Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

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

Today’s GOP Is Out of Sync With Cuban-Americans

Cuban and US flags

A Cuban and US flag sit on the dashboard of an American classic car in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

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.

“I probably have six Cuban grandmothers, and ten Cuban mothers,” joked then–Florida governor Jeb Bush at the Cuban Liberty Council’s annual dinner 10 years ago, where he was the guest of honor. “You can always count on me to do what I can to make sure that the cause of a free Cuba is front and center in Washington.”

This was in 2004, not long after the first millennials became eligible to vote. Back then, the “cause of a free Cuba,” as Bush described it, was clear to the Cuban American community: No lifting of the embargo. No normalizing of relations. No reconciliation.

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Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that after stepping back onto the political stage so many years later, Bush’s position on Cuba has changed not at all. “We’re not a step closer to freedom in Cuba because of the steps the president is taking,” he said last week. Nor should it be of note that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban American who grew up in the Florida Republican establishment during the 2000s, would declare soon after announcing his own campaign that he planned to “reverse every single one of the decisions [the president] has made” with regard to Cuba.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Why ‘The Nation’ Has Joined With the ACLU to Sue the NSA


(AP Photo)

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.

Forty years ago, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. played a crucial role in exposing decades of appalling secret conduct by US intelligence agencies. Today, he is publishing Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy, a timely and provocative book exploring the origins of the national security state and the urgent challenge of reining it in.

As the chief counsel to the Church Committee I, Schwarz helped bring to light shocking abuses that occurred under administrations of both parties. Led by Idaho Senator Frank Church (D), the committee’s 1976 investigation uncovered, for example, the FBI’s monstrous attempt to drive Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide and the CIA’s enlistment of the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro. Foreshadowing future scandals, it also revealed that the National Security Agency spent three decades spying on telegrams sent by US citizens.

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In response to the findings, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and established permanent select committees to oversee intelligence operations. Indeed, it was the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that produced the bombshell report on the CIA’s torture program released in December—though not the unredacted report the nation deserves to see. In the post-September 11 era, however, these intended safeguards against excessive secrecy have undeniably and disastrously failed. As I have written before, it’s long past time to form a modern Church Committee to investigate fully secret US intelligence activities in the twenty-first century.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The TPP Is a Rigged Agreement

TPP protest

Police remove a woman protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership during a Senate hearing in January. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

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.

“China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region … We should write those rules,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union address. To sell Congress on giving him authority to “fast track” consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and investment treaty with 12 nations that has been under negotiation for five years, the president argues it is vital that “we” write the rules. The real question, of course, is what does he mean by “we”?

Our global trade and tax policies have been and still are controlled by corporate and financial interests. They, not workers or consumers, write the rules. In the early post-World War II years, trade treaties were focused on lowering tariffs. In theory at least, workers in both nations might benefit from larger markets and increased trade. But now a significant portion of our trade is intra-corporate trade, an exchange between one branch of a multinational and another. Multinationals have different interests than national companies. They profit even if U.S. workers suffer. Increasingly companies choose to report their profits or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards where the legal position of companies is the strongest. Companies like Wal-Mart set up global distribution systems designed to drive down wages here and abroad. The Waltons are the richest family in the world. Their workers are paid so little that they are forced to rely on taxpayer subsidies like Medicaid and food stamps.

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One product of the corporate-defined trade rules is that the United States has run unprecedented trade deficits, totaling more than $8 trillion since 2000 alone. Trade deficits cost jobs. Worse, companies have used the threat to move jobs abroad to drive down wages here at home. Our corporate-defined trade policies contribute significantly to the reality that,as Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz writes, “the real median income of a full time male worker is lower now than it was 40 years ago.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Tell the Election Success Stories, Too

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio and his children celebrate his win in September 2013 (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

“I had a college degree, a decade of experience, and the only job I could get was making $8 an hour at the local convenience store in my neighborhood,” Maine state Representative Diane Russell (D) said in January, recalling her unlikely path to public office. “I have no business being in politics. I was not groomed for this. But thanks to public financing, I have a voice. And thanks to public financing, a gal who takes cash for the convenience store for selling sandwiches can actually talk about the stories that she’s learned from behind the counter.” Russell was speaking at an event on the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling that set off an avalanche of money in politics. After her state’s “clean elections” system propelled Russell into office in 2008, she quickly became a force in Maine politics. Her progressive record of defending voting rights and workers, for example, led The Nation to recognize her as its “Most Valuable State Representative” in 2011.

In the era of super PACs and outsized corporate influence in politics, Russell is an inspiring success story—and not the kind we’re used to hearing when it comes to campaign finance. Instead, we hear about the Koch brothers, who plan to spend nearly $1 billion in the months leading up to the 2016 election. We hear about Republican presidential wannabes lining up to court billionaire casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson, in what has come to be known as “The Sheldon Primary.” And if we’re paying close attention, we hear about places like North Carolina, where Koch ally Art Pope has essentially bought the Republican Party, as well as a stint as the state budget director. Incidentally, Pope used that lofty position to attack the state’s public financing of judicial elections, opening the door for his political network to exert even more influence on the process.

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These stories are undeniably important, as are the long-term battles to overturn the Citizens United decision, pass a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform and eliminate the corrosive influence of money in politics. But there is another story being written that deserves our attention, too, in which progressive activists and lawmakers are working to make our elections more democratic—a story less about containing the influence of billionaires and corporations than empowering small donors and unlikely candidates—candidates like Diane Russell.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Adolescents Do Not Belong in the Adult Legal System

 (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

 (Reuters/Joshua Lott)

Currently, only New York and North Carolina automatically treat 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults in the criminal-justice system. This means that New York is one of just two states in the country that has failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed—namely, that adolescents are children, and that placing them in the adult criminal-justice system doesn’t work for them and doesn’t work for public safety. Not only is it immediately cruel to incarcerate children along with hardened adult offenders, it also destroys their future prospects: children who go through the adult system are more likely to reoffend and less likely to go on to a productive life.

Acknowledging New York’s exacerbation of the problem, Governor Cuomo included in his 2015–16 Executive Budget juvenile justice reform recommendations from his Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. In a comprehensive plan that would reform New York’s system, Governor Cuomo outlined reforms that will ensure that the state’s legal process provide children with age-appropriate consequences and treatment and thereby improve outcomes for youth, communities and the criminal-justice system as a whole. He must get this proposal passed in the budget this week. There is no time to waste.

The proposed legislation includes a number of critical reforms, including:
—Raising the overall age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, consistent with other states.
—Raising the lower age of juvenile delinquency from 7 to 12 (except for murder offenses, which would be raised to 10).
—Ensuring that no 16- or 17-year-old youths are placed in adult facilities.
—Moving the majority of cases for 16- and 17-year-olds to Family Court and creating a new “Youth Part” in the adult system for youths who have allegedly committed more violent crimes.
—Expanding services—including alternatives to detention and incarceration—to keep youth in their communities and not incarcerated.
— Increasing the age for youthful offender status to 21 and broadening eligible crimes to better address the collateral consequences of court involvement.

These changes were unanimously recommended by the Governor’s Commission on Youth, Public, Safety & Justice, a group of legal, criminal justice, and social services experts Governor Cuomo tasked in 2014 with providing clear recommendations on how to reform New York’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. If adopted, the proposed changes would make New York a national leader on juvenile justice and public safety. You can read a more detailed outline of the proposed reforms in the Commission’s Summary of Recommendations for Juvenile Justice Reform in New York State.

In New York in 2013, nearly 35,000 16- and 17-year olds were arrested, presenting them with the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court. Never mind that the vast majority of these arrests were for minor crimes, and that misdemeanors accounted for 74 percent of the arrests. In 2013, more than 650 children aged 13 to 15 were prosecuted in adult criminal courts, seriously diminishing these youths’ prospects before they’ve even entered high school. What is worse, more than 70 percent of the children and youth arrested in New York are black or Latino. And of those sentenced to incarceration, 80 percent are black and Latino.

Research into brain development underscores that adolescents are, in fact, more like children than adults. A child’s brain is not fully formed until he is 25 years old. As the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, their behavior is often impulsive and, well, childlike. Compared with adults, adolescents have diminished ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior. Furthermore, because the adolescent’s brain is still developing, his character, personality traits and behavior is highly receptive to change. That is, adolescents respond well to interventions, learn to make responsible choices and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior. Of course, those interventions need to be appropriate, and those responsible choices need to be effectively modeled.

Treating children as adults in the criminal-justice system is short-sighted and ineffective. Youths who are incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse, and to recidivate. Obviously, these realities are at odds with the correctional goal of rehabilitating youth and protecting public safety. Studies show that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34 percent more re-arrests for felony crimes than do young people retained in the youth justice system. Around 80 percent of youth released from adult prisons reoffend, often going on to commit more serious crimes.

Studies have also shown that, compared to children placed in youth facilities, youths in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon. Youths in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault. Children in adult prisons are often placed in solitary confinement. This isolation is destructive to their mental health and can cause them irreparable harm. Children are thirty-six times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.

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Rather than continuing to lock up young people in adult prisons, it is critical for New York to ensure that children involved in the criminal justice system are provided with court processes, services and placement options that are developmentally appropriate. A comprehensive approach to raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State is in the best interest of New York’s children and youth, communities, and public safety. I urge New York not to let this opportunity pass by.

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