1. In DC, DREAMers Join the Fast
On December 1, I traveled to DC with other leaders from United We Dream–Tampa Bay. We met with our members of Congress, demanding that they lead on immigration reform for our families. We also joined the #Fast4Families. Our movement is proud to stand with Eliseo Medina, a labor leader and voice in this movement for decades, and the other leaders for a moral awakening and to send a message to Speaker Boehner to stop delaying immigration reform. As a citizen from a mixed status family, I’m fighting for my sister, who is undocumented, and my parents, who remain undocumented and haven’t seen my 24-year-old brother since they left Mexico twenty years ago.
2. In El Paso, Dream 30 Meet New Asylum-Seekers
While the Dream 30 were detained at El Paso Processing center in Texas this past October, the cases of many immigrants who had passed their credible fear interview, the first step for asylum, but still had not been released was brought to our attention. The failure to release them flies in the face of a 2009 ICE memorandum establishing that those “found to have credible fear” and who present “neither a flight risk nor danger to the community” qualify for parole. So far, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance has found more than 100 cases where detainees are being held despite meeting criteria for parole, including three cases of pregnant women detained in conditions detrimental to the health of their unborn babies and several instances of harassment based on religious or sexual identity. We are asking for a full congressional review of the facility and of local ICE officials who are not releasing detainees under the memo.
—National Immigrant Youth Alliance
3. In California, Activists Disrupt Obama, U-Lock to ICE
On November 25, Ju Hong, a University of California student and member of Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights and Education, or ASPIRE, intervened in President Obama’s immigration reform speech in San Francisco. Hong pleaded with Obama to stop the deportations, a message that ASPIRE has echoed. That same day, three young women u-locked their necks to the front gates of a detention center in the city of Adelanto. And then, on December 2, Orange County organizers held an action in front of a detention center, insisting ICE be shut down and reiterating the national call for administrative relief for all and an end to deportations.
4. Mandatory Minimums Get Tabled, for Now
The Chicago Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 is organizing to stop SB 1342 from becoming law in the State of Illinois. SB 1342 would require anyone caught with an illegal firearm to receive mandatory one-year sentencing and a felony charge. Decades of research demonstrate that laws like SB 1342 do not actually decrease gun violence or make our communities safer. This law will put more black bodies in prison at the expense of unaccountability for illicit gun sellers; our communities need good schools and good jobs, not more incarceration. On December 2, BYP 100 members joined Project NIA in an action outside Chicago’s City Hall to send a message that young black people are invested in making sure SB 1342 does not become law. SB 1342 was expected to be voted on during the December special session, but has been delayed until the upcoming spring session. BYP 100 Chicago will continue gathering petition signatures and phone-banking, focusing on key members in the Illinois State Legislature. For us, this is personal.
5. Stand Your Ground Inches Forward, Opposition Grows
In November, the Ohio House of Representatives voted to bring Stand Your Ground to Ohio. In spite of ten city council resolutions against the shoot-first law, opposition from police associations, prosecutors and legal professionals and sustained outcry from faith groups and youth, state representatives are still pushing forward with the bill. After the Ohio Student Association delivered 10,000 petition signatures with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and died-in outside the statehouse, our representatives continued to ignore the voices of Ohioans opposed to the bill. So we disrupted the vote, and are getting ready to turn up the pressure as it moves to the Senate, #unafraidtogether.
6. Youth Services International Meets a Youth Groundswell
In Florida, Dream Defenders are preparing for a long battle against a huge corporation profiting off youth incarceration: Youth Services International. In recent years, Florida has privatized the entirety of its $183 million juvenile commitment system—the country’s third largest, after only California and Texas. This means more young people in YSI prisons, boot camps and detention centers, which have a long history of abuse and negligence. Two lawsuits have just been filed against YSI, CEO James Slattery and staff at its Broward and Pembroke Pines facilities, accusing staff of physical and emotional abuse and the corporation of negligence. Despite its history, the Department of Juvenile Justice and Secretary Wansley Walters are still in the process of granting the company another contract for a facility in Miami, the third contract since a Huffington Post investigation brought the facility to light. Dream Defenders have been visiting the members of the Senate Criminal Justice and Civil Rights Subcommittee to demand that YSI be granted #NoMoreContracts in the state.
7. At GWU, the Minimum Wage Moves
With skyrocketing housing costs, too many DC residents cannot find the money to continue calling the city home on the current minimum wage, $8.25 an hour. On December 3, the DC City Council passed both the Minimum Wage Amendment Act and Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act. The legislation brings DC’s minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016, incrementally increasing every year, and ties it to the Consumer Price Index. Students from the George Washington University Roosevelt Institute have joined a coalition of community organizations, including the DC Jobs with Justice, RESPECT DC and multiple local unions, to put grassroots pressure on the council. Activists have visited council offices, filled up the hearing room meetings and organized numerous rallies. Leading up to a follow-up vote on December 17, students will continue applying pressure to the council.
—Yasemin Ayarci and Joelle Gamble
8. At Alvarez High School, Students Get a Rare Win
On November 25, the Providence Student Union’s “No More School Closings!” campaign culminated in a big win. Back in October, the Providence School Department announced a plan to close Providence’s Alvarez High School, where the Providence Student Union has a youth-led chapter. Less than an hour after we got the news, a large group of PSU members were standing together in the Providence School Board’s chambers, ready to speak out against the department’s proposal. After a month of organizing, from rallying the community, to successfully pushing the city council to pass a resolution against the closure, to packing school board meetings and more, the school board voted to keep Alvarez High School open.
—Providence Student Union
9. Free Speech at UC?
Students at the University of California–San Diego are being charged with violating the student conduct code after disrupting Chancellor Khosla’s speech at the annual Founders’ Day event. On November 15, in the lead-up to a one-day student strike in solidarity with striking campus workers, students read demands and grievances to the chancellor involving the conditions of workers, grad students and undergrads in the University of California amid growing privatization. Though this was the third consecutive Founders’ Day disruption, it was the first year with charges. In response, students have started a petition and a letter writing campaign and have planned several demonstrations, including a mock checkpoint where students are to cross the line and shut up as they symbolically have their freedom of speech taken away.
10. A Union at NYU?
After an eight-year struggle, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW and Scientists and Engineers Together/UAW reached a historic agreement with New York University in which the administration will remain neutral and respect our right to vote on union representation on December 10 and 11. A majority vote by more than 1,200 GAs, TAs and RAs would restore collective bargaining—once again making NYU the only private institution with a graduate employee union—and put us in position to have a new contract in place by the end of the academic year. Looking forward to voting “yes” to win back the Union, a group of more than 100 graduate employees from every major department across NYU and the Polytechnic Institute of NYU has endorsed the agreement, which expands the number of eligible graduate employees beyond the previous contract and includes a joint statement affirming that collective bargaining will “improve the graduate student experience” and “sustain and enhance NYU’s academic competitiveness.”
If you don’t live or work in Washington, a chronicle of staffing changes on the Beltway is about as interesting as faraway mild weather or a stranger’s dreams. In other words: not very. But Representative John Boehner announced a new hire last week whose presence in the Speaker’s office implies that immigration reform is still a viable possibility, or at least that Boehner would like it to be. That hire’s name is Becky Tallent and until last week she was the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Before that, she was an aide to two Arizonan Republicans who advocated for immigration reform—Senator John McCain and Representative Jim Kolbe. Immigration reform is a notoriously stagnant area of policy—Congress has been trying to get a bill passed since 1996 —and Tallent seems to have a reputation for getting things done. “You don’t hire Becky Tallent if what you want is someone to twiddle her thumbs and just buy you time. You hire Becky to help craft solutions and turn them into law,” Anna Navarro, a former aide to McCain, told MSNBC.
Tallent’s approach, based on an op-ed she published in The Christian Science Monitor last month, will likely be piecemeal; she’ll separately tackle border security, new visa requirements, and the status of undocumented residents already living here. “For the House to pass immigration reform, it needs an opportunity to work through its own process, moving smaller, piecemeal bills that members feel they have the opportunity to review and allow their constituents to vet,” Tallent wrote. What she does not say, of course, is that a comprehensive bill would be a political coup for Obama and that is a legacy Republican congressmen do not want to grant him. The Bipartisan Policy Center published a report in August that called for increased border security, a “rigorous” path to citizenship accessible to all undocumented immigrants, more employment-based immigration, and a regulated temporary worker program. But to advocate for these reforms separately is to risk that one or more of them not be passed at all.
A multi-step approach to immigration reform has become more widely accepted in Washington. President Obama has said that he would gladly approve of a series of smaller bills rather than a single comprehensive one. “If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like, as long as it’s actually delivering on those core values that we talk about,” the President has said.
A piecemeal approach will invite a dozen different proposals on who can stay and who must go, dictating which families can be spliced across international borders and how. Currently, Representative Eric Cantor and Representative Bob Goodlatte, both Republicans from Virginia, would like to only offer a path to citizenship to young, undocumented immigrants—so-called “Dreamers.” Representative Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado, would only offer it to those who enlist in the military. Late last month, President Obama quietly issued a memo allowing for undocumented family members of some military personnel to remain in the country. The President appears to be more frequently exercising his right to make relatively minor administrative adjustments to immigration laws, approaching reform in bits.
Yesterday, a group of protesters from the organization We Belong Together gathered on the Hill. Many of the protesters were children who had been separated from parents because of immigration issues. In 2012 alone, the group says, 152,000 children in the US had a parent deported. Two of the protesters, Javier and Angel, are 16-year-old twins and US citizens. They live in Oakland with their father and 9-year-old brother, who are also citizens, while their mother lives in Oaxaca because she’s unable to get a visa. She was detained at the border in 2011 when their family returned to California after a visit to Mexico and she’s had to stay there since. “It’s been hard on my dad,” Angel told me. He and Javier take care of their younger brother; they drop him off and pick him up from school. “He looks at us like parents,” Angel said.
There’s also Fast for Families, a coordinated hunger strike to demand a path to citizenship for all undocumented residents. (The Obamas paid hunger strikers a visit over Thanksgiving.) This morning, eight New Jersey activists lay in the snow outside the ICE detention center in Elizabeth blocking all outgoing traffic. “Don’t deport my mama,” they yelled. “Not one more.” (By 9 this morning, all protesters appear to have been arrested.) The surge of activism comes just after the release of new data from the Justice Department showing that immigration prosecutions reached an all-time high in 2013, with new cases being filed against 97,384 defendants.
Polls show that a majority of Americans want a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes all the tenets outlined by Tallent’s former employer, more border security and a path to citizenship. Advocates include business leaders (see Mark Zuckerberg’s recent immigration hackathon), who believe such a bill would be economically advantageous, and religious organizations. Perhaps a piecemeal approach will appeal to Republicans in the House, but can Tallent make it appeal to voters?
Read Next: David Mizner on why hunger strikes are erupting around the world.
The South African Constitution minces no words regarding access to medical care.
“Everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care,” the document declares, adding that: “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of each of these rights.”
At a time when the United States is engaged in an archaic debate over whether to even try and provide universal access to health care, most other countries well understand the absurdity of conditioning access to basic human needs—including access to healthcare, housing and education—on the ability to pay.
That understanding was championed by Nelson Mandela, whose life and legacy is being honored this week by President Obama, members of Congress and leaders from around the world. Fittingly, the memorials for Mandela will coincide with this week’s sixty-fifth anniversary of the adoption (on December 10, 1948) by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a document that the former South African president revered as a touchstone for nation building and governing.
Mandela, a lawyer by training and a student of constitutions, steered South Africa toward a broad understanding of human rights. When his country adopted its Constitution in 1996, he announced that “the new constitution obliges us to strive to improve the quality of life of the people. In this sense, our national consensus recognizes that there is nothing else that can justify the existence of government but to redress the centuries of unspeakable privations, by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and disease. It obliges us, too, to promote the development of independent civil society structures.”
There are many reasons to honor Mandela. And there is much to be borrowed from his legacy.
But it is absolutely vital, as we focus on this man, to recall his wise words with regard to human rights—and the role that government had in assuring access to those rights.
Mandela embraced the great vision of the twentieth-century idealists who, at the end of World War II, recognized a responsibility to address the inequality that fostered fear, hatred and totalitarianism. It was an American, Eleanor Roosevelt, who reminded Americans seventy years ago that “at all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom from want—for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war.”
President Franklin Roosevelt, with his 1941 “Four Freedoms” speech, had begun to scope out the broader definition of human rights, speaking not just of First Amendment liberties but also of a “freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.”
After her husband’s death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt carried the vision forward in her dynamic role as the first chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She oversaw the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that affirmed: “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
The declaration also held out this promise: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
When the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was celebrated in 1998, Mandela addressed the UN General Assembly.
“Born in the aftermath of the defeat of the Nazi and fascist crime against humanity, this Declaration held high the hope that all our societies would, in future, be built on the foundations of the glorious vision spelt out in each of its clauses,” said Mandela, who had in the preceding decade made the transition from prisoner to president of South Africa. “For those who had to fight for their emancipation, such as ourselves who, with your help, had to free ourselves from the criminal apartheid system, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights served as the vindication of the justice of our cause. At the same time, it constituted a challenge to us that our freedom, once achieved, should be dedicated to the implementation of the perspectives contained in the Declaration.”
Mandela accepted that challenge, and explained that it remained unmet in much of the world.
“The very right to be human is denied everyday to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty, the unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water and shelter, education, health care and a healthy environment,” he said. “The failure to achieve the vision contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finds dramatic expression in the contrast between wealth and poverty which characterizes the divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South and within individual countries in all hemispheres.”
The president of South Africa was explicit in his criticism of leaders who failed—by “acts of commission and omission”—to address civil and economic injustice.
“What I am trying to say is that all these social ills which constitute an offence against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not a pre-ordained result of the forces of nature or the product of a curse of the deities. They are the consequence of decisions which men and women take or refuse to take, all of whom will not hesitate to pledge their devoted support for the vision conveyed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he explained.
Looking to the future, Mandela concluded, “The challenge posed by the next 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the next century whose character it must help to fashion, consists in whether humanity, and especially those who will occupy positions of leadership, will have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a human world consistent with the provisions of that historic Declaration and other human rights instruments that have been adopted since 1948.”
Douglas Foster on the meaning of Mandela.
As most of you probably know by now, Seymour Hersh has written a major piece on the claims by the US (and others) that the pro-Assad forces used Sarin gas in Syria, and President Obama’s eventual response. This came after the article was turned down both by The Washington Post (which planned to publish it) and Hersh’s frequent home, The New Yorker.
Months ago I was among those strongly criticizing media coverage of what I saw as hyped, unproven (if not necessarily false) claims that nearly took us to war. After much protest from the left, and some on right (plus many MPs in the UK), Obama pulled back, somewhat mysteriously—and Assad then agreed to dismantle his arsenal. Soon Iran’s leaders were also responding favorably on nuclear inspections.
In Hersh’s view, those second thoughts by Obama were likely sparked not so much by antiwar protest, but the president realizing that he was being rolled with false or unproven intelligence by those those wanting us to bomb-bomb-bomb Syria. Hersh’s edgy investigative reporting is usually proven right, of course, but in recent years, one must admit, sometimes wrong. For myself, I’ve never claimed a belief that rebels, not the Assad forces, launched the attacks, but at a minimum the doubts about the whole tragedy—and the further deaths from our bombing and hardening of Assad and Iranian attitudes—should have precluded war.
Today, Hersh explained his findings and sourcing—and the turndowns from the Post and New Yorker—on Democracy Now! He admitted it was foolish to believe that The Washington Post would publish his piece. He stood by his reporting after Amy Goodman read the firm denials from a National Intelligence spokesman. See clips below. Hersh referred to himself as a “creepy troublemaker.”
The White House rejects the Hersh claims. Several news outlets have questioned Hersh’s (largely anonymous) sourcing and claimed that he ignores much fresh evidence. A nicely-balanced critique here from Ryan Goodman. The longest take I’ve seen is in Foreign Policy. Eliot Higgins concludes:
While Hersh rightly expresses concern about the way in which the U.S. government’s narrative of the Aug. 21 was built, significant information can be gathered from open sources about this conflict—information that he appears to be lacking. In the future, open-source information may become even more important for understanding hard-to-access conflict zones, and learning how to use it effectively should become a key skill for any investigative journalist.
Hersh later appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper.
Bob Dreyfuss explores the effects on Syrian diplomacy of the US-Iran accords.
Last week, five days after Black Friday’s Walmart strike and the day before a nationwide fast-food workers strike, President Obama delivered a speech at the Center for American Progress about economic disparity and low wages. The president didn’t mention the strikers, but his talking points weren’t so different from their rallying cries—he called for a higher minimum wage and supported the right to organize. His speech was too sweeping, too ambitious to focus on the week’s news. He spoke about Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, education and the tax code; he provided statistic after statistic about the severity of inequality in the United States. The thread that tied all these points together was “economic mobility.” (“President Speaks on Economic Mobility,” the banner of the White House website read.) The president may have been speaking to a room full of liberals, but his focus on mobility rather than inequality seemed especially marketed to conservatives. It was Obama at his campaign finest, recasting himself as the great uniter between the two parties. “The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough,” the president said, “But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or healt care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action.” Poverty, in other words, is a sad but inevitable consequence of a competitive economy—it’s “heartbreaking,” but so it goes—while mobility is essential to the American mission. Children, we can all agree, should at least be given the bootstraps by which they can pull themselves up.
The word “inequality” makes conservatives uncomfortable, as if it invokes class struggle, the 99 percent versus the 1. They much prefer “mobility,” which connotes a purely aspirational relationship to wealth and the wealthy. As Representative Paul Ryan writes on the Budget Committee’s website, “The question for policymakers is not how best to redistribute a shrinking economic pie. The focus ought to be on increasing living standards, expanding the pie of economic opportunity, and promoting upward mobility for all.” (Italics his) “Our job here is not to divide the American people,” Speaker John Boehner has said. “It’s to help every American have a fair shot at the American dream.”
The day of the president’s speech, Pew released a study, “Mobility and the Metropolis,” comparing rates of social mobility in different cities. New York City fared terribly, with a social mobility rate below that of Chicago, Los Angeles and even Newark. New York was also found to be the most economically segregated of the thirty-four cities studied (a dynamic illustrated by this map). The authors of the study argue that geographically concentrated poverty is more likely to reproduce itself and that heightened segregation is preventing upward mobility for most urban residents.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has promised to reverse economic segregation by requiring developers to create below-market housing. When de Blasio talks about mandatory inclusionary zoning, or any of the tenets of his “tale of two cities” campaign, he talks about poverty reduction rather than “mobility” and it’s this minor rhetorical difference that renders Obama a friend and de Blasio a foe in the eyes of some conservatives. In his speech last week, President Obama expressed his support for early childhood education. “I’ve also embraced an idea that I know all of you at the Center for American Progress have championed—and, by the way, Republican governors in a couple of states have championed—and that’s making high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” he said. De Blasio has promised to create an early childhood education program and to fund it by raising the income tax on families making more than $500,000 by one half of one percent. In President Obama’s telling, such programs have bipartisan appeal, but de Blasio is said to be driving wealthy New Yorkers to leave the city. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently invited the wealthiest New Yorkers to move south and evade de Blasio’s tax hikes; Tom Foley, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut, invited them north.
This is silly. Wealthy New Yorkers are not going anywhere. Stanford sociologist Cristobal Young and Princeton sociology student Charles Varner have shown that there was not a millionaire migration out of New Jersey or California after higher taxes were implemented; in both cases, taxes were higher than what de Blasio has proposed, as The Atlantic Cities recently reported.
The American narrative of immigration, hard work, and achievement is perhaps more quintessential to New York than anywhere else in the country. It’s this story that attracts strivers to “the city” even if the rents are too high. It’s this story that allows the wealthiest New Yorkers to hire ballerinas, opera singers, and professional artists as babysitters. And it’s this story that may have gotten the wealthiest New Yorkers where they are.
But the story pervading New York, as well as the rest of the country, is that of inequality. It might not be as politically expedient, but it deserves telling, too.
There has never been a political leader who understood the power of sports quite like Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s relationship to the sports world defies easy characterizations, although the sports media have certainly tried their darnedest. Sports Illustrated has a twenty-four-frame slideshow that attempts to highlight his connection to sports, where Mandela looks so angelic, you wonder why they didn’t just photoshop a halo and some wings.
The slideshow highlights events such as Mandela’s embrace of Francois Pienaar after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, immortalized in the film Invictus. They show him raising the FIFA World Cup Trophy after learning that South Africa would host the 2010 games. They display this political giant posing happily with political and moral Lilliputians like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods and Don King.
The photo shoot ends with Mandela’s last public appearance, smiling and waving, being driven out onto the field during the 2010 World Cup. Mandela truly lived and believed his own words: “Sport has the power to change the world it has the power to inspire It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
Yet the Sports Illustrated slideshow, as well as that quote, articulates only a part of the story. Like so many of the Mandela tributes, they just tell the tale of the great conciliator, the man with the beatific smile who went to prison for twenty-seven years and emerged believing that “people learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
There was another Mandela whose political relationship to the sports world was far more controversial and confrontational. From behind those unforgiving bars on Robben Island prison, Mandela supported the exclusion of South Africa’s whites-only teams from international competition. He rejoiced when South Africa’s vaunted national rugby union squad Springbok took the field in New Zealand, only to be protested at every turn. This included at one match seeing 350 protesters pull down a section of stadium fence and occupying the pitch.
Mandela strongly believed in the movement of black Americans such as John Carlos, Lee Evans and Tommie Smith to organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in protest of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to readmit apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia to the games. While behind bars, the former amateur boxer also avidly followed the battles inside and outside the ring of Muhammad Ali, even making sure his pipeline to the outside included news about the boxer’s exploits. As he said, “Ali’s struggle made him an international hero. His stand against racism and war could not be kept outside the prison walls.”
The move by Mandela from resistance to reconciliation in politics following his release from prison can also be seen in the sports world tributes after his death. The most telling testimonial was from FIFA leader Sepp Blatter. Blatter said he and Mandela ”shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football to unite people in peace and friendship.” He called Mandela a “dear friend” and ”probably one of the greatest humanists of our time” and ordered the flags at FIFA’s headquarters to be flown at half mast as well as calling for a minute’s silence before the next round of international matches.
Sepp Blatter has a horrible record on every conceivable issue of human rights and social justice, not the least of which is confronting the growing racism in international soccer. Despite the presence of racist fan clubs, fascist-saluting players and athletes of color who walk off the field in protest, Blatter has for years maintained a studied silence. When he finally did start to speak out, he said bigotry could be cured with a handshake, saying, “There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that. He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen.” Blatter also has maintained silence about Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian national soccer team, though the Palestinian cause was something that Mandela believed in deeply throughout his life.
We need to ask how a man like Mandela could actually be friends with a reptile like Blatter. The answer lies once again in Mandela’s uses of sports. Just as he saw it as a tool of resistance and a tool of reconciliation, he saw winning the 2010 World Cup as a way to rebrand his country as a regional power and further open it up for neoliberal investment. I visited South Africa before the 2010 World Cup and with my own eyes saw massive “zones” around the stadiums where the poor—invariably black—could not venture. I met street vendors who had their stalls taken down because they were not branded by FIFA as “official.” I met public workers who would be among the 1.3 million who would be going on strike when the Olympics ended. I met human rights activists fearful about the expansion of police powers, with officers patrolling poor neighborhoods and harassing the social movements to ensure their docility during the Cup. I spoke to so many who said variations of, “We have moved form racial apartheid to a system of economic apartheid.” Opening the country to foreign investment is a goal of every government, but as Mandela knew all too well, multnationals would not come to Jo-burg without wanting a pound of flesh in return.
There are two traditions in sports, one is the tradition of Muhammad Ali and the other is the tradition of Sepp Blatter. One is the tradition of joy and personal liberation. The other is the tradition of neoliberal plunder. Nelson Mandela was comfortable traversing on both sides of this tradition. He believed, we should have no doubt, that he had no choice but to play both sides for the greater good. Whether this approach achieved a “greater good” demands serious discussion, not just so we can understand the past but so we can strategize for a more just future.
Ilyse Hogue looks at Mandela’s support of feminism.
While the overall unemployment rate is falling, it has remained stubbornly high for the long-term jobless, those out of work for twenty-six weeks or longer. If Congress doesn't act to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, 1.3 million of these Americans will lose their unemployment benefits before the end of the year. Another 850,000 will be cut off by March, 2014.
Join The Nation and Daily Kos in calling on Congress not to leave the long-term unemployed out in the cold. Contact your representative now and tell them to make sure an extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is included in any budget deal.
At Think Progress, Bryce Covert details the struggles of families whose lives will be upended if Congress fails to act.
In this CNN Money Report, long-term unemployed Americans talk about the difficulties they face while they struggle to find work.
Nelson Mandela’s passing has elicited a flood of personal memories and tributes from people he touched across the world. I am one of those people. In elementary school in Dallas in the early 1980s, I was fascinated by the televised images of mock shanty-towns on US college campuses. Questions about the South African divestment campaign started me down a path that opened up a world of social justice and politically inspired change.
In 2003, I visited South Africa during the World Summit on Sustainable Development and spent weeks working alongside local organizers in townships around Johannesburg and learning about the strategies they used to thrive even under the oppressive apartheid regime. Everywhere I went, I was blown away by how powerful the women were. Vocal and forthright, they were often their communities’ spokespeople and leaders.
That experience of strong female leadership owed more than a little to the Constitution of 1996, put in place largely by Mandela. In its new Bill of Rights it listed not only race as impermissible grounds for discrimination, but “gender,” and then “sex” and then, uniquely, it also added “pregnancy.” And in case the meaning of that was not clear, the Bill of Rights went on (emphasis added):
Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right
a. to make decisions concerning reproduction
b. to security in and control over their body; and
c. not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.
This official recognition that gender equality requires embracing reproductive freedom remains a high-water mark of international law. This important commitment was foreshadowed by a bill passed months before the constitution went into effect. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy law—which replaced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world with one of the most liberal and humane—allows South African women full autonomy to decide when to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester, complete with financial assistance if required. (Abortion is also allowed within widely defined exceptions in the second trimester.) With this act, President Nelson Mandela transformed the lives of millions of South African women.
In the Jewish tradition we have a saying we repeat at every Passover Seder: “dayenu,” or “it would have been enough.” It would have been enough for Nelson Mandela to put his life on the line in 1964 in the struggle for racial equality. It would have been enough for Mandela to inspire us through his twenty-seven years in prison. It would have been enough for him to lead successful negotiations with then-President de Klerk to abolish apartheid. But once he had become his country’s first black president, instead of resting on his laurels—or resting, period—he tackled the issue of abortion, which was considered even more controversial in South Africa at the time than it was here. Why would he do this?
In his famous April 20, 1964, “Speech from the Dock,” given just before he was sentenced to life imprisonment, he offered a clue:
I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
The simple answer, then, is that he had more left to do. Mandela acted, as he always had, not out of political calculation but with laser-like moral focus. He knew that for women to have full freedom and equality, we must have autonomy over all issues pertaining to our lives, especially our reproductive destiny.
Mandela’s intimate experience with poverty and oppression showed him that reproductive freedom was intrinsically tied to economic security. Thus, this Nobel Peace Prize winner known worldwide for his pursuit of human equality chose as one of his first acts of elected leadership to cement that fundamental cornerstone of women’s equality into law.
Although a solid, consistent majority of Americans support the protections outlined in Roe v. Wade, well-funded attacks on reproductive freedom are consuming an enormous amount of time and attention in our country. So I was fascinated to see in all the press coverage of Mandela’s death how little was said about his legacy of advancing abortion rights.
It’s been mentioned primarily on women-defined blogs and press, which is important, but not enough. Major network tributes and even mainstream progressive outlets have not seen fit to mention it.
Unsurprisingly, his legacy championing women’s basic freedoms is not lost on extremists in this country hell-bent on taking them away. With their typical tone-deafness, they opine:
“Nelson Mandela has the blood of preborn children on his hands … lots of them,” wrote anti-choice blogger Jill Stanek on Saturday.
“[I]t makes no sense for pro-life Christians to praise Mandela’s example considering what he did with that power once he became president,” wrote Paul Tuns, editor of the Canadian pro-life publication The Interim.
“The organization Keep Life Legal asked the question: “What about apartheid in the womb?”
One of the first things I noticed when I joined NARAL Pro-Choice America as president was how much these extremists depend on their aggressive public vitriol to stigmatize the medical procedure of abortion and silence the majority in this country who understand that reproductive rights are vital to the freedom and self-determination that makes us Americans. The anti-choice lobby trades in hatred and fear to frighten people into avoiding the issue so they can they win by forfeit.
In attacking the moral leadership of one of the world’s most beloved freedom fighters, these zealots have once again gone too far. But their slander is not the only reason we must talk about Mandela’s contributions to women’s freedom. We must go there, because he went there. If we want to honor Nelson Mandela’s commitment to a society “in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” we only do it justice when we loudly recognize that his vision of human dignity included women’s freedom to make their own decisions about when we have children.
Tribute after tribute has unfolded with this chapter deleted, leaving all the successes and gains for South African women invisible. I am not going to bow to that pressure to hold my tongue. I will praise Mandela loudly and proudly for refusing to leave women behind. And if enough of us do so, maybe someday soon all women can be assured the respect and freedom that Mandela fought to bring to the women of South Africa.
Jessica Valenti reports on the latest legal battles over birth control.
Here’s a worrying counterpoint to the progress in US-Iran talks: the United States is seeking a major buildup of its armed presence in the Persian Gulf, including stepped-up arms sales to the countries of the Saudi Arabia–led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC is essentially an anti-Iran alliance of the Arab kleptocracies of the gulf, including the flashpoint nation of Bahrain, where a Shiite majority population has been challenging the ruling Sunni monarchy—and where the US fleet in the Persian Gulf is based.
The American strategy might not work too well, however, if Iran continues to reach out to the Sunni Arab states of the gulf seeking détente. Recently, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif toured several of those countries—but not Saudi Arabia, still sullenly hostile to Iran—seeking to improve relation with Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. (Iran already has good ties to Oman, another GCC member, and in fact Oman happily hosted secret talks between Iran and the United States in the period before the interim accord was reached in November between Iran and the P5+1.) In an important sign that Iran is genuinely seeking to better relations with the Arab states of the gulf, according to Defense News Iran has moved a squadron of air force and Revolutionary Guard warplanes off the disputed island of Abu Musa in the middle of the Persian Gulf. The island, occupied by Iran since the Shah seized it in 1971, has long been a point of contention between Iran and the UAE, and during his swing through the gulf recently Zarif told the UAE that Iran was willing to talk about resolving the standoff.
Also touring the Gulf, this weekend, however, is US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who seemed intent on bolstering the American military role in Iran’s backyard. Reported The Washington Post:
Speaking to American sailors standing at attention on the deck of the USS Ponce, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel vowed on Friday that the United States would keep a robust military presence in the Persian Gulf and build stronger ties with the region’s Arab states, even as it pursues negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
Hagel visited Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia’s armed forces violently suppressed a pro-democracy movement in 2011, and as the Post noted without irony: “Hagel appeared more interested in mollifying the monarchs than the protesters.”
In a speech that provided a detailed summary of the American military footprint in the all-important region, Hagel told the assembly of GCC defense poohbahs in what’s called the Manama Dialogue—Manama is the capital of the island nation of Bahrain—that the United States upping the ante:
“We have a ground, air and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the gulf. Going forward, the Defense Department will place even more emphasis on building the capacity of our partners in order to complement our strong military presence in the region.”
There’s plenty of money to be made for America’s military-industrial complex in the Persian Gulf, where Saudi Arabia and the other kleptocracies have ordered tens of billions of dollars worth of US military hardware.
According to The New York Times, despite the fact that the United States and Iran’s naval forces have had several eyeball-to-eyeball engagements in the Gulf lately, the U.S. military role in the region is ramping up:
As part of that longer-term effort, the number of coastal patrol ships based in Bahrain to conduct maritime security missions is set to double, to 10 ships, by next spring, from five vessels two years ago. Six Coast Guard vessels perform similar duties. Ship crews are now assigned one- and two-year tours, instead of rotating every six months.
Meanwhile, says another Defense News report, Hagel encouraged the GCC states to form a NATO-style alliance that can happily purchase integrated US-manufactured weapons systems:
Speaking at the Manama Dialogue international security conference here, Hagel encouraged GCC members to create a military alliance and said he’d like to better integrate the US missile defense systems with those of the GCC to enhance collective capabilities.
And Hagel added, in what can only be interpreted as a threat to Iran:
“The DoD will continue to maintain a strong military posture in the region. As we have withdrawn U.S. forces from Iraq, are drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, and rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific, we have honored our commitment to Gulf security by enhancing our military capabilities in the region. We’ve deployed our most advanced fighter aircraft throughout the region, including F-22s [fighters], to ensure that we can quickly respond to contingencies. Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach.”
To be sure, the Obama administration is moving forward in search of a permanent accord with Iran, and President Obama himself said over the weekend that such a deal is within reach. But rattling sabers in the Persian Gulf won’t make the accord any easier.
Read Bob Dreyfuss on the US-Iran deal.