Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Why Are Some Colleges Still Blaming the Victims in Sexual Assault Cases?

Letter of the Week

Last week, the public got a glimpse of the attitude some administrators at the historically black Lincoln University are taking toward sexual assault. In a video shot in September of a convocation delivered to an all-female audience, the university’s president, Robert Jennings, says, “We have, we had, on this campus last semester three cases of young women who after having done whatever they did with young men and then it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to turn out, guess what they did? They then went to Public Safety and said, ‘He raped me.’ ”

His remarks ignited a firestorm of criticism, and Jennings has since released a letter to the students at Lincoln apologizing for his insensitive remarks. In this clip, Melissa Harris-Perry explains just how serious such attitude toward sexual violence really is.
—N’Kosi Oates

Mexico’s Undead Rise Up

Photos of the missing

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the forty-three student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burned to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the forty-three remain undead. The findings speak to a growing skepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place. Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials and organized crime.

This growing realization has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none have yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the forty-three at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent fourteen hours burning the bodies—could have happened, due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want to put this issue to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves that investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished. These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their skepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing forty-three are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites. Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colorful ways. Defying the government’s theater of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the forty-three disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

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This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of El Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist. After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now forty-three disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said, “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Read Next: “This Mass Grave Isn’t the Mass Grave You Have Been Looking For”

GOP Senator Says Obama’s Immigration Speech Could Trigger Some Kind of White Ferguson

Tom Coburn

Senator Tom Coburn (USA Today)

Retiring Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, in an interview with USA Today’s Susan Page yesterday, seemed to both warn about and threaten white violence against President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform, saying the president’s speech Thursday night could provoke “violence” and “anarchy.” He even suggested that the reaction could parallel the demonstrations and violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

Page asked what will be the reaction of Republicans in Washington, and Coburn acted as if it’s not the GOP that will be upset (‘cause, you know, they’re such a even-keeled bunch: Alabama Representative Mo Brooks actually thinks Obama could end up in jail, as well as impeached). Rather, it’s all those regular folks out there who will be terribly disappointed that the president isn’t working with Congress.

“Oh, I don’t think it’s so much a Republican reaction here,” Coburn said. “The country’s going to go nuts. Because they are going to see it as a move outside of the authority of the president. And it’s going to be a very dangerous situation. You’re going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy.”

“You could see violence,” Coburn continued. “This is a big step, to not work with Congress, now that he’s got a new Congress, to go completely around it.”

Then, oddly, Coburn cited the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, saying that Obama’s immigration action could invoke similar concerns about injustice: “Well, here’s how people think—if the law doesn’t apply to the president, and it’s not affirmatively acted on for us as a group, like you’re seeing in Ferguson, Missouri, then why should it apply to me?”

As Josh Marshall pointed out at TPM, Coburn’s warnings about street violence over allowing the parents of American-born citizens to stay here without fear of deportation were logically challenged in the first place. The protesters in Ferguson are outraged by a direct government action, the shooting to death of an unarmed black teenager. Any violence over Obama’s executive order would mean people taking to the streets in anger over a government inaction—its refusal to actively deport people already living in the US for years.

But logic is never a strong component of American conniptions over race. You could also see what Coburn said as implying a sort of good-for-the-goose, good-for-the-gander equivalency: if blacks get to riot over a perceived injustice, so should whites. That plays directly into the right’s sense of victimization and “reverse racism.”

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Coburn’s remarks should also be seen in the context of the 2016 elections. Obama’s immigration reforms, modest as they are in reality, would further the perception driven home by Fox News, hate radio, and millions of dollars of GOP advertising that Obama only helps the poor and minorities. Obama saying that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon” Martin, Eric Holder’s intervention in Ferguson, and even Obamacare, which actually helps more whites than blacks but is believed to do the exact opposite by many whites—all are grist for that mill of resentment. Add to that changing immigration practices by executive order, and the right may be able to orchestrate a backlash of epic proportions against a Democratic nominee.

In politics, what is true is never as important as what works.

See the Coburn interview here:

UPDATE: This is even more hysterical, in both senses. Anti-immigrant and voter-suppression superhawk Kris Kobach, the GOP Kansas secretary of state, says that once Obama replaces “American voters with newly legalized aliens,” gets “a locked-in vote for socialism,” and does away with the rule of law, we could be in for a spate of “ethnic cleansing,” presumably by Latinos of Americans—though he didn’t quite specify what that “American” ethnicity might be.

Read Next: “Why Gruber’s ‘Stupid’ Comment Has Become a Dog Whistle for the GOP”

When Networks Snub a Presidential Address, Democracy Is ‘The Biggest Loser’

President Barack Obama

 (AP Photo/Saul Loeb, Pool)

Only 36 percent of Americans participated in the November 4 elections that determined the political makeup of the legislative branch of the federal government. That’s a dismal measure of political engagement in the United States, a nation where voter turnout rates have in recent years fallen far below the levels seen in Germany and other European countries.

The Economist’s 2012 “Democracy Index” dropped the US ranking on the list of the most democratic countries to number twenty-one—with particularly low marks for popular participation in the political process.

How has the American circumstance so decayed in a nation that once so well understood the wisdom of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s observation that “democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men’s [and women’s] enlightened will”?

There’s plenty of blame to go around. But let’s start with broadcast media that are so indefensibly irresponsible that television networks cannot take time away from their relentless profiteering to present a short address by the president of the United States—an address announcing an executive order on an issue that is universally recognized as consequential and controversial.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox—four major broadcast networks—all declined to interrupt prime-time programming to air President Obama’s Thursday evening address on immigration policy. Though cable news channels, public television stations and Spanish-language stations cleared time for the president’s speech, the big broadcast networks stuck with fare such as The Biggest Loser.

The absurdity of the choice made by the networks was only heightened by the fact that the network-aligned local television stations that were set to broadcast entertainment programs rather than the president’s address just pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars for airing the slurry of negative campaign commercials that have become the crude lingua franca of our politics. A good many of those commercials focused on the issue of immigration. And the stations that aired those ads would gladly accept more cash from groups seeking to attack or embrace the president’s position.

The result is a democratically dysfunctional imbalance where viewers of the major broadcast networks and of local television stations that carry their programming can get more information from paid political advertisements about a policy than from the policymaker himself. And forget about honest debate, even in the constrained form of a presidential address followed by a response from the leader of the opposition.

This is not how a great democracy is supposed to work. And the refusal of major media outlets to take seriously their role in the democratic discourse is one important part of why this great democracy is not working as well as it could—or should. When a major presidential address is not taken seriously by the networks, Americans get another signal that the political process is something separate and distant from their lives.

Former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps has repeatedly warned in recent years of the threat posed to democracy by the “diminished and too often dumbed-down civic dialogue” that emerges when those who broadcast on the people’s airwaves fail to serve the people’s interest.

Copps explains, “Our country confronts challenges to its viability in some ways reminiscent of the 1930s, making it a national imperative that every American be empowered with the news and information essential for knowledgeable decision-making. Without that, the challenges go misunderstood, untended, unresolved. When our media, our press and our journalism catch cold, democracy catches pneumonia.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, sees the network neglect of a particular presidential address as just one measure of a broader crisis for democracy that results when media are no longer “educating the American people so that we’re debating the real issues.”

That broader crisis is evident all around us. Journalism is declining rapidly (in print and broadcast formats), creating an information void that has not been filled for the great mass of Americans by emerging cable and digital media. Increasingly, the void is filled by paid political commercials and siloed spin. This denies the vast majority of eligible voters the information they need to engage with the political process, to form their own opinions and to act effectively as their own governors.

Too frequently, pundits blame citizens for not sifting and winnowing the information that is available to them. But isn’t the point of a free press—as it was understood by the founders, and as it should be understood today—to provide direct access to that information, especially when presidents are launching major new initiatives? Shouldn’t broadcast networks and stations be expected to pause their entertainment programming long enough for a president to explain what he is doing in his own words—and for an opposition leader to challenge that explanation?

The first televised address by an American president was a 1947 request by Harry Truman that Americans consume one less slice of bread each day in order to free up grain for post-war Europe. Since then, presidents have used primetime access to explain nuclear policy, announce invasions, advance civil rights, promote energy conservation, ponder the ramifications of stem cell research and warn about the threat posed by the military-industrial complex. Not every address has been dramatic, and some have been self-serving. Most would have benefited from a response by an opposition leader. But all were aired by the broadcast networks as part of the duty to the American people that goes with surfing the public airwaves.

So, too, was a 2006 address by then-President George W. Bush on immigration policy.

“In 2006, Bush gave a 17 minute speech that was televised by all three networks that was about deploying 6,000 national guard troops to the border,” a senior Obama administration aide griped to Politico. “Obama is making a 10 minute speech that will have a vastly greater impact on the issue. And none of the networks are doing it.”

The counter from the networks was reportedly that Obama’s 2014 speech is more “overtly political” than Bush’s 2006 speech.

That’s debatable, as the Bush speech drew criticism from a number of corners. But, whether they are political or not, the executive actions that Obama is taking are real—they will have consequences for millions of people, they will face political and legal challenges, and they could lead to more policy shifts. Americans ought to hear their president’s explanation for why he is acting as he is at this time. And they ought to hear what the leader of the congressional opposition, House Speaker John Boehner, says he is going to do in response.

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This very open, very public, prime-time give and take is vital. It invites Americans into the debate as informed citizens—not the targets of negative ads and spin. And there is every good reason to believe that genuine engagement with policy, as opposed to the politics of personalities, has the potential to maintain and enhance voter turnout over the long term.

Former FCC Commissioner Copps is exactly right. If we do not “ensure that each and every citizen of this nation has available the news and information they need in order to be contributing participants in the affairs of the nation,” then, “It means a crippled and stunted small ‘d’ democratic dialogue.”

John Nichols is the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again (Nation Books).

Read Next: John Nichols on the rise of the ”dollarocracy”

Before Senator Mark Udall Leaves Office, He Can Make History

Photo of a man being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison

A man is tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Back in April, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly to release its report detailing widespread torture of prisoners—and possible CIA lying to Congress—during the Bush administration. Seven months later, the public has yet to see it. While the White House continues to stonewall Congress and insist on redactions, time is running out before Republicans, who are far less likely to insist on transparency, take power.

But there’s another way—and before the end of the year, we have a rare chance to make it happen.

Transparency and civil liberties advocates are calling on outgoing Senator Mark Udall to use his powers under the Constitution’s “Speech and Debate Clause” to read the entire report into the public record. Under the clause, which Senator Mike Gravel used to release the Pentagon Papers in 1971, members of Congress have an absolute right to free speech and can enter classified reports into the public record without fear of prosecution.

When Senator Udall leaves office this January, we will lose an important advocate for privacy and accountability from our increasingly secretive government. But, as The Nation’s John Nichols points out, by releasing the torture report into the public record, the outgoing Senator has a chance to “shake up the whole debate about how US intelligence agencies operate—and about the secrecy surrounding those operations.”


Join The Nation, Win Without War, Daily Kos and a host of other organizations in calling on outgoing Senator Mark Udall to read the “torture report” into the Congressional Record.


Thanks in large part to the leaks provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know more about the disturbing expansion of government powers under the guise of national security, and better understand the critical need for more transparency and accountability. Earlier this month, The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen sat down with Snowden for a wide-ranging interview that covered, among other topics, the surveillance state, the American political system and the price he has paid for his understanding of patriotism.


When the Senate Intelligence Committee voted back in April to release their report, Stephen Colbert summed up the attitude of much of the political establishment toward this shameful chapter in our history: “Some people thought it was right, some people thought it was wrong. Let’s meet in the middle and never discuss it again.”

What Wouldn’t Roger Goodell Do to Save His Image?

On the Dan Patrick Show today, Dave Zirin called out Roger Goodell for “basically using a beaten 4-year-old child as a stepping stone to reclaim the moral highground that was lost after the Ray Rice scandal.” Zirin points out that you can both be repulsed by what Adrian Peterson did to his son, and see what Roger Goodell is doing for what it is: “a profoundly cynical exercise in personal and professional brand rehabilitation.”

- Jessica McKenzie

Hope and Fear Precede Obama’s Immigration Announcement

Immigration Reform Rally

A rally for immigration reform in Washington, on Sunday, March 21, 2010 (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Greisa Martineza is too nervous to call her mother. She’s waiting until she knows whether the executive action President Obama will announce Thursday in a primetime address will give her mother a reprieve from the fear that at any time she could be arrested, separated from her family and deported.

“I couldn’t get myself to call just yet, until it’s a reality,” Martineza explained. “It would be hard for me to have words to say to her without knowing something concrete.”

Rumors of who will be included in Obama’s orders and who will be left out spread through the media this week. Some are contradictory, heightening the tension as millions of undocumented residents and their families await the announcement. The New York Times, for example, reported in its Thursday edition that farm workers would not receive special protection. But the president of the United Farmworker Union said that he’d been told at a White House meeting on Wednesday that Obama planned to include at least a quarter of a million agricultural laborers.

Martineza’s mother, Elia, will probably hear good news tonight. Two of Elia’s four daughters are US citizens, and it’s widely reported that Obama’s plan will cover parents like her. Elia, who lives in Dallas, Texas, has been a single mother since her husband was deported in 2009, a task made even more difficult by the fact that she lacked a driver’s license and a work permit. She got her daughters to college, but Martineza said that even the commute to work caused her mother great anxiety. She hopes that Obama’s announcement will turn ordinary activities like shopping for her sister’s wedding dress from a hazard to ordinary fun. “She’ll have peace of mind to enjoy those moments,” Martineza speculated. “She can finally feel a little bit safe.”

Obama is also expected to eliminate the age limit for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Martineza is protected by. (She’s also an organizer with United We Dream, a youth-led immigrant-rights organization.) But the fate of parents whose children are eligible for DACA but are not citizens is unclear. The Times and other outlets reported Thursday that these immigrants would not be given the chance to remain in the United States and work legally.

“It’s a huge bummer for my parents,” said another DACA recipient whom I’ll call Ajay. (He asked that I not use his name out of concern for his family’s privacy.) “Deferred action has been amazing. It’s opened up doors for me,” Ajay said, adding that it’s allowed him to apply to graduate school and be more open about his immigration states. But for his parents, who moved to the United States with Ajay and his younger brother in 1999, Obama’s announcement likely “means nothing. It means more of the same, living in the shadows and not knowing what to expect tomorrow.”

Ajay spoke to his mother yesterday about the rumors that she’d be excluded from Obama’s order. “Mom’s reaction was, ‘I guess we keep going, keep waiting for the next step.’ It’s just disappointing more for my brother and myself to know that we have some sense of security and our parent’s don’t, especially as they get older.”

Another question is what will happen to people who do meet the criteria the White House sets for relief but are already entangled in the deportation machinery—people like Sandra Jacinto. She lives in New Jersey and cleans houses to support her family. Jacinto immigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 2005, leaving two children behind. They were separated for nine years until she was able to pay someone to help them travel through Mexico and across the US border. Jacinto’s youngest daughter is a US citizen, meaning Jacinto might be eligible for relief. But two months ago, immigration agents showed up at her house and informed her of an order of deportation. That mark on her record might end up being the only thing that matters.

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“I feel a little bit scared because the truth is that I don’t want to go back to my country. I want very much to be together with my children, and now that I am, I don’t know if I’m going to be deported,” Jacinto said through an interpreter. She said that she was afraid of what would happen to her family if they had to go back to Guatemala, which is torn by violence. “If he gives deferred action, he should give it to everyone because we are all human beings and we deserve equality.”

On Wednesday, immigrants in New Orleans who were put into deportation proceedings after being swept up in the “stop and frisk” style raids conducted by the region’s ICE field office delivered requests for immediate relief to a US Citizenship & Immigration Service office. “Even though President Obama says he’ll soon be making an announcement, ICE has told us that we must leave the country by the end of the year,” Gustavo Bonilla, a carpenter who has lived in New Orleans since 2000, said in a statement. He has two sons who are US citizens, but like Sandra Jacinto, he is not sure whether Obama’s action will stop his pending deportation.

“We obviously would hope that being a victim of policies the president has said need to be made more humane isn’t a reason for exclusion,” said B. Loewe, communications director for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

There are 11 million people waiting for relief from a broken immigration system. Until the White House lays out its plan, the vastness of that hope is the only certainty.

Read Next: After fearmongering kills the NSA reform bill, what’s next?

After Fearmongering Kills the NSA Reform Bill, What’s Next?

NSA Director Keith Alexander

A reporter takes a smartphone picture of NSA Director Keith Alexander at a House hearing on surveillance programs, in Washington, June 18, 2013. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

For a few hours on Tuesday, the Islamic State looked like the best thing that ever happened to the National Security Agency. The USA Freedom Act, a modest bill seen as the best chance for reforming one of the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs, failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate by two votes after Republicans insisted that it would precipitate a terrorist attack.

“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our back,” Mitch McConnell said. “We live in a dangerous world, and the threat by ISIL only makes it more so.” Marco Rubio chimed in with his own warning: “God forbid that tomorrow we wake up to the news that a member of ISIL is in the United States,” he said. Former CIA director Michael Hayden penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed under the headline, “NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love.”

Really, the USA Freedom Act was NSA reform that no one really loved, except maybe the Obama administration. The bill had “strong support” from the White House and the intelligence agencies, from most of the reform-minded lawmakers and from the tech companies and many civil-liberties groups. And it did contain several provisions lauded by privacy advocates, such as placing special advocates on the secret court that authorizes surveillance requests to argue against the government, and forbidding the government itself from holding phone records.

But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which deemed the legislation an “important step forward,” were also clear that it addressed only a very small part of the government’s dragnet surveillance activities. Others thought the bill was so imprecise that it might have sanctioned, rather than ended, certain surveillance practices. Libertarian NSA critic Rand Paul objected because it didn’t go far enough—though before giving him too much credit for his principled stand note that he could have voted to move the bill forward and then offered amendments to address his concerns before a final vote. Ultimately, as Glenn Greenwald wrote at The Intercept, “There is a real question about whether the defeat of this bill is good, bad, or irrelevant.”

In any case, that particular doorway to reform is closed for now. So what’s next? The next opportunity for lawmakers to curb the intelligence agencies will come in mid-2015, when the section of the Patriot Act that the government leans on for legal justification of the phone records program is set to expire. NSA critics and supporters alike have warned that failing to pass the USA Freedom Act would mean that the administration “will end up getting nothing” in the reauthorization fight, as Patriot Act author James Sensenbrenner warned earlier this year. Even some supporters of the USA Freedom Act like Dianne Feinstein will fight tooth and nail to keep the provision from expiring completely, and the threat of expiration means privacy advocates will have at least some leverage to limit its authority. Some parts of the USA Freedom Act, like installing special advocates on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot be addressed in the reauthorization process however. Nor can other authorities that the government uses to spy, like Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333.

The Senate’s failure to bring even a narrow, watered-down reform to a final vote underscores that Congress is for the most part disinterested and/or incapable in exercising its constitutional duty to oversee the intelligence community. (There are individual exceptions, of course; for example Colorado Senator Mark Udall could front an immediate challenge to the CIA over its use of torture, as John Nichols explains.) Things aren’t going to get any better next year: the Republicans likely to chair the House and Senate intelligence committees, Devin Nunes and Saxby Chambliss, are both hostile to reform. Nevertheless, privacy advocates vowed to continue to press for changes, and not only to the phone-records program.

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Off the Hill, the government’s surveillance tactics are being confronted in a number of ways. Fearful for their bottom line, tech companies are taking a serious interest in encryption, and foreign governments are searching for ways to circumvent the United States when it comes to the Internet. Multiple challenges to the telephone-records dragnet are pending in federal courts. One judge, who called the NSA’s activities “almost Orwellian,” has already ruled that bulk collection likely violates the Fourth Amendment. But whether the pending cases will lead to meaningful constraints on the NSA isn’t clear. Greenwald, for one, has as little faith in the judiciary as he has in Congress, writing that it’s the institution “most consistently subservient to the National Security State” in the post-9/11 era. But absent the emergence of a spine in Congress with regards to the incessant fearmongering that serves as a shield for government spying, a patchwork of court rulings and the power of consumer choice looks increasingly like the only viable defense.


Read Next: NSA reform is blocked by constitutionally disinclined Senate Republicans.

Failing to Indict Darren Wilson Won’t End the Movement Against Police Violence

Protest in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

Not for a second have I believed that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would be indicted for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown. Not in the moments after hearing about the shooting, not during the four hours Brown’s body lay in the streets, not when the police attacked protesters in the first few weeks of demonstration, and not during the subsequent three months of organizing and rebellion. And with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s recent declaration of a state of emergency ahead of the imminent grand jury decision, I have even less reason to believe charges will be brought against Wilson, as the local governments and police forces appear to readying themselves for a strong reaction from activists. But I have every reason to believe this movement will not die.

People are scared. Residents of Ferguson are boarding up their businesses and stockpiling weapons, under the assumption that a non-indictment will lead to rioting and property destruction, on a level that surpasses the initial reaction to Brown’s killing back in August. The tension is thick enough to choke on, but it still pales in comparison to the looming threat of police violence faced by black people everyday across this country. This is why the protesters, activists and organizers who have emerged from this moment will not go away. They know they are disrupting the lives of citizens who never gave thought to the institutionalized violence young black people navigate, but that’s the point. And it will remain the point until something is done.

Indicting Darren Wilson is a start, but it is not the movement. There is the possibility that some who have been involved in these protests would move on in the (unlikely) event of an indictment, seeing that as the ultimate victory. Chicago-based prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba warns against this in a piece for In These Times:

To the young people who have taken to the streets across the country and are agitating for some ‘justice’ in this moment, I hope that you don’t invest too deeply in the Ferguson indictment decision. Don’t let a nonindictment crush your spirit and steal your hope. Hope is a discipline. And frankly, the actions you have and are taking inspire so many daily. On the other hand, a decision to indict Darren Wilson isn’t a victory for ‘justice’ or an end. As I’ve already said, an indictment won’t end police violence or prevent the death of another Mike Brown or Rekia Boyd or Dominique Franklin. We must organize with those most impacted by oppression while also making room for others who want to join the struggle too as comrades.

It’s certainly something these young people have come to understand, and they have used their newfound platforms to speak not just about the killing of Michael Brown but the daily atrocities of police harassment, sexual assault/rape, economic violence and political disenfranchisement.

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That’s what Governor Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (who is calling for 400 National Guard troops to be posted throughout St. Louis), Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, the Ku Klux Klan and so many others don’t understand. You can potentially squash an uprising in this moment, through intimidation and bloodshed. But the resolve of the people has held steady for three months, and these young people are becoming more aware of their history, just how long these battles must be fought, and are willing to risk their lives for their liberation.

Just last week, a group of eight young activists from the group We Charge Genocide traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to testify before the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture about police violence in Chicago. During that same time, 37-year-old Tanesha Anderson of Cleveland, Ohio, was slammed to the ground and killed by police officers. As the movement grows, the police continue to provide reasons for why. It was never just about Michael Brown or Darren Wilson, Trayvon Martin on George Zimmerman. This has been, and will continue to be, about the protection of black life and the end of the police state. It is about the ability of young black people to move through the world unmolested by a repressive government. It is about bringing to fruition the promise of freedom that our ancestors fought for. It’s about America paying its debts.


Read Next: “Police Are the Problem”

Why Gruber’s ‘Stupid’ Comment Has Become a Dog Whistle for the GOP


(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Finally, the right wing has found what Susan Rice was to Benghazi and Lois Lerner was to the IRS, but better—a human face to represent all that they believe is deceitful, illegitimate and downright evil about Obamacare and, indeed, about the entire last six years.

That face belongs to MIT economist Jonathan Gruber who, after helping to write Romneycare in Massachusetts, moved to advise the Obama administration on the design the Affordable Care Act. Lately, Gruber has been popping up in video clips telling gathered academics that the bill was written to obscure its redistribution of costs from healthy enrollees to sick ones. He somehow managed to call all the American people “stupid,” which is considered far worse than accusing a mere 47 percent of the population of being dead weight on the rest. In his most infamous clip (watch it below), Gruber says:

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO [Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that.

In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said healthy people are gonna pay in—if it made explicit that healthy people are gonna pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Okay—just like the—people—transparen—lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to get anything to pass.

“What happens to Obamacare now that we’ve all been called stupid?” Fox News’s Bill Hemmer asked this morning, practically licking his chops. In case there’s any doubt that Gruber is Fox’s most useful villain since the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Politifact found that Fox mentioned Gruber at least 779 times between November 10 and November 18 (MSNBC clocked in seventy-nine instances and CNN just twenty-seven in the same period).

Democrats like Nancy Pelosi have only made things worse by trying to distance themselves from Gruber, even though tapes show they knew and respected his work in the past.

And it doesn’t help that in the various tapes, Gruber seems to always be boasting, looking a little too full of himself and his clever tricks. To some, his apparent sneakiness has undercurrents of “shyster.” And they’re not always undercurrents. This disgusting headline from a racist, neo-Nazi website references Rich Weinstein, the man who unearthed some of the Gruber tapes: “Jew Mad About Getting Jewed By Obamacare Finds Clip Of Jew Jonathan Gruber Bragging About [How] He Helped Jew America With Obamacare.”

Surely for most of the Republican base, the stereotype Gruber evokes is more benign. Gruber, says Jon Stewart, is a “super egghead” nerd, what with the academic background, the eyeglasses, and, in Stewart’s estimation, the “pinched nasal tone.” He ran a clip of Eddie Deezen, the actor specializing in nerds, and discovered that his voice is uncannily like Gruber’s.

That’s funny, but Gruber-as-nerd is only an introduction to the essential GOP complaint about Gruber, Obama, scientists and, really, anyone suspected of being less than all-American: the elitist. “It’s the smug, arrogant, elitist attitude heard around the world,” Tea Party radio host Tammy Bruce writes in The Washington Times. “In MIT professor and Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber’s case, you can hear his attitude even before he enters a room.”

However you brand Gruber, he has become, for Obama, an Other from another mother. The professor now so personifies the interloper taking advantage of innocent Americans that he’s become a word onto himself. “On issue after issue,” Kyle Wingfield writes in an Atlanta Journal Constitution blog, “the Obama administration has gone Gruber.”

To Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who’s expected to chair the Senate Budget Committee next year, this “strategy…to hide the truth from the American people” is nothing less than “a threat to the American republic.”

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Republicans are calling for, what else, congressional hearings. But like the IRS and Benghazi “scandals” and most things the GOP deems hearings-worthy, “Grubergate” is mostly hot air and bubbles.

If you look behind his braggadocio and the media’s outrage, Gruber wasn’t really saying anything we didn’t already know about how health insurance works (healthy people subsidize sick people; that’s the nature of insurance) or how legislation is written (it ain’t pretty, and never was).

Jonathan Chait did one of the best jobs unpacking this nothingness, and it’s worth repeating. On Gruber’s statement that “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” for instance, Chait writes:

Here is where media reports have most badly bungled Gruber’s point. They have treated his line about transparency as if he were describing the entire process of writing and passing the law.

….But Gruber was not talking about passing the law in a non-transparent fashion. Conservatives believe the law was passed non-transparently, but nobody who supported it considers this anything but a bizarre description of one of the most drawn-out public and legislative debates in the history of Congress. Gruber was surely referring to the non-transparent mechanism of regulating insurance companies, causing them to charge less to the sick and more to the healthy, without Congress having to carry out those transfers through direct taxes….

The Washington Post reports that Gruber was caught admitting Obamacare “was crafted in a deliberately deceptive way in order to pass Congress.” That is not what Gruber said in the video. He was trying to explain how the law’s architects had to compromise the simple technocratic purity they might use to design the law in an academic setting to account for an irrational political system in which tiny bits of fact can be decontextualized and manipulated by demagogues. The reaction to Gruber’s comments this week is fitting punishment for his obnoxious phrasing, but only serves to vindicate his underlying beliefs. [Emphasis mine]

Some of those 779 Gruber mentions on Fox News were neither decontextualized nor demagogic, particularly those by Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday:

It’s a feast for critics of Obamacare who suddenly are saying, you know, “Oh, this is why we are upset.” Look, are you kidding me? In Washington, we package, we merchandise just like Procter & Gamble and anybody else that’s selling soap….

In fact, I would say it’s much ado about nothing with Gruber except that the critics of Obamacare are having a field day. The act is working. The uninsured rate in the country has dropped by 25 percent. This is something that Republicans should be celebrating. We have more competition. We’ve done away with the Medicare doughnut hole. We have no lifetime caps and limits, we have no conditions about preexisting illnesses, we have preventative medicine. It’s just incredible to me, though, Republicans persist.

There is, however, one thing Gruber said that could have real consequences. In another video, he seems to say the ACA subsidies are meant only for people enrolled in state exchanges, not for those in the thirty-six states that allow only the federal exchange. But, as Sarah Kliff at Vox explains, “Gruber has since said he spoke “off-the-cuff” and made a mistake. And there’s reason to believe him: Gruber spoke regularly to dozens of reporters during this period, and never mentioned this idea to any of them, and his modeling software always assumed that federal exchanges could use subsidies.” In what amounts to a typo, one clause in the ACA itself also seems to make this mistake, in contradiction to the rest of the entire bill. But it was enough for the Roberts Supreme Court to take up the case, King v. Burwell, which could destroy Obamacare, with or without help from Gruber’s misspeaking tongue.

As usual, the GOP’s persistence is paying off. Gallup released a poll on Monday showing that approval of Obamacare hit a “new numerical low,” of 37 percent.

But another Gallup poll, released last Friday, shows something different and far more important: among people who are actually enrolled in Obamacare, 74 percent rate it as “excellent” or “good.” Joe Scarborough said that poll “took me by surprise.”

Makes sense. With all the bad press over Obamacare since 2009, and now with Grubergate, reality—you know, real people’s real experiences—is often surprising.

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