NATION INTERN MAKES GOOD: With Britain's general election on May 6, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (Nation intern, class of '90) has shot to the stratosphere like ash from Eyjafjallajokull, causing a seismic shift in the political terrain. As Britain's "unelectable" third party, the Lib Dems are used to coming in honorably last. But after the April 15 televised debate, Clegg was almost universally acknowledged as the winner, with the Tories' David Cameron and Labour's Gordon Brown tripping over each other to "agree with Nick." More than one poll since then has put Clegg's party in the lead--and relegated Labour to the bottom of the heap. The affable Clegg has even been hailed half seriously as Britain's Barack Obama, with a downloadable "Hope" poster on the Guardian's website to prove it.
The moment may blow over: Britain's winner-take-all electoral system and decades of gerrymandering favoring the two main parties make it unlikely that the Lib Dems can win enough seats to take 10 Downing Street, even with a majority of the popular vote. But the past few days have shown the depth of people's discontent with politics as usual: with the corruption revealed by the MPs' expenses scandal and the Tories' dependence on tax-exempt billionaires; with bankers' bailouts and fat bonuses, bureaucracy and broken promises. Many of the Lib Dems' policies are to the left of Labour's. They opposed the Iraq War and would scrap Britain's Trident nuclear submarines; they're for more redistributive taxes and against ID cards; like Obama (and some Tories, too), they want to break up the banks' retail and investment arms.
It's Clegg's persona as the straight-talking outsider, though, that's won the voters' hearts. He has no big-business cronies to placate; his mantra is fairness and his manner that of the honest guy next door. He may well hold the balance of power in the next Parliament; at the very least, his rise will hasten the end of the undemocratic voting system that has kept his party languishing forever in the wings. Style can be a kind of substance, too. MARIA MARGARONIS
THE SANDERS STANDARD: The debate over healthcare reform illustrated the extent to which, when it comes to fixing broken systems, Washington's definition of a repair is fluid. While Republicans are satisfied to say no, Democrats don't always know how to say yes. And that will be even more true as the Senate wrangles over financial services reform. Thankfully, Bernie Sanders is separating fact from fiction. While the legislation crafted by Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd offers a rough outline for reform, Sanders says the promise of change will be made real only if the bill is amended in four ways.
The Vermont independent--who voted against deregulation more than a decade ago and then doggedly challenged the conventional wisdom of former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan through the boom and bust 2000s before finally voting against the 2008 bank bailout--knows what needs to be done. First, break up big banks, because "it is simply not acceptable that a small handful of giant financial entities can exert such enormous influence over the economic well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans." Second, make Wall Street part of the real economy by freeing up credit to create millions of jobs by rebuilding our manufacturing base, transforming our energy system and addressing our infrastructure crisis. Third, cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent, because current rates are "not only obscene but, according to every major religion, immoral. Banks cannot be allowed to engage in usury."And fourth, end Fed secrecy so that Americans can find out which major financial institutions received trillions of dollars in near-zero-interest loans. Says Sanders: "It's time we had transparency at the Fed so that the American people know what our central bank is doing with taxpayer dollars."
A radical agenda? Hardly. The Agenda Project and others have proposed far more detailed and aggressive structural changes, which merit consideration. But if the Sanders standard is not met, the promise of reform will remain just that--a promise--and the reality of too-big-to-fail banks, boom-and-bust economics and a system that rewards greed while penalizing hard work will remain. JOHN NICHOLS
ICE'S EASY TARGETS: The Bush administration was notorious for arresting noncriminal undocumented people to fill quotas. Between 2004 and 2006 the administration raised the arrest quota for the National Fugitive Operations Program eightfold while simultaneously eliminating the requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals. But last August, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano publicly broke from Bush-era policies, focusing instead on arrest and deportation efforts of "dangerous criminal aliens."
But not everything has changed. A controversial memo written by James Chaparro, director of detention and removal operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and disclosed by the Washington Post on March 27, revealed that expelling criminals is not, in fact, ICE's only priority--it wants to beat last year's overall deportation record. Chaparro notes that although ICE is on track to meet its goal of removing 150,000 "criminal aliens" in the 2010 fiscal year, the overall removal rate is projected to be just over 310,000--"well under the Agency's goal of 400,000." Chaparro outlines five strategies to meet this target, including increasing detention space to hold more detainees and launching prison sweeps to find more candidates for deportation and a "surge" in efforts to arrest those guilty of lying on visa applications or re-entering the country after being deported.
On March 30 the ACLU called on leaders in Congress and ICE "to establish transparent immigration enforcement and detention policies." According to the ACLU's Joanne Lin, "the preoccupation with reaching the number 400,000 has placed intense pressure on all corners of ICE." There is also widespread worry that agents will fill ICE's arbitrary quotas by seeking easy targets rather than focusing on criminal or violent offenders.
Moreover, as the ACLU's Laura Murphy rightly notes, "It is alarming that a high-level ICE director is instructing field agents around the country to enforce policies that are completely out of sync with the policy goals set at the highest levels of ICE and Homeland Security." It seems, once again, ICE has missed the memo. ERIN SCHUMAKER