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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Time to End the Bloody Ukraine Conflict

pro-Russian separatist

An armed pro-Russian separatist (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

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.

If the United States and Europe were thinking rationally, the NATO summit in Wales last week would have been an opportunity to discuss a lasting resolution to the violent crisis in Ukraine, which has claimed thousands of lives and crippled the country’s economy. Instead, amid a fragile cease-fire agreement between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in the east, the assembled world leaders used the summit for more belligerent talk and reckless saber-rattling, with their ultimate goal increasingly unclear. The goal seemed more preparing the NATO alliance for a new Cold War with Russia than exploring how to make peace, even as Moscow was helping to bring about the cease-fire agreement.

The meeting was just the most recent disturbing example of how cavalierly and cynically the NATO leaders—including President Obama—have escalated tensions, while dismissing opportunities to bring the conflict to a reasonable conclusion quickly. Absent from the discussion in Wales, among other things, was any recognition of NATO members’ own roles in triggering the crisis. Despite the dominant narrative that Russia is to blame for Ukraine’s uncertain future, history tells a different story—one in which the West’s provocative behavior has had predictable repercussions.

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There would have been no civil war if the European Union’s leadership had not insisted on an exclusive association agreement that prejudiced Ukrainian industry in the east and trade with Russia, or if the United States and European nations had used their influence with the demonstrators to abide by the February 21 agreement then-President Viktor Yanukovych signed, which would have handed more power to parliament and called for elections in December, or if the United States and Europe had been willing to work with Russia to restore the February 21 agreement and calm worries in Crimea and the east about the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: The 2014 NATO Summit: Giving war a chance.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Don’t Overstate the Threat ISIS Poses

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday to talk about media coverage of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the risk it poses to the United States. During the segment, vanden Heuvel said there’s no question that ISIS wants the United States to overreact and that members of the media are making that more likely to happen. “There is a trivialization—a tabloidization of news coverage,” vanden Heuvel said, “that has infected and affected” the way many outlets cover global issues.

—Edward Hart

Mitch McConnell Reveals His True Colors

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

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.

A year ago, President Obama convulsed the White House Correspondents Dinner when he responded to complaints that he wasn’t meeting enough with the Republican leaders in the Congress: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really?” Obama asked the audience incredulously. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

The Kentucky senator, continuously partisan and mean spirited in public, earned the jab by leading a record number of filibusters as Senate minority leader during Obama’s tenure, forcing more than a quarter of all cloture votes in the history of the Senate since the beginning of the Republic.

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Now, many political bookies, however prematurely, have made Republicans favorites to win the Senate majority. What will McConnell do if he must go from opposition to governing? Last week, The Nation magazine, which I edit, along with Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, released an audiotape of McConnell’s revealing remarks to a private June strategy session of deep-pocket Republican billionaire donors, convened by the Koch brothers.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: Laura Windsor on McConnell’s plan to shut down Obama’s legislative agenda.

US Condemnation of Press Restrictions Abroad Is Starting to Look Hypocritical

Memorial for James Foley, US journalist killed by ISIS, 220 miles north of Baghdad (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic) 

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.

This is a terrible time for journalists.

Just last week, the world watched in horror as James Foley, a freelance photojournalist for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse, was beheaded by a jihadist from the Islamic State. The disturbing video suggests that the perpetrators intend to target more journalists if their demands are not met.

There is something particularly chilling about murdering those seeking only to inform, about reporters around the world having to fear for their lives. But right here at home, we’re seeing a less lethal, yet still deeply troubling threat to journalism.

In recent days, all eyes have been on Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on August 9 touched off citywide protests and a national debate over racism, equal justice and police brutality. But if local Ferguson police had their way, there would be little or no coverage at all.

Since the killing, Ferguson law enforcement have arrested or detained at least 10 journalists , and tried to silence many more. They’ve escalated violence against the media, shooting tear gas canisters at reporters and dismantling cameras and lighting equipment. The Post’s Wesley Lowery was slammed into a soda machine and arrested after disregarding an illegal order to stop filming. “Don’t resist,” one cop threatened an Al Jazeera reporter. “I’ll bust your head right here.”

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Some media critics have argued that journalists are behaving irresponsibly, that instead of providing unbiased coverage, they risk becoming the story. But it is a story—an essential one—when our supposedly free press is prevented from doing its vital duty.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Read Next: Someone is going to need to address tax inversion

If Congress Won’t, Obama May Have to Address Corporate Tax Inversion

President Obama

(Reuters/Jim Young)

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.

Corporate “inversions” are all the rage.

No, I’m not talking about Wall Street yoga—although the term does refer to a method for companies to twist and contort themselves in order to evade taxes.

Inversions are when a corporation buys a foreign company and reincorporates overseas in a country with a lower corporate income tax rate. Operations remain the same—they still benefit from U.S. infrastructure and stability and research and development. They just change their answer when the government asks where home is, thereby avoiding paying billions of tax dollars.

As Stephen Colbert said, “It’s like me adopting an African child, then claiming myself as his dependent.” And it’s becoming increasingly popular.

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Enter Walgreens, which made big news last week when it announced that it would forgo its inversion plans. As I’ve previously written , the drugstore giant had been considering a rather unpatriotic move to reincorporate in Europe. But after strong backlash, including petitions signed by several hundred thousand people, protests at Walgreens stores, and even rumblings of a consumer boycott, the company decided to keep its legal status as an American corporation.

Their decision means that the United States government won’t lose an estimated $4 billion in tax revenue. That money alone could fund six months of Head Start, providing a preschool education to nearly a million low-income children. Walgreens's reversal is a victory for the American people and a testament to the power of groups that advocated tirelessly against the proposed inversion, including Americans for Tax Fairness,Campaign for America’s Future, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Take Action: Tell President Obama: Stop Corporate Deserters

Read Next: One person, one vote—this is a reform whose time has come.

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

The End of Reefer Madness?

Marijuana

(Reuters/Nir Elias)

Dropping “a bomb on our country’s disastrous war on marijuana with unprecedented force,” The New York Times launched last month High Time: An Editorial Series on Marijuana Legalization, a seven-parter that puts the paper squarely—I believe—on the right side of history on this issue. (Happily, with the exception of its title, “High Time” is refreshingly free of bad puns and Cheetos jokes.) Citing “vast social costs,” “racist results,” and “overwhelming evidence that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems,” the Timeseditorial board advocated a repeal of the nation’s cannabis prohibition.

Last November, of course, The Nation went all-in on marijuana-law reform with our “Dope and Change” issue, and I wrote, “If Congress—with its dismal 8 percent approval rating—wants to enjoy a popularity as high as marijuana’s, it might consider revisiting pot’s federal prohibition.” The blanket federal ban is unworkable on many levels, not least of which is the capriciousness of its enforcement: Given the crazy-quilt of state and local medicinal and decriminalization laws, the actual prohibition of marijuana in this country comes down to, as the Times puts it, “the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.” Needless to say, this type of jurisprudence is neither fair nor just; Harry Levine reported in “Dope and Change” that since 1997 in New York City, 87 percent of NYPD’s 600,000 marijuana-possession arrests were of blacks and Latinos.

The data-driven, nuts-and-bolts reasons for legalization are legion, and—to an unbiased eye—overwhelmingly convincing. But the bias behind prohibition, born out of 1920s- and ’30s-era xenophobia and racism, continues to impress itself on the minds of pundits and policymakers across the political spectrum. “The problem that prohibition advocates have,” writes Paul Waldman at The American Prospect, “is that so much of their rhetoric hasn’t changed in decades, steeped in culture war resentments and reliant on fear-mongering.” A 2008 article on AlterNet illustrates that twentieth-century drug prohibition was born in places where white minorities ruled over non-white majorities—South Africa and Jamaica, for example—before becoming a xenophobic tool of law enforcement (against Latinos in California and Texas, Middle Eastern immigrants in New York, Asians on the Pacific Coast) in places with white majorities.

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An examination into the whys and wherefores of our broken cannabis policy is well overdue. After all, this story can and should be about more than just marijuana. American pot prohibition ought to be seen as a cautionary tale of what happens when we create policy based not on appropriately reasoned ideas, but rather on fear, racism and the sensational-but-unfounded caterwauling of policymakers and think-tankers who should know better.

If American drug prohibition laws were enacted, as is convincingly argued, in the service of furthering discrimination, then you’d have to say—based on the arrest and incarceration numbers—that they’ve been a smashing success. But as far as advancing public health goes… well, they’re a disaster. This discrepancy is worth noting. At a time when governmental dysfunction is so prevalent and the demand for congressional action—any action—is high, we need to be aware of the real motives we’re asking our elected officials to promote (For example, how much of our “homeland security” policy is actually driven by xenophobia and racism? How much resistance to the Affordable Care Act?). With marijuana, bigotry-based policy has delivered a nearly 100-year-long quagmire from which we’re only now beginning to extricate ourselves with fact-based debate and informed dissent.

Read Next: Lee Fang on the real reason pot is still illegal

Building a Progressive Alternative to ALEC

ALEC protest

People associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement met on the steps of the Minnesota capitol building to protest the influence of corporate money in politics. March 13, 2012 (Fibonacci Blue/CC 2.0) 

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.

When it comes to moments in history, 1973 was not exactly a banner year for the Republican Party. The Senate Watergate Committee began its televised hearings in May. Spiro Agnew resigned in October. And President Nixon used a pre-Thanksgiving news conference at Disney World to unconvincingly assure the country that he was not, in fact, a crook. A tough year, indeed, for the grand old party.

But if you were a corporate conglomerate who dreamed of lower taxes and lax regulations and lesser rights for workers, 1973 was, ironically enough, a well-spring of new opportunity. That’s when a group of conservative activists joined together to engineer a different kind of burglary—one that involved forcibly entering cities and states with the intent to loot their working and middle classes.

The mechanism? A new organization dubbed the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The idea? Don’t just lobby state and city governments; write the actual laws you want them to pass and then hand it out as model legislation. In the decades since its inception, ALEC has dismantled environmental regulations, pushed for school vouchers, compromised public safety by backing “stand your ground” laws and crippled unions with right-to-work legislation.

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ALEC remains the ubiquitous conservative puppet-master; its fingerprints and that of its most well-known supporters (the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, AT&T, etc.) can be found all over right-wing legislation that has made its way through the state and local legislative process. To understand the magnitude of its influence, consider that of the more than 100 bills introduced between 2011 and 2013 to repeal or weaken minimum wage laws, sixty-seven of them related back to ALEC. And in 2009, 115 of ALEC’s 826 model bills were enacted into law.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: The downing of Flight 17 should trigger talks, not more violence.

The Civil War Rages on in Eastern Ukraine

Katrina vanden Heuvel on Democracy Now!

The recent downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine has received a huge amount of attention from the press, but, according to Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, neither the mainstream media nor our government are adequately acknowledging the already violent atmosphere that surrounded the crash. On Democracy Now! this morning, vanden Heuvel explained that the tragedy should have presented an opportunity to end violence that she says has already escalated into civil war: “There should be a renewed effort, not to trigger more violence, but to trigger cease-fire, to trigger talks that could end the humanitarian catastrophe in the southeast of Ukraine.”
—Hannah Harris Green

The Downing of Flight 17 Should Trigger Talks, Not More Violence

MH17 Flight

A piece of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 lies in the grass near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

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 violence in eastern Ukraine has now claimed more innocent victims, with 298 dead in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Children, scientists headed to an AIDS conference, families on vacation—their deaths add to the hundreds of civilian casualties and tens of thousands of refugees victimized by the spreading conflict, which the Kiev government is now escalating.

The shooting of a civilian airliner is clearly a tragic mistake that no one wants to own, but that comes all too often in war zones. Currently, the Dutch government—193 of its citizens perished in the crash—said it “would hold off assigning blame as it pursues its top priorities of recovering the victims’ bodies and conducting an independent investigation of the crash site in eastern Ukraine.”

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However, in the United States, the tragedy has triggered a ferocious chorus of media and political condemnation of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Putin is called the “puppet master” or worse, with commentators asserting that he can end the war at will. The separatist militias in the east are scorned as Moscow’s pawns. The Kiev government’s bombing of its own cities and people is treated as a necessary response to Russian provocation.

All this ignores the context of this crisis and worse seems designed to fan the flames of the conflict. Already the United States has imposed new sanctions on Russia and is pushing its reluctant European allies to join. The Russians have responded with sanctions of their own. The Ukrainian government’s attacks in the eastern regions continue, with US aid and involvement certain to increase.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: Scientist and activist committed to ending AIDS perishes on MH17

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