A WIN FOR VOTING RIGHTS: On June 17, the Supreme Court handed down a 7–2 opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently called the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” So it was surprising to see him take the lead in a decision that helps protect voting rights.
The ruling, in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, goes back to 2004, when Arizona approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that required proof of citizenship to register to vote. The law had a chilling effect: 31,000 people had their registration forms rejected after its enactment, and the percentage of voters enrolled through registration drives in Maricopa County fell from 24 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in 2007.
Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the proof-of-citizenship requirement after finding that it infringed on the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Under the NVRA, those using a federal form to register must already affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Some 28 million people used the form to register in 2008. Arizona’s law infringed on the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. (According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to proof of citizenship documentation.”)
The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Ninth Circuit ruling has broader significance. First, conservatives like Scalia, who have been skeptical of congressional precedent, affirmed that Congress does indeed play an important role in determining the rules for federal elections. Second, Arizona had been the model for proof-of-citizenship laws more recently adopted in states like Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. The ruling could serve as a deterrent for states that are considering making it harder for potential voters to register. ARI BERMAN
THE US MEDIA: OUT OF STEP ON SYRIA It was heartening to hear President Obama making dovish sounds regarding Syria when he went on Charlie Rose on June 17, just days after charging the Bashar al-Assad regime with using chemical agents against its foes and promising to supply the rebels with US weapons. One has to wonder if Obama has returned to heeding the American people on this issue after his dalliance with the many hawks in Congress and in his own administration.
The media, particularly broadcast and cable TV, have overwhelmingly featured Democrats backing Obama’s decision to send weapons, with hawkish Republicans pushing for even stronger action and the critics of intervention given little face time. McClatchy stood alone in questioning the White House’s evidence on Assad’s use of chemical weapons. And despite earlier polls showing Americans’ opposition to involvement in Syria, hawks cried that the news of chemical agents would be a game changer.
But on the day of Obama’s TV appearance, a new Pew survey found that seven out of ten Americans still oppose arming the rebels, mainly because they correctly realize (by 60 percent) that this ragtag bunch—including many jihadists and Al Qaeda backers—might be no better than the current regime. And for once, those views differed little among Democrats, Republicans and independents: few support another intervention in that region.
Meanwhile, a Gallup poll found that 54 percent were opposed to arming the rebels, with only 37 percent in favor. The Gallup poll framed it more as supporting or opposing Obama’s decision, which accounts for more Democrats backing the idea. GREG MITCHELL
BRAZIL TO FIFA: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH When I traveled to Brazil last fall to investigate preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, it became painfully clear that the social disruption caused by hosting two mega-events in rapid succession would be profound. Activists agreed that the spending priorities—for stadiums, security and the attendant infrastructure—were monstrous given the health and education needs of Brazilians. Everyone agreed that the resulting deficits would be balanced on the backs of workers and the poor. What people disagreed on was whether anyone would do anything about it.
Most said Brazilians had become too apathetic. After an unprecedented decade of economic growth, people were too content to protest. The ruling Workers Party was generally popular, and it was predicted that as soon as the countdown to the World Cup began, all anger would be washed away in a sea of green, yellow and blue flags bearing Brazil’s motto, “Order and Progress.”
Yet in June, the unrest simmering just beneath the surface suddenly exploded. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in at least ten cities. The financial capital of São Paulo was brought to a standstill. The political capital, Brasília, saw protesters climb onto the roof of the National Congress. In Rio, several thousand marched on legendary Maracanã Stadium, the epicenter of the 2016 Summer Olympics, at the start of the Confederations Cup. As fans cheered inside, there were gassings and beatings by police outside.
Numerous factors have driven people into the streets, but the catalyst was a 20-cent fare hike for public transportation, the “latest little insult,” in the words of Chris Gaffney, a visiting professor at Rio’s Federal Fluminense University, who says the phenomenon is “linked to the spending for the mega-events but also reflects a larger dissatisfaction with the state of the country. The government is corrupt, the police incompetent, the roads and services and schools and healthcare atrocious…and this [is the state of services] for the middle class!”
Demonstrators have held up posters reading “We need money for hospitals and education” and “FIFA, give us our money back.” The protests have found expression among the Brazilian diaspora throughout the world. Over 300 people marched in New York City on June 17, with signs that read “Olympics: $33 billion. World Cup: $26 billion. Minimum wage: $674 [about $320 a month in US dollars]. Do you still think it’s about 20 cents?” There have also been protests reported in France, Ireland and Canada.
This isn’t a movement against sports, but against the use of sports as a neoliberal Trojan horse. It’s a movement against sports as a cudgel of austerity. It’s a movement that demands our support. DAVE ZIRIN