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America Can’t Control the World’s Destiny Anymore

Katrina vanden Heuvel on Morning Joe

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reports—perhaps unsurprisingly—that President Obama’s approval numbers are at an all-time low. With 60 percent of Americans polled disapproving of Obama’s foreign policy and another 71 percent believing America is “on the wrong track,” The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel appeared on Morning Joe to discuss “how we got here and how we can fix it” with political commentator Nicole Wallace, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, and political strategist Anita Dunn. Vanden Heuvel notes that this is not the first time Americans have lost faith in political institutions, especially when engaging in foreign affiars: “Americans want to engage with the world but they don’t want to listen to the armchair warriors.”
—Victoria Ford

Could Obama Solve the Immigration Crisis Through Executive Action?

Could Obama Solve the Immigration Crisis Through Executive Action?

Victoriano Del La Cruz, a carpenter from Mexico, stands outside as Sergio Ajche, from Guatemala, finishes a painting job. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Never mind the stalemated Congress, demonstrators for immigration reform showed up again at the White House on Monday—Barack Obama’s birthday—to make more speeches and deliver fresh petitions urging the president to take unilateral action on their issue. To the astonishment of veteran activists, Obama has already assured them he intends to do so. According to movement leaders who met with the president at the White House on June 30, a bombshell announcement is planned for right after Labor Day—an executive order that could liberate millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation. Republicans are sure to go bat guano.

Of course, Obama could always change his mind and back off his promise, as he has certainly done before with Latinos and allied groups campaigning for immigration reform. But this time the reform leaders sound quite confident of his word. “I’m shocked,” one leader admitted to me. “It seems totally out of character for Obama. But it appears the White House’s resolve has not been totally demolished by the kids on the border crisis. In fact, they seem determined to do what they can on undocumented workers and deportations as a giant ‘screw you’ to the Republicans.”

Political reporters have already written off the Obama presidency and moved on to hyper-speculate about the horse race for 2016. The plot twist on immigration reform could jerk their chain if it succeeds. It might even refresh Obama’s presidential persona if the public reacts favorably to aggressive action. When Obama took a gutsy initiative in 2012 on behalf of immigrant children, it turned out to be quite popular. Like this new move, it also revealed the shrewd politics of the Latino-led immigration reform movement. It turns out that making life difficult for a leader who disappoints and doesn’t keep his word can produce dividends.

“The good news of this story,” the anonymous leader explained, “is that after two or three or four years of confrontations with the White House about deportations, the movement will get a victory. And I think that’s a very big deal.”

With Obama in office, other Democratic constituencies tended to be more deferential and accepting. But Latinos repeatedly confronted Obama at the White House with in-your-face complaints about his failures to follow through. His desire to find common ground with Republicans, they warned, was futile. Republicans had no intention of finding a legislative compromise. The White House pleaded for patience, but the reformers only turned up the heat. Obama expressed his resentment after all he had done for them. They dismissed his efforts as unsatisfactory.

But in the last four or five months, the White House tone softened. At the meeting in late June, the president told immigration reform leaders he had a change of heart. I agree, he said, the Republicans are not going to move on legislation. So Obama said he is now preparing to use his executive authority to immunize more immigrants from deportation. He couldn’t cover 11 million of them, he said, but he would go as far as the law allows.

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Someone asked at that June meeting about the children flooding the border, but Obama ruled out any unilateral policy changes as unrealistic. It would open US borders to the world, he said. That touched off a tense exchange, but the president stood his ground. Reformers fear that in coming weeks a lot of children are going to be flown home to the dangerous circumstances they had fled.

The exact actions that could help millions more of other undocumented migrants are still being developed at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security. The options include granting immunity to parents of the children already exempted from deportation under the DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Obama could, for example, broaden the categories of immigrations afforded this immunity to include people with long-established records of US employment or long-term residency in the country.

Democrats are hoping that Republicans will react to Obama’s daring intervention by doing something stupid, like impeaching or threatening to impeach the president. Otherwise, Dems are fearful of a disaster in this fall’s midterms. If impeachment becomes the issue, that can fire up the Democratic base: not just Latino voters, but also other core constituencies.

This is high-risk politics but, given his declining popularity, Obama has decided to double down. What does he have to lose? It will inflame Obama haters of course, but it may also persuade voters to take another look at the president. In recent months, his administration has taken a series of actions that are not hot political topics, but still speak directly to segments of working people. And Obama’s style has become more flavorful in the process. He is taunting the Republicans in an amused manner, teasing them for their obvious contradictions. One day they accuse him of acting like a monarch, the next day they complain he hasn’t acted strongly enough.

Whether or not Obama wins his political gamble, it seems the Latino dreamers are already winning theirs.

Read Next: Michelle Chen reports on Why waiting your turn in line doesn’t make sense for desperate immigrant families

One Person, One Vote: This Is a Reform Whose Time Has Come

Vote Sticker

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The Electoral College rules that govern our presidential elections are the political equivalent of education’s standardized test. Just as high school classes devolve into test preparation, not learning, presidential elections descend into swing-state appeal, not national leadership. Campaigns don’t lift a finger in some thirty or forty states locked up for one party. As the 2016 campaign comes into focus, it’s a welcome reminder that it may well be the last one in which every vote in every state is not equally important.

In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that brings New York into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under the National Popular Vote plan, states work together to guarantee election of the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Once enough states that represent a majority of electoral votes (270 out of 538) have entered the compact, a participating state will award all its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote rather than to the winner of its statewide popular vote.

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In 1992, for example, a participating red state would have had to throw its electoral votes to backers of Bill Clinton and his 43 percent plurality; in 2004, a participating blue state would have sided with George W. Bush (50.7 percent). Importantly, this is completely within the legal parameters of the Constitution, which grants state legislatures the power to award electoral votes in whichever manner they so choose. The Constitution also protects the right of states to enter into interstate compacts, as is frequently done (for example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).

The NPVIC is about common sense and fairness, about upholding the principle of one person, one vote, how the U.S. conducts presidential elections. Voters in Springfield, Ohio, should not matter more than voters in Springfield, Massachusetts. Yet one of the more depressing aspects of our presidential elections is how regional they’ve become. In the 2012 election, more than 99 percent of major-party television ad expenditures and post-convention campaign rallies was targeted at voters in just ten states. And indeed, the 2012 turnout in swing states was 8.8 percent higher than in less hotly contested states. If a voter feels as if his or her vote counts, he or she is more willing to make an effort to cast it.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Read Next: The end of reefer madness

Christie and Romney Are Odds-On Allies, if Not Favorites, for 2016

Chris Christie and Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) listens as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L). (Reuters/Rick Wilking) 

It’s not scientific—well, it’s the opposite of scientific—but it is at least instructive to see whom the people with money think might win the Republican nomination for president in 2016. No, not the big money on Wall Street and the hedge funds, but the odds-makers who work for the gambling industry. In a sense, gambling odds might be a better indicator of political fortunes than opinion polls, since there’s real money at stake—and right now the odds favor Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, according to Ladbrokes, a popular betting site. Christie and Rubio are both at five-to-one odds, with Jeb Bush at 6/1 and Paul Ryan and Rand Paul at 8/1. The rest of the GOP field is way down, facing long, long odds, including Mitt Romney, who’s at 25/1. If you think Romney has a shot, you could make a lot of money.

Despite the odds makers, in New Hampshire, the state that holds the key to Christie’s presidential run, polls show that nostalgia and name recognition trump good sense among Republican voters there, with Romney far ahead of the rest of the GOP pack, according to The Star-Ledger:

The last poll of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire showed Christie, who has been hurt by the fallout from the George Washington Bridge controversy, as a leading GOP choice for a presidential run—unless Romney mounted another presidential run. Romney was the favorite among 24 percent of GOP voters here and Christie came in at a distant second at 9 percent, according to the July survey. But when Romney—who has repeatedly denied any interest in running a 2016 race—was taken out of the mix, Christie tied with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at 11 percent. They were followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at 8 percent, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 7 percent and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 5 percent.

As Christie Watch has reported all along, Romney and Christie have been engaged in a political waltz together for the past year or so, and Romney was one of the first national Republicans to come to Christie’s defense when the Bridgegate emerged in late 2013, and earlier this year Christie was a star invitee at a Utah meeting of former top political and fundraising aides to Romney 2012 campaign. (In 2012, of course, Romney considered Christie as a potential running mate.) For 2016, it’s very unlikely that Romney will be a candidate, but he’s a popular party leader and GOP fundraiser, and next month Romney will make a high-profile visit to New Jersey on Christie’s behalf, attending a $150-a-plate dinner in honor of the New Jersey governor’s fifty-second birthday, at which more affluent celebrants can fork over $5,000 each for a private reception.

Pat Buchanan, whose political instincts aren’t always stellar, is touting a new book on Richard Nixon and “the greatest comeback,” and in a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Buchanan too waxed nostalgic about Romney:

I think the establishment of the Republican Party is seeing that Chris Christie may not be able to do it and that Jeb Bush does not look like he’s in fit running condition. And I think they’re looking to Romney because they’re looking for a candidate they think can move outside the red state base and win blue states possibly. The polls are showing Romney running ten points or so ahead of Obama. But he’s running behind—he’s running behind Hillary [Clinton]. My view, though, is that Romney is sort of the Nixon in the sense that he’s a candidate who’s lost two times or three times, whatever. And he’s considered a loser. However, he’s considered presidential material. And I think a lot of people are looking at him because they think that maybe he’s the only guy that can really go the distance.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March, however, lots of hard-core conservatives told Christie Watch that in 2012 Romney was “too nice” and that the New Jersey governor would be a lot tougher as a candidate than Romney was, more willing to push back hard against the Democrats (read: Hillary Clinton) than Romney did against Barack Obama.

According to The Star-Ledger’s Matt Arco, Christie—who’s already made two visits to New Hampshire in 2014, and six all together—will be back in New Hampshire in September. Ostensibly, Christie is doing all this in his capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Conference to campaign for the long-shot GOP gubernatorial candidate in the Granite State. And that’s odd, since Christie has refused to spend any of the RGA’s time or money in support of Rob Astorino, the Republican running for governor in New York—but, of course, New York doesn’t figure in the presidential primary race for 2016.

Christie, of course, is still plagued by scandal at home—there’s no telling when or if the US attorney or other investigators will take action—at he’s dealing with a lagging New Jersey economy made worse by a budget crisis and Christie’s war on New Jersey state workers’ pensions. But he’s still a formidable candidate, especially in one-on-one formats and in town hall meetings, where his combination of seeming empathy and tough-guy bluster has proved popular. According to David Plouffe, Obama’s former political adviser, Christie has raw political talent that surpasses that of his rivals, according The Wall Street Journal:

The New Jersey governor’s biggest problem isn’t the bridge scandal—it’s his temperament, Mr. Plouffe said. “He’s very thin-skinned,” the longtime Obama adviser said. Still, Mr. Plouffe said Mr. Christie has “the rawest political skill” among potential candidates. That can also be a liability, Mr. Plouffe said, but the governor has great appeal.

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And The Star-Ledger quotes Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, praising Christie’s town-hall skills:

New Hampshire is the perfect state for him, he’s a born town hall meeting person. If you want to just do campaigning from a podium this is not the state do it. This is a very different state because the voters of New Hampshire almost expect hat you’re going to get right in and tell them who you are…(and Christie) commands attention and he’s good in these town hall type of one-on-one engagements.

New Hampshire is crucial for Christie because he’s likely to lose big in Christian fundamentalist Iowa’s caucuses, whereas New Hampshire Republicans are less-religious—plus, in New Hampshire, independent voters can cast their ballots in the GOP primary, and Christie is crafting an appeal to centrist, independent-minded conservatives.

Read Next: Hillary Clinton joins GOP 2016 hopefuls in bashing President Obama.

What’s Behind the Media’s Ebola Sensationalism?

Brantly Ebola ambulance American doctor

(Screenshot courtesy of Fox News)

CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all treated the return of Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia, as if he were riding to the hospital in a white Ford Bronco. Chopper cams and speculative commentary trailed his ambulance Saturday through the streets of Atlanta with the kind of excited intensity usually reserved for police car chases and killers on the lam.

In the end, the breathless live coverage was revealed to be embarrassingly over-the-top: Brantly didn’t even need a stretcher; he climbed out of the parked ambulance in a hazmat suit and walked, with the support of just one person, into a back door of Emory University Hospital. That was the tip-off that giving a disease the O.J. treatment is a symptom of a media sickness for which there appears to be no cure.

Ebola is a terrible hemorrhagic fever that can kill from 50 percent to 90 percent of those who contract it. It’s also a symbol to the political right of all the Third World horrors that liberals are inviting past the walls of our City on the Hill. But now that two American aid workers—Nancy Writebol has just arrived at Emory, on a stretcher but, so far, with less fanfare—have brought it directly to our shores, it’s a Clear and Present Danger.

Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey went so far last month as to warn that the Central American children who’ve been turning up at border stations around the country might be smuggling Ebola in with them, like so many contagious Trojan horses (even though Ebola fever has never been detected in a patient outside of Africa). Howlers like Gingrey’s—echoed Monday by Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN)—work because Ebola, “diseased” immigrants, and “blood pollution” of all sorts fit neatly into the racist subtext of the radical right’s opposition to Obama. After all, our “lawless,” African-born POTUS, whose parents faked a birth certificate fifty-three years ago this week in order to infect America with socialism today, just happens to be hosting fifty-one African nations at a summit in Washington. How much proof do you need?

Various studies have shown that conservatives have a lower threshold for disgust than liberals do, and Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids (like vomit, feces and blood, but not through sneezing or coughing) certainly crosses that low bar. Nor is it lost on wingers that AIDS originated in Africa, too.

But many of the diseases that humans are heir to are pretty damn disgusting, no matter where they originate. There aren’t two tiers of diseases any more than there are two tiers of humanity.

There is, however, Donald Trump, who tends to elevate fear of cooties into a political philosophy. He sent out a series of tweets—including “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days—now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!”—that exhibit the germ phobia we’ve come to expect from isolated billionaire crackpots (Trump will be wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes any day now). Unusually for a Republican, though, the magnate’s fears aren’t overcome by the fact that the two infected Americans are Christian missionaries. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” he also tweeted. “People that go to far away places to help out are great—but must suffer the consequences!”

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And never mind that fighting such viruses at their place of origin is far more effective than pretending there’s a disinfectant force-field around the Homeland. Brantly is reported to have been suffering the consequences of doing good with a vengeance until he received two emergency treatments: an experimental serum developed by a San Diego pharmaceutical company, and, according to Samaritan’s Purse, the relief organization working with Brantly, a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived the disease after Brantly cared for him in Liberia. Guess which treatment gets more coverage on American TV?

Which brings us back to the fever the media has been suffering ever since the ascent of the Tea Party. Rather than dispel unscientific and political myths, the instinct at many news outlets has been to promote them. The scientific truth the media should have been promoting all along isn’t that Ebola is a Holy Terror emerging from “other” races and immune to Western treatment; rather, it’s a horrible illness with a terrifically high kill rate because up to now it has appeared only in Africa, where clean water, enforced quarantines and disposable medical supplies are hard to come by. That first take played on cable news channels, regardless of their political leanings, is a measure of just how deeply the right-wing anti-science message has taken hold on TV.

But by sheer accident, the car-chase media did the public a service, demonstrating, as Brantly walked into the hospital, that the existential danger over Ebola is being oversold. MSNBC anchor Alex Witt asked on-air physicians, including NBC in-house doctor Nancy Snyderman, if they would be afraid to treat Brantly. No, said Snyderman. Any doctor would be “excited” by the opportunity to use the medical precautions and equipment available in America to find effective treatments for the disease without spreading it.

And maybe, once again, The Onion said it best: “Experts: Ebola Vaccine at Least 50 White People Away.”

 

Read Next: Leslie Savan on how the KKK wants a “shoot to kill” policy to include migrant children

Great War: The View From America at the Start of World War I

Europe Map

To read contemporaneous accounts of the beginning of World War I is to witness the disintegration of a world. The July 23 issue of The Nation doesn’t mention the European situation at all. The July 30 issue, apparently published just after the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia on July 28, observed that the entire continent seemed to be going mad all at once. Then a week later, Nation readers picking up the August 6 issue would have noticed a surprising bulge in the middle of the magazine: a massive four-page fold-out map of Europe in the first week of the Great War.

The first item in the Summary of the News in the issue expressed hope “for a speedy termination of the conflict and for a final settlement that may make it impossible for those few men who have brought about this calamity ever again to decide for nations the issues of life and death.” The magazine wished, that is, that if there had to be a war, it should be a war to end all wars.

After relating the timeline of the July crisis in all its unfortunate details, the editors reflected on the implications for the United States. Most remarkable is the complete absence of any suggestion that there would even become a debate about whether the Americans should get involved; the world of August 1914 was such that that contingency wasn’t even worth entertaining. In an item about the financial consequences, American isolation was taken for granted:

The part which the people at large will be called upon to play is to accept philosophically such temporary inconvenience as Europe’s troubles may occasion in their banking arrangements, and to recognize the great underlying strength and soundness of the American position. We shall presently learn what it really means to be a self-supporting industrial, agricultural, and commercial state, at a time when the rest of the world is going to war, and when the fighting nations must depend for their subsistence on the supplies of foodstuff which we are better able than ever before in our history to spare for them.

In its editorials section, the magazine laid the blame for war squarely upon Germany. “Her entrance into Luxembourg, her invasion of Belgium,” Rollo Ogden, editor of The Nation’s parent publication, The New York Evening-Post, wrote, “were the directest kind of challenge to England, and there was never any doubt as to how it would be answered. By this action Germany has shown herself ready to lift an outlaw hand against the whole of Western Europe…. By the light we have at present, this at least is clear, that if Emperor Willliam did not directly cause and desire the war, he at least failed to prevent it when it would have been easy for him to do so.”

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That choice, Ogden continued, “was a decision big with fate.” His concluding paragraph is remarkably prescient:

The human mind cannot yet begin to grasp the consequences. One of them, however, seems plainly written in the book of the future. It is that, after this most awful and most wicked of all wars is over, the power of life and death over millions of men, the right to decree the ruin of industry and commerce and finance, with untold human misery stalking through the land like a plague, will be taken away from three men. No safe prediction of actual results of battle can be made. Dynasties may crumble before all is done; empires change their form of government. But whatever happens, Europe—humanity—will not settle back again into a position enabling three Emperors—one of them senile, another subject to melancholia, and the third often showing signs of disturbed mental balance—to give, on their individual choice or whim, the signal for destruction and massacre.

The senile monarch Ogden refers to is clearly the aged Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, for whose health The Nation had already expressed concern after the assassinate of his nephew, Franz Ferdinand. As far as I know, Wilhelm of Germany was alternately melancholic and erratic. I do not know enough about the Tsar to confirm which epithet referred to him—knowledgeable readers please inform us in the comments below. More importantly, though, Ogden was correct in predicting the three would lose their power to wage war: their empires, not only their dynasties, lay crumpled and discarded by the end of the war.

The next article was by Oswald Garrison Villard, the pacifist owner of both The Nation and the Post, who began his career as a military journalist. “Forecasts as to what may happen,” Villard wrote, “now that all Europe has decided to halt the progress of civilization by going in for wholesale murder on a more terrible scale than the world has yet witnessed, would be utterly futile. The magnitude of the forces involved staggers the imagination.” The entry of Britain, he concluded with a somewhat histrionic, if appropriate, air, “makes inevitable the greatest battles the world has yet seen, to make a mock of our Christianity, 1,900 years after the coming of the Prince of Peace.”

Back Issues is following this magazine’s coverage of the “Great War”—in real time, a century later.

Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at rkreitner@thenation.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

 

Read Next: Forty years later, our “long national nightmare” is far from over

By John Boehner’s Logic, a Lot of Presidents Should Have Been Sued

Barack Obama

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The US House of Representatives voted 225-201 last week for a measure “providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President or other executive branch officials inconsistent with their duties under the Constitution of the United States.”

Translation: House Republicans approved the use of public time and resources to support Speaker John Boehner’s strategy to stir up the conservative base with a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s authority to do what previous presidents have done.

So, despite the fact that a majority of Americans see the lawsuit as a “political stunt,” it will be pursued because, as House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan says, “We want to show that we’re not going to take this lying down.”

The timing of the vote—just before the August congressional break in a critical election year—certainly suggests that this lawsuit is more about politics than the Constitution. But political moves matter, especially at the presidential level. They matter electorally. And they matter from a policy standpoint.

So what’s significant here is the question of whether Obama will be intimidated by Boehner’s initiative.

The immediate answer would appear to be “no.”

Though they have many complaints—topped by the usual objections to implementation of the Affordable Care Act—Boehner’s minions have repeatedly raised particularly loud objections regarding the issuance of executive orders that that they see as too ambitious in their intention to protect the environment, aid vulnerable children and better the condition of workers. Yet, after the House voted to back Boehner, Obama issed another order.

In fact, he issued one of the most important orders of his presidency. The Fair and Safe Workplaces Order outlines a set of requirements that are designed to steer federal contracts toward companies that respect labor and civil rights laws.

The president’s order is important. “Currently, there are about 24,000 contractors doing business with the federal government, employing about 28 million workers,” explains Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen. “By requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations, including illegal discrimination and firing of workers who want to exercise their right to organize, more companies may decide that obeying the law and respecting workers’ rights is the smart move after all.”

While Obama’s order is significant, it is not radical—in practice or in the context of past presidential orders.

The order uses transparency (disclosure and reporting requirements for companies) to assure that agencies awarding federal contracts can take into consideration whether bidders for federal contracts have complied with health and safety requirements, wage and hours protections, collective bargaining rules and civil rights laws.

“Requiring companies to disclose their recent compliance with labor and employment laws and allowing agencies to consider those records in the bid process will better ensure that companies receiving taxpayer-funded contracts actually satisfy our nation’s basic wage and workplace standards,” explains National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens. “Formal consideration of compliance records in the bidding process will also level the playing field between bidders, reducing the ability of bottom-feeders to shortchange their employees in order to gain an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors. And incentivizing federal contractors to obey the law protects taxpayers’ interest in ensuring that their tax dollars do not underwrite illegal conduct such as wage theft, health and safety violations, and other unlawful practices that are not only inconsistent with our values but ultimately shift greater costs onto the American public.”

The executive order creates new avenues for encouraging companies to respect protections for minorities and women in the workplace. In particular, notes National Women’s Law Center co-president Marcia D. Greenberger, Obama’s order “will prohibit companies with contracts of more than $1 million from forcing their employees to arbitrate violations of federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or religion or tort claims arising out of sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

The notion that this is overreach, worthy of a legal action by Congress, is a stretch. After all, while Obama is doing something important here, he is not blazing a new trail as regards protection of the civil rights of federal contract workers.

Consider the record:

§ In 1941, under pressure from Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union president A. Philip Randolph and a burgeoning civil rights movement, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which required that defense contracts include provisions to bar private contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, creed, color or national origin. The order also established the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice, which was empowered to investigate discrimination cases and “to take appropriate steps to redress grievances which it finds to be valid.”

§ In 1943, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9346, which applied the anti-discrimination requirement to all government contractors.

§ In 1948, again under pressure from Randolph and his allies, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which banned discrimination in the US military. “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” read the order, which established a high-level committee to investigate instances of bias and to make recommendations for how to eliminate it.

§ In 1951, President Truman issued Executive Order 10308, which created the federal Committee on Government Contract Compliance, which was charged with assuring that federal contractors continued, in the post–World War II era, to comply with the non-discrimination provisions of Executive Order 8802

§ In 1953, President Dwight David Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10479, which established the President’s Advisory Committee on Government Organization (an expansion of the Government Contract Committee) to assure that federal contractors respected all anti-discrimination orders and initiatives. Eisenhower’s order declared, “It is the obligation of the contracting agencies of the United States Government and government contractors to ensure compliance with, and successful execution of, the equal employment opportunity program of the United States Government.”

§ In 1961, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.” Kennedy’s order also created the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which was to work with federal agencies to advance the initiative. It was chaired by Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

§ In 1965, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which expanded federal programs to combat discrimination and implement affirmative action programs. The order specifically prohibited “federal contractors and federally assisted construction contractors and subcontractors, who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” And it gave the secretary of Labor the job of administering the order’s anti-discrimination protections and initiatives. “Today,” according to the Department of Labor, “Executive Order 11246, as amended and further strengthened over the years, remains a major safeguard, protecting the rights of workers employed by federal contractors—approximately one-fifth of the entire US labor force—to remain free from discrimination on the basis of their gender, race, religion, color or national origin…and opening the doors of opportunity through its affirmative action provisions.”

Presidents, from George Washington on, have issued executive orders. And in the last century, executive orders have been closely—and consistently—tied to the improvement of the circumstance of workers employed by federal contractors.

In issuing executive orders that respect workers and advance civil rights, President Obama is doing what past presidents have done. The only difference is that he faces a lawsuit from a Congress that, in addition to failing to act on its own, wants to prevent the president from acting to get things done.

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Reasonable people can and should debate the limits of presidential power, particularly when it comes to issues of war and peace, and questions about spying on Americans or politicizing positions of public trust. Any serious discourse on executive overreach would find plenty to criticize in the approaches of all recent presidents—including President Obama.

But “reasonable” and “serious” are not the words that come to mind as the most powerful and prominent Republicans in Congress attack their president’s executive orders with regard to federal contracts and contractors. The word that comes to mind is “obstruction.” Presidents have often faced obstruction when it comes to protecting workers. And from FDR’s day to today, the response has been to issue executive orders.

Read Next: Mychal Denzel Smith on why the notion of a “war on whites” is absurd

The High Price That Surveillance Costs the Press and Our Democracy

Edward Snowden

Former National Security Agency Analyst, Edward Snowden (AP photo) 

Click here to jump directly to Reed Richardson.

Alter-reviews:

1) The Allman Brothers Band: “The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings,” six cds

2) John Coltrane, “Sideman,” three cds

3) The “Legendary Count Basie Orchestra” live at the Blue Note

Together with “Eat a Peach”—much of which was recorded at the same shows, The Allman Brothers Band's double album, “Live At Fillmore East,” has long been one a handful of iconic rock albums and no collection could be considered complete without it. Drawn from four shows on March 12-13, 1971, it so impressed Bill Graham that he decided that the band—which had sold next to no records at the time—would be the ones to close the hall, which they did months later, with a long set that began at 3:00 am.

In the past, if you wanted to collect more than just the above—the performances that were played that weekend but not recorded, you would have found them scattered among the following:

Duane Allman Anthology, Volume 1, Polydor, 1972/1986
Duane Allman Anthology, Volume 2, Polydor, 1974/1987
Dreams, Polydor, 1989
The Fillmore Concerts, Polydor, 1992
The Allman Brothers Band: (Deluxe Edition), Mercury, 2003
Eat a Peach (Deluxe Edition), Mercury, 2006
Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective, Rounder, 2013

I actually did all that, but most sane people did not. Now, for the rest of you there is a lovely boxed six-cd version The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings which contains fifteen versions of the these songs—including the very first show of the weekend--that you would not have even if you did all of the above. The credits are cleaned up too, so now we know that we are listening to Rudolph ‘Juicy” Carter on saxophone and Bobby Caldwell on percussion on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” The set lists do not change much. But the playing sure does overseen by executive producer Bill Levenson, who was responsible for the Dreams  box which got the band restarted on its current-about-to-end journey, it comes with an essay by band historian John Lynskey. Tom Dowd’s original mixes have been redone but not so much that you would notice—even if like me—you’ve been listening to the SACD for the past few years. People who do not appreciate the band, including those with whom I happen to live with, may mock you for wanting so many versions of “Statesboro” and “You Don’t Love Me.” (I could actually use a few more of “One Way Out.” But you must ignore them. Music has rarely been played better than this and history demands that we respect it, as this terrific box set does.)

Less ambitious but still most definitely of note this week is the release of “Sideman: Trane's Blue Note Sessions,” which is a three cd collection of Coltrane’s sessions for Blue Note Records from 1956-1957. He was member of the Miles Davis Quintet and also regularly played with Thelonious Monk at the time and combined self-discipline and creativity in a fashion that few have before or since. This set, conceived by former Blue Note Records president Bruce Lundvall, collects Trane’s work-for-hire sessions for Blue Note in one place for the first time. The albums in question are given over to Paul Chambers (Chambers' Music, a.k.a. High Step, and Whims of Chambers), Johnny Griffin (A Blowing Session) and Sonny Clark (Sonny's Crib). It’s all in mono, and this will be the first time you can find the Clark cd so mixed. The book-style package –which will fit in your cd case, includes a 34-page booklet with an essay by Ashley Kahn.

When I squeezed into a sold-out Count Basie show at the Blue Note on Sunday just before the band came on, I was feeling pretty crowded space-wise. Then I looked up on stage and I could hardly believe how many people were up on stage. I saw the actual Count Basie at Carnegie Hall about thirty years ago, not long before he died in 1984 joined by Ella Fitzgerald on vocals and Joe Pass on guitar. This was not as great as that. Not much is. The Basie band has traditionally been considered to be the home of the most talented of players and the material they play is a kind of urb-jazz that may have stopped with time a long time ago, but sounds as great as ever today. Now directed by Scotty Barnhart, this band has any number of great players—too many to mention, really and the point is not the individuals, whoever they may actually may be, but the machine they turn into together. Add them all up and they have about a thousand years of  experience and chops and emotional and musical intelligence. The repertoire is actually surprising too. It all drew on Basie history but with compositions and arrangements by people who have by and large gone unsung in jazz history; that’s what was on display last weekend at the Blue Note last week. You should hope you get the chance to see them in your town soon, too.

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert may take a lot of vacation time every August, but I take my reporting responsibilities seriously, and so I plan to head out to Guild Hall, the jewel of East Hampton, at least twice in the next few weeks. First is this weekend when they’ve put together an awesome bill of sax man Josh Redman with The Bad Plus. Then, on August 22, there’s the return of the good/bad fun of  “Celebrity Autobiography” reading with unofficial Mayor of the Hamptons, Alec Baldwin, and its no less unofficial Queen, Christie Brinkley, among many others, attempting to do justice to the literary talents of Vanna, Sly, Burt and Loni, some Jonases, and a bunch of other people who could have afforded to hire better ghost-writers—or ghost-writers at all. The Guild Hall asked is here should you be in the area.

And now, here (finally) is Reed:

The High Price that Surveillance Costs the Press and Our Democracy
by Reed Richardson

It is a truism of covering Washington: each White House is more closed off and antagonistic toward the media than the last one. Press secretaries say less and less of value, while “senior administration officials” spin more and more. And perhaps nowhere is this trend more amplified than in the national security and intelligence arena, where every subsequent administration ups the ante at both keeping and creating more and more secrets, making the job of the press reporting on these critical issues ever tougher. But these are the waters journalists wade into knowingly, so it can be tempting to dismiss any of their complaints about how hard their job is now as routine bellyaching. Perhaps a frustrated press corps would just be wise to heed the advice of Jason Robards’ Ben Bradlee in All the President’s Men, “…rest up 15 minutes, then get your asses back in gear.”

If only it were that easy. Indeed, consider how much really has changed for journalism since that ominous scene on Bradlee’s front lawn, where Woodward and Bernstein had moved the conversation to avoid possible White House-directed bugging inside their boss’s house. Behavior that was probably overwrought paranoia 40 years ago has increasingly become de rigueur for national security reporters today in light of government surveillance capabilities that can easily draw connections between journalists and their sources using phone metadata and email history, as well as track their respective movements through the cellphones in their pockets.

Tellingly, two of the biggest whistleblowers in U.S. history, one from that era and one from this one, have had radically different experiences when it came to maintaining their anonymity. Deep Throat—the high-ranking FBI official Mark Felt—successfully escaped public identification for 32 years before voluntarily revealing his key role in guiding the Washington Post ’s blockbuster Watergate coverage; Edward Snowden, on the other hand, was so confident that our nation’s global spy network would figure him out he followed an irreversible path that involved outing himself less than a week after the first stories about NSA spying broke. (No doubt the vastly different scale of their leaks played a big role in their respective ability/inability to keep their identities hidden as well.)

We’ve arrived at an age where our nation’s spy agencies not only want to “collect it all” but can and do. Such an omniscient surveillance state, coupled with the Obama administration’s unprecedented pursuit of whistleblowers, poses a uniquely difficult dilemma for national security and intelligence reporters. In effect, they are forced to operate in a kind of through-the-looking-glass reality where both nothing and everything is a secret. In such an environment, one might expect fewer and fewer sources inside the government to be willing to risk talking to the press, meaning more and more of what our government does in our name becomes shrouded from public view. And, in fact, a new joint study from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch released last week, entitled “With Liberty to Monitor All”   finds this to be exactly the case.

“Whether reporting valuable information to the public, representing another’s legal interests, or voluntarily associating with others in order to advocate for changes in policy, it is often crucial to keep certain information private from the government. In the face of a massively powerful surveillance apparatus maintained by the US government, however, that privacy is becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to ensure. As a result, journalists and their sources, as well as lawyers and their clients, are changing their behavior in ways that undermine basic rights and corrode democratic processes.”

The report, which is worth reading in its entirety, offers a broad, ambitious analysis of electronic surveillance’s impact on the press, on due process and the law, and our democracy in general. Based on interviews from 92 individuals—including dozens of veteran journalists and lawyers, as well as several current and former U.S. government officials—the report lays out a strong case that our nation’s overzealous surveillance state has become increasingly counterproductive and has compromised the rights and principles it purportedly protects.

Its section on the journalism is especially alarming. It reveals a natsec press corps mired in a kind of journalistic torpor, suffering from a drought of sources and struggling to implement a raft of new digital privacy countermeasures (many of which still have little to no ability to prevent government monitoring). Numerous national security reporters talk of the surveillance state’s chilling effect on their reporting and there’s clearly large opportunity costs to all the extra work involved. After all, it takes a lot of time to find and recruit new sources as well as to learn and master the use of encrypted communications; time that could be better spent uncovering government misconduct and informing the public.

This last point is a crucial one. Though journalists adopt (correctly) an adversarial role when reporting on the government—particularly important when sniffing out the many hidden corners of the national security apparatus—it’s important to remember that this is in our government and our country’s best interests. As Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest puts it in the report: “What makes government better is our work exposing information.” And this need for the press to act as a check against government misconduct or abuse of power becomes even more critical when the White House and Congress routinely fail to exercise any real oversight .

One of the most common arguments made in defense of the country’s current surveillance system is that critics can’t name one person who has really been harmed by it, even when it frequently oversteps its already feeble constraints. And it a strict sense they’re right; it’s very difficult to identify specific individual Americans whose lives have been damaged by it. (Although I’d say these Muslim American leaders clearly pass the test.) This report, however, stands as a clear rebuke to the “I’ve got nothing to hide, so who cares?” crowd because it demonstrates that it’s not merely individuals, but whole systems within our democracy itself that are collectively suffering. Freedom of the press, the right to privacy, due process, political accountability: more than any one person, it’s these bedrock principles of our nation that are being eroded away by an all-seeing, all-knowing national security posture.

Of course, spy agencies are supposed to spy. Accordingly, the report offers up numerous, common-sense recommendations for re-ordering secrecy and surveillance policy. Coincidentally, there was actually some encouraging news on this front out of Capitol Hill this week. The latest iteration of the USA FREEDOM Act put forward, if passed, would take real, substantive steps toward rolling back onerous bulk collection of records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the egregiously prejudicial National Security Letters. (Troublingly, the bill would exempt the FBI from oversight on so-called “back door searches,” a controversial surveillance tactic that the agency could employ to track whistleblowers who are in contact with journalists without obtaining a warrant.)

Arriving roughly one year after the first Snowden leaks, the ACLU/Human Rights Watch report offers a vital reminder of how much we’ve learned about our government’s surveillance programs since last summer. But it also highlights how far we have to go to strike the right balance between government secrecy, press freedom, and individual privacy, since many other flawed areas of overreach highlighted by the report—in particular, surveillance conducted under Section 702 and Executive Order 12333 authority—still have no proposed solution on the horizon. While the knowledge we’ve gained over the past year has undoubtedly made it tougher for journalists, lawyers, and lawmakers to do their job, having the scales lifted from our eyes is unquestionably better for all of us. Now that we know the high price our democracy is paying to accommodate this vast surveillance state, it’s up to us to do something about it. For, as the Bradlee character also pointed out in that same scene in All the President’s Men: “Nothing’s riding on this…except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.”

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

The Mail
Marlowe Hood

Just read your piece on climate change reporting (“Blinded Me With Balance…”), and thought you might be interested (or at least entertained) by my own reflection (u.afp.com/Godzilla) after five years as a Paris-based science-&-environment reporter for Agence France Presse.

As an international news agency, we of course confronted all the questions you raise. While we never laid down specific agency-wide guidelines on how to deal with global warming ‘sceptics’, AFP has long had a firm policy of evaluating climate change stories on the basis of scientific merit. As a result, we never gave much oxygen to what were—for anyone who bothered to look closely—attention-seeking charlatans and/or& industry-fed flacks. I’m American, but looking at the U.S. from afar on this issue during the last eight years, I kept asking myself: when will mainstream media in the U.S. wake up? It took far too long, but the sleep-inducing spell seems finally to have broken (except, of course, chez Fox News). At a personal level, I struggled as a beat reporter with a different quandary: whether I could do my job with integrity having rather quickly come to the conclusion that climate change was a monumental—the monumental—threat of our times. Indeed, in mid-2009 I nearly cashed in my chips as a journalist, thinking that I might be able to communicate that reality more effectively in another guise. But long exchanges with colleagues, scientists and activists finally convinced me that honest, conscientious reporting on the science and policy—including, of course, foibles and failures—was the best way forward.

Martina Rippon
Madison, WI

I'm blown over by the crystal clarity of your article (“From Hobby Lobby to Climate Change…”) exposing the incompetence, even the complicit deception, of the media regarding birth control* decisions passed on by men who have no conception (pun intended) of what a woman goes through in carrying a fetus as well as nurturing that child for the rest of its life.  It truly is an attack on women, probably on "uppity" women who threaten their incompetence at their jobs. Nowhere have I seen it written (might be, but I haven't seen it) the simple fact that prohibiting contraception makes abortion even more likely.

*I refer to it as "pregnancy control" because that's what it is.

Somewhere in medical school I heard an instructor refer to pregnancy as a "parasitic infestation," because, technically, the implanted fetus is a parasite.

All that aside, you've inspired me to subscribe to The Nation again.

I look forward to further developments in your expose of the media's dereliction of duty.  Free press should not include false press; right-wing fallacies (phallusies?) are too quick to deny women's experience or even existence—thanks for pointing out the few mentions in Alito's opinion.

SCROTUS's—Supreme Court (Really?) of the United States needs its own bias exposed—especially that of Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts. I think Thomas may be impeachable—he sure stretches anyone's notion of appropriate or "good behavior."

Please forgive my bordering-on-the-obscene commentary, but I am really pissed by these bullies dicking us around. Did I mention that I am a woman?

Hobby Lobby's hypocrisy is even more evident that most of its merchandise is made in China, where abortions are forced. Enough rant for now.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form

Is the Attack on Abortion Rights Backfiring in the South?

Abortion Protest

(Reuters/Jim Young)

Alabama just became the latest bright spot in efforts to defend abortion rights against consistent attacks at the state level. On Monday, federal judge declared unconstitutional a 2013 law requiring that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at area hospitals.

Proponents of the law had argued that it was intended to keep women safe, and that without the requirement, providers can’t ensure that a patient will be moved quickly to the hospital when the need arises. But the judge disagreed, echoing the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ and the American Medical Association’s arguments against the alleged medical basis for such laws. Complications requiring hospitalization occur in just .05 to .3 percent of early-term abortions, the type performed at the Alabama clinics in question. With the safety argument exposed as empty, the judge found that the law serves no purpose other than to outlaw abortion in huge swaths of the state.

According to the decision: “If this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.” In other words: if this isn’t a sneaky way to ban the procedure, I don’t know what is.

Had it gone into effect, the law would have put access to abortion out of reach for many Alabama women, particularly those in the southern part of the state. Clinics in Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery—Alabama’s three most populous cities—would have been forced to close. In 2012, these clinics performed 40 percent of all legal abortions in the state. According to the decision, it would have been unlikely that providers there could have gotten staff privileges, either because they don’t live within a specific radius of the local hospital, the early-term abortions they provide are too safe to necessitate that they admit a patient for additional care (after all, you have to use the privilege in order to get and maintain it), or because the granting of such privileges is subjective, often made at the whims of hospital administrators.

The ruling comes on the heels of a federal court’s decision last week to continue to block a similar law in Mississippi. If that state’s admitting privileges law is eventually allowed to go into effect, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic will close.

“These laws have little to do with women’s health, and they’re 100 percent about politics,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU’s lead counsel on the Alabama case, told me. The ACLU argued the case along with Planned Parenthood.

Judge Myron Thompson appears to agree. His entire decision is worth a read, in part because it paints such a vivid picture of the political climate surrounding abortion in the state and the region. It recounts a history of violence against providers and clinics, including murders and firebombings throughout the last two decades. It details the high consequences doctors there face when their practices include providing abortions (one reason providers fly into Alabama from their homes elsewhere), and the lack of training available for medical students in the South. According to the decision: “Only 8 percent of OB/GYNs in the South perform any abortions at all, compared to 26 percent in the Northeast. In Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, no residency program offers abortion training to OB/GYN medical residents.” Clearly, access to abortion is already a challenge for families in the state. In 2001 a dozen clinics provided the procedure in Alabama. Today, there are only five.

Poor women pay the price. At the three clinics that would have closed, more than half of abortion patients live at or below 150 percent of the poverty line, according to the decision. Simply traveling elsewhere for the procedure isn’t so easy when transportation and lost wages make the endeavor just too expensive.

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On a conference call for media earlier this summer, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project Director Jennifer Dalven pointed out that admitting privileges as a backdoor ban on abortion is especially worth watching in the South, where a contiguous five state block faced such laws. In addition to Alabama and Mississippi, similar requirements passed in Oklahoma and Louisiana earlier this year. A review of the Texas law is pending. Further north in Wisconsin, attorneys with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have challenged an admitting privileges law and a ruling in that case is expected soon. The Alabama decision sends a critical message, according to Kolbi-Molinas.

“It should be instructive to future courts as they look at these issues,” she said. “And hopefully [instructive] to legislators that politicians should stop trying to practice medicine and stop trying to play doctor.”

 

Read Next: George Zornick on how this bill could end state abortion restrictions