Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  If you broadcast our audio commentaries please consider a recurring donation to Black Agenda Report.

Feed aggregator

  • Sharebar

    Yanis Varoufakis: Why the European Bank Stress Tests Have to be Phony

    Naked Capitalism - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 03:52
    Yves here. I have to admit I never focused on what turns out is a blindingly obviously reason why the European bank stress tests are an exercise in optics. Even though this website derided the US stress tests as a cheerleading exercise, and earlier criticized the Administration for failing nationalize Citigroup as FDIC chairman Sheila Bair sought to do, the US authorities were in a position to Do Something about sick banks. Consider the European case (note I consider Yanis to be too charitable toward US bank regulators, but keep in mind that he's comparing them to his home-grown version). And then you have the additional problem, which was widely discussed in 2009 to 2011 or so, that the apparent insolvency of states was the result of and bound up with the overindebtedness of European nations. Perversely, tha is almost never put front and center these days when the topic of seriously unwell European banks comes up.
    Categories: political economy

    Drilling Deeper: New Report Casts Doubt on Fracking Production Numbers

    Naked Capitalism - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 02:10
    Yves here. We've discussed the fracking bubble intermittently, particularly that many of the valuations ascribed to shale gas wells don't reflect how short their production lives really are. This report by Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog focuses on a related result from the same set of unrealistically high production assumptions: that overall fracking output forecasts are likely to prove to be high.
    Categories: political economy

    Bedouin Talks J-Dilla and the Dilla Foundation

    I Mix What I Like - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 01:13
    Bedouin Talks J-Dilla and the Dilla Foundation by Imixwhatilike! on Mixcloud

    Bob Goodwin: ‘Drug’ is a Teetering Social Concept

    Naked Capitalism - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 01:00
    Yves here. Bob Goodwin discusses how the idea of legal versus illegal drugs has become a more obviously porous barrier than it was in his youth, even given the differences in how those differences are enforced across income/racial groups. One thing that Bob may have deemed to be so obvious as to not be worth discussing is the casualness of prescribing what amount to performance-enhancing drugs to children, such as Ritalin and Adderall, along with troublingly frequent dispensing of antidepressants. Studies on safety are all short term; the idea of messing with the chemistry of developing brains, save in circumstances when the child is in acute distress, is heinous. Yet in parallel, kids have wised up and use various prescription stimulants, most notably Adderall, as study and test aids. I recall reading a New Yorker article on it at least a decade and maybe even more than a dozen years ago, on how utterly routine it was for kids in elite private schools to get these drugs prescribed, or filch their parents' supplies, and trade them among their peers. My understanding is that the use of these drugs during exams, and for some students, on an ongoing basis, is routine.
    Categories: political economy

    NYT Tried to Sell 'Pro-Growth' Candidate, but Brazilians Weren't Buying

    FAIR blog - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 17:23
    The New York Times' James Stewart made clear which side we should be rooting for in the Brazilian presidential elections: the side that lost.

    ABC's 'Middle Ground' on Climate Change: Who Knows?

    FAIR blog - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 15:31
    A more evasive kind of climate change denial isn't really a "middle ground."

    Iraq War Now Being Fought By People Who Were Just Kids When It Started

    The Intercept - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 15:07

    Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of the first American serviceman in the war against ISIS. Marine Lance Cpl. Sean Neal was killed in what was described as a “non-combat incident” in Iraq, making him the first American to die in “Operation Inherent Resolve” – America’s latest military excursion into that country.

    Cpl. Neal was only 19 years old. He would have only been eight at the outset of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and merely six on 9/11 – a child at the time of both these events.  The fact that he ended up losing his life in Iraq is on one hand tragic, and on the other completely absurd.

    The tragedy here is that a young man with a long future ahead of him ended up dying in a distant country before even reaching the age of twenty. The absurdity is that men such as him are still losing their lives as a result of still-inexplicable decisions made over a decade ago. The Iraq War never ended, but now it’s being fought by men who were just children when it started. Walter Lippman once said, “I don’t think old men ought to promote wars for young men to fight.” In our time, old men have been promoting wars that kids would ultimately end up fighting.

    This is not just the case on the American side. Most of the Iraqis who have joined up with the utopian nihilists of Islamic State are themselves young men whose upbringing occurred against the backdrop of the American occupation of their country. They grew up watching their fathers and brothers being rounded up and detained by foreign soldiers, and bore witness as their once-stable country violently went to pieces around them. As shocking as the actions of IS have been, it’s not hard to imagine why so many people who grew up in such brutal circumstances might find a movement such as this attractive.

    And again, behind their inglorious martyrdoms, are the machinations of former-Baath Party officials who once organized young Iraqis to die for the cause Arab Nationalism and who now do the same for religious extremism. The cause may be different, but in many ways the results are the same.

    In this context it is stunning to remember the statements of those who assured us over a decade ago that the war in Iraq would take “weeks rather than months” to bring to its completion. The more cautious and conservative among them gave us an absolute maximum estimate of “five months” before we could go back to normalcy, and start watching America-friendly democracies begin to bloom across the Middle East. If this prediction had been in any way honest or correct, Cpl. Sean Neal may have been sitting in a college classroom today rather than lying in a flag-draped coffin on a military flight back home. Alas, it wasn’t.

    One thing is certain however: Neal won’t be the last. Current and former American military officials are already preparing the public for a new conflict in Iraq – with scarcely suppressed and genuinely creepy elation – that they say will be “generational” and will take decades to bring to its completion.  If recent history is any guide, their prediction of decades-long conflict means we should actually be preparing ourselves for a war which is going to last perhaps for a century. That’s not derisive rhetoric; history actually seems to be pointing in just that direction.

    At the outset of the first Iraq War, in what would later become a deeply ironic statement, Christopher Hitchens predicted that war would last “something like one hundred years”. His prediction seems to have been prescient. Since the first bombs started dropping on that country in 1991, they have scarcely stopped falling since. We are 23 years into our forever war with Iraq and are already being girded for another long time-horizon before it will supposedly “end”.

    The reality of course is that this war not going to end. In all likelihood many children growing up today are going to end up fighting and dying to continue it at some point. As implausible as this may sound, it would’ve probably come across as similarly unlikely to anyone who predicted that American kids who were just eight during the invasion of Iraq would still be perishing in that country over a decade later.

    The fact that our wars are now being fought by people who were just children when they started is one of those grim, uncomfortable realities that we tend to elide in the interests of continuing on with business as usual. But, needless to say, it would be a lot fairer if the Cheneys, Rumsfelds and Frums of the world sent their own children to finish what they started instead of sending everyone else’s.

    Photo: Facebook

    The post Iraq War Now Being Fought By People Who Were Just Kids When It Started appeared first on The Intercept.

    2:00PM Water Cooler 10/27/14

    Naked Capitalism - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:58
    Today's Water Cooler: 2014 mid-terms suspense builds, Oh, Canada..., Hong Kong, ObamaCare, a new essay from Isaac Asimov. Also evil clowns.
    Categories: political economy

    On the News With Thom Hartmann: In the US, Wealth Accumulation Outpacing Income, and More

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:29

    In today's On the News segment: The US has added more than $31 trillion of household wealth since the crash of 2008, but that's not necessarily something to celebrate; many retailers have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day to draw in customers for Black Friday sales; the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustment for 2015 benefits; and more.

    TRANSCRIPT:

    Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

    You need to know this. The United States has added more than $31 trillion of household wealth since the crash of 2008, but that's not necessarily something to celebrate. According to the Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse, wealth accumulation is outpacing income, which may be a sign of upcoming economic trouble. The ratio of wealth to income is as high as it was during the Great Depression. Our rigged economy allows those at the top to hoard more riches, while at the same time, average incomes remain stagnant. The result is that middle-class wealth has actually declined during the same period. There have been two times in our recent history when the wealth to income ratio reached similar heights. Once in 1999 before the dotcom bubble, and again in 2007 before the banksters crashed our economy. According to the Credit Suisse report, the current rate of wealth gains "is a worrying signal given that abnormally high wealth income ratios have always signaled recession." In other words, the super-rich are raking in cash from a soaring stock market, and that's a really bad sign for the rest of us. Tim Yeager, the chair of the Arkansas Bankers Association, explained why we should be concerned about the wealth to income ratio. He said, "Stock market and financial industry wealth are always moving around looking for the highest returns, and [that] makes bubbles more likely." And, we know from history what happens when those financial bubbles burst. Our economy will never be stable while income and wealth inequality remains high. We need widespread prosperity that benefits more than just those at the top. Only then will we break the cycle of bubble and bust.

    In recent years, many retailers have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day to draw in customers for Black Friday sales. As huge chains like Walmart and Macy's interrupt their employees' holiday, some stores have announced that they will stay closed to give workers time to spend with their families. According to the Think Progress blog, at least six large chains will put the well-being of their employees ahead of holiday profits. Dillard's, Burlington, Nordstrom, REI, American Girl, and Costco will all remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, and allow workers to enjoy their holiday. Because the United States is the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee workers any holiday time off, employees are forced to skip family time if their employers want them on the clock. Some chains claim that their employees volunteer for holiday shifts, but for workers subjected to unstable schedules at the minimum wage, there's really not much of a choice. Thankfully, some retailers recognize that all employees deserve a day of rest, and they won't make workers choose between spending time with their families and paying their bills. Hopefully, more businesses will do the same.

    Thanks to television, we've all heard TV cops recite the Miranda warning. We know that we have the right to an attorney, and if we can't afford one, one will be provided for us. However, it looks like the state of New York hasn't been living up to the second part of that Constitutional protection. Last week, that state agreed to settle a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union, and agreed to do more to ensure that every defendant gets more than a "warm body and a law degree" when they need a public defender. The lawsuit alleges that five counties in New York gave public defenders only minutes or a few hours to prepare for cases. In addition, defendants were often left in jail for days before ever having the opportunity to speak with their attorney. The lawsuit also claims that Suffolk County didn't consult a single expert in any of the cases they defended, and Onondaga County spent 35 times more on prosecuting people as it did on defending them. The Sixth Amendment to our Constitution guarantees us the right to an attorney when we're charged with a crime, and it shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to ensure that these counties in New York State were enforcing that fundamental right.

    Last week, the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustment for 2015 benefits. Next year, seniors and disabled veterans will only see a 1.7% increase to their already-meager monthly checks. Senator Bernie Sanders observed that this is the third year in a row that the cost-of-living adjustment will be under two percent. He said, "At a time when the prices of prescription drugs and electricity are skyrocketing, I am disappointed that seniors and disabled veterans will only be getting a 1.7 percent increase next year." However, he warned that the paltry increase could be even worse. If Congress enacts the so-called chained CPI, he explained it "would be a disaster not only for the 58 million Americans who rely on Social Security, but for the nearly 4 million disabled veterans." At the beginning of this year, the average Social Security check was less than $1300 dollars a month, and chained CPI could cut benefits by more than a thousand dollars per year within two decades. As Senator Sanders explained, we need to be expanding benefits for seniors and the disabled, not cutting their checks, and we must tell our lawmakers to say "no" to chained CPI.

    And finally... Change.org is changing their family leave policy to benefit both parents. Last week, the company that allows users to create petitions announced that they are increasing the amount of paid time off an employee can take for a new child from six weeks to eighteen. Under the new policy, all parents can now take off more than three months to be with their new child, whether adopted or new-born. While many companies offer paid time off for biological mothers, very few offer an equal amount of time off for fathers, or for new adoptive parents. Jennifer Dulski, president of Change.org, said that the goal of the new policy "was to create a generous and equal leave policy that supported all parents." Families today are more diverse than ever, and it's great to see that at least one company is making sure that family leave policies are keeping up with the times.

    And that's the way it is - for the week of October 27, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

    On the News With Thom Hartmann: In the US, Wealth Accumulation Outpacing Income, and More

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:29

    In today's On the News segment: The US has added more than $31 trillion of household wealth since the crash of 2008, but that's not necessarily something to celebrate; many retailers have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day to draw in customers for Black Friday sales; the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustment for 2015 benefits; and more.

    TRANSCRIPT:

    Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

    You need to know this. The United States has added more than $31 trillion of household wealth since the crash of 2008, but that's not necessarily something to celebrate. According to the Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse, wealth accumulation is outpacing income, which may be a sign of upcoming economic trouble. The ratio of wealth to income is as high as it was during the Great Depression. Our rigged economy allows those at the top to hoard more riches, while at the same time, average incomes remain stagnant. The result is that middle-class wealth has actually declined during the same period. There have been two times in our recent history when the wealth to income ratio reached similar heights. Once in 1999 before the dotcom bubble, and again in 2007 before the banksters crashed our economy. According to the Credit Suisse report, the current rate of wealth gains "is a worrying signal given that abnormally high wealth income ratios have always signaled recession." In other words, the super-rich are raking in cash from a soaring stock market, and that's a really bad sign for the rest of us. Tim Yeager, the chair of the Arkansas Bankers Association, explained why we should be concerned about the wealth to income ratio. He said, "Stock market and financial industry wealth are always moving around looking for the highest returns, and [that] makes bubbles more likely." And, we know from history what happens when those financial bubbles burst. Our economy will never be stable while income and wealth inequality remains high. We need widespread prosperity that benefits more than just those at the top. Only then will we break the cycle of bubble and bust.

    In recent years, many retailers have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day to draw in customers for Black Friday sales. As huge chains like Walmart and Macy's interrupt their employees' holiday, some stores have announced that they will stay closed to give workers time to spend with their families. According to the Think Progress blog, at least six large chains will put the well-being of their employees ahead of holiday profits. Dillard's, Burlington, Nordstrom, REI, American Girl, and Costco will all remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, and allow workers to enjoy their holiday. Because the United States is the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee workers any holiday time off, employees are forced to skip family time if their employers want them on the clock. Some chains claim that their employees volunteer for holiday shifts, but for workers subjected to unstable schedules at the minimum wage, there's really not much of a choice. Thankfully, some retailers recognize that all employees deserve a day of rest, and they won't make workers choose between spending time with their families and paying their bills. Hopefully, more businesses will do the same.

    Thanks to television, we've all heard TV cops recite the Miranda warning. We know that we have the right to an attorney, and if we can't afford one, one will be provided for us. However, it looks like the state of New York hasn't been living up to the second part of that Constitutional protection. Last week, that state agreed to settle a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union, and agreed to do more to ensure that every defendant gets more than a "warm body and a law degree" when they need a public defender. The lawsuit alleges that five counties in New York gave public defenders only minutes or a few hours to prepare for cases. In addition, defendants were often left in jail for days before ever having the opportunity to speak with their attorney. The lawsuit also claims that Suffolk County didn't consult a single expert in any of the cases they defended, and Onondaga County spent 35 times more on prosecuting people as it did on defending them. The Sixth Amendment to our Constitution guarantees us the right to an attorney when we're charged with a crime, and it shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to ensure that these counties in New York State were enforcing that fundamental right.

    Last week, the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustment for 2015 benefits. Next year, seniors and disabled veterans will only see a 1.7% increase to their already-meager monthly checks. Senator Bernie Sanders observed that this is the third year in a row that the cost-of-living adjustment will be under two percent. He said, "At a time when the prices of prescription drugs and electricity are skyrocketing, I am disappointed that seniors and disabled veterans will only be getting a 1.7 percent increase next year." However, he warned that the paltry increase could be even worse. If Congress enacts the so-called chained CPI, he explained it "would be a disaster not only for the 58 million Americans who rely on Social Security, but for the nearly 4 million disabled veterans." At the beginning of this year, the average Social Security check was less than $1300 dollars a month, and chained CPI could cut benefits by more than a thousand dollars per year within two decades. As Senator Sanders explained, we need to be expanding benefits for seniors and the disabled, not cutting their checks, and we must tell our lawmakers to say "no" to chained CPI.

    And finally... Change.org is changing their family leave policy to benefit both parents. Last week, the company that allows users to create petitions announced that they are increasing the amount of paid time off an employee can take for a new child from six weeks to eighteen. Under the new policy, all parents can now take off more than three months to be with their new child, whether adopted or new-born. While many companies offer paid time off for biological mothers, very few offer an equal amount of time off for fathers, or for new adoptive parents. Jennifer Dulski, president of Change.org, said that the goal of the new policy "was to create a generous and equal leave policy that supported all parents." Families today are more diverse than ever, and it's great to see that at least one company is making sure that family leave policies are keeping up with the times.

    And that's the way it is - for the week of October 27, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

    Big Pharma Urges Women to Fight for Access to Harmful Pill

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:14

    (Image: Taking pill via Shutterstock)The support of readers like you got this story published - and helps Truthout stay free from corporate advertising. Can you sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation today?

    It's a sexy premise: The notion that the Food and Drug Administration, beset by deep-seated and subconscious sexism, is purposefully denying women who have problems with sexual arousal and satisfaction the medical fix they need.

    That's what a new campaign, funded by a pharmaceutical company and organizations that it supports, is charging. Called "Even the Score," the campaign has artfully co-opted feminist rhetoric like "choice" and "gender equality" to craft the idea that a medical solution to women's lack of sexual desire is being overshadowed by the medical community's focus on male sexual dysfunction, and that it's high time women's sexual pleasure gets the focus it deserves.

    The campaign website states: "We believe that women have the right to make their own informed choices concerning their sexual health; that gender equality should be the standard in access to sexual dysfunction treatments; and that the approval of safe and effective treatments for low desire should be a priority for the FDA." The pharma-funded campaign deploys dramatic statistics to highlight its point: "Even the Score" claims that 43 percent of women experience female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, and that while 26 drugs meant to tackle male sexual problems have been approved by the FDA, none have been approved for women.

    To reverse this supposed "institutional sexism," the campaign is ramping up efforts for the FDA to approve a pill, flibanserin, meant to address the umbrella category of "female sexual dysfunction." (Flibanserin is a failed antidepressant from Boehringer Ingelheim, now being pushed for treatment of female sexual disorder by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, who funds the "Even the Score" campaign).

    Efforts will intensify next week during two FDA meetings on "Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD),"  a designation included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which combines two different classifications of female sexual issues: one in which women affected by sexual problems can speak to the FDA  about their experiences and offer their thoughts on available medical technologies; and the other, a scientific workshop, intended to help address the clinical development of drug products that can treat the disorder.

    However, the premises on which the "Even the Score" campaign is grounded have been refuted by solid evidence. First, those tantalizing statistics: According to Georgetown University Medical Center's PharmedOut project, only eight products have been approved for erectile dysfunction by the FDA, and several of the 26 included in the "Even the Score" campaign are simply different dosages of the same drug. Most importantly, none of the drugs geared toward men are prescribed for lack of sexual desire - central to the problem of female sexual dysfunction - but rather for the lack of a physical response to sex.

    As for the claim that 43 percent experience sexual dysfunction: That statistic was refuted over a decade ago, with the researcher whose questionnaire originally fueled that figure stating that it has been used to exaggerate the number of women who face serious problems finding sexual pleasure.

    "The ["Even the Score"] campaign exploits women’s legitimate concerns about gender bias in medical research as it disseminates phony sexuality facts," writes the New View campaign, which was formed in 2000 "to challenge the distorted and oversimplified messages about sexuality that the pharmaceutical industry relies on to sell its new drugs." Unlike Even the Score, New View receives no industry money.

    New View and others challenge more than just the statistics. Critics question whether women's sexual problems can be understood through a purely medical lens, and with a purely medical solution.

    "There are definitely biological, medical, psychological components that are painful for women to have a satisfying sex life," says Karen Hicks, a health educator at Lehigh University and a member of the New View campaign. "Is it your relationship? Is it your past experiences? Have you been raped? Are you stressed? Do you just need to talk to your partner?  All of these things can affect desire and arousal. For some women, there are biological issues, but for many women, the issues are more ambiguous and harder to find the cause for."

    Writing nearly a decade ago in the highly respected medical journal, PLoS Medicine, psychologist Leonore Tiefer wrote that when women experience problems around sex, biology and medicine may only be a small part of the issue, and that history of sexual repression impacts the way everyone experiences sex.

    "A long history of social and political control of sexual expression created reservoirs of shame and ignorance that make it difficult for many people to understand sexual satisfaction or cope with sexual problems in rational ways." That is, a pill won’t be able to fix social and political influences that impact how we view, and have, sex.

    Thea Cacchioni, a Sociologist and Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Victoria, and a member of New View, says that the clinical trials that test drugs for female sexual dysfunction inadvertently demonstrate that good sex is about more than just the physical.

    "In every clinical trial for any sexual pharmaceutical drug for women, the placebo effect has been very high. What this tells me is that when women are given license to focus on their sex lives and time and space, when they prioritize their sex lives, their sexual enjoyment and satisfaction increases."  Rather than addressing these underlying causes and using a wide range of techniques to help improve women's sexual satisfaction, pharmaceutical companies are "selling sickness, creating disease, and saying you have the magic cure," says Hicks.

    Female "sexual dysfunction" is not the only syndrome that has been hyper-medicalized. Medical journalist Ray Moynihan, doctor Iona Heath and David Henry, professor of clinical psychology, note in the British Medical Journal that, "pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers" and that such diseases which may only affect a small percentage of the population are made to seem "widespread, serious, and treatable."

    They warn that "inappropriate medicalization carries the dangers of unnecessary labeling, poor treatment decisions, iatrogenic illness [that is, illnesses related to the medical treatment itself], and economic waste, as well as the opportunity costs that result when resources are diverted away from treating or preventing more serious disease. At a deeper level, it may help to feed unhealthy obsessions with health, obscure or mystify sociological or political explanations for health problems, and focus undue attention on pharmacological, individualized or privatized solutions."

    It's important to note that those who are critical of the medicalization of female sexual problems aren't saying that many women don't have problems engaging in and enjoying sex, or that those problems aren't serious. Many note that there may even be a medical cause for some women. Instead, they caution that understanding women's lack of sexual desire as only medical in nature neglects to acknowledge that women's sexual problems can come from a myriad of issues, be they psychological, social, and/or medical, and that women deserve to have the best science can offer.

    They worry that the over-medicalization of women's sexual problems, and industry pandering a pill as the solution, could lead to millions of women being exposed to medicine with "health hazards and side effects," as New View states - and potentially without any medical benefit.

    Above all, though, women's health advocates say that any drug that comes on the market should be held to the highest clinical standards - meaning it should be both safe and effective. And there's no evidence that flibanserin is either effective or safe.

    It's already been rejected three times by the FDA, and with good reason: it's been found to be only slightly better at increasing the frequency of "satisfying sexual events" than a placebo and comes with some significant side effects for many women. What's more, whereas male sexual enhancement drugs like Viagra are only taken at the moment they're needed, filbanserin is envisioned to be taken once a day for as long as a woman's sexual problems last - which for some, could be in perpetuity. 

    As the National Women's Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, and other consumer safety and feminist organizations wrote earlier this year in a letter to the FDA, urging them not to approve the drug, "The problem with flibanserin is not gender bias at the FDA but the drug itself."

    However, next week's FDA meeting may signal that the body is bending to industry pressure. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao notes that the FDA decided which areas to prioritize for public engagement based on public comments, which primarily came from patients, and that "FSD was identified because it is a chronic condition that affects functioning and activities of daily living and because of its complexity in finding the best ways to design clinical trials and evaluate the efficacy of potential medications."

    But Cacchioni is concerned that the meetings will be biased. She says that she and other independent experts "tried to get on the [scientific] panel," taking place on the second day of the FDA hearings, but "the FDA invited almost solely industry-sponsored experts." She also surmises that most of the women who will be able to attend the meetings to speak about female sexual disorder may be connected to the Even the Score campaign, and therefore look favorably upon a medical diagnosis and medical solution (and specifically towards flibanserin).

    There's good reason to think Cacchioni's skepticism is warranted. A memo circulated by the International Society for the Study of Women's Health, a cosponsor of the Even the Score campaign that is connected to Sprout Pharmaceuticals, notes that "funding is now available (money is from multiple sources) to help support travel and hotel costs for patients to attend the meeting."

    "It seems benevolent, that we'll hear from lay women and that their voices are represented," says Cacchioni. "But [industry will] have money that will bring in the patients who come from a particular perspective.  . . . I don't think this will be without bias. I don't think this will be an objective portrayal of the 'average woman.' " 

    Big Pharma Urges Women to Fight for Access to Harmful Pill

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:14

    (Image: Taking pill via Shutterstock)The support of readers like you got this story published - and helps Truthout stay free from corporate advertising. Can you sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation today?

    It's a sexy premise: The notion that the Food and Drug Administration, beset by deep-seated and subconscious sexism, is purposefully denying women who have problems with sexual arousal and satisfaction the medical fix they need.

    That's what a new campaign, funded by a pharmaceutical company and organizations that it supports, is charging. Called "Even the Score," the campaign has artfully co-opted feminist rhetoric like "choice" and "gender equality" to craft the idea that a medical solution to women's lack of sexual desire is being overshadowed by the medical community's focus on male sexual dysfunction, and that it's high time women's sexual pleasure gets the focus it deserves.

    The campaign website states: "We believe that women have the right to make their own informed choices concerning their sexual health; that gender equality should be the standard in access to sexual dysfunction treatments; and that the approval of safe and effective treatments for low desire should be a priority for the FDA." The pharma-funded campaign deploys dramatic statistics to highlight its point: "Even the Score" claims that 43 percent of women experience female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, and that while 26 drugs meant to tackle male sexual problems have been approved by the FDA, none have been approved for women.

    To reverse this supposed "institutional sexism," the campaign is ramping up efforts for the FDA to approve a pill, flibanserin, meant to address the umbrella category of "female sexual dysfunction." (Flibanserin is a failed antidepressant from Boehringer Ingelheim, now being pushed for treatment of female sexual disorder by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, who funds the "Even the Score" campaign).

    Efforts will intensify next week during two FDA meetings on "Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD),"  a designation included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which combines two different classifications of female sexual issues: one in which women affected by sexual problems can speak to the FDA  about their experiences and offer their thoughts on available medical technologies; and the other, a scientific workshop, intended to help address the clinical development of drug products that can treat the disorder.

    However, the premises on which the "Even the Score" campaign is grounded have been refuted by solid evidence. First, those tantalizing statistics: According to Georgetown University Medical Center's PharmedOut project, only eight products have been approved for erectile dysfunction by the FDA, and several of the 26 included in the "Even the Score" campaign are simply different dosages of the same drug. Most importantly, none of the drugs geared toward men are prescribed for lack of sexual desire - central to the problem of female sexual dysfunction - but rather for the lack of a physical response to sex.

    As for the claim that 43 percent experience sexual dysfunction: That statistic was refuted over a decade ago, with the researcher whose questionnaire originally fueled that figure stating that it has been used to exaggerate the number of women who face serious problems finding sexual pleasure.

    "The ["Even the Score"] campaign exploits women’s legitimate concerns about gender bias in medical research as it disseminates phony sexuality facts," writes the New View campaign, which was formed in 2000 "to challenge the distorted and oversimplified messages about sexuality that the pharmaceutical industry relies on to sell its new drugs." Unlike Even the Score, New View receives no industry money.

    New View and others challenge more than just the statistics. Critics question whether women's sexual problems can be understood through a purely medical lens, and with a purely medical solution.

    "There are definitely biological, medical, psychological components that are painful for women to have a satisfying sex life," says Karen Hicks, a health educator at Lehigh University and a member of the New View campaign. "Is it your relationship? Is it your past experiences? Have you been raped? Are you stressed? Do you just need to talk to your partner?  All of these things can affect desire and arousal. For some women, there are biological issues, but for many women, the issues are more ambiguous and harder to find the cause for."

    Writing nearly a decade ago in the highly respected medical journal, PLoS Medicine, psychologist Leonore Tiefer wrote that when women experience problems around sex, biology and medicine may only be a small part of the issue, and that history of sexual repression impacts the way everyone experiences sex.

    "A long history of social and political control of sexual expression created reservoirs of shame and ignorance that make it difficult for many people to understand sexual satisfaction or cope with sexual problems in rational ways." That is, a pill won’t be able to fix social and political influences that impact how we view, and have, sex.

    Thea Cacchioni, a Sociologist and Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Victoria, and a member of New View, says that the clinical trials that test drugs for female sexual dysfunction inadvertently demonstrate that good sex is about more than just the physical.

    "In every clinical trial for any sexual pharmaceutical drug for women, the placebo effect has been very high. What this tells me is that when women are given license to focus on their sex lives and time and space, when they prioritize their sex lives, their sexual enjoyment and satisfaction increases."  Rather than addressing these underlying causes and using a wide range of techniques to help improve women's sexual satisfaction, pharmaceutical companies are "selling sickness, creating disease, and saying you have the magic cure," says Hicks.

    Female "sexual dysfunction" is not the only syndrome that has been hyper-medicalized. Medical journalist Ray Moynihan, doctor Iona Heath and David Henry, professor of clinical psychology, note in the British Medical Journal that, "pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers" and that such diseases which may only affect a small percentage of the population are made to seem "widespread, serious, and treatable."

    They warn that "inappropriate medicalization carries the dangers of unnecessary labeling, poor treatment decisions, iatrogenic illness [that is, illnesses related to the medical treatment itself], and economic waste, as well as the opportunity costs that result when resources are diverted away from treating or preventing more serious disease. At a deeper level, it may help to feed unhealthy obsessions with health, obscure or mystify sociological or political explanations for health problems, and focus undue attention on pharmacological, individualized or privatized solutions."

    It's important to note that those who are critical of the medicalization of female sexual problems aren't saying that many women don't have problems engaging in and enjoying sex, or that those problems aren't serious. Many note that there may even be a medical cause for some women. Instead, they caution that understanding women's lack of sexual desire as only medical in nature neglects to acknowledge that women's sexual problems can come from a myriad of issues, be they psychological, social, and/or medical, and that women deserve to have the best science can offer.

    They worry that the over-medicalization of women's sexual problems, and industry pandering a pill as the solution, could lead to millions of women being exposed to medicine with "health hazards and side effects," as New View states - and potentially without any medical benefit.

    Above all, though, women's health advocates say that any drug that comes on the market should be held to the highest clinical standards - meaning it should be both safe and effective. And there's no evidence that flibanserin is either effective or safe.

    It's already been rejected three times by the FDA, and with good reason: it's been found to be only slightly better at increasing the frequency of "satisfying sexual events" than a placebo and comes with some significant side effects for many women. What's more, whereas male sexual enhancement drugs like Viagra are only taken at the moment they're needed, filbanserin is envisioned to be taken once a day for as long as a woman's sexual problems last - which for some, could be in perpetuity. 

    As the National Women's Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, and other consumer safety and feminist organizations wrote earlier this year in a letter to the FDA, urging them not to approve the drug, "The problem with flibanserin is not gender bias at the FDA but the drug itself."

    However, next week's FDA meeting may signal that the body is bending to industry pressure. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao notes that the FDA decided which areas to prioritize for public engagement based on public comments, which primarily came from patients, and that "FSD was identified because it is a chronic condition that affects functioning and activities of daily living and because of its complexity in finding the best ways to design clinical trials and evaluate the efficacy of potential medications."

    But Cacchioni is concerned that the meetings will be biased. She says that she and other independent experts "tried to get on the [scientific] panel," taking place on the second day of the FDA hearings, but "the FDA invited almost solely industry-sponsored experts." She also surmises that most of the women who will be able to attend the meetings to speak about female sexual disorder may be connected to the Even the Score campaign, and therefore look favorably upon a medical diagnosis and medical solution (and specifically towards flibanserin).

    There's good reason to think Cacchioni's skepticism is warranted. A memo circulated by the International Society for the Study of Women's Health, a cosponsor of the Even the Score campaign that is connected to Sprout Pharmaceuticals, notes that "funding is now available (money is from multiple sources) to help support travel and hotel costs for patients to attend the meeting."

    "It seems benevolent, that we'll hear from lay women and that their voices are represented," says Cacchioni. "But [industry will] have money that will bring in the patients who come from a particular perspective.  . . . I don't think this will be without bias. I don't think this will be an objective portrayal of the 'average woman.' " 

    Don't Let Them Silence You: Vote, Dammit

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:00

    Also see: The Fight - and the Right - to Vote

    Our country’s oldest and longest struggle has been to enlarge democracy by making it possible for more and more people to be treated equally at the polls. The right to participate in choosing our representatives - to vote - is the very right that inflamed the American colonies and marched us toward revolution and independence.

    So it’s unbelievable and frankly outrageous that in the last four years, close to half the states in this country have passed laws to make it harder for people to vote. But it’s true.

    As this country began, only white men of property could vote, but over time and with agitation and conflict, the franchise spread regardless of income, color or gender. In the seventies, we managed to lower the voting age to 18. Yet a new nationwide effort to suppress the vote, nurtured by fear and fierce resistance to inevitable demographic change, has hammered the United States.

    And this must be said, because it’s true: While it once was Democrats who used the poll tax, literacy tests and outright intimidation to keep Black people from voting, today, in state after state, it is the Republican Party working the levers of suppression. It’s as if their DNA demands it. Here’s what Paul Weyrich, one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, said back in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

    So the right has become relentless, trying every trick to keep certain people from voting. And conservative control of the Supreme Court gives them a leg up. Last year’s decision - Shelby County v. Holder - revoked an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and that has only upped the ante, encouraging many Republican state legislators to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as work further to gerrymander Congressional districts and limit voting hours and registration. In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has dealt with voting rights cases in Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio and upheld suppression in three of them, denying the vote to hundreds of thousands of Americans. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in opposition, “The greatest threat to public confidence… is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminating law.”

    The right’s rationale is that people - those people - are manipulating the system to cheat and throw elections. But rarely - meaning almost never - can they offer any proof of anyone, anywhere, showing up at the polling place and trying illegally to cast a ballot. Their argument was knocked further on its head just recently when one of the most respected conservative judges on the bench, Richard Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, wrote a blistering dissent on the legality of a Wisconsin voter ID law. “As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem,” Posner declared, “how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?”

    The real reason for the laws is to lower turnout, to hold onto power by keeping those who in opposition from exercising their solemn right - to make it hard for minorities, poor folks, and students, among others, to participate in democracy’s most cherished act.

    And you wonder why so many feel disconnected and disaffected? Forces in this country don’t want people to vote at the precise moment when turnout already is at a low, when what we really should be doing is making certain that young people are handed their voter registration card the moment they get a driver’s license, graduate from high school, arrive at college or register at Selective Service.

    In a conversation for this week’s edition of Moyers & Company, The Nation magazine’s Ari Berman put it this way: “This is an example of trying to give the most powerful people in the country, the wealthiest, the most connected people, more power. Because the more people that vote, the less power the special interests have. If you can restrict the number of people who participate, it’s a lot easier to rig the political system.” And Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, noted, “For people who don’t have the power to engage in terms of money in the political process, the way we all become equal on Election Day is that we cast that ballot… [So] it’s not just about corporate interests. It is about power.  And it is about trying to suppress the voice of those who are the most marginalized.”

    So vote, dammit. It is, as President Lyndon Johnson said when he signed the Voting Rights Act, “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” But don’t stop there. Engage, and start the conversation of democracy where you live — in your apartment complex, on your block, in your neighborhood. There is always at least one kindred spirit within reach to launch the conversation. Build on it. Like the founders, launch a Committee of Correspondence and keep it active.  Show up when your elected officials hold town meetings. Make a noise and don’t stop howling. Robert LaFollette said democracy is a life, and involves constant struggle. So be it.

    Don't Let Them Silence You: Vote, Dammit

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:00

    Also see: The Fight - and the Right - to Vote

    Our country’s oldest and longest struggle has been to enlarge democracy by making it possible for more and more people to be treated equally at the polls. The right to participate in choosing our representatives - to vote - is the very right that inflamed the American colonies and marched us toward revolution and independence.

    So it’s unbelievable and frankly outrageous that in the last four years, close to half the states in this country have passed laws to make it harder for people to vote. But it’s true.

    As this country began, only white men of property could vote, but over time and with agitation and conflict, the franchise spread regardless of income, color or gender. In the seventies, we managed to lower the voting age to 18. Yet a new nationwide effort to suppress the vote, nurtured by fear and fierce resistance to inevitable demographic change, has hammered the United States.

    And this must be said, because it’s true: While it once was Democrats who used the poll tax, literacy tests and outright intimidation to keep Black people from voting, today, in state after state, it is the Republican Party working the levers of suppression. It’s as if their DNA demands it. Here’s what Paul Weyrich, one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, said back in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

    So the right has become relentless, trying every trick to keep certain people from voting. And conservative control of the Supreme Court gives them a leg up. Last year’s decision - Shelby County v. Holder - revoked an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and that has only upped the ante, encouraging many Republican state legislators to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as work further to gerrymander Congressional districts and limit voting hours and registration. In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has dealt with voting rights cases in Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio and upheld suppression in three of them, denying the vote to hundreds of thousands of Americans. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in opposition, “The greatest threat to public confidence… is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminating law.”

    The right’s rationale is that people - those people - are manipulating the system to cheat and throw elections. But rarely - meaning almost never - can they offer any proof of anyone, anywhere, showing up at the polling place and trying illegally to cast a ballot. Their argument was knocked further on its head just recently when one of the most respected conservative judges on the bench, Richard Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, wrote a blistering dissent on the legality of a Wisconsin voter ID law. “As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem,” Posner declared, “how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?”

    The real reason for the laws is to lower turnout, to hold onto power by keeping those who in opposition from exercising their solemn right - to make it hard for minorities, poor folks, and students, among others, to participate in democracy’s most cherished act.

    And you wonder why so many feel disconnected and disaffected? Forces in this country don’t want people to vote at the precise moment when turnout already is at a low, when what we really should be doing is making certain that young people are handed their voter registration card the moment they get a driver’s license, graduate from high school, arrive at college or register at Selective Service.

    In a conversation for this week’s edition of Moyers & Company, The Nation magazine’s Ari Berman put it this way: “This is an example of trying to give the most powerful people in the country, the wealthiest, the most connected people, more power. Because the more people that vote, the less power the special interests have. If you can restrict the number of people who participate, it’s a lot easier to rig the political system.” And Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, noted, “For people who don’t have the power to engage in terms of money in the political process, the way we all become equal on Election Day is that we cast that ballot… [So] it’s not just about corporate interests. It is about power.  And it is about trying to suppress the voice of those who are the most marginalized.”

    So vote, dammit. It is, as President Lyndon Johnson said when he signed the Voting Rights Act, “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” But don’t stop there. Engage, and start the conversation of democracy where you live — in your apartment complex, on your block, in your neighborhood. There is always at least one kindred spirit within reach to launch the conversation. Build on it. Like the founders, launch a Committee of Correspondence and keep it active.  Show up when your elected officials hold town meetings. Make a noise and don’t stop howling. Robert LaFollette said democracy is a life, and involves constant struggle. So be it.

    Trust Bust

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:57

    Trust Bust

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:57

    Former Weapons Inspector in Iraq Questions Claims That Iran Hiding Nuclear Tests

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:48

    We are broadcasting from Vienna, where the six world powers leading nuclear negotiations with Iran have set a November deadline to reach a deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing Western sanctions. Earlier this month, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran is meeting its commitments under a temporary deal. But Western diplomats say Iran has refused to provide information about alleged experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon. Information on the experiments is reportedly contained in an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating, but the document itself remains unverified, and at least one member of the IAEA community has raised concerns about its authenticity. Our guest, Robert Kelley, was part of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in 2003 and says he is speaking out now because "I learned firsthand how withholding the facts can lead to bloodshed." Prior to his time in Iraq, Kelley was a nuclear weapons analyst based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

    TRANSCRIPT:

    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Vienna, Austria, where the six world powers leading nuclear negotiations with Iran have set a November deadline to reach a deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing Western sanctions. The countries, known as the P5+1, have put forward a number of ideas that recognize, quote, "Tehran’s expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program and that take into account that country’s scientific knowhow and economic needs," unquote. The Obama administration has reportedly begun promoting a possible nuclear agreement with Iran to its allies and U.S. policymakers in an effort to garner support ahead of next month’s deadline. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the Obama administration plans to fully consult Congress about ongoing negotiations with Iran.

    SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We are completely engaged in a regular series of briefings. I’ve been talking, even during the break, to senators about our thoughts with respect to the Iran negotiations, and I personally believe, as does the president, that Congress has an extremely important role to play in this, and Congress will play a role in this.

    AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, held six hours of talks here in Vienna in a bid to break an impasse in the talks. U.S. and Iranian diplomats are reportedly still negotiating the future size of Tehran’s nuclear fuel production capacity as well as the pace of the potential lifting of Western sanctions in the case of an agreement.

    According to Reuters, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, earlier this month makes clear Iran is meeting its commitments under the temporary deal. But Western diplomats say Iran has refused to provide information about alleged experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon. Information on the experiments is reportedly contained in an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating, but the document itself remains unverified, and at least one member of the IAEA community has raised concerns about its authenticity. He’s Robert Kelley. He writes, quote, "I am speaking up about this now because, as a member of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in 2003, I learned firsthand how withholding the facts can lead to bloodshed." Kelley was previously based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He’s now an associate senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI. Robert Kelley joins us here in Vienna, Austria.

    Welcome to Democracy Now!

    ROBERT KELLEY: Thank you, Amy.

    AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, talk about what’s being alleged right now. And you’re certainly someone who knows about allegations, having been—well, we use the term loosely—U.N. weapons inspector, but one of those people who, for the United Nations, went into Iraq before the U.S. invaded to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, remember, please, that I was in Iraq in 1991, as well, following up on the first war, when we had some very cooperative activities with the U.S. and with other agencies in Europe. So it goes back a long ways. And what I see is that in 1995 people tried to derail the work IAEA was doing in Iraq by producing forged documents. And they were extremely good forgeries. They spent a lot of time trying to make them look like real Iraqi documents, the problem being that they were forgeries. And at that time, the action team went to Iraq and, with the Iraqis’ help, pointed out what the problems were. When I look at the documents that were being discussed now, both IAEA’s weapons report and the leaks that have come out, they look just the same. It looks like the same pattern of forgeries. Furthermore, in 2002, we were given forgeries on aluminum tubes—well, we were given bad information on aluminum tubes, shoddy analysis, forged documents that supposedly came from Niger. It all proved not to be true. So before we jump off the cliff again, I think we ought to know if this stuff is genuine.

    AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece in 2012 for Bloomberg—

    ROBERT KELLEY: Right.

    AMY GOODMAN: —headlined "Nuclear Arms Charge Against Iran is No Slam Dunk." So, are you seeing a pattern here?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Yeah. So, there’s certainly a pattern in bad information being provided, and it’s coming from a few sources, though one really thing that bothers me at this point is that in 2002 it was the U.S. that was cheerleading to start a war, and this time around the IAEA has signed on and they’re part of this innuendo and sloppy information that looks like they are also advocating for war.

    AMY GOODMAN: Going back to 2002, 2003, how was pressure applied directly to you—what you were seeing on the ground in Iraq and then what was being told to the American people?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, there was no connection between what we were seeing, because we were told from the U.S. mission, the people that we dealt with, that they really didn’t want to hear what we had to say. And it was clear to us, as we carried out the inspections from November until March, 2002 to 2003, that nobody was listening. We were going around and saying, "We’ve solved the problem with the aluminum tubes: They’re for rockets." We find these forgeries of Iranian documents. And no one was listening. So, what I saw being presented to the American people by, say, Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N., it was completely at odds with the truth.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did Bush administration officials come to the IAEA?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Not that I’m aware of. In my position, I wouldn’t have ever dealt with Bush administration officials. But lower-level people came a few times. And, for example, in the area of the aluminum tubes, we had lots of experts who said, "These are not for gas centrifuges, nothing to do with nuclear. These are small rockets." And the person that they sent said, "Well, if you knew what I knew, then you’d know I’m right." And we got a lot of that kind of attitude from people who didn’t know what they were taking about.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, now it’s, well, more than 10 years later.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Right.

    AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what you see happening here in Vienna, the significance of these talks.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Ah, well, I—

    AMY GOODMAN: And what’s being represented.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, I think there are two things going on. The talks that are going on between Kerry, the P5+1 and Iran primarily concern the enrichment of uranium. And this is a case where the IAEA is on very solid ground. They know exactly what they’re doing. They are monitoring the facilities that are producing uranium. And I think they have an excellent handle on it. It’s what they do well. If you look at the agreement that’s going to be talked about, the weaponization is not even in that agreement. So, when people say that IAEA—I’m sorry, that Iran is not being forthcoming in discussing what they’re doing on weaponization, it’s not part of the agreement. So, those people are very poorly informed. And we see that all the time.

    AMY GOODMAN: What would be accomplished by misrepresenting what’s happening in Iran right now around nuclear—development of nuclear weapons?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, there are people who believe that Iran is a threat to the entire region, and any evidence they can develop against them is for that purpose. But I think if you’re coming back to nuclear weapons, are they actually developing nuclear weapons? It’s hard to say.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Seymour Hersh—

    ROBERT KELLEY: Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: —the investigative reporter who’s very well known. Seymour Hersh is—has often done reports on what’s happening in Iran. We’re going to turn right now to this Seymour Hersh clip, talking to Democracy Now!

    SEYMOUR HERSH: It’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of—no lessons learned, obviously. Look, I have been reporting about Iran, and I could tell you that since '04, under George Bush, and particularly the vice president, Mr. Cheney, we were—Cheney was particularly concerned there were secret facilities for building a weapon, which are much different than the enrichment. We have enrichment in Iran. They've acknowledged it. They have inspectors there. There are cameras there, etc. This is all—Iran’s a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nobody is accusing them of any cheating. In fact, the latest report that everybody’s so agog about also says that, once again, we find no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium that it’s enriching. And it’s also enriching essentially at very low levels for peaceful purposes, so they say, 3.8 percent. And so, there is a small percentage being enriched to 20 percent for medical use, but that’s quite small, also under cameras, under inspection.

    What you have is, in those days, in '04, ’05, ’06, ’07, even until the end of their term in office, Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations force Command, JSOC—they would send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups—the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group—and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now. And some of the stuff is very technical, very classified, but I can tell you, there's not much you can do in Iran right now without us finding out something about it. They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact.

    AMY GOODMAN: That was Seymour Hersh in 2011, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at The New Yorker magazine, who had just written this blog post for the New Yorker website called "Iran and the I.A.E.A." laying out his findings. Robert Kelley, your response?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, Seymour Hersh is great. He finds things that no one else finds. He does great analysis. He has great sources. And as I look at this rather long statement, I think you can boil it down to two things. One is that the IAEA is on top of the enrichment issue. And so, the question that’s really going on in Vienna in the next few weeks is: How much uranium will they be allowed to make? And IAEA is not even at the table, because everybody assumes they can do their job. And they will. They’re very good at that.

    But the second part is about finding facilities to build bombs and things like that. IAEA is not capable of that. You need an intelligence network to do that. You need good analysts to do that. And we haven’t seen any sign, at this point, that IAEA’s work is up to snuff. That’s a separate agreement, and it should just be thrown in the trash.

    AMY GOODMAN: You are from the United States. What do you see is the politics of the United States, though you live here in Vienna, the politics of the U.S. right now in their interests around Iran? Who is pushing Iran policy? Which countries?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Oh, I find that hard. I think, in the case of the U.S., you have this multi-headed Hydra, that maybe the administration wants to do one thing, but the Congress wants to do another. I don’t know who’s pushing the politics, because it’s so opaque. It’s the same thing in Iran itself. Who is on the receiving end of the U.S. overtures? Is it the Rouhani people? Or is it the Khameneis? Who is it? So, I think you’re not really sure in these cases how many people are talking to how many other people and where the connections are.

    AMY GOODMAN: And how important are these negotiations right now, what’s known as the P5+1?

    ROBERT KELLEY: P5+1 on the uranium is very important, because it will establish what Iran is allowed to do in the view of the rest of the world. If they agree that they’re limited to those things and they say they have the right to peaceful nuclear energy, then I think you’ll have a very important agreement on uranium enrichment and also this reactor that they’re building, that’s not too important. But on the weaponization, the talks don’t concern that. And people who say that the talks include that are wrong, and they’re muddying the waters, probably to try to derail the negotiations.

    AMY GOODMAN: What would you say to the U.S. Congress?

    ROBERT KELLEY: I would say, "Go and get some good information." You know, you see many people speaking out—I don’t want to name them, but, you know, they say things like Iran is not cooperating. And Iran is cooperating fully in the area of nuclear materials. When the U.S. asks to go to a military base or to go to a factory that’s producing missiles, Iran says, "Wait a minute. You know, that’s not part of our agreement with you." And people are misconstruing that to say they’re not cooperating in nuclear. Simply not true.

    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Robert Kelley, as you look at what’s happening in Iraq today, 10 years—more than 10 years after the invasion—you were there at the beginning. You were there before. You were there on the ground. You now say that if your observations on the ground were heeded, we would have not seen the bloodshed that we did. What are your thoughts today?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Oh, I feel very bad about what happened in 2003. It’s extremely embarrassing that the country ignored the people who were in Iraq making the observations and didn’t take us into account. And when the U.S. sent this team in, two months after the war or so, the leader of the team, after two months, quit. And his statement was: "We were all wrong. They had no weapons of mass destruction." Well, we weren’t all wrong. The people who were in the field were saying there’s nothing there. And then they left it to bureaucrats to twist that around and get it wrong.

    AMY GOODMAN: Robert Kelley, associate senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, former director at the IAEA for the Iraq Action Team. Prior to that, he was based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

    This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back here in Vienna, Austria, we’re going to look at the issue of privacy, especially raised by the revelations of Edward Snowden. Stay with us.

    Former Weapons Inspector in Iraq Questions Claims That Iran Hiding Nuclear Tests

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:48

    We are broadcasting from Vienna, where the six world powers leading nuclear negotiations with Iran have set a November deadline to reach a deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing Western sanctions. Earlier this month, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran is meeting its commitments under a temporary deal. But Western diplomats say Iran has refused to provide information about alleged experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon. Information on the experiments is reportedly contained in an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating, but the document itself remains unverified, and at least one member of the IAEA community has raised concerns about its authenticity. Our guest, Robert Kelley, was part of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in 2003 and says he is speaking out now because "I learned firsthand how withholding the facts can lead to bloodshed." Prior to his time in Iraq, Kelley was a nuclear weapons analyst based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

    TRANSCRIPT:

    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Vienna, Austria, where the six world powers leading nuclear negotiations with Iran have set a November deadline to reach a deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing Western sanctions. The countries, known as the P5+1, have put forward a number of ideas that recognize, quote, "Tehran’s expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program and that take into account that country’s scientific knowhow and economic needs," unquote. The Obama administration has reportedly begun promoting a possible nuclear agreement with Iran to its allies and U.S. policymakers in an effort to garner support ahead of next month’s deadline. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the Obama administration plans to fully consult Congress about ongoing negotiations with Iran.

    SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We are completely engaged in a regular series of briefings. I’ve been talking, even during the break, to senators about our thoughts with respect to the Iran negotiations, and I personally believe, as does the president, that Congress has an extremely important role to play in this, and Congress will play a role in this.

    AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, held six hours of talks here in Vienna in a bid to break an impasse in the talks. U.S. and Iranian diplomats are reportedly still negotiating the future size of Tehran’s nuclear fuel production capacity as well as the pace of the potential lifting of Western sanctions in the case of an agreement.

    According to Reuters, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, earlier this month makes clear Iran is meeting its commitments under the temporary deal. But Western diplomats say Iran has refused to provide information about alleged experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon. Information on the experiments is reportedly contained in an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating, but the document itself remains unverified, and at least one member of the IAEA community has raised concerns about its authenticity. He’s Robert Kelley. He writes, quote, "I am speaking up about this now because, as a member of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in 2003, I learned firsthand how withholding the facts can lead to bloodshed." Kelley was previously based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He’s now an associate senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI. Robert Kelley joins us here in Vienna, Austria.

    Welcome to Democracy Now!

    ROBERT KELLEY: Thank you, Amy.

    AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, talk about what’s being alleged right now. And you’re certainly someone who knows about allegations, having been—well, we use the term loosely—U.N. weapons inspector, but one of those people who, for the United Nations, went into Iraq before the U.S. invaded to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, remember, please, that I was in Iraq in 1991, as well, following up on the first war, when we had some very cooperative activities with the U.S. and with other agencies in Europe. So it goes back a long ways. And what I see is that in 1995 people tried to derail the work IAEA was doing in Iraq by producing forged documents. And they were extremely good forgeries. They spent a lot of time trying to make them look like real Iraqi documents, the problem being that they were forgeries. And at that time, the action team went to Iraq and, with the Iraqis’ help, pointed out what the problems were. When I look at the documents that were being discussed now, both IAEA’s weapons report and the leaks that have come out, they look just the same. It looks like the same pattern of forgeries. Furthermore, in 2002, we were given forgeries on aluminum tubes—well, we were given bad information on aluminum tubes, shoddy analysis, forged documents that supposedly came from Niger. It all proved not to be true. So before we jump off the cliff again, I think we ought to know if this stuff is genuine.

    AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece in 2012 for Bloomberg—

    ROBERT KELLEY: Right.

    AMY GOODMAN: —headlined "Nuclear Arms Charge Against Iran is No Slam Dunk." So, are you seeing a pattern here?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Yeah. So, there’s certainly a pattern in bad information being provided, and it’s coming from a few sources, though one really thing that bothers me at this point is that in 2002 it was the U.S. that was cheerleading to start a war, and this time around the IAEA has signed on and they’re part of this innuendo and sloppy information that looks like they are also advocating for war.

    AMY GOODMAN: Going back to 2002, 2003, how was pressure applied directly to you—what you were seeing on the ground in Iraq and then what was being told to the American people?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, there was no connection between what we were seeing, because we were told from the U.S. mission, the people that we dealt with, that they really didn’t want to hear what we had to say. And it was clear to us, as we carried out the inspections from November until March, 2002 to 2003, that nobody was listening. We were going around and saying, "We’ve solved the problem with the aluminum tubes: They’re for rockets." We find these forgeries of Iranian documents. And no one was listening. So, what I saw being presented to the American people by, say, Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N., it was completely at odds with the truth.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did Bush administration officials come to the IAEA?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Not that I’m aware of. In my position, I wouldn’t have ever dealt with Bush administration officials. But lower-level people came a few times. And, for example, in the area of the aluminum tubes, we had lots of experts who said, "These are not for gas centrifuges, nothing to do with nuclear. These are small rockets." And the person that they sent said, "Well, if you knew what I knew, then you’d know I’m right." And we got a lot of that kind of attitude from people who didn’t know what they were taking about.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, now it’s, well, more than 10 years later.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Right.

    AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what you see happening here in Vienna, the significance of these talks.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Ah, well, I—

    AMY GOODMAN: And what’s being represented.

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, I think there are two things going on. The talks that are going on between Kerry, the P5+1 and Iran primarily concern the enrichment of uranium. And this is a case where the IAEA is on very solid ground. They know exactly what they’re doing. They are monitoring the facilities that are producing uranium. And I think they have an excellent handle on it. It’s what they do well. If you look at the agreement that’s going to be talked about, the weaponization is not even in that agreement. So, when people say that IAEA—I’m sorry, that Iran is not being forthcoming in discussing what they’re doing on weaponization, it’s not part of the agreement. So, those people are very poorly informed. And we see that all the time.

    AMY GOODMAN: What would be accomplished by misrepresenting what’s happening in Iran right now around nuclear—development of nuclear weapons?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, there are people who believe that Iran is a threat to the entire region, and any evidence they can develop against them is for that purpose. But I think if you’re coming back to nuclear weapons, are they actually developing nuclear weapons? It’s hard to say.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Seymour Hersh—

    ROBERT KELLEY: Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: —the investigative reporter who’s very well known. Seymour Hersh is—has often done reports on what’s happening in Iran. We’re going to turn right now to this Seymour Hersh clip, talking to Democracy Now!

    SEYMOUR HERSH: It’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of—no lessons learned, obviously. Look, I have been reporting about Iran, and I could tell you that since '04, under George Bush, and particularly the vice president, Mr. Cheney, we were—Cheney was particularly concerned there were secret facilities for building a weapon, which are much different than the enrichment. We have enrichment in Iran. They've acknowledged it. They have inspectors there. There are cameras there, etc. This is all—Iran’s a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nobody is accusing them of any cheating. In fact, the latest report that everybody’s so agog about also says that, once again, we find no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium that it’s enriching. And it’s also enriching essentially at very low levels for peaceful purposes, so they say, 3.8 percent. And so, there is a small percentage being enriched to 20 percent for medical use, but that’s quite small, also under cameras, under inspection.

    What you have is, in those days, in '04, ’05, ’06, ’07, even until the end of their term in office, Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations force Command, JSOC—they would send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups—the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group—and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now. And some of the stuff is very technical, very classified, but I can tell you, there's not much you can do in Iran right now without us finding out something about it. They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact.

    AMY GOODMAN: That was Seymour Hersh in 2011, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at The New Yorker magazine, who had just written this blog post for the New Yorker website called "Iran and the I.A.E.A." laying out his findings. Robert Kelley, your response?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Well, Seymour Hersh is great. He finds things that no one else finds. He does great analysis. He has great sources. And as I look at this rather long statement, I think you can boil it down to two things. One is that the IAEA is on top of the enrichment issue. And so, the question that’s really going on in Vienna in the next few weeks is: How much uranium will they be allowed to make? And IAEA is not even at the table, because everybody assumes they can do their job. And they will. They’re very good at that.

    But the second part is about finding facilities to build bombs and things like that. IAEA is not capable of that. You need an intelligence network to do that. You need good analysts to do that. And we haven’t seen any sign, at this point, that IAEA’s work is up to snuff. That’s a separate agreement, and it should just be thrown in the trash.

    AMY GOODMAN: You are from the United States. What do you see is the politics of the United States, though you live here in Vienna, the politics of the U.S. right now in their interests around Iran? Who is pushing Iran policy? Which countries?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Oh, I find that hard. I think, in the case of the U.S., you have this multi-headed Hydra, that maybe the administration wants to do one thing, but the Congress wants to do another. I don’t know who’s pushing the politics, because it’s so opaque. It’s the same thing in Iran itself. Who is on the receiving end of the U.S. overtures? Is it the Rouhani people? Or is it the Khameneis? Who is it? So, I think you’re not really sure in these cases how many people are talking to how many other people and where the connections are.

    AMY GOODMAN: And how important are these negotiations right now, what’s known as the P5+1?

    ROBERT KELLEY: P5+1 on the uranium is very important, because it will establish what Iran is allowed to do in the view of the rest of the world. If they agree that they’re limited to those things and they say they have the right to peaceful nuclear energy, then I think you’ll have a very important agreement on uranium enrichment and also this reactor that they’re building, that’s not too important. But on the weaponization, the talks don’t concern that. And people who say that the talks include that are wrong, and they’re muddying the waters, probably to try to derail the negotiations.

    AMY GOODMAN: What would you say to the U.S. Congress?

    ROBERT KELLEY: I would say, "Go and get some good information." You know, you see many people speaking out—I don’t want to name them, but, you know, they say things like Iran is not cooperating. And Iran is cooperating fully in the area of nuclear materials. When the U.S. asks to go to a military base or to go to a factory that’s producing missiles, Iran says, "Wait a minute. You know, that’s not part of our agreement with you." And people are misconstruing that to say they’re not cooperating in nuclear. Simply not true.

    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Robert Kelley, as you look at what’s happening in Iraq today, 10 years—more than 10 years after the invasion—you were there at the beginning. You were there before. You were there on the ground. You now say that if your observations on the ground were heeded, we would have not seen the bloodshed that we did. What are your thoughts today?

    ROBERT KELLEY: Oh, I feel very bad about what happened in 2003. It’s extremely embarrassing that the country ignored the people who were in Iraq making the observations and didn’t take us into account. And when the U.S. sent this team in, two months after the war or so, the leader of the team, after two months, quit. And his statement was: "We were all wrong. They had no weapons of mass destruction." Well, we weren’t all wrong. The people who were in the field were saying there’s nothing there. And then they left it to bureaucrats to twist that around and get it wrong.

    AMY GOODMAN: Robert Kelley, associate senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, former director at the IAEA for the Iraq Action Team. Prior to that, he was based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

    This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back here in Vienna, Austria, we’re going to look at the issue of privacy, especially raised by the revelations of Edward Snowden. Stay with us.

    The Fight - and the Right - to Vote

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:43

    Also see: Don't Let Them Silence You: Vote, Dammit

    This past weekend, the Supreme Court upheld Texas’ harsh voter ID law for the upcoming midterm elections, potentially disenfranchising some 600,000 mostly black and Latino voters.

    The Lone Star state’s voter ID law is part of a nationwide effort to suppress the vote, nurtured by the right’s desire to hold onto power, as demographic changes are altering the electoral landscape. In the last four years, close to half the states in the US have passed laws restricting the right to vote, the most fundamental principle of democracy.

    Shelby County v. Holder, last year’s Supreme Court decision revoking an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, upped the ante and has encouraged many states to try to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as gerrymander congressional districts and limit registration and voting hours.

    The argument made in favor of this vast disenfranchisement is rampant voter fraud — but in state after state there is rarely proof of anyone showing up at a polling place and trying to illegally cast a ballot.

    This week, Bill talks with an attorney and journalist about the ongoing vote suppression controversy. Sherrilyn Ifill is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a noted civil rights litigator whose work has included landmark voting rights cases. She tells Bill, “The right to vote was sacrosanct because it was the thing that came with your citizenship. It was the great equalizer. And we’re seeing a different philosophy about the meaning of that exercise of citizenship.”

    Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and author of the upcoming book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. He says, “We have a Supreme Court that wants to make it easier for millionaires to buy an election, but harder for everyday people to vote in one. And that’s a very, very disturbing reality right now.”

    TRANSCRIPT:

    BILL MOYERS: Welcome. It's unbelievable, and frankly outrageous, that in the last four years, close to half the states in this country have passed laws making it harder for people to vote. But it’s true. And whereas once upon a time, in the South of my youth, it was Democrats who used the poll tax, literacy tests and outright intimidation to keep black people from voting, today it’s the Republicans working the levers of suppression, as if something in their DNA demands it. Listen to one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, Paul Weyrich, back in 1980:

    PAUL WEYRICH at the Religious Roundtable, August 1980: I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

    BILL MOYERS: So, the right has become relentless in trying every trick to keep certain people from voting. And conservative control of the Supreme Court gives them a leg up. Last year’s decision – Shelby County v. Holder – revoked an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and that has only upped the ante, encouraging many state Republican legislators to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as gerrymander Congressional districts and limit registration and voting hours.

    The right’s rationale is that people are manipulating the system to cheat and throw elections. But rarely can they offer any proof of anyone, anywhere, trying illegally to cast a ballot. So what’s going on? A question for my guests.

    Sherrilyn Ifill is president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She’s a noted civil rights litigator, whose work has included landmark voting rights cases. She is the author of “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century.”

    Ari Berman is a contributing writer at “The Nation” magazine and, during the 2012 elections, the first national reporter to cover voter suppression issues. He is currently writing a book titled “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” to be published be out next summer. Welcome to you both.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Thank you, Bill.

    ARI BERMAN: Thank you.

    BILL MOYERS: So just a couple of weeks before the midterm elections, how do we know if these voter suppression efforts are working?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, what we do know in Texas where we just litigated a major case involving voter ID, we know that more than 600,000 registered voters will not be able to vote in this November's election because they lack the photo ID required by the new Texas law. And because the Supreme Court has said that the election can proceed, even though a federal court has found that that photo ID law discriminates against black and Latino voters.

    BILL MOYERS: Yes, the judge in Texas ruled that it was unconstitutional. And yet last Saturday the Supreme Court said, "Let the election go forward." What was their rationale?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: I think the rationale-- the most charitable rationale we can give to the Supreme Court's decision is that it's consistent with other decisions they've made in which essentially their view is if it's very close to the election (and certainly this was close to the election, early voting started this week) that they shouldn't disturb the status quo, that you don't change the processes of election so close to an actual election. And--

    BILL MOYERS: And what's your objection to that?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: We have a federal judge who found that this photo ID law was created to intentionally discriminate against black and Latino voters, in violation of the United States Constitution.

    And it seems to me this puts that case in an entirely different category to allow that election law to go forward and to allow the disfranchisement of more than half a million voters based on a law that a federal judge has found intentionally discriminates to me really challenges at the core our democracy.

    BILL MOYERS: Run down, if you can, some of the states where voter suppression is happening as we speak.

    ARI BERMAN: After that Shelby County decision, North Carolina passed the most sweeping set of voting restrictions since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

    Key parts of that law are now in effect: Cutting early voting by a week, eliminating same day registration during the early voting period, preventing out-of-precinct ballots from being counted, eliminating public financing of judicial elections, down we go. That's now in effect. That's a crucial swing state where Democrat Kay Hagan is running against Republican Thom Tillis. That race alone could control the Senate.

    We have Kansas, another state where there's a very contested Senate race where they're adopted a new proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration. You have to now show your birth certificate to register to vote. 15,000 voter registrations are currently on hold as a result of that decision. You look at Georgia, another state where there's a highly contested Senate race. 85,000 new voters have been registered by a group called the New Georgia Project.

    They've subsequently been subpoenaed by the Republican Secretary of State there for alleged voter registration fraud even though there's been almost no cases. Now we have 50,000 new voter registration applicants that are on hold in Georgia, people who might not be able to register, might not be able to vote in that state. So those are just three crucial swing states in which there are new voting restrictions on the books.

    BILL MOYERS: Why are you both convinced that these efforts are malevolent? The other side claims that they're necessary to prevent voter fraud, to make sure that the person who's voting is actually the person who should be voting.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, we've been hearing about this for some years. Remember, Bill, prior to 2006, no state required a photo ID to vote. You and I voted, I'm sure, for many years, for many decades, we arrived at the polls, we had our voter registration card which does not have a photo on it, and we voted.

    And this was fine until suddenly we had this issue of voter fraud being raised. And although the issue of voter fraud has been raised, it's never been proven. In Texas, where we litigated this case, where the state of Texas was all in to defend their photo ID law, they were only able to identify two instances of in person voter fraud since 2002. If you look at all of the data that's been collected and analyzed by the best political scientists and social scientists, there is no evidence of statistically significant voter fraud. So you've created a system that disenfranchises millions of voters to try and solve a problem that you can't prove exists.

    ARI BERMAN: There's been one billion votes cast since 2000 and only 31 cases of voter impersonation. So that just shows you that it's not a problem. Why do we suddenly start hearing about this after the 2000 election? What happened in 2008? The election of Barack Obama. And what we saw is this coalition of the ascendant that came out for the president--

    BILL MOYERS: The what?

    ARI BERMAN: Coalition of the ascendant is--

    BILL MOYERS: Emerging demographics?

    ARI BERMAN: What they called it. Yes, young people, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, that's the future of the country, not just the future of the electorate but the future of the country demographically.

    BILL MOYERS: Is racism behind this?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I can only tell you what the judge in Texas said. What she said is that the voter ID law in Texas intentionally discriminates against African-American and Hispanic voters. It's not my opinion. That's what was found by a federal district judge.

    I think you're absolutely right about the 2008 election of President Obama and this kind of ascendant electorate. But when people first began really talking about voter fraud in the 2006/2007 period, what were they talking about? Who were these people who were showing up allegedly to vote when they couldn't vote?

    Remember it was happening in the context of what was a very ugly conversation about immigration. The idea-- and this is where again I have to return to the issue of race and ethnicity, the idea of who was engaging in this voter fraud was very much happening in the context of a conversation we were having in this country about undocumented individuals, about immigration, about our border, about border security.

    The idea was that there were Latinos who were showing up, Hispanic people showing up from Mexico and other countries who couldn't vote who were now voting. So once again the engine that was driving the voter fraud conversation really had at its root this issue of race and ethnicity.

    BILL MOYERS: This is the first election since the Supreme Court's decision last year throwing out the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which required states with the worst discriminatory practices to approve their voting changes with the federal government. To what extent is all of this the result of that decision?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Can I just say very quickly, Texas once again, we litigated this case before the Shelby decision. We challenged it under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And we won. A federal court found that in fact it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

    Then we get the Shelby decision in which the Supreme Court essentially hollows out Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And Texas within two hours of that decision actually the attorney general tweeted his intention to re-impose the voter ID law that we had successfully struck down under Section 5. And that's precisely what he did.

    And so what's just happened is we've just re-litigated the same case that we had won before, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And we prevailed. Texas would not have been able to use this voter ID law in this election had the Supreme Court not decided what it decided in the Shelby case.

    ARI BERMAN: And so one-third of the states that were previously covered by Section 5 are-- have passed or implemented new voting restrictions since that decision. And so we're seeing right now the greatest restriction of voting rights since the end of reconstruction where states feel like they can now get away with this.

    And they've been waging really a two-pronged war. One is to pass these new voting restrictions in the states that we've been talking about. The second is to then challenge the constitutionality of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act to make it harder to block these changes. And I think, again, coming back to North Carolina is a really good example of the Shelby decision.

    The North Carolina House passed a 14-page vote ID bill in April of 2013. It was a relatively strict voter ID bill, but it wasn't the strictest in the country. Then a month after the Shelby County decision, that 14-page bill becomes a 57-page bill that essentially either repeals or curtails every voting reform in North Carolina that made it easier for people to vote. So then that voter ID law becomes much, much stricter, as strict as Texas.

    They're cutting early voting, they're eliminating same day registration. They're doing all these things. And they did it as they said because they no longer had to deal with the quote-unquote, "headache" of having to approve their voting changes with the federal government. So Texas and North Carolina are really case studies of what's happens in this post-Shelby era.

    BILL MOYERS: Talk about early voting. What's the argument against it?

    ARI BERMAN: Well, I think there's two arguments against it. One argument that has been made is that it's too expensive to allow early voting, that you can't have extended hours 'cause that means that election administrators have to be open longer. The problem with that argument is that when you have fewer days, you have to open more offices, you have more voter confusion and it ends up being more expensive to run an election and far more problems.

    The second argument against it, I think, is more of a philosophical argument which is that you shouldn't make it too easy for people to vote. We've heard, for example, Republican legislators in states like Georgia basically say, "I want a more informed electorate," that early voting makes it too easy for people to vote and therefore you're getting an uneducated electorate. This is the same kind of arguments that were made in Texas about the poll tax.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Literacy--

    ARI BERMAN: About the literacy test, exactly. And now we're seeing them in the context of things like early voting and voter ID.

    BILL MOYERS: I'm sure both of you know that there are people who say that people like you are patronizing African Americans, poor folks as victims again because you're trying to make it easy for them to vote.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I mean, if you look at photo ID for a second because I think people, Bill, sometimes don't understand what we mean when we talk about voter ID. People say, "Well, you know, what's wrong with having an ID?" There's nothing wrong with having an ID.

    If you look at Texas, I mean, you talk about an informed electorate, here is a state in which their photo ID law, the strictest in the country, will not allow my clients who are students at a Texas university to use their university ID to vote, which they were able to use in 2012 and before that. They can no longer use that to vote. Now, if you have a concealed gun carry permit, you can use that to vote.

    BILL MOYERS: How do they explain that?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, different states have different requirements, right. So in some states, in Indiana for example, if you vote absentee, you don't have to show a photo ID. Then Wisconsin said, "Well, if you vote absentee, you have to show that photo ID the first time you ask for the absentee ballot."

    Places like Wisconsin said, "You can use your tribal ID if you're a member of a Native American tribe." Texas, you can't use your tribal ID. You can use your veteran's ID. Indiana, you can use your veteran's ID. So you have a hodgepodge happening in various states. But what you see the trend is, that it's getting increasingly, increasingly restrictive. The forms of photo ID that are required are increasingly restrictive. And what we showed in this Texas case is that there are many people who cannot afford to get the photo ID. Because you've got to first get the birth certificate, which may cost you between $20 and $42.

    You've got to go to the agency, which means you've got to take off work to get that birth certificate. You've got to go to the Motor Vehicle Bureau to get the photo ID and you've got to pay for it. And that actually means you have to take another day off of work.

    So you essentially left it to the devices of individuals, working people, working poor people who can't take days off work, who don't have the underlying documents to jump through this regulatory obstacle course in order to exercise what is their right as a citizen.

    BILL MOYERS: Does it make sense to you that the right as a citizen depends upon state legislatures as opposed to the constitution and the federal government?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I don't know if I would describe it that way, I guess because I'm not willing to let state legislatures off the hook in this sense. Why is it that we should accept that a state legislature would have as a motivation or have an interest in restricting its own citizens from participating in the political process?

    Now I'm not talking about political parties. I'm talking about those who take an oath of office to uphold the constitution and to protect those individuals who they represent. They should not be let off the hook whether it is the national government or the state government. Obviously our history is replete with examples of the state government restricting the ability of minorities to participate in the political process.

    ARI BERMAN: And that's what's so interesting is this happened for so many years that voting rights were restricted. It was finally in 1965 that the Congress and the president, prodded over and over and over by a very determined civil rights movement said, "This isn't going to happen anymore. We can't be a democracy where half the country doesn't vote, where seven percent of African Americans are registered in Mississippi. That can't be what we are."

    And we made a commitment, both parties made a commitment, the Congress made a commitment. The courts made a commitment to uphold this Voting Rights Act. This law has been scrutinized more than any other law on the books. It's been reauthorized four times by the Congress. It's been challenged multiple times in the courts and upheld. And over and over and over there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress, in the courts for the Voting Rights Act. And only recently has that consensus fallen apart. And one segment of one party has basically decided that the way they're going to win election is to make it harder to certain people to vote.

    So we're not just turning our back on recent history. We're turning our back on the most important civil rights law that's ever been passed and the fundamental commitment that we've made as a democratic society to being a functioning democracy, which we weren't before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

    BILL MOYERS: Why do the left and the right see so differently this universal right?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: You know, I don't know. I have to say, I think about somebody like Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican, who has been our closest ally on trying to amend the Voting Rights Act since the Shelby decision. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Representative John Lewis, the great civil rights hero and congressman from Georgia in seeking to amend the Voting Rights Act to essentially reverse the Supreme Court Shelby decision.

    I'm not prepared to actually paint all Republicans that way. As Ari pointed out, the Voting Rights Act has always been overwhelmingly bipartisan. What we're seeing is something that's emerged very recently with a segment of one political party.

    ARI BERMAN: And the problem is that the incentives for the Republican Party have changed. Remember in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush courted the Hispanic vote. Now, you have a situation where the Tea Party was elected in 2010. They helped elect candidates on a wave election that was much wider, more conservative, than the electorate in 2008.

    And they wanted to keep it that way. So, the incentive for them was, "How, in the face of changing demographics, can we make the electorate more favorable to our candidates?" And they, so they started looking at all these new voting restrictions. And they said, "Look who doesn't have photo ID, 25 percent of African Americans, 18 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of young voters, relative to the rest of the population.

    "Look who used early voting. Look who registered to vote in 2008. Young people, minorities, those kinds of people." And, so, really, what's happened is the Republican Party, at least some segments of it, they've analyzed the electorate, they've figured out where they can try to cut down voter turnout, and they've passed laws to do that. And only when, I think, the Republican Party gets back to the idea that when everybody votes, it's good for us are we going to have an end for this. Because right now, they view the political incentives as such that they want to make it harder for certain segments of the electorate to vote.

    BILL MOYERS: At the beginning of our show, I showed the clip of Paul Weyrich who was a founding father, one might say of the modern conservative movement, and a co-founder of the organization known as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a lobby of conservative politicians and corporate lobbyists. What's been ALEC's role in this?

    ARI BERMAN: They've played a major role. After the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, ALEC drafted model voter ID legislation for states. It was distributed all around the country. They showed states how to pass the bill. They gave them the exact language to introduce. And they said, "This is how you can make it constitutional." And then, states considerably toughened ALEC's language. And we saw in state after state after state, whether it was Texas or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, virtually identical pieces of legislation being introduced all by ALEC members.

    BILL MOYERS: And have you found any evidence that points to why, you know, conservative politicians and corporate lobbyists would want to restrict voting?

    ARI BERMAN: Well, it's another example of trying to control who can participate in the political process and giving the one percent more power over the political system. Just like the Citizens United decision. So the idea is we'll make the electorate older, whiter, more conservative, as opposed to younger, more diverse and more progressive. That way the corporations who are so powerful, they can increase their power over the political process. The more people that vote, the more Democratic the political system is, the less power special interests have. The fewer people that participate, the easier it is for special interests to rig the game.

    BILL MOYERS: Is there a connection between the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates, as everyone says, to campaign contributions from wealthy people into politics; and Shelby; and these continuing efforts to suppress voting?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I think the connection is in a way in which the political process is currently being viewed within the courts. And it's actually quite dangerous. And I think we saw this last year in a Supreme Court case called McCutcheon. And the first line of the case Chief Justice Roberts says, "There are many ways that you can participate in the political process."

    And he lays out a whole list of ways. And he says, "You can campaign on you know, on behalf of a candidate. You can, you know, put up bumper stickers. You can give money. You can vote. You can--" he goes on. And vote is kind of just in the list in the litany of things you can do to participate in the political process. And I kind of, it's almost as though no one noticed it. But I couldn't get past the first line of that opinion.

    Because, in fact, it was the Supreme Court that said, back in the 1880s, that the right to vote is preservative of all rights, that it's fundamental because it's preservative of all rights. It was recognized that the right to vote was separate was different in terms of your participation in the political process. And I think there's a different philosophy that has emerged, which is that it's kind of all on the table, carrying a placard, having a bumper sticker, supporting a candidate, voting, giving money.

    When, in fact, the right to vote was sacrosanct because it was the thing that came with your citizenship. You didn't have to do anything. All you had to do was be a citizen of this country and you are automatically guaranteed the franchise after the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed by the United States Congress. And now, we're seeing it diminished.

    It's not like giving money. It's not like a bumper sticker. It's not like endorsing a candidate. It's not like being on a TV show. It's the thing that makes us all equal. It's the one thing that we all have that's the same. My clients will not be able to contribute to an election, even pre-Citizens United, at the levels that some others would.

    But on election day, it was the great equalizer. We all had one vote. And we all had the ability to use that vote to participate in the political process. And we're seeing a different philosophy about the meaning of that exercise of citizenship.

    BILL MOYERS: Your clients cannot participate, can they, under Citizens United? I mean, they don't have the money that trumps the vote, often, now under this new political mandate.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, the theory, of course, is, and you're absolutely right about that. And that's why Citizens United is so devastating. But the theory is, the one thing that is the hope after Citizens United, is that what you can do is mobilize the vote. Is that actually, votes can trump money. Not always, but sometimes it can. And that's what makes this voter suppression litigation and effort so stunning and so dangerous.

    Because now, you're saying, "We're coming for that, too." Right, the thing that's supposed to be the equalizer, the ability to mobilize and vote and participate in the political process, the thing that is the coin of the realm for the common man, "We're coming for that, too. And we're going to create this obstacle course that you have to go through in order to exercise this right that should come automatically with your citizenship."

    ARI BERMAN: We have a Supreme Court that wants to make it easier for millionaires to buy an election, but harder for everyday people to vote in one. And that's a very, very disturbing reality right now.

    BILL MOYERS: Let's continue this conversation online.

    ARI BERMAN: I look forward to it.

    BILL MOYERS: Sherrilyn Ifill, Ari Berman, thanks for being with me.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Thank you, Bill.

    ARI BERMAN: Thank you.

    BILL MOYERS: We’ll continue this conversation at our website, BillMoyers.com, where you’ll also find success stories in the struggle against vote suppression and the people fighting the good fight to make sure everyone can cast their ballot. That’s all at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

    ANNOUNCER: Funding is provided by:

    Anne Gumowitz, encouraging the renewal of democracy.

    Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security at Carnegie.org.

    The Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide.

    The Herb Alpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society.

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information at Macfound.org.

    Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.

    The Kohlberg Foundation.

    Barbara G. Fleischman.

    And by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That’s why we’re your retirement company.

    Producer: Gail Ablow. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Sikay Tang. Intro Editor: Rob Kuhns.

    The Fight - and the Right - to Vote

    Truthout - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:43

    Also see: Don't Let Them Silence You: Vote, Dammit

    This past weekend, the Supreme Court upheld Texas’ harsh voter ID law for the upcoming midterm elections, potentially disenfranchising some 600,000 mostly black and Latino voters.

    The Lone Star state’s voter ID law is part of a nationwide effort to suppress the vote, nurtured by the right’s desire to hold onto power, as demographic changes are altering the electoral landscape. In the last four years, close to half the states in the US have passed laws restricting the right to vote, the most fundamental principle of democracy.

    Shelby County v. Holder, last year’s Supreme Court decision revoking an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, upped the ante and has encouraged many states to try to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as gerrymander congressional districts and limit registration and voting hours.

    The argument made in favor of this vast disenfranchisement is rampant voter fraud — but in state after state there is rarely proof of anyone showing up at a polling place and trying to illegally cast a ballot.

    This week, Bill talks with an attorney and journalist about the ongoing vote suppression controversy. Sherrilyn Ifill is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a noted civil rights litigator whose work has included landmark voting rights cases. She tells Bill, “The right to vote was sacrosanct because it was the thing that came with your citizenship. It was the great equalizer. And we’re seeing a different philosophy about the meaning of that exercise of citizenship.”

    Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and author of the upcoming book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. He says, “We have a Supreme Court that wants to make it easier for millionaires to buy an election, but harder for everyday people to vote in one. And that’s a very, very disturbing reality right now.”

    TRANSCRIPT:

    BILL MOYERS: Welcome. It's unbelievable, and frankly outrageous, that in the last four years, close to half the states in this country have passed laws making it harder for people to vote. But it’s true. And whereas once upon a time, in the South of my youth, it was Democrats who used the poll tax, literacy tests and outright intimidation to keep black people from voting, today it’s the Republicans working the levers of suppression, as if something in their DNA demands it. Listen to one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, Paul Weyrich, back in 1980:

    PAUL WEYRICH at the Religious Roundtable, August 1980: I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

    BILL MOYERS: So, the right has become relentless in trying every trick to keep certain people from voting. And conservative control of the Supreme Court gives them a leg up. Last year’s decision – Shelby County v. Holder – revoked an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and that has only upped the ante, encouraging many state Republican legislators to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as gerrymander Congressional districts and limit registration and voting hours.

    The right’s rationale is that people are manipulating the system to cheat and throw elections. But rarely can they offer any proof of anyone, anywhere, trying illegally to cast a ballot. So what’s going on? A question for my guests.

    Sherrilyn Ifill is president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She’s a noted civil rights litigator, whose work has included landmark voting rights cases. She is the author of “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century.”

    Ari Berman is a contributing writer at “The Nation” magazine and, during the 2012 elections, the first national reporter to cover voter suppression issues. He is currently writing a book titled “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” to be published be out next summer. Welcome to you both.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Thank you, Bill.

    ARI BERMAN: Thank you.

    BILL MOYERS: So just a couple of weeks before the midterm elections, how do we know if these voter suppression efforts are working?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, what we do know in Texas where we just litigated a major case involving voter ID, we know that more than 600,000 registered voters will not be able to vote in this November's election because they lack the photo ID required by the new Texas law. And because the Supreme Court has said that the election can proceed, even though a federal court has found that that photo ID law discriminates against black and Latino voters.

    BILL MOYERS: Yes, the judge in Texas ruled that it was unconstitutional. And yet last Saturday the Supreme Court said, "Let the election go forward." What was their rationale?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: I think the rationale-- the most charitable rationale we can give to the Supreme Court's decision is that it's consistent with other decisions they've made in which essentially their view is if it's very close to the election (and certainly this was close to the election, early voting started this week) that they shouldn't disturb the status quo, that you don't change the processes of election so close to an actual election. And--

    BILL MOYERS: And what's your objection to that?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: We have a federal judge who found that this photo ID law was created to intentionally discriminate against black and Latino voters, in violation of the United States Constitution.

    And it seems to me this puts that case in an entirely different category to allow that election law to go forward and to allow the disfranchisement of more than half a million voters based on a law that a federal judge has found intentionally discriminates to me really challenges at the core our democracy.

    BILL MOYERS: Run down, if you can, some of the states where voter suppression is happening as we speak.

    ARI BERMAN: After that Shelby County decision, North Carolina passed the most sweeping set of voting restrictions since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

    Key parts of that law are now in effect: Cutting early voting by a week, eliminating same day registration during the early voting period, preventing out-of-precinct ballots from being counted, eliminating public financing of judicial elections, down we go. That's now in effect. That's a crucial swing state where Democrat Kay Hagan is running against Republican Thom Tillis. That race alone could control the Senate.

    We have Kansas, another state where there's a very contested Senate race where they're adopted a new proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration. You have to now show your birth certificate to register to vote. 15,000 voter registrations are currently on hold as a result of that decision. You look at Georgia, another state where there's a highly contested Senate race. 85,000 new voters have been registered by a group called the New Georgia Project.

    They've subsequently been subpoenaed by the Republican Secretary of State there for alleged voter registration fraud even though there's been almost no cases. Now we have 50,000 new voter registration applicants that are on hold in Georgia, people who might not be able to register, might not be able to vote in that state. So those are just three crucial swing states in which there are new voting restrictions on the books.

    BILL MOYERS: Why are you both convinced that these efforts are malevolent? The other side claims that they're necessary to prevent voter fraud, to make sure that the person who's voting is actually the person who should be voting.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, we've been hearing about this for some years. Remember, Bill, prior to 2006, no state required a photo ID to vote. You and I voted, I'm sure, for many years, for many decades, we arrived at the polls, we had our voter registration card which does not have a photo on it, and we voted.

    And this was fine until suddenly we had this issue of voter fraud being raised. And although the issue of voter fraud has been raised, it's never been proven. In Texas, where we litigated this case, where the state of Texas was all in to defend their photo ID law, they were only able to identify two instances of in person voter fraud since 2002. If you look at all of the data that's been collected and analyzed by the best political scientists and social scientists, there is no evidence of statistically significant voter fraud. So you've created a system that disenfranchises millions of voters to try and solve a problem that you can't prove exists.

    ARI BERMAN: There's been one billion votes cast since 2000 and only 31 cases of voter impersonation. So that just shows you that it's not a problem. Why do we suddenly start hearing about this after the 2000 election? What happened in 2008? The election of Barack Obama. And what we saw is this coalition of the ascendant that came out for the president--

    BILL MOYERS: The what?

    ARI BERMAN: Coalition of the ascendant is--

    BILL MOYERS: Emerging demographics?

    ARI BERMAN: What they called it. Yes, young people, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, that's the future of the country, not just the future of the electorate but the future of the country demographically.

    BILL MOYERS: Is racism behind this?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I can only tell you what the judge in Texas said. What she said is that the voter ID law in Texas intentionally discriminates against African-American and Hispanic voters. It's not my opinion. That's what was found by a federal district judge.

    I think you're absolutely right about the 2008 election of President Obama and this kind of ascendant electorate. But when people first began really talking about voter fraud in the 2006/2007 period, what were they talking about? Who were these people who were showing up allegedly to vote when they couldn't vote?

    Remember it was happening in the context of what was a very ugly conversation about immigration. The idea-- and this is where again I have to return to the issue of race and ethnicity, the idea of who was engaging in this voter fraud was very much happening in the context of a conversation we were having in this country about undocumented individuals, about immigration, about our border, about border security.

    The idea was that there were Latinos who were showing up, Hispanic people showing up from Mexico and other countries who couldn't vote who were now voting. So once again the engine that was driving the voter fraud conversation really had at its root this issue of race and ethnicity.

    BILL MOYERS: This is the first election since the Supreme Court's decision last year throwing out the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which required states with the worst discriminatory practices to approve their voting changes with the federal government. To what extent is all of this the result of that decision?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Can I just say very quickly, Texas once again, we litigated this case before the Shelby decision. We challenged it under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And we won. A federal court found that in fact it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

    Then we get the Shelby decision in which the Supreme Court essentially hollows out Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And Texas within two hours of that decision actually the attorney general tweeted his intention to re-impose the voter ID law that we had successfully struck down under Section 5. And that's precisely what he did.

    And so what's just happened is we've just re-litigated the same case that we had won before, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And we prevailed. Texas would not have been able to use this voter ID law in this election had the Supreme Court not decided what it decided in the Shelby case.

    ARI BERMAN: And so one-third of the states that were previously covered by Section 5 are-- have passed or implemented new voting restrictions since that decision. And so we're seeing right now the greatest restriction of voting rights since the end of reconstruction where states feel like they can now get away with this.

    And they've been waging really a two-pronged war. One is to pass these new voting restrictions in the states that we've been talking about. The second is to then challenge the constitutionality of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act to make it harder to block these changes. And I think, again, coming back to North Carolina is a really good example of the Shelby decision.

    The North Carolina House passed a 14-page vote ID bill in April of 2013. It was a relatively strict voter ID bill, but it wasn't the strictest in the country. Then a month after the Shelby County decision, that 14-page bill becomes a 57-page bill that essentially either repeals or curtails every voting reform in North Carolina that made it easier for people to vote. So then that voter ID law becomes much, much stricter, as strict as Texas.

    They're cutting early voting, they're eliminating same day registration. They're doing all these things. And they did it as they said because they no longer had to deal with the quote-unquote, "headache" of having to approve their voting changes with the federal government. So Texas and North Carolina are really case studies of what's happens in this post-Shelby era.

    BILL MOYERS: Talk about early voting. What's the argument against it?

    ARI BERMAN: Well, I think there's two arguments against it. One argument that has been made is that it's too expensive to allow early voting, that you can't have extended hours 'cause that means that election administrators have to be open longer. The problem with that argument is that when you have fewer days, you have to open more offices, you have more voter confusion and it ends up being more expensive to run an election and far more problems.

    The second argument against it, I think, is more of a philosophical argument which is that you shouldn't make it too easy for people to vote. We've heard, for example, Republican legislators in states like Georgia basically say, "I want a more informed electorate," that early voting makes it too easy for people to vote and therefore you're getting an uneducated electorate. This is the same kind of arguments that were made in Texas about the poll tax.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Literacy--

    ARI BERMAN: About the literacy test, exactly. And now we're seeing them in the context of things like early voting and voter ID.

    BILL MOYERS: I'm sure both of you know that there are people who say that people like you are patronizing African Americans, poor folks as victims again because you're trying to make it easy for them to vote.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I mean, if you look at photo ID for a second because I think people, Bill, sometimes don't understand what we mean when we talk about voter ID. People say, "Well, you know, what's wrong with having an ID?" There's nothing wrong with having an ID.

    If you look at Texas, I mean, you talk about an informed electorate, here is a state in which their photo ID law, the strictest in the country, will not allow my clients who are students at a Texas university to use their university ID to vote, which they were able to use in 2012 and before that. They can no longer use that to vote. Now, if you have a concealed gun carry permit, you can use that to vote.

    BILL MOYERS: How do they explain that?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, different states have different requirements, right. So in some states, in Indiana for example, if you vote absentee, you don't have to show a photo ID. Then Wisconsin said, "Well, if you vote absentee, you have to show that photo ID the first time you ask for the absentee ballot."

    Places like Wisconsin said, "You can use your tribal ID if you're a member of a Native American tribe." Texas, you can't use your tribal ID. You can use your veteran's ID. Indiana, you can use your veteran's ID. So you have a hodgepodge happening in various states. But what you see the trend is, that it's getting increasingly, increasingly restrictive. The forms of photo ID that are required are increasingly restrictive. And what we showed in this Texas case is that there are many people who cannot afford to get the photo ID. Because you've got to first get the birth certificate, which may cost you between $20 and $42.

    You've got to go to the agency, which means you've got to take off work to get that birth certificate. You've got to go to the Motor Vehicle Bureau to get the photo ID and you've got to pay for it. And that actually means you have to take another day off of work.

    So you essentially left it to the devices of individuals, working people, working poor people who can't take days off work, who don't have the underlying documents to jump through this regulatory obstacle course in order to exercise what is their right as a citizen.

    BILL MOYERS: Does it make sense to you that the right as a citizen depends upon state legislatures as opposed to the constitution and the federal government?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I don't know if I would describe it that way, I guess because I'm not willing to let state legislatures off the hook in this sense. Why is it that we should accept that a state legislature would have as a motivation or have an interest in restricting its own citizens from participating in the political process?

    Now I'm not talking about political parties. I'm talking about those who take an oath of office to uphold the constitution and to protect those individuals who they represent. They should not be let off the hook whether it is the national government or the state government. Obviously our history is replete with examples of the state government restricting the ability of minorities to participate in the political process.

    ARI BERMAN: And that's what's so interesting is this happened for so many years that voting rights were restricted. It was finally in 1965 that the Congress and the president, prodded over and over and over by a very determined civil rights movement said, "This isn't going to happen anymore. We can't be a democracy where half the country doesn't vote, where seven percent of African Americans are registered in Mississippi. That can't be what we are."

    And we made a commitment, both parties made a commitment, the Congress made a commitment. The courts made a commitment to uphold this Voting Rights Act. This law has been scrutinized more than any other law on the books. It's been reauthorized four times by the Congress. It's been challenged multiple times in the courts and upheld. And over and over and over there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress, in the courts for the Voting Rights Act. And only recently has that consensus fallen apart. And one segment of one party has basically decided that the way they're going to win election is to make it harder to certain people to vote.

    So we're not just turning our back on recent history. We're turning our back on the most important civil rights law that's ever been passed and the fundamental commitment that we've made as a democratic society to being a functioning democracy, which we weren't before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

    BILL MOYERS: Why do the left and the right see so differently this universal right?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: You know, I don't know. I have to say, I think about somebody like Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican, who has been our closest ally on trying to amend the Voting Rights Act since the Shelby decision. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Representative John Lewis, the great civil rights hero and congressman from Georgia in seeking to amend the Voting Rights Act to essentially reverse the Supreme Court Shelby decision.

    I'm not prepared to actually paint all Republicans that way. As Ari pointed out, the Voting Rights Act has always been overwhelmingly bipartisan. What we're seeing is something that's emerged very recently with a segment of one political party.

    ARI BERMAN: And the problem is that the incentives for the Republican Party have changed. Remember in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush courted the Hispanic vote. Now, you have a situation where the Tea Party was elected in 2010. They helped elect candidates on a wave election that was much wider, more conservative, than the electorate in 2008.

    And they wanted to keep it that way. So, the incentive for them was, "How, in the face of changing demographics, can we make the electorate more favorable to our candidates?" And they, so they started looking at all these new voting restrictions. And they said, "Look who doesn't have photo ID, 25 percent of African Americans, 18 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of young voters, relative to the rest of the population.

    "Look who used early voting. Look who registered to vote in 2008. Young people, minorities, those kinds of people." And, so, really, what's happened is the Republican Party, at least some segments of it, they've analyzed the electorate, they've figured out where they can try to cut down voter turnout, and they've passed laws to do that. And only when, I think, the Republican Party gets back to the idea that when everybody votes, it's good for us are we going to have an end for this. Because right now, they view the political incentives as such that they want to make it harder for certain segments of the electorate to vote.

    BILL MOYERS: At the beginning of our show, I showed the clip of Paul Weyrich who was a founding father, one might say of the modern conservative movement, and a co-founder of the organization known as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a lobby of conservative politicians and corporate lobbyists. What's been ALEC's role in this?

    ARI BERMAN: They've played a major role. After the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, ALEC drafted model voter ID legislation for states. It was distributed all around the country. They showed states how to pass the bill. They gave them the exact language to introduce. And they said, "This is how you can make it constitutional." And then, states considerably toughened ALEC's language. And we saw in state after state after state, whether it was Texas or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, virtually identical pieces of legislation being introduced all by ALEC members.

    BILL MOYERS: And have you found any evidence that points to why, you know, conservative politicians and corporate lobbyists would want to restrict voting?

    ARI BERMAN: Well, it's another example of trying to control who can participate in the political process and giving the one percent more power over the political system. Just like the Citizens United decision. So the idea is we'll make the electorate older, whiter, more conservative, as opposed to younger, more diverse and more progressive. That way the corporations who are so powerful, they can increase their power over the political process. The more people that vote, the more Democratic the political system is, the less power special interests have. The fewer people that participate, the easier it is for special interests to rig the game.

    BILL MOYERS: Is there a connection between the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates, as everyone says, to campaign contributions from wealthy people into politics; and Shelby; and these continuing efforts to suppress voting?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I think the connection is in a way in which the political process is currently being viewed within the courts. And it's actually quite dangerous. And I think we saw this last year in a Supreme Court case called McCutcheon. And the first line of the case Chief Justice Roberts says, "There are many ways that you can participate in the political process."

    And he lays out a whole list of ways. And he says, "You can campaign on you know, on behalf of a candidate. You can, you know, put up bumper stickers. You can give money. You can vote. You can--" he goes on. And vote is kind of just in the list in the litany of things you can do to participate in the political process. And I kind of, it's almost as though no one noticed it. But I couldn't get past the first line of that opinion.

    Because, in fact, it was the Supreme Court that said, back in the 1880s, that the right to vote is preservative of all rights, that it's fundamental because it's preservative of all rights. It was recognized that the right to vote was separate was different in terms of your participation in the political process. And I think there's a different philosophy that has emerged, which is that it's kind of all on the table, carrying a placard, having a bumper sticker, supporting a candidate, voting, giving money.

    When, in fact, the right to vote was sacrosanct because it was the thing that came with your citizenship. You didn't have to do anything. All you had to do was be a citizen of this country and you are automatically guaranteed the franchise after the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed by the United States Congress. And now, we're seeing it diminished.

    It's not like giving money. It's not like a bumper sticker. It's not like endorsing a candidate. It's not like being on a TV show. It's the thing that makes us all equal. It's the one thing that we all have that's the same. My clients will not be able to contribute to an election, even pre-Citizens United, at the levels that some others would.

    But on election day, it was the great equalizer. We all had one vote. And we all had the ability to use that vote to participate in the political process. And we're seeing a different philosophy about the meaning of that exercise of citizenship.

    BILL MOYERS: Your clients cannot participate, can they, under Citizens United? I mean, they don't have the money that trumps the vote, often, now under this new political mandate.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, the theory, of course, is, and you're absolutely right about that. And that's why Citizens United is so devastating. But the theory is, the one thing that is the hope after Citizens United, is that what you can do is mobilize the vote. Is that actually, votes can trump money. Not always, but sometimes it can. And that's what makes this voter suppression litigation and effort so stunning and so dangerous.

    Because now, you're saying, "We're coming for that, too." Right, the thing that's supposed to be the equalizer, the ability to mobilize and vote and participate in the political process, the thing that is the coin of the realm for the common man, "We're coming for that, too. And we're going to create this obstacle course that you have to go through in order to exercise this right that should come automatically with your citizenship."

    ARI BERMAN: We have a Supreme Court that wants to make it easier for millionaires to buy an election, but harder for everyday people to vote in one. And that's a very, very disturbing reality right now.

    BILL MOYERS: Let's continue this conversation online.

    ARI BERMAN: I look forward to it.

    BILL MOYERS: Sherrilyn Ifill, Ari Berman, thanks for being with me.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Thank you, Bill.

    ARI BERMAN: Thank you.

    BILL MOYERS: We’ll continue this conversation at our website, BillMoyers.com, where you’ll also find success stories in the struggle against vote suppression and the people fighting the good fight to make sure everyone can cast their ballot. That’s all at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

    ANNOUNCER: Funding is provided by:

    Anne Gumowitz, encouraging the renewal of democracy.

    Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security at Carnegie.org.

    The Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide.

    The Herb Alpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society.

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information at Macfound.org.

    Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.

    The Kohlberg Foundation.

    Barbara G. Fleischman.

    And by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That’s why we’re your retirement company.

    Producer: Gail Ablow. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Sikay Tang. Intro Editor: Rob Kuhns.

    Syndicate content
    Clicky Web Analytics