When Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released its report on “The Worst Governors in America” last summer, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was not even on the list. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did make the “cronyism, mismanagement, nepotism, self-enrichment” list, but the review of his tenure was not necessarily the most scathing in CREW’s assessment of Republicans and Democrats who had gone astray. And Ohio Governor John Kasich was ranked as nothing more than a “sideshow.”
Now Christie is busy answering questions about blocked traffic, misdirected Sandy aid and political misdeeds. Walker’s facing national and state scrutiny of secret e-mails and illegal campaign operations so intense that even Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace interrupted him to say, “But sir, you’re not answering my question.” And Kasich is scrambling to deal with a “Frackgate” controversy touched off by the exposure of a public-relations scheme—apparently developed by his administration, Halliburton and oil and gas industry lobbyists—to “proactively open state park and forest land” for fracking.
The scandals surrounding these prominent Republican governors, some of them potential presidential contenders, are serious. And they raise the question: Could there really be a governor who is more controversial? And whose actions might be even more troubling?
The first-term governor packed his administration with lobbyists and used his office to promote their environmental-deregulation agenda, and allegedly went so far as to fire a state employee who testified in favor of policies the administration opposed.
Gov. LePage also attempted to gut his state’s open records act, and is under investigation by the federal government for trying to bully employees of the state Department of Labor into deciding more cases in favor of business.
Now, the federal investigation has been completed, and LePage is still very much in the “worst governor” competition. A report from the US Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor General concluded that LePage and his appointees meddled with the process by which unemployment claims are reviewed—apparently with an eye toward advantaging employers and disadvantaging the jobless.
When the governor and his appointees pressured officials who consider appeals from Mainers seeking unemployment benefits, the federal investigation concluded, they acted with “what could be perceived as a bias toward employers.” Specifically, the investigators determined, “hearing officers could have interpreted the expectations communicated by the Governor…as pressure to be more sympathetic to employers.”
The headlines from Maine newspapers Thursday were blunt:
In the Maine legislature, there were immediate calls for hearings into the governor's actions. State Senator John Patrick, a Democrat who chairs the Legislature’s Labor Committee, said, "After this, I wonder how you can trust the governor to move forward fairly and in an unbiased way." Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, a veteran Democratic legislator, went further, suggesting that LePage should be removed from office. “I think he should be impeached,” said Jackson. “The governor thinks he should be the next [Wisconsin Governor] Scott Walker, but he should be thinking about being the next [impeached Illinois Governor] Rod Blagojevich.”
Bombastic as ever, LePage on Saturday responded to the impeachment talk by declaring "if (Jackson) has cause, bring it on."
But Mainers were unimpressed.
The "It's Time for Paul LePage to Resign" petition circulated by state Representative Diane Russell, a Portland Democrat, had attracted almost 20,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
For his part, LePage was complaining that he was targeted unfairly by the Obama administration. But the investigation into LePage’s actions go back almost a year and has deep roots in Maine, as noted by the state's Sun Journal newspaper in a front-page story Thursday:
An April 11 Sun Journal investigation cited sources who said the governor had summoned DOL employees to a mandatory luncheon at the Blaine House on March 21 and scolded them for finding too many unemployment-benefit appeals cases in favor of workers. They were told they were doing their jobs poorly, sources said. Afterward, they told the Sun Journal they felt abused, harassed and bullied by the governor.
Emails released under a Freedom of Access Act request echoed complaints made to the Sun Journal by the hearing officers who attended the meeting.
LePage denied the charges and claimed his communications with the hearing officers were “cordial.” When the US Department of Labor investigation was launched—because hearing officers are paid with federal funds and must follow federal rules—the governor denied it was going on.
But there is no denying now that LePage has been called out for creating what reasonable people would interpret as an unfair “bias” against the jobless in a state that has a significantly higher unemployment rate than its northern New England neighbors New Hampshire and Vermont.
LePage is expected to seek re-election this year. Among the candidates he will face is Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, a third-generation paper mill worker who says, “I understand what people are going through, the hard times that they are facing. Whether or not they have a job today or tomorrow, the uncertainty is real.”
Providing a fair process for reviewing unemployment claims helps to address that uncertainty. Infusing bias into the process is not just wrong, it’s cruel. And that cruelty—as much as any political abuse or ethical excess—provides a vital measure for assessing the worst of the worst governors.
Read Next: John Nichols on the Governor Scott Walker investigation
Sometime during the night of February 11 or the early morning of February 12, an unknown intruder or intruders broke into a downtown DC business office, tried to open a file cabinet, but took nothing—and left. This normally would be unremarkable, except the office belonged to an organization that gave government whistleblowers both protection and a public platform. And it wasn’t the first time such an odd crime occurred at an organization like this.
The break-in, which was first reported by Newsweek, occurred at the Project on Government Oversight, which for thirty years has been exposing government corruption, often via whistleblowers on the inside who come to the group with information.
Its highest-profile case in recent months was when POGO reported that then–Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and perhaps the department’s chief of intelligence, Michael Vickers, leaked sensitive information about the Osama bin Laden raid to the producers of Zero Dark Thirty. Panetta and Vickers faced no repercussions—but the Pentagon did open an investigation into who leaked the information to POGO.
Much of the group’s work focuses on national security and Pentagon waste, but has also focused on issues ranging from the Wall Street/government revolving door to the cozy relationship between the federal government and oil, gas and other extractive industries.
According to a police report from the First District of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, the break-in occurred sometime between 7 pm on February 11, when the last POGO worker went home, and 7 am on February 12, when the office opened.
The intruder or intruders gained entry by “prying open the entry door,” according to the report, and “once inside they attempted to pry open a file cabinet but were unsuccessful.” In the box on the incident report labeled “Is event related to occupation?” the responding officer wrote “yes,” meaning that the break-in is believed to be related to POGO’s work.
POGO’s Joe Newman told The Nation that the file cabinet in question contained accounting information and other “mundane” paperwork, and nothing related to POGO investigations. He said that POGO employees inventoried their files after the break-in, and that “there’s nothing missing that we’re aware of.” Newman said that POGO feels it has good security measures in place, but will now “take measures to increase security.”
Newman noted that several valuable items, like laptops and computer monitors, were out in the open but were not taken. He also said there were no other break-ins reported that night in the larger office building where POGO resides.
He did note, however, that it wasn’t the first time something like this happened at POGO. In 1999, when the office was in a different location, employees were called to the office overnight after the front door was opened and the alarm went off. In 1993, someone broke into POGO at yet another location and “it was clear that they were looking for something, in the sense there were files spread out all over the place,” said Newman.
And incidents like this are not limited to just POGO. When Newsweek broke the news of the POGO break-in, it also disclosed a previously unreported 2011 break-in at the Government Accountability Project, a similar whistleblower group that has recently lent support to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Six computers were stolen in that incident; two belonged to GAP’s national security attorneys and one to its legal director, according to Newsweek.
Jesselyn Radack, GAP’s national security & human rights director and a legal adviser to Snowden, tweeted earlier this week that the 2011 break-in came at the height of the Thomas Drake case. Drake was an NSA whistleblower who was criminally prosecuted for his leaks, and GAP defended him.
A similar, little noticed break-in occurred last summer at a Dallas law firm representing a high-profile State Department whistleblower, Aurelia Fedenisn, who accused the department and its contractors of illicit drug use, sexual crimes and harassment.
Burglars, who were caught on camera but never identified nor apprehended, punched a whole in the wall of an office adjacent to the law firm and then stole three computers, as well as breaking into file cabinets. Silver bars and video equipment, among other valuables, were left untouched. No other offices in the large building in Dallas were broken into.
Naturally, these could all be random incidents with no relation to the respective organizations’ work. And even if that was the motive, these could easily be unrelated incidents. But no doubt it has whistleblower groups concerned.
“I can’t speculate on [motive],” POGO’s Newman told The Nation when asked if the break-in could have been motivated by a desire to gain sensitive information, or intimidate whistleblowers by giving the impression of an unsecure advocacy group. “But it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility,” Newman added. “The kind of work we do puts us in a place where we’re doing investigations into sensitive areas. There are certainly people out there who would like to know what we’re working on, or to see what we’ve got on them.”
Potential whistleblowers shouldn’t be concerned about POGO’s security measures, he added. “We’re going to continue to safeguard our work. If it was something that was meant to intimidate us, to intimidate potential whistleblowers—we’ve been around the block for thirty years. We’re not going to be intimidated, for sure.”
Read Next: Robert Scheer on two of the most famous whistleblowers, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.
This article was originally published in the student-run Yale Daily News.
This past weekend, the two highest university bodies on investor action met to formally discuss the possibility of Yale’s divestment from fossil fuels.
The Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), which is made up of eight professors, students and alumni and evaluates ethical issues surrounding the university’s investments, raised the arguments for and against divestment before the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility on Saturday in a confidential meeting. The ACIR was charged with recommending whether or not Yale should restrict its investments in fossil fuel companies. Though the results of the meeting have not been released, the CCIR has the final authority to direct the Yale Investments Office on the issue of divestment and is expected to present a decision soon.
“I know that [the trustees] take Yale’s leadership around climate change seriously,” said Yonatan Landau SOM ’15, a member of the student divestment advocacy group Fossil Free Yale. “With continued support from the broader Yale community, I hope they will see that they can safely take a major step forward in leading the world away from disastrous climate change.”
Landau said he knows Yale Corporation members are aware of a 2013 study published by the University of Oxford demonstrating that divestment campaigns have the potential to impact fossil fuel companies and government legislation.
Last month, Fossil Free Yale, the student group that has led the charge for divestment on campus in recent months, presented its case to members of the ACIR. During that meeting, ACIR chair and Yale Law School professor Jonathan Macey said Fossil Free Yale and the ACIR would work together to send letters to companies involved in manufacturing fossil fuels and ask them to disclose the environmental impact of their activities.
In a campus-wide referendum held in November 2013 by the Yale College Council that saw responses from over half of the undergraduate population, 83 percent of voters favored divestment.
The three members of the CCIR—Neal Leonard Keny-Guyer SOM ’82, Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85 and Paul Joskow GRD ’72—could not be reached for comment. Macey also could not be reached for comment.
While University President Peter Salovey said corporation discussions are confidential, he added that the conversation between the ACIR and the CCIR this weekend was “robust” and that both committees are dedicated to the principles described in the “Ethical Investor”—a 1972 book that describes Yale’s ethical investing guidelines.
In the meantime, Gabe Rissman ’16, the policy coordinator of Fossil Free Yale, said the ACIR is working on a letter to companies asking them to release data on the emissions they generate relative to their energy production. Knowledge of this figure could give Yale an empirical estimate of each company’s impact on the climate, members of Fossil Free Yale said last month. Of the 200 largest coal, oil and gas companies, only 10 percent already report the metric.
The group hopes the university will decide to divest from the companies that do not comply with the disclosure request, Gabe Levine ’14, another Fossil Free Yale member, said last month.
In January 2014, the Yale College Council said it was engaging senior Yale administrators in the discussion over fossil fuel divestment.
Read Next: Get caught up with the latest roundup of student activism from across the country.
Governor Christie would dearly love for Bridgegate to go away, but that’s not happening any time soon. If you haven’t been following the story lately, the scandal is unfolding quietly, mostly behind the scenes, and it’s gaining momentum.
Perhaps most importantly, the US attorney Paul Fishman—who, unlike his predecessor, Chris Christie, doesn’t hold constant news conferences and leak information to any and all—has expanded his inquiry beyond its initial focus, which was an investigation of charges by Hoboken’s mayor, Dawn Zimmer, that New Jersey’s lieutenant governor had threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy recovery aid unless Zimmer backed a development project in her city that was supported by Christie. Now, according to Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, the US attorney’s office in Newark reached out to Sokolich for a meeting, and the mayor did indeed go down to Newark to talk to the federal prosecutors.
So, not only is the joint legislative committee expanding its investigation beyond Bridgegate to include a wider look at Christie’s role in unrelated actions, such as the decision in 2011 to shut down a multibillion-dollar Hudson River transit tunnel project and Christie’s involvement with the Port Authority’s vast patronage machine. Now the federal prosecutors are looking beyond Hoboken to the George Washington Bridge lane closing issue, too. As Bill Clinton found out with the Kenneth Starr investigation—which started with Whitewater but ended up with Monica Lewinsky—once the feds start looking into your affairs, they don’t stop.
Christie, appearing on New Jersey’s 101.5 radio program, Ask the Governor, last night, downplayed the whole thing:
“You folks [the media] are the only people at the moment who are asking me about this. … We’re going through an internal investigation [and] I’m not going to give into the hysteria. I am no longer going to speculate on things I don’t know about.”
Christie got some support from an unusual ally, namely, Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas and Tea Party icon who’s a rival for the 2016 presidential nomination:
“I think the whole Bridgegate thing is nonsense. I think it’s an example of the media piling on. Apparently the most important thing in the country is that there was some traffic in New Jersey.”
But it’s not just the media piling on. So is the US attorney, it appears, and the state legislature—despite Republican opposition—is continuing its probe. Today they released more, unredacted e-mails from David Wildstein of the Port Authority and Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, which—though they shed no new light on whether Christie knew or didn’t know about the lane closures—make for some interesting reading. (You can read the e-mails, in full, at the committee’s web site.)
Meanwhile, on the Port Authority front, it’s beginning to look worse and worse for David Samson, the PA chairman and one of Christie’s key allies. (You can read earlier installments from Christie Watch on the PA issue here and here.) Calls have come from various quarters for Samson to resign, not just because of his possible involvement in Bridgegate but because he’s used the PA as a piggybank for his law firm’s involvement in PA projects. Now, in an interview with the New York Daily News, the PA’s executive director, Patrick Foye, said in so many words that it’s time for Samson to go. Asked by the News whether Samson “has the moral authority to run the Port Authority” Foye said, “No.” He added: “I am not going to elaborate, but that’s my view.” Foye also called the lane closures last September “aberrational and immoral.”
Read Next: Christie Watch on David Samson’s web of connections at the Port Authority.
The Russian threats, bluster, troop mobilizations and pledges to throw their support to the ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine—who, delusional to the end, still asserts that he’s president despite a revolution in the streets that’s plain to see—are worrying, and ominous. Yanukovych, who has blood on his hands from the massacre of protesters in Kiev, will never, ever again have a role in Ukrainian politics.
And it’s also ominous that both Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO have talked about NATO’s role in Russia’s periphery yesterday. With exquisitely bad timing, while meeting the Georgia’s prime minister, Kerry said, “We stand by the Bucharest decision and all subsequent decisions that Georgia will become a member of NATO.” And NATO’s secretary-general, whose organization ought to have nothing whatsoever to say about Ukraine, said yesterday: “Ukraine is a close and long-standing partner to NATO. And NATO is a sincere friend of Ukraine. We stand ready to continue assisting Ukraine in its democratic reforms.” Needless to say, Ukraine doesn’t need NATO to help build a democracy.
But an important news analysis in The Los Angeles Times notes that Russia gave NATO advance notice of its military maneuvers near Ukraine, and it says that in the end Russia, the European Union and the United States may be able to reach an accommodation over Ukraine’s future:
Those ominous events, however, may obscure what is largely a meeting of minds among Russian President Vladimir Putin, European Union officials, the White House and more pragmatic elements of Ukraine’s new leadership.
The [military maneuvers were] apparently intended to impress on the new Kiev leadership that it should keep in mind the interests of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority. However, Moscow’s heads-up to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization quietly underscored the Putin administration’s repeated assurances that it has no intention of interfering in Ukraine’s domestic crisis, much less sending troops or encouraging secession.
As I reported earlier this week, apocalyptic scenarios for Ukraine remain unlikely.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who played a ruthless game of chess to protect Russia’s interests there, ought to know when it’s time to admit that he’s been checkmated. The game’s over, Vlad.
Sans Russian direct interventions—that is, without Moscow’s military intervention, which would be not only hopeless but catastrophically misguided—and without Russian covert support for pro-Russian guerrilla actions, including in Crimea, there’s a chance that Ukrainians can resolve their problems without generating a US-Russian, Cold War–like crisis.
And the Obama administration and the Europeans, who apparently didn’t foresee the revolution—at the last minute, last week, they were still negotiating a deal to organize early presidential elections to resolve the political crisis—it’s time to avoid pressing their advantage. To calm the crisis, the United States ought to acknowledge right away that it has no plans, ever, to include Ukraine in NATO. That would be easier to say if Russia hadn’t decided to exacerbate the crisis by pledging support for Yanukovich and ordering military exercises along the Ukrainian border.
As The New York Times reported:
Eight hundred miles away, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was ordering a surprise military exercise of ground and air forces on Ukraine’s doorstep on Wednesday, adding to the tensions with Europe and the United States and underscoring his intention to keep the country in Moscow’s orbit.
Sensibly enough—but then it’s easy to be sensible when your side has come out on top—Kerry said yesterday:
We’re hoping that Russia will not see this as a sort of a continuation of the Cold War; we don’t see it that way. We do not believe this should be an East-West, Russia-United States—this is not ‘Rocky IV’.… We see this as an opportunity for Russia, the United States and others to strengthen Ukraine, help them in this transition and there’s no reason they can’t look east and west and be involved as a vital cog in the economy of all of us going forward.
That’s the ideal approach, one that Russia too ought to adopt, but so far there’s little sign that Moscow is ready to admit it’s been checkmated and move on. Were it to do so, Russia could insert itself in the various schemes being cooked up to rescue Ukraine’s collapsed economy. Already the United States is pledging a $1 billion down payment for Ukraine, and both the European Union and the IMF are readying packages. But that doesn’t mean that Russia’s own, vital economic interests in Ukraine can’t be protected, or that Russia can’t defend its legitimate interests in its neighbor—a country that is far more important to Russia than to the EU, and which has almost no interest at all for the United States.
Russia’s military movements can only backfire, and the revolt by pro-Russian forces in Crimea could easily provoke a Ukraine vs. Russia military flare-up, in which case NATO and the United States might very well get involved. In a statement not exactly couched to reduce tensions, the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, said:
I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet…. Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression.
He’s right, of course: it would be military aggression. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely.
Read Next: Nicolai N. Petro on the battle for Kiev.
Eight to nine inmates held at a US supermax prison in Colorado are on hunger strike and being forcibly fed, reports the watchdog organization Solitary Watch.
The striking prisoners are serving sentences at the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, the highest-security prison run by the federal government on US soil. At ADX, more than 400 inmates spend twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day locked alone in concrete “boxcar” cells without access to a window. A former warden once called the facility “a cleaner version of hell.”
The strike is reportedly taking place in a special ADX wing called H-Unit, which houses prisoners accused of terrorism, many of whom are under “special administrative measures” to restrict communication with the outside world. H-Unit has a history with hunger strikes and forcibly feeding prisoners. 60 Minutes reported in 2007 that there had been at least 900 instances of force-feedings at H-Unit since 2001.
Pardiss Kebriaei, an attorney who represents clients at ADX and Guantánamo Bay, wrote for The Nation last month about how ADX’s practice of solitary confiment compares with torture at the military detainment center in Cuba. Kebriaei represents Fahad Hashmi, an ADX inmate who was convicted in 2010 of supplying socks and ponchos for Al Qaeda and loaning a cell phone to a co-conspirator. She writes of his prison conditions:
For over 2,100 days, he has been alone in a space he can touch both sides of simultaneously. He has not touched another human being since 2007. While he has been at ADX for nearly three years, he has no sense of his surroundings, because all he can see of the natural world is a patch of sky through steel mesh from an outdoor “recreation” cage two to three times a week, if that. He has not set foot on anything other than concrete in over six years. The image of Fahad’s torture is not that of a person being led around an interrogation room on a dog leash, or held in a stress position with heavy-metal music blasting. It is a person sitting still in a small cell, slowly deteriorating in a modern prison on the outskirts of a small Colorado town.
A court testimony from Mahmud Aboudhalima, an H-Unit inmate convicted of conspiring in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (a charge he denies), offers another look into life at ADX. Here’s a snippet, via Solitary Watch:
Since September 11, 2001, through today, I have been in administrative detention and faced brutal and systematic mental, spiritual, and psychological cruelty. I never believed that such an unusual punishment would be extended up until today, where I have lived in a prison cell for the last ten years that is the size of a closet. I am fed like a zoo animal through a slot in the door, and manacled and chained at the hands, waist, and legs when I leave the cell.
News of the hunger strike Tuesday came as a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing to reassess the use of solitary confinement for juvenile, pregnant and mentally ill prisoners. The session was chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who called the the practice a “human rights issue we can’t ignore.”
US lawmakers heard testimony from prison officials and former inmates, including Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman and Damon Thibodeux, who spent fifteen years in solitary confinement before being exonerated for rape and murder in 2012.
Read Next: New York becomes the largest state to ban solitary confinement for inmates under 18.
Ever since President Obama announced that the Keystone XL pipeline would be in the national interest only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” the project has been scrutinized primarily on those terms. But there are other concerns to factor into an analysis of the project’s costs and benefits, particularly the local effects on communities along the pipeline route, from the tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas.
“I believe the health impacts of tar sands oil are being ignored,” Senator Barbara Boxer warned at a press conference Wednesday, where she and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called on the Obama administration to conduct a thorough review of potential public health implications of extracting, transporting and refining oil from the tar sands before making a decision about the pipeline. Although the State Department finalized the environmental assessment of the project last month, Boxer said the report “was woefully inadequate when it came to exploring human impacts of the pipeline.” (The State Department had not responded to a request for comment at press time.)
Those impacts include rising cancer rates in places like Fort Chipewyan, a First Nations community downstream from a major tar sands site in Alberta; air pollutants and carcinogens in neighborhoods where refineries will process the oil, like Port Arthur and Manchester in Texas; immediate safety risks from transporting corrosive crude; and mountains of pet coke, an oil sands’ byproduct, which are growing throughout the Midwest. Much of this risk would be born—and is already being born—by poor people of color. Port Arthur, for example, has a 26 percent poverty rate, compared to 17 percent in the rest of Texas; three-quarters of the residents are of color. Manchester, a predominantly Latino community, is already one of the most polluted neighborhoods in the country.
“Health miseries follow tar sands—from extraction to transport to refining to waste disposal,” said Boxer. “Children and families in the US have a right to know now—before any decision to approve the Keystone tar sands pipeline—how it would affect their health.”
The State Department has been criticized before by lawmakers and the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly assess the health threats posed by KXL. “We’re at a point where health issues are often glossed over,” said Danielle Droitsch, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-author of a report on the health effects of tar sands crude. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a substantial body of research into whether oil from the tar sands impacts health differently than traditional crude. “At a minimum we’re going to have to study this a little bit further. Frankly, there’s enough out there to suggest this stuff is actually worse, and that what we really need to do is transition away to cleaner sources,” Droitsch said.
The public health blindspot extends beyond KXL. The Obama administration has embraced the North American oil and gas boom without really acknowledging that extracting and refining more fossil fuels at home means increasing the immediate health risks associated. Like Keystone, an “all of the above” energy strategy should be examined for its potential climate impact, which is itself a public health threat. But there are also questions to address about environmental justice and accountability for the petrochemical corporations powering the domestic boom. Many communities—in southern Louisiana, for example—have been sacrificed for the oil economy already. Whether more are ruined is a matter of deliberate policy making, not an inevitability.
Democrats in the House are also hammering the State Department for deficiencies in its environmental review. On Tuesday, Representative Raúl Grijalva asked the Government Accountability Office to audit the conflict-of-interest procedures the State Department used when it selected a contractor to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement. Several reports suggest that Environmental Resources Management, the London-based company hired to do the study, failed to disclose relationships with TransCanada and other corporations that would benefits from tar sands development.“If this is going to be a scientific basis for a decision on the pipeline…then the credibility of that information must be without any doubt. And at this point, that doubt exists,” Grijalva said at a press conference on Tuesday. The GAO told reporters it had not yet decided whether to conduct the review, but Grijalva said he’d been told the office would pursue an inquiry.
The State Department’s inspector general announced Wednesday that its own review found no violations, but Grijalva still wants a third-party review. “The inspector general was only asked to examine whether the State Department followed its own flawed process for selecting a third-party contractor. The fact that the answer is ‘yes’ doesn’t address any outstanding concerns about the integrity of ERM’s work, the State Department’s in-house ability to evaluate its quality, or whether the process itself needs to be reformed,” Grijalva said in a statement.
Read Next: Young activists are risking arrest as they protest against Keystone XL.
On Tuesday, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State John Husted moved to restrict early-voting hours in the Buckeye State, eliminating early voting on Sundays and weekday nights. The goal, according to Husted, is “to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat and to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity in the voting process no matter which method they choose.”
Never mind that Ohio voters already had opportunities to vote easily, and that the 270 potential voter-fraud cases in the 2012 election that Husted passed on to prosecutors represented “less than five one-thousandths of 1 percent of the 5.6 million ballots cast in Ohio in the 2012 election,” according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. That’s right—less than 0.005 percent.
Husted’s decision puts the kibosh on “Souls to the Polls,” a program that for decades has brought African-American voters directly from church to early-polling sites. It’s easy to see the implications of Husted’s decree: Zachary Roth of MSNBC writes, “There’s little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56 percent of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, even though they made up just 28 percent of the county’s population.”
Meanwhile, on the more, er, democratic (you can choose whether you think “democratic” ought to be capitalized) end of Ohio’s political spectrum, State Senator Nina Turner, a Democratic candidate for Husted’s job, hosted an eminently reasonable Twitter chat about voting rights and about prospects for getting more diverse candidates elected to political office. (For a transcript, search #AskNinaTurner on Twitter.) Turner has been endorsed by Emily’s List, which co-hosted the chat.
Turner takes issue with Husted’s claim that the restricted hours will bring an equal opportunity to cast a ballot for voters in all eighty-eight counties in Ohio. “I truly believe that fairness and equality does not mean uniformity, it means understanding the diversity of the electorate,” she said, noting that the population of Ohio’s largest county (Cuyahoga) is ninety-five times greater than that of the state’s smallest (Vinton). The same rules will have different effects in different communities, and a one-size-fits-all policy—homogenization rather than accommodation—doesn’t make sense when we’re trying to diversify both the electorate and the government it elects.
Turner is a wonderful exemplar of the diversity that American citizens ought to be voting into state (and national) offices. “We have to start by electing more women who are leading intersectional lives so they bring that voice to the table in office,” she said today. “But just having those voices in the room isn’t enough.… we must elect voices who will speak up and give perspective. What good is being in the room if you do nothing with the opportunity to make real lasting change[?].… We must also work to mentor, uplift & support their (women of color) talents. So many dynamic women of color just need a nudge of support.”
And voter-ID laws and restrictions on early-voting could have a chilling effect on those voices. “Any decision [to] take away Sunday voting disproportionately harms certain demographics of voters, especially elderly & minorities,” Turner said. She points out that the electorate comprises 53 percent women and 47 percent men, so voting restrictions will, in fact, have a larger impact on women than on men—not a happy development when getting more women into government needs to be a priority. What’s more, Turner says, “[A]bout 90 percent of women change their names when married, & many change their names back if they get divorced,” making voter-ID issues much thornier for women than they are for men.
Read Next: Bhaskar Sunkara on Chokwe Lumumba.
To no one’s surprise (I hope)—after the uproar over Max Blumenthal’s Goliath—a book often critical of Israel has provoked a strong backlash and set frequent allies against one another. This time it revolves around the pro-Israel stronghold—at least under former owner Marty Peretz and before the arrival of new boss Chris Hughes—of The New Republic.
Of course, the David Horowitzs of the world had already labeled the book Genesis by John Judis as betraying hatred for Israel and even support for, yes, the Nazis. There were several developments yesterday. After Ron Radosh had attacked the book, Leon Wieseltier, a colleague of Judis at The New Republic, sent Radosh a note going even further; the note was happily published by a right-wing site. This is just one blast:
I know with certainty that Judis’ understanding of Jewish history, and of the history and nature of Zionism, is shallow, derivative, tendentious, imprecise, and sometimes risibly inaccurate—he is a tourist in this subject. Like most tourists, he sees what he came to see…. Remember Rosa Luxemburg’s letter to her friend in which she proudly announced that she had no corner of her heart for the Jews? Judis is her good disciple.
Of course, Wieseltier has proudly picked fights for other staffers before, but he is now the last of the Old Guard there.
This latest hit provoked Peter Beinart (who has been attacked himself for some of his recent musings on Israel) to tweet: “john judis is an old, dear friend of mine. don’t agree w/ him on everything but will stand w/ him when unfairly attacked.” Andrew Sullivan hit Wieseltier here. Excerpt:
These are not arguments; they are insults. And they are as disgusting as they are entirely unsurprising. A simple question: is there an editor at The New Republic capable of preventing this kind of vicious anti-collegial invective? Not when it comes to Wieseltier, it seems. Chris Hughes and Frank Foer seem to answer to him, and not the other way round.
Jacob Heilbrunn (himself a former Wieseltier colleague) does much the same at The National Interest.
The truth is that hysterical petulance is at the bottom of much of Wieseltier’s fulgurations. The contrast between the lofty principles that intellectuals such as Wieseltier purport to espouse and the childish sniping is what emerges most conspicuously in his latest fusillade. In the end, the stakes aren’t really that high and, in any case, until recent decades many Jewish intellectuals were, more often than not, indifferent to Israel (Lionel Trilling) or dubious about it. Now Judis has written a mildly critical account that is triggering a furor. That his detractors would respond so extravagantly and violently may say more about their dispositions than his.
Max Blumenthal noted in a tweet: “Judis says Museum of Jewish Heritage has reinvited him to June 1 appearance—after rescinding invite under pressure.”
Judis then replied himself in a piece at The New Republic titled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely.”
I have to admit that I found it disturbing that after reading one of these reviews, an old friend called to ask me whether in my book I really advocated the abolition of Israel. The fact is that I don’t believe in the abolition of Israel, nor in half the things that these reviewers have attributed to me.…
[M]any states, including the United States, are products of settler colonialism and conquest. There is no going back in these cases. What Israel’s early history does suggest, though, is that Palestinian Arabs have a legitimate grievance against Israelis that has never been satisfactorily addressed. It won’t be addressed by abolishing Israel—that’s not going to happen—but it can be addressed by an equitable two-state solution that gives both peoples a state and that opens the way for Israel’s reconciliation with its neighbors. If there is a lesson to Genesis—and I happen to believe that history can tell us things about the present—that’s what it is.
In an essay for Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks writes that she hates Sheryl Sandberg. Not because she has nice hair or is wealthy, but because she has urged women to “lean in” to their work. Brooks describes taking this advice, leaning in to every opportunity inside and outside the workplace, and ending up utterly exhausted and, in her words, miserable. After briefly contemplating a move to Santa Fe to make crafts for a living, she says she came to an epiphany: “Ladies,” she writes, “if we want to rule the world—or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions—we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.” She declares there has to be “a movement” and her rallying cry is thus: “Women of the world, recline!”
But targeting women with that battle cry isn’t going to bring about the transformation that she craves. The problem is that too many women already lean out—and that far too few men do the same. We need to start by asking men to recalibrate if we’re going to revolutionize the workplace.
Brooks has put her finger on something important: asking women to lean in in today’s world is a bit like asking Atlas to help you move in to a five-floor walk-up. Americans work too much, plain and simple. A Harvard Business School survey of professionals found that 94 percent work fifty hours or more a week, and nearly half put in more than sixty-five hours a week. Out of thirty-three developed countries, Americans are eleventh in how many hours they put in each year, beating out Japan, Germany and plenty of other developed peers.
We also stand out from our developed neighbors in how little time off each worker is ensured. We are the only advanced country that doesn’t guarantee every worker some paid vacation time. We are the only one out of twenty-two developed countries that doesn’t guarantee every worker a paid day off when they get sick. We one of just three countries out of 178 that doesn’t guarantee a new mother can take paid time off when her baby arrives, not to mention fathers.
Brooks also nails it when she notes that “in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out” given that they are “still expected to work that ‘second shift’ at home.” Women are no longer waiting at home with dinner cooked, house cleaned and a cocktail at hand—nearly half of all families have two working parents, and another quarter have a single working one. But someone still has to cook that dinner and clean the house, not to mention watch the kids when they’re home from school or, if they’re infants, all day long.
And that someone is still by and large a woman. Men have upped their share of the chores—they now spend seven hours a week on childcare and ten on housework, up from just two and a half and four hours, respectively, in 1965—but women still spend twice as much time with children as fathers do, and they now put in more hours on that task than the 1960s woman.
Given this contradiction—putting in more hours in the office while still doing the bulk of the work at home—many women already lean out. Nearly a quarter of married mothers don’t work so they can stay home, compared to less than 1 percent of fathers. Fewer women have been entering the labor force, in fact, because of our pathetic workplace policies. In 1990, American women’s labor force participation rate was 74 percent, which netted us a sixth-place rank among twenty-two developed countries. Two decades later, that percentage has only increased to 75.2 percent, while the other countries are at nearly 80 percent—dropping us to number seventeen.
Women are also more likely to change the arc of their careers to take children or other caregiving into account. They are more likely to go part time and cut back on hours—more than 40 percent of women with children have reduced their hours to care for someone, compared to 28 percent of fathers.
Telling women to lean out, then—not to take every opportunity, be aggressive and aim for the top—is not revolutionary. It’s what many women either choose to do or are forced to do in the face of a workplace that has yet to come to grips with the idea that workers have lives outside of the office that need tending to.
What would be revolutionary, on the other hand, would be to target men and, while women are leaning in, ask them to lean out. That would mean men cutting back on their hours, going part-time, telecommuting and otherwise adjusting their jobs to focus on things outside of work. Then they could spend even more time with children—something 46 percent wish they could do—as well as relax in a La-Z-Boy recliner, something Brooks longs for. Her movement begins with women and “bring[s] our husbands and boyfriends and male colleagues along, too,” but it needs to flow in the opposite direction. Men have to lean out before women can relax more without sacrificing something.
But we don’t just have to ask men kindly that they please stop working so much and wait for them to comply. There are policies that could reduce everyone’s work hours and make leaning out gender neutral. One small step would be to change our overtime rules so that more workers have to be paid time and a half when they put in more than forty hours a week, thus re-normalizing the nine-to-five work day. We need to pass far more paid leave policies. A much broader change, though, would be to simply cap work hours. That may sound crazy, but it’s illegal for an employer to make workers put in more than forty-eight hours a week in six of the top ten most competitive countries. Somehow, we need to make more time for children, friends and reclining chairs.
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