberalization led to factory closures, deregulating the service economy could bring similar devastation to “white collar” employees.

In a joint statement of opposition, the union association Public Services International, together with various civil society, labor and rights groups, denounced the TISA’s “hyper-deregulation-and-privatization agenda” and the lack of transparency in the trade talks:

Democracy is eroded when decision-making about important sectors– such as financial services (including banking, securities trading, accounting, insurance, etc.), energy, education, healthcare, retail, shipping, telecommunications, legal services, transportation, and tourism– is transferred from citizens, local oversight boards, and local or provincial/state jurisdiction to unaccountable “trade” negotiators who have shown a clear proclivity for curtailing regulation and prioritizing corporate profits.

A unique feature in the opposition to TISA is the prominence of finance workers—the tellers, loan officers and customer service agents that conduct the daily mechanics of global commerce. They’re generally not a sector known for its alignment with anti-capitalist struggles, but UNI Global, an international service union association based in Switzerland, sees these workers as a fulcrum in financial infrastructure. Its UNI Finance division has launched the Global Finance Workers Alliance to organize for reform from within the sector.

Corporate impunity is both a labor issue and a moral issue for finance labor. They see the corruption of the big banks as reflected in the mistreatment of workers and the offshoring and displacement of service jobs, which firms can now do easily online in cheaper markets—by outsourcing to call centers, for example.

Despite some efforts by regulators to rein in the big banks since the 2008 disaster, an analysis of TISA’s financial provisions by Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland indicates that the accord would lead to a drastic erosion in the oversight and regulation of financial institutions.

One proposed provision, for example, would require that countries set financial rules in a way that would “expedite the ability of licensed insurers to offer insurance services across borders” giving massive insurance firms greater access to domestic markets, while minimizing government oversight. Another proposal would deregulate specific public finance programs, like state-run pension funds or disaster insurance. Other provisions would expand corporations’ ability to keep their data secret to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

As with previous free-trade deals, the accord would be enforced through an extralegal framework that allows corporations to challenge government regulations as virtual sovereigns, potentially undermining commercial, environmental and public health regulations.

Elise Buckle, UNI Finance global policy coordinator, tells The Nation, “The TISA regulation is really for the banks to be able to do whatever they want, to shift people around, have a kind of free flow of information, IT and people. And that’s of course [to allow] them to reduce their cost, but at the expense of human rights.”

In addition to mobilizing finance workers against the TISA and related trade deals, UNI Finance is seeking to build long-term solidarity and labor consciousness throughout the financial services industry. With the turmoil of the Great Recession and ongoing attacks on labor power such as TISA, the group believes that the conditions are right for a worker awakening in the nerve center of global capital: Wall Street.

In collaboration with Communications Workers of America, UNI is coordinating an alliance of US labor and community organizations known as the Committee for Better Banks, with the aim of campaigning nationally and globally for better working conditions and union rights for US bank workers. The coalition is organizing in solidarity with UNI Finance and finance sector unions in other countries, as part of an international effort to raise labor standards across the global financial system as a whole, and thus push back against the trend of offshoring financial jobs to squeeze labor costs.

The group’s recently published survey of the finance workforce shows that in contrast to their bosses, who have seen hefty pay hikes and bonuses following the financial collapse, frontline employees struggle with extremely low wages (more than a quarter rely on public assistance), and are constantly stressed by low job security, strenuous schedules and mass layoffs.

Sometimes the industry pressure pushes workers toward risky, perhaps unethical marketing tactics. One worker testified that her “mentally abusive” boss had created a high-pressure workplace where “they don’t care about their customers and just want them to open more products. ... As an employee, we push sales just to be able to keep our job.”

At their recent inaugural rally in Manhattan, activists with the committee highlighted the economic gulf between bank workers in the US and in countries where bank workers are unionized: in poorer countries like Tanzania and Brazil, for example, bank employees enjoy more generous health and retirement benefits, along with job security protections. Yet their American counterparts, they argued, are not only impoverished but often terrified about challenging their bosses due to fear of losing their jobs in retaliation.

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Seeding labor consciousness in such a precarious workforce is a challenge, but the committee envisions a grassroots labor uprising from within the banking sector that can press for curbs to exorbitant CEO pay, demand stronger government regulations and encourage whistleblowers to call out corruption.

“We really think the employees are at the center of the ethical transformation that banks have to do to avoid another crisis,” Buckle says.

They may never totally overturn Wall Street from within, but the workers who occupy capitalism’s underbelly are well positioned to leverage their labor power against a morally bankrupt system.

 

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How Obama Could Become the Good Jobs President and Help 21 Million Americans Join the Middle Class

Obama Light

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Last Monday, President Obama defied Republican threats to file suit against him for his use of executive orders. “If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions,” the president said, “the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill, solve a problem.”

Republican obstruction is so extreme that House Speaker John Boehner can’t even get what he wants done, much less what the country needs. House Republicans have blocked countless jobs plans, stonewalled immigration reform, stopped a hike in the minimum wage and prevented emergency unemployment benefits from even getting a vote.

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So Obama has begun to act—often belatedly and timidly in his supporters’ view. He has tempered deportation of the “dreamers,” kids born in the United States to undocumented immigrants, and promises more action on immigration. He has ordered that the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act not be enforced against gay couples. He has issued a bevy of minor common sense measures on gun control (like making it harder for the mentally ill to get a permit). His push for executive action on climate change will have real impact. And recently, he lifted the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, shaming Republican obstruction of this long overdue measure.

Republicans are simply drinking the Kool-Aid if they think they can make Obama’s initiatives an issue in the fall elections. Americans want action, not more dysfunction.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

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