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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.

Why Obama Needs to Ignore ‘Armchair Warriors’ and Focus on the Global Economy

Obama American Flag

(Reuters/Jason Reed)

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.

As Iraq blows up (again) and tensions rise in the Ukraine and in the South China Sea, the United States’ debate is focused on military intervention. Neoconservatives, having learned nothing from the debacle they caused in Iraq, indict the president for not intervening in Syria and for leaving Iraq. Liberal interventionists, having learned nothing from the calamities now visited on Libya, call for modulated bombing in both. The beleaguered administration sends planes to the Baltic states and Poland, ships to Asia, token troops to Baghdad, sustains hundreds of bases around the globe and is accused of withdrawing from the world. Commentators fret over whether the war-weariness of the American people will keep the “indispensable nation” from doing what must be done.

When you have a hammer, as the adage goes, everything looks like a nail. The United States’ hammer is the most sophisticated military in the world—and nails appear in infinite variety across the globe.

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Virtually absent from the debate is any awareness of how much the United States’ commitment to police the world detracts from dealing with the real security needs of its people and the globe. Last week, Richard Trumka, president of the AFLCIO, delivered a short address that reminded us of what is being lost in the muscle flexing.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Take Action: Tell President Obama: No Military Intervention in Iraq

Read Next: How many times do neocons get to be wrong about Iraq before we stop listening?

My ‘Real’ Family Values

SEIU

SEIU union member Mary McNutt (C) and other state workers protest outside State Capitol, Sacremento, CA 2009 (Reuters/Max Whittaker)

In President Obama’s own words, too many American workplaces resemble scenes from Mad Men. Many employers’ attitudes toward family-friendly reforms seem to stem from the same unenlightened era—that is, at least, until they see the bottom-line results that these reforms can inspire. For a nation that claims to value family, the United States has an abysmal record on family-friendly workplace policies. Without access to maternity and paternity leave, affordable childcare and paid sick leave, working parents have almost no flexibility to balance the needs of their families with the requirements of their jobs. In short, when it comes to family-friendly labor policies, America is, indeed, exceptional—exceptionally backward.

Take paid sick days. As I’ve written previously, more than 40 million Americans, mostly low-income workers, lack access to paid sick leave. No matter how ill they are, they must clock in—and they could lose their jobs if they stay home to care for a sick child or aging parent. Meanwhile, childcare remains prohibitively expensive, and the United States has yet to enact universal pre-K, all of which leave even middle-class working parents with few affordable options for their little ones.

Paid sick days are overwhelmingly popular across ideological lines. Ninety-six percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents and 73 percent of Republicans support the policy. Moreover, this popularity is supported by the data. Five years after the 2004 implementation of California’s Paid Family Leave program, for example, employers reported a neutral or positive affect on employee productivity, profitability and turnover. New Jersey’s program saved businesses money by improving employee retention, decreasing turnover and boosting productivity. Also, it’s simply common sense. The chief lobbyist against the paid sick leave bill in San Francisco told Businessweek that, among various workplace reforms, paid sick leave offers “the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?”

Then there’s maternity and paternity leave. Today, around 2 million men stay at home to raise their children. Beyond that, even the masses of men who aren’t primary caregivers are increasingly involved in the details of childrearing. But while men are more hands-on than ever before, they are nevertheless experiencing more conflict between their work and family roles than they did thirty years ago.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, many, but not all, employees are allowed to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for things like illness and the birth of a child, without the risk of losing their jobs. However, up to 40 percent of workers do not meet the law’s strict eligibility requirements. The United States is the only Western country that does not mandate paid maternity leave—and just 14 percent of employers offer paid leave for new fathers. Moreover, while new mothers physically have no choice but to take at least some time off—even at the risk of losing pay or even their jobs—one study found that 86 percent of working fathers would not use paternity leave unless they were paid at least 70 percent of their salaries. The same study revealed that fathers generally take a meager two weeks off from work after the birth of a new child.

Many business groups complain that offering flexibility to their employees will hurt the bottom line, but this is short-sighted. As the data in California and New Jersey show, workplace flexibility makes economic sense, and it allows companies to attract and retain talent. In fact, cities that have implemented paid leave have seen improved worker morale, increased productivity, and small and large business growth.

But businesses can’t act alone. That’s why on June 9, the White House convened a group of fathers, researchers and business leaders—including New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who missed Opening Day this season to be present for the birth of his son—to discuss the challenges working dads face. The event was a precursor to the White House Working Families Summit on June 23, which is bringing together parents, employers and elected officials to discuss how to make the workplace more fair for working families. While Murphy, who is taking paternity leave, may be the exception to the rule, high-profile fathers like him can help elevate the issue and generate support for smart, sane policies.

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There’s no shortage of ideas. Cities and states across the country—Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City, in particular—are enacting laws like paid sick leave and universal pre-K. Several bills are in fact circulating at the federal level, including the FAMILY Act, sponsored by Democrats Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT). The bill would provide partial income for up to twelve weeks of leave for new parents and to care for a sick family member or a worker’s own medical condition. And research from Demos shows that President Obama could help 8 million workers—70 percent of whom are women—by issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for employees working for federal contractors. It’s a good start, but it’s still a long way from where we need to go.

While Republicans traffic in the self-righteous language of family values, they have, without a hint of irony, long opposed pro-family policies like paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. And as long as workplace flexibility is seen as a women’s issue, it will continue to be easy for them to obstruct progress. But now, as more fathers—including those, like MLB’s Daniel Murphy, engaged in those most American of pursuits—struggle to balance the competing demands of work and family, the political winds may shift in favor of humane, commonsense workplace flexibility laws for all Americans. That’s how we can really translate “family values” into valuing families.

Read Next: When will we stop asking neocons what to do in Iraq?

How Many Times Do the Neocons Get to Be Wrong Before We Stop Asking Them What to Do in Iraq?

Iraq flag protest

Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burn a US flag during demonstration in Najef, April 9, 2010. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)

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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.

Can someone explain to me why the media still solicit advice about the crisis in Iraq from Senator John McCain (R-AZ)? Or Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SS)? How many times does the Beltway hawk caucus get to be wrong before we recognize that maybe, just maybe, its members don’t know what they’re talking about?

Certainly Politico could have found someone with more credibility than Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush administration and one of the architects of the Iraq War, to comment on how the White House might react to the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Iraq today. Certainly New York Times columnist David Brooks knows what folly it is to equate President Obama’s 2011 troop removal with Bush’s 2003 invasion, as he did during a discussion with me last Friday on NPR?

Just a reminder of what that 2003 invasion led to: Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes authoritatively priced Bush’s war at more than $3 trillion. About 320,000 US veterans suffer from brain injury as a result of their service. Between 500,000 and 655,000 Iraqis died, as well as more than 4,000 US military members.

 Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Read Next: "Time For Evolution in US Cuba Policy"

Time for Evolution in US Cuba Policy

(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.

The sad irony of US-Cuban relations is that Cuba, under the leadership of 83-year-old Raúl Castro, is changing rapidly, and the United States, despite President Obama’s promises of a “new beginning,” remains largely frozen in a self-destructive Cold War policy.

The fifty-plus-year-old embargo of Cuba continues. The administration still lists Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The United States continues to sponsor covert activities—this time a US Agency for International Development attempt to generate “smart mobs” through a secret text-messaging program—to help destabilize the regime. Ten presidents after the embargo began, US policy remains dedicated to folly.

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Meanwhile the world, the hemisphere and Cuba have changed. If anything, the embargo isolates the United States, not Cuba. Washington’s relationship with the region is deteriorating, corroded by its policy toward Cuba. With few exceptions, the left-leaning governments that govern across Latin America have normal relations with Cuba and scorn the US attempt to isolate the little island. At the last Summit of the Americas in 2012, the presidents of Brazil and of Colombia, one of the few remaining US allies, joined several other countries in announcing they would skip the next summit in 2015 if Cuba is not invited. And well they should, as the summits become increasingly irrelevant, with regional trading and political ties developing with the United States, not Cuba, on the sidelines.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: Why American warfare has yielded few results.

Why Seattle’s Minimum-Wage Hike Is Good for Business and the Economy

Katrina on 'This Week'

Should America be looking to Seattle for solutions to its broken economic system? On Sunday, The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel appeared on ABC’s This Week with Neal Karlinsky and conservative commentator and Wall Street Journal editor Paul Gigot, to discuss Seattle’s historic minimum wage hike to $15 an hour. “This is smart economics,” argues vanden Heuvel. “It’s good politics and it’s morally right.”

While the minimum wage hike is double the federal rate and currently the highest in the country, many have questions regarding whether the hike will squeeze low-wage workers out of jobs and cause employers to move toward the use of automation in the workplace. Still, vanden Heuvel holds on in support of the 77 percent of Americans in favor of increases like these: “If we are a country that believes in a strong middle class and healthy families, we need rules of the road…. we need to have a sense of fairness in this country that’s also good for business and the economy.”
Victoria Ford

Turn the NRA’s Weapon Against It

Senator Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz points to a photo of a Remington rifle during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control. (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.

In 1934, the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist testified in front of the House Ways and Means Committee about President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Firearms Act. “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” the lobbyist said. “I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

The NRA testified, under oath, in favor of the nation’s first federal gun control bill.

Eighty years later, the organization believes not only in “the general practice of carrying weapons” but also, as Ronald Reagan once wrote, that the Second Amendment “appears to leave little if any leeway for the gun control advocate.”

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The NRA’s dramatic turnabout, and its decades-long campaign to change American hearts, minds and gun laws, is the subject of Michael Waldman’s compelling new book, The Second Amendment: A Biography. Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Law and Justice at the New York University School of Law, explains that the authors of the Second Amendment never intended to create an “unregulated individual right to a gun” and explores why, today, we think they did. Published three days before the rampage in Isla Vista, California, that killed six and wounded thirteen, the book shows how we got to this moment of routine gun violence—and offers a way out.

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.

Take Action: Join the ‘Not one more’ campaign to end gun violence

The Real Benghazi Scandal

Benghazi, Libya

The burnt-out buildings of the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (AP/Mohammad Hannon)

The illogic of the GOP’s obsession with Benghazi—and with Hillary Clinton’s role in the tragedy—has been documented ad nauseam, and suffice to say that five investigations, fifty briefings and 25,000 pages of documents have found absolutely no intentional wrongdoing by anyone in the Obama administration, including former Secretary Clinton. In fact, the only involvement Clinton had with Benghazi took place before the attack, when she strongly objected to the Republican Congress’s cutting of the diplomatic security budget. Over her objections, they cut it by $500 million anyway, which left our people overseas needlessly exposed. That’s cause and effect, with Issa and Co.—and not Secretary Clinton—playing the role of cause. Afterward, Clinton implemented every single recommendation made by the bipartisan Pickering Commission, which investigated the attack.

Strunk and White teach writers to use a thesaurus sparingly, if at all, but I’m afraid I have to agree with Michael Tomasky, who at The Daily Beast calls the latest Benghazi inquest “bullsh*t,” as well as “absurd, insane, sickening, repulsive, shameful, and at the same time shame-less.”

Republicans, never ones for examining historical context, seem to have forgotten the lapses in military leadership under sainted President Reagan that led directly to the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut. Among other failings, the report of the Long Commission, which investigated the attack, determined that the United States failed “to take the security measures necessary to preclude the catastrophic loss of life.” Following the tragedy, Reagan accepted responsibility and in February 1984 began pulling Marines out of Lebanon; nine months later, he carried forty-nine states on his way to re-election. Responsibility? Withdrawal? Today’s GOP would surely have blasted Reagan during the primaries for going “soft on terror.”

But the real Benghazi scandal is the one that Republicans and Democrats don’t want to examine, the trillion-dollar question at the heart of the matter. This is an opportunity to look squarely at our stance on national security, to assess whether we’re even in the ballpark of best serving American security interests abroad (and at home). Nation Contributing Editor Robert Scheer, for example, has called Benghazi a “monster of our own creation,” noting that “as with [9/11], the perps turned out to be people the US secret agencies had once trusted. The enemy here was not Al Qaeda, but rather a homegrown menace empowered by foreign intervention.”

Time and time again, Scheer explains, we insert ourselves into international conflicts, secretly arm and empower a faction we deem to be “freedom fighters,” then suffer the consequences when those we’ve pushed to achieve self-determination do indeed get there. Meanwhile, because our intelligence agencies eschew any semblance of transparency, we have no informed debate on whether any of this was a good idea in the first place. And the cycle, free from oversight, repeats itself, with American citizens even less safe and even more in the dark.

We need to put our Manichaean “soft on terror/tough on terror” mindset behind us and instead seek to become smart on terror. And this cannot be achieved via the secret dealings of special operations forces deployed in the newly proposed global Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund or the CIA and NSA.

President Obama seems to get it, at least on an intellectual level: “When we cannot explain our [counterterrorism] efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion,” he told the graduating cadets at West Point on Wednesday, “…we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.” Nevertheless, such rhetoric hasn’t stopped him from expanding secretive counterterrorism operations with Special Forces into four African states. Historian Nick Turse tells The Nation’s Zoë Carpenter that the US Africa Command is busy converting itself from “a more congenial combatant command to an actual war-fighting combatant command.”

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We might ask ourselves—instead of taking it on reflexive faith, as we’ve been doing for the last thirteen years—whether or not the “war on terror” is actually doing any good. Absolutely not, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn has determined. “The ‘war on terror’ has failed,” he writes, explaining a corollary to Scheer’s point, “because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that had fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement. The US did not do so because they were important American allies whom it did not want to offend.”

Instead, we’ve decided to offend our own citizenry through needless snooping, civil rights violations and invasions of privacy.

At TomDispatch, Tom Engelhardt observes, incredulously, that the United States “seems incapable of intervening in a meaningful way just about anywhere on Earth despite the fact that its military remains unchallenged on a global level. It’s little short of mind-blowing.” While more time and more money are wasted on another attempt to find the meaning of Benghazi, we’re squandering the opportunity to find the meaning of our own behavior and our own policies. Why can’t we intervene in a meaningful way? Why have opacity and subterfuge replaced transparency and open debate?

That it’s not crystal clear to congressional Republicans that we’re doing something wrong with our foreign policy is a significant sign of incompetence. We’ve already answered (and re-answered) the question of who failed whom in Benghazi; it’s instead time to start asking why, more than a decade after 9/11, we put ourselves in a position to fail in the first place.

Listen to Katrina vanden Heuvel discuss Obama’s foreign policy on The Diane Rehm Show.

Let’s Stop Subsidizing Economic Inequality

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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.

Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, recently asked in a speech at the New Populism Conference in Washington, “Why should our tax dollars subsidize economic inequality?” Why must you and I foot the bill, via our taxes, for the callousness of Walmart or Domino’s?

The chasm between C-suite pay and minimum wage may be wider than ever before—in 2013, according to the AFL-CIO, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies made 774 times as much minimum-wage workers—but, as Anderson points out, many people have grown tired of waiting for a solution to emerge from the maw of Washington and are instead taking the initiative themselves. “Just like on the minimum wage,” Anderson told the conference, “people aren’t waiting for Washington to lead on CEO pay. We’re seeing an unprecedented explosion of bold creative action outside Washington.” In Sacramento, Providence and other capitals, state-level activism and legislation are taking care of business that the House and Senate have chosen to ignore.

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In California, Senate Bill 1372, introduced by state senators Mark DeSaulnier and Loni Hancock, lets the state raise the corporate tax rate, currently 8.84 percent, to as high as 13 percent for companies whose highest-paid executives earn more than 100 times what their typical employees earn. Companies with a CEO-to-typical-worker pay ratio below 100-to-1 would get a tax cut, down to as low as 7 percent. “Under the bill,” Inequality.org reports, “all firms with a ratio under 100-to-1 would end up with a tax cut, all above with a hike.” And California corporations that might be eyeing an end-around via outsourcing would see their tax rate increase by fifty percent if they exhibit a decrease in full-time employees and an increase in “contracted and foreign full-time employees.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

 

Read Next: Why is the VA suffering from a lack of resources in the first place?

Why Is the VA Suffering From a Lack of Resources in the First Place?

US Veterans demonstrate at Occupy Wall Street

US Veterans demonstrate at Occupy Wall Street in November 2011. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

Though Republicans might not understand, it takes a lot more than bumper stickers to support the troops who fight their wars. It should be a no-brainer, but it seems like those who have determined to politicize the situation at the VA have forgotten the primary reason so many veterans are in such dire need of care to begin with, and why the scandalously cash-strapped department has been so hard pressed to provide it. As I said on Face the Nation this week, without considering the historical context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—namely, that they were both unnecessary and prosecuted with a stunning degree of ineptitude—and without considering Congress’s history of underfunding veterans healthcare, it’s irresponsible to dive-bomb the White House with finger-pointing and grandstanding speeches about who needs to resign, and when.

There’s plenty of blame to go around concerning the massive failures of the healthcare system in the Veterans Administration. Both the media and politicians are focusing on administrative failures at the top and are calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who heads the federal agency, as if such a high-profile decapitation will fix the problem.

But members of both parties agree: It will not. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Politico, “It shouldn’t be about a political scalp. It should be: How are we going to improve care for veterans?” And Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) belittled his colleagues’ knee-jerk demand for a cabinet-level resignation: “I’ve never seen [the tactic] work yet…. I’ve only been around twenty years.” Even Bob Dole has dismissed the notion that Shinseki should be forced out. Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, wrote in a Politico op-ed, “As a disabled veteran myself, there is no one I would rather have heading up the VA now, in this turbulent time, than Eric Shinseki. In my experience, he is the best there is.” Cleland should know; in addition to being, like Dole, a genuine war hero, he also served under President Carter as administrator of veterans affairs (the predecessor position to Shinseki’s) from 1977 to 1981.

Obviously, the creation of secret waiting lists at VA facilities is horrible. There is no excuse for such dereliction of duty, especially when it again puts the lives of our brave veterans in danger after they’ve already been made to face enough. Simply put, those who are responsible for making these lists should be fired. And if their actions are determined to have been illegal, then they should be prosecuted for criminal activity.

But just as obviously, we need to recognize that those actions were not ordered by Shinseki, himself a veteran twice awarded the purple heart (and, as you might recall, the Army Chief of Staff who—presciently—dared contest the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz notion that postwar Iraq could be reconstructed with a mere 100,000 troops). Moreover, under Shinseki’s watch, the VA has cut the backlog of veterans-benefits claims by more than half. Veteran homelessness has dropped by twenty-four percent since Shinseki made it a priority in 2010.

The creation of “secret lists” comprised unauthorized decisions made at the local level, purposefully hidden from the top leadership of the agency. While we need to focus on the guilty parties who made the actual decisions to create these lists, we also need to recognize that none of this exists in a vacuum. This problem was not created in 2014, and we would be oversimplifying things if we didn’t also recognize that there are many, many others—over many, many years—who have also contributed greatly to this terrible situation.

Why is the VA suffering from a lack of resources? You can find the answer on Capitol Hill. Insufficient funding of veterans’ healthcare has been caused primarily by political decisions made by “support-our-troops” members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. Members of Congress who have in recent years voted against increasing the funding of veterans’ healthcare—increases necessary to meet the need created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—deserve much of the blame for starving the VA into this scandalous situation.

Many of those members of Congress who are now calling for the resignation of Shinseki are themselves guilty of voting against adequate funding for veterans’ healthcare, and they are therefore partly responsible for the deaths of veterans who didn’t get necessary medical treatment quickly enough to save their lives. It is just as reasonable to call for their resignations as it is to call for Shinseki’s resignation, if not more so. If you’re truly outraged, then tell your member of Congress to cough up the necessary funds for the VA. The secretary of veterans affairs can only ask for increased funding; it’s up to Congress to actually provide it.

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The inept execution of the Bush administration’s two wars also plays a significant role. It cannot be said enough that our soldiers were nickel-and-dimed by Donald Rumsfeld’s DoD. They should have been provided with body armor (The Army prioritized body armor on the same level as socks, according to a 2005 New York Times report) and with adequately-protected military vehicles from the get-go (“We were reduced to duct taping old flak jackets to the side of our Humvees to provide protection,” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of IAVA, told NewsHour in 2004). Why are these decade-old outrages relevant today? Well, addressing these failures promptly and effectively then would surely have reduced the demand side of the veterans’ healthcare economic equation now.

To peel back another layer, an even more important factor in the creation of today’s mess was the disgraceful and dishonest launching of the Iraq War. All of those Bush administration officials, as well as their neocon allies, who lied and shamefully tricked us—and our troops—into fighting that needless war are responsible for the injuries sustained as a result of it. It’s a fairly simple case of cause-and-effect, and as long as Iraq War veterans suffer, blood continues to be spilt on their dishonest hands.

It cannot be repeated often enough that, none of these politicians who involved us in the reckless and unjustified wars of the 2000s has ever been held adequately responsible for the massive damage they have done to our finances, international standing, military readiness, and health of our veterans. It might be convenient to pin all of the hawks’ failings (and they are legion) on Eric Shinseki’s shoulders, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests, but it would be morally, historically and economically bankrupt to do so. It would suggest that we, as a nation, do not actually value the lives and health of our soldiers over the political and financial imperatives of our ruling class. It would suggest that we consider our troops to be nothing more than rent-a-cops, called in to do security for the big event, then forgotten the next morning.

Today’s lesson is quite simple: after conflicts are over, we need to fully fund the healthcare and medical needs of our veterans. Forever. Even if that means making the political and economic elite pay more in taxes. Even if that means taking politics out of the VA and focusing instead on the welfare of our veterans. That we have politicians and members of the media who need to be reminded of this is a disgrace.

Read Next: Reed Richardson on how the media’s VA ‘scandal’ coverage is making the same old mistakes

Reining in the Surveillance State

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

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, Tea Party–backed Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) set the progressive world abuzz.

No, not with his usual retrograde positions on abortion, gay marriage or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (he was against it before he was for it)—but rather with an op-ed in The New York Times, demanding that the Obama administration release its legal argument justifying the use of a drone to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, without trial. Paul vowed to filibuster the nomination to the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit of former Justice Department official David Barron, who helped write memos supporting said argument.

Paul’s strong libertarian principles have always differentiated him from many of his Republican colleagues. It is, therefore, not all that shocking for him to speak out against a president he dislikes on a policy he disdains. Yet his outspokenness has many liberals and leftists asking a legitimate question: Why aren’t there more Democratic voices opposing the surveillance state? Protecting civil liberties should be a critical piece of the progressive platform, but too many establishment Democrats and progressives have been silent on this issue simply because one of their own is in the White House.

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Some Democrats in Congress have taken bold stands. Longtime civil liberties champion (and former House Judiciary Committee chair) John Conyers has worked to limit the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk telephone data. Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Adam B. Schiff of California have probed the administration’s drone and surveillance programs. Representative Zoe Lofgren of California is pushing to prevent the NSA from weakening online encryption. In the Senate, Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy of Vermont has held oversight hearings questioning excessive surveillance. Even Dianne Feinstein of California, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and normally a committed defender of the intelligence community, finally spoke out after discovering that the CIA spied on Senate staffers. And last week, Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon sent a letter to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., strongly criticizing a “culture of misinformation” that has resulted in “misleading statements… about domestic surveillance.” And Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has proposed a bill limiting FBI and NSA spying.

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.

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