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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.

There’s Finally Momentum Behind Paid Sick Leave

A patient is examined by a doctor at a community health center in Atlanta.

A patient is examined by a doctor at a community health center in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Johnny Clark) 

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.

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a core provision of the Affordable Care Act, quashing the Republican Party’s latest attempt to gut the law through the judicial system. At issue in the case, King v. Burwell, was the government’s ability to provide subsidies to help millions of working Americans purchase health insurance through the federal exchange. Yet, as too many middle-class families know, health insurance is only one of the costs associated with getting sick. For more than 40 million workers who currently lack paid sick leave, another pressing concern is how to afford taking time off.

As the Court was preparing to rule on the Affordable Care Act, in nearby Montgomery County, the county council was passing one of the strongest paid-sick-leave laws in the nation. The measure, which passed last Tuesday by a 9-0 margin, requires most employers in the county to provide at least one hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours worked. When the legislation takes effect next year, it will benefit an estimated 90,000 private-sector workers who currently do not receive any paid time off. With the bill’s passage, Montgomery County becomes the 23rd place in the nation to guarantee paid sick days and the fifth since 2015.

To appreciate the momentum for paid sick leave, however, it’s necessary to understand how we got here. The recent passage of multiple laws in rapid succession belies a long struggle to get politicians to take up the cause, even within the ranks of the Democratic Party. Indeed, a closer examination reveals the anatomy of a legislative movement and demonstrates how grassroots pressure can turn what some considered a fringe issue into a political juggernaut.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Pope Francis Versus Wall Street

Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets his admirers in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican. (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

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.

Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’s stunning encyclical, has earned much deserved attention for its ringing declaration that climate change poses a real and present danger and is caused “mainly as a result of human activity.” But Pope Francis’s text is far broader. He grounds his call for action on climate change within a fierce critique of the false doctrines of market fundamentalism, calling on us to “reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.” The pope, as The Wall Street Journal summarized, issues “an indictment of the global market economy” for “plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and of future generations.”

Pope Francis grounds his view on climate both in the scriptures and centuries of Catholic teaching, repeatedly citing the views of past religious figures. The title of his encyclical, “Laudato Si’”—which means “Praise be to you”—comes from a 13th-century poem on nature by St. Francis of Assisi. His views on the folly of the market also are grounded in the church’s teachings and continue the themes that he boldly put forth in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium.”

“The Earth, our home,” he writes in the new encyclical, “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” We are failing in our responsibility to care for God’s creation. The reason, he says, is that idolatry of the market and consumerism has supplanted any sense of the common good. And public action is stalled because “too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Cracks Appear in the Climate-Change Deniers’ Defenses

People's Climate March

Youth activists carry banners and signs at the People's Climate March in New York. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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.

In April 2009, as the political right was finding its voice in the tea party, South Carolina Republican Representative Bob Inglis was making the case for a carbon tax. “I’m a conservative. I believe in accountability,” he said. “Global warming is not a matter of belief. It’s a matter of facts.” He added, “We don’t want to be a party of deniers.”

Most of his party disagreed. A year later, Inglis was trounced in a Republican primary, his staunchly conservative record proving insufficient to overcome this heretical deviation. On the surface, it may appear that little has changed in the intervening years. But cracks are appearing in the climate change deniers’ defenses. Today, the movement to seriously address global warming is gaining unlikely supporters, a potential preview of the tectonic shift to come.

Last month, six major oil and gas companies based in Europe, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, wrote a letter officially endorsing an international price on carbon. “Climate change is a critical challenge for our world,” they declared. “The challenge is how to meet greater energy demand with less [carbon dioxide]. We stand ready to play our part.” In the short term, these companies stand to benefit from carbon pricing, which would shift demand away from coal. But even if their position is partially self-serving, it’s an important declaration, and one that deeply undercuts the climate change deniers’ arguments. Even oil companies, we can now say, believe climate change is real—and admit it’s something they are causing.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Can Hillary Clinton Take Back the Concept of ‘Freedom’ From Conservatives?

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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 weekend, Hillary Clinton will unveil her “vision for the country” at a mass rally at the FDR Four Freedoms Park in New York City. Her campaign indicates that she’ll reveal a fuller picture of her economic policies in what is being billed as her official campaign launch.

But the stunning Louis Kahn memorial to Roosevelt can be more than just a setting for Clinton. It can inspire her to a far broader and bolder mission: to challenge directly, as Roosevelt did, the constrained notion of freedom that has dominated our politics since Ronald Reagan, and to offer a more expansive, empowering view of America’s experiment.

As historian Eric Foner has shown, freedom has always been a contested concept in the United States. In different eras, it has taken on different meanings. For the founders, it meant freedom from political autocracy, and from royalists with special privileges from the crown. Speaking in 1936, Roosevelt argued in the midst of the Great Depression, that industrialization had produced a “new despotism” of “economic dynasties.” Within our borders, Roosevelt argued, “popular opinion is at war with a power-seeking minority. . . an economic autocracy.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The Dangerous ‘Red-State Model’

Sam Brownback

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback addresses supporters after his re-election in November 2014. (Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich)

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.

“My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works,’ ” Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said in 2013.

Brownback was talking about the massive supply-side tax cuts at the center of his policy agenda, which he had promised would provide “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” instead, it led to a deep hole in the state budget, a downgrade in the state’s credit rating, and weak economic growth compared with neighboring states. As top income earners and business owners pocketed their tax cuts, Kansas’s poverty rate went up.

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The failure of Brownback’s plan has made headlines not only because of its consequences in Kansas but also because of its potential impact on national politics. Brownback explicitly intended his plan to inform the policy debate in 2016 and beyond, but his gambit didn’t work as planned. As the Post’s editorial board wrote last year, “Mr. Brownback’s Kansas trial is rapidly becoming a cautionary tale for conservative governors elsewhere who have blithely peddled the theology of tax cuts as a painless panacea for sluggish growth.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Hold Bankers Accountable for Their Crimes

Loretta Lynch

Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during a press conference at the Justice Department on Wednesday, May 20. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

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.

Last week, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that five major banks were pleading guilty to criminal charges for what she described as a “brazen display of collusion” to manipulate the currency markets. The banks—Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, UBS, Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland Group— were hit with $5.6 billion in fines and penalties.

Sensibly, the banks were forced to plead guilty, not simply pay fines in settlements where they neither admitted nor denied the changes. But the charges still were brought against banks, not bankers. No banker was held accountable. The personal fortunes of the bankers who profited were not touched. Shareholders, not bankers, will pay the fines. The Justice Department would have us believe that criminal banks ran profitable criminal conspiracies without involving any bankers.

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The unwillingness to hold bankers accountable for their frauds and crimes is a great and continuing failure of our justice system, one that poses a clear danger to this country in the years ahead.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The GOP Still Doesn’t Get It on Iraq

Bush Mission

President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. (AP Photo/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.

During a friendly interview on Fox News, a Republican presidential hopeful from Florida was asked a simple question: Was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?

“No, I don’t believe it was. The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq,” he said, adding, “Hindsight is always 20/20, but we don’t know what the world would look like if Saddam Hussein was still there.”

That interview took place in March; the candidate was Sen. Marco Rubio.

Less than two months later, the most extraordinary thing about former governor Jeb Bush’s statement that he would have authorized the Iraq war despite “knowing what we know now” wasn’t the statement itself, but rather the immediate backlash it provoked among conservative pundits and candidates for the Republican nomination. “You can’t still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do,” said conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham. “If you do, there has to be something wrong with you.” And nearly all of the party’s would-be standard-bearers, including Rubio, pounced on the controversy. “Not only would I have not been in favor of it,” he declared, “President Bush would not have been in favor of it.”

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The uproar on the right was especially remarkable given that hawkish foreign policy has become something of a litmus test in the Republican primary. At the recent South Carolina Freedom Summit, Rubio summed up his strategy toward global terrorism by quoting Liam Neeson’s character from the movie “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.” In addition, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—who previously suggested that his crackdown on Wisconsin’s public-sector unions prepared him to take on the Islamic State—told the crowd that the United States needs “a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The Emerging Populist Agenda

Bernie Sanders

 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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 most surprising development in our political debate isn’t the gaggle of Republican presidential contenders or the ceaseless attacks on Hillary Clinton. What is stunning is the emergence of a populist reform agenda that is driving the debate inside and outside the Democratic Party.

A range of groups and leaders are putting forward a reform agenda of increasing coherence. Today, the Roosevelt Institute will present a report by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is to release a “Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.” These follow the Populism 2015 Platform, released in April by an alliance of grass-roots groups and the Campaign for America’s Future. Also in April, the Center for Community Change (CCC) joined with several grass-roots allies to launch Putting Families First: Good Jobs for All.

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Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont), now contending for the Democratic presidential nomination, released his Economic Agenda for America last December. And while Hillary Clinton has chosen a slow rollout of her agenda, the Center for American Progress published the report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity headed by former treasury secretary Larry Summers, widely seen as a marker of where Hillary might move.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The Enduring Shame of ‘Separate and Unequal’

Police in Baltimore

Police move a protester back following Freddie Gray's funeral. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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.

In July 1966, James Baldwin published “A Report from Occupied Territory,” a despairing essay in The Nation contemplating race relations in Harlem and other American cities. Describing the deep sense of alienation and despair in the black community, Baldwin wrote, “The children, having seen the spectacular defeat of their fathers—having seen what happens to any bad nigger and, still more, what happens to the good ones—cannot listen to their fathers and certainly will not listen to the society which is responsible for their orphaned condition.” Fifty years later, it’s heartbreaking and infuriating to read those words and realize how little has changed.

The riots that erupted in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained fatal injuries in police custody last month, were as predictable as they were painful to watch. Across the country, Gray is the latest in a long line of black men killed, inexplicably, in brushes with the law; Baltimore is the latest city, but likely not the last, where blacks’ legitimate frustration has reached a boiling point and spilled into the streets. And yet the unrest in Baltimore and other cities is about more than a single death or even the single issue of police brutality. It’s about the structural racism, inequality and poverty that have pervaded our cities and plagued our society for too long.

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Indeed, the profound divisions now on display mirror the findings of the Kerner Commission, which President Lyndon B. Johnson established to study the root causes of the 1967 race riots. “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal,” the commission famously warned. “Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans,” it reported, adding that the media had “not communicated to the majority of their audience—which is white—a sense of the degradation, misery and hopelessness of life in the ghetto.” That criticism of the media resonates today, as sensational coverage of the destruction and looting too often has disregarded the systemic devastation of the communities in which they are taking place.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

A Progressive’s Lament About the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Obama with TPP Leaders

President Obama poses with the Leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Leaders in November 2011(Reuters/Larry Downing)

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.

It has come to this. To sell his trade treaty—specifically the fast-track trade authority that would grease the skids for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), President Obama is mobilizing a coalition anchored by corporate lobbies, the Chamber of Commerce and Republican congressional leadership. He is opposed by the majority of Democratic legislators, the labor movement and a broad array of mainstream environmental, consumer and citizen organizations.

Democrats are stunned by the intensity of the lobbying effort mounted by the administration. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a staunch supporter of the president, noted that Democrats have been “talked to, approached, lobbied and maybe cajoled by more Cabinet members on this issue than any issue since Barack Obama’s been president. That’s just sad. I wish they put the same effort into minimum wage. I wish they put the same effort into Medicare at 55. I wish they put the same effort into some consumer strengthening on Dodd-Frank.”

Last week, the president raised the heat, saying that opponents—almost entirely his allies on other issues—“don’t know what they are talking about.” He called out Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) by name, saying that she was “just wrong” in her criticism of the proposed deal. When Warren said in an e-mail to supporters that the president’s claims couldn’t be verified since people like you can’t see the actual deal,” the president said, “it’s dishonest” to call this a secret deal, since “every single one of the critics…could walk over and see the text of the agreement.” Warren and Brown responded by calling the president’s bluff: If the treaty isn’t secret, then make its provisions public so that Americans can see it before the vote on fast track. (In fact, the treaty, still in negotiation, is classified. Legislators can see it, but only with a trade official, and with no aides, no notes, no experts, no copies and no repeating of details that are classified.)

 

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Take Action: Demand that Congress Reject TPP Fast Track

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