President Obama this week stepped up pressure on his fellow Democrats to approve fast-track trade authority that would ease passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, at times strongly criticizing what he deemed “dishonest” claims—and Saturday, two leading Senate liberals responded.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown sent Obama a letter demanding that he release the bracketed negotiating text of TPP before Congress votes on fast-track authority. The duo noted that even George W. Bush released the texts of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas “several months” before Congressional action was required, and asked Obama to do the same.
In comments to reporters Friday, Obama said “The one that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a ‘secret’ deal.” In a shot widely interpreted as directed at Warren, he said: “Every single one of the critics who I hear saying, ‘this is a secret deal,’ or send out emails to their fundraising base saying they’re working to prevent this secret deal, can walk over today and read the text of the agreement. There’s nothing secret about it.”
Warren and Brown took this claim on directly in their letter:
In recent remarks, you suggested that critics of the TPP are “dishonest” when we claim that TPP is a “secret deal.” Even though negotiations over TPP are largely complete, your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal.
As a result of your administration’s decision, it is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that members of Congress may “walk over…and read the text of the agreement”—as we have done—you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public.
While experts, the public, and the press are not allowed to review the latest draft of the TPP, executives of the country’s biggest corporations and their lobbyists already have had significant opportunities not only to read it, but to shape its terms. The Administration’s 28 trade advisory committees on different aspects of the TPP have a combined 566 members, and 480 of those members, or 85%, are senior corporate executives or industry lobbyists. Many of the advisory committees—including those on chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles and clothing, and services and finance—are made up entirely of industry representatives.
They went on to call for the bracketed negotiating texts to be released before fast-track approval is granted. “The American people should be allowed to weigh in on the facts of the TPP before Members of Congress are asked to voluntarily reduce our ability to amend, shape, or block any trade deal,” they wrote.
Warren and Brown also noted that the fast-track bill being considered in Congress now could be in effect until 2021, meaning future presidents (i.e., President Scott Walker) could use the authority it grants to ram through even worse trade deals with no amendments possible, and a low vote threshold.
The fast-track legislation has passed both the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, and awaits full floor action in the coming days.
Warren and Brown’s letter can be seen in full here:
Read Next: George Zornick on President Obama's unusual phone conference about TPP.
The Nation was vigorously opposed to war with Spain, and, indeed, to all expressions of American imperialism and expansionism (including the annexation of Hawaii) during this crucial decade in American history. Once the war began and spread to the Philippines, the magazine strongly opposed the anti-insurgency campaign, noting (with strong implications for more recent US adventures abroad): “Whenever a small force of Americans undertakes an expedition, the woods and hills become alive with enemies.” In an editorial, “War or Peace” (April 21, 1898), The Nation’s founding editor E.L. Godkin took aim at the “yellow” journalists who bullied the country into war. It could have been written in 2003, about those favoring the American invasion of Iraq, or today, about the chickenhawks trying to sink the Iran deal and involve the US in yet another unimaginably costly war.
When the fighting begins, we must only hope that it will be short, sharp, and decisive. We are still of opinion that the dispute might have been ended—nay, may still be ended—without fighting at all. We could have tried the plan of autonomy which the Spaniards have offered to concede by perfectly peaceable means. The objection which has been made to this is, that the Spaniards cannot be trusted to keep their promises; that in four or five years they will withdraw what they concede, as they have often done before. The answer is that they have never before promised the withdrawal of the their troops as part of the reform, and that they would find it impossible to go back to their old ways without soldiers. Moreover, it is, as we have often said, never too late to go to war. We could fight them just as well after they had broken their promises as now, if not better. What prevents our trying the autonomy plan is, in a very large degree, the deisre of some of the Jingoes for a war, as one of them has said, "just or unjust, necessary or unnecessary, right or wrong." This is a painful concession for a civilized nation to make, but it must be made. It is an inevitable inference from the proceedings in Congress and the conduct of a portion of our press. It is the conclusion which the world at large now draws and which history will draw....When one thinks of the blowing, the blatherskite, the mendacity of the most widely read portion of our press, of the steady fire of the lowest insults kept up against an adversary with whom we meant to engage in honorable, civilized warfare, by the Legislature of the nation, one involuntarily asks, Are there no gentlemen left in in American public life? We wish we could add that, now that we are approaching the stern arbitrament of war, we believe that lying will cease or diminish. But we can hold out no such propsect. War is preeminently a state of things in which all human vices flourish or are encouraged, especially the vice of mendacity. We must be prepared for its exhibition on a greater scale than ever before witnessed by mankind, incessant, monstrous, and perfectly shameless.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.
There’s a fascinating divide emerging over the Corker-Cardin compromise bill that would give Congress a vote on an Iran deal and which unanimously emerged from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. The compromise, engineered by committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-MD), softened some provisions in Corker’s original bill. With Democrats supporting the bill, the White House perhaps saw the writing on the wall and dropped its opposition—and veto threat—against the new version.
Now, though, Republican hawks in Congress are looking to weigh the bill down with amendments that would certainly invoke a veto. The charge is being led by Sen. Tom Cotton, the combative Arkansas Republican who has emerged as the upper chamber’s most vociferous Iran hawk. Cotton has vowed to introduce several amendments that would make congressional approval of any Iran nuclear deal virtually impossible. Several other Republican senators have promised to do the same.
What’s so fascinating is that AIPAC supports the Corker-Cardin compromise. The flagship Israel lobby group likely sees the bill, which creates a procedure for Congress to vote approval or disapproval of a final Iran nuclear accord, as a good first step to kill the deal it has opposed from the start. The logic would be that enacting Corker-Cardin would lay the groundwork, then the lobby would set about trying to convince enough Democrats to support its anti-diplomacy position to get Congress to vote down the final agreement when that time comes.
A piece today in Bloomberg View headlined the fight between the Israel lobby and the Republican über-hawks as “Aipac vs. Pro-Israel Republicans.” But it would more accurately be called “AIPAC vs. the Neocons.” And we shouldn’t forget for a moment that the bankrupt ideology of neoconservatism is behind these efforts; the line between leading neocons and this obstructionism is too easy to trace—and too laughably reminiscent of their misadventure in Iraq.
Cotton, after all, is a protégé of neoconservative don Bill Kristol. And Kristol has come out firing at the Corker-Cardin compromise. In a Weekly Standard editorial later distributed by his attack-dog letterhead group the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), Kristol labeled the compromise bill “at worst misleading, at best toothless,” denouncing Corker and “the leading establishment pro-Israel lobbying group”—AIPAC—for their support of it.
Kristol couched his call for “implant(ing) teeth in the legislation’s clammy gums” as a way to avoid conflict: “Perhaps future wars in the Middle East can be made less likely,” he mused. Who does he think he’s kidding? Kristol has already called for war with Iran! Cotton, for his part, has been totally frank about opposing any deal with Iran whatsoever, not simply seeking a “better deal.” And Cotton’s alternative? He has said war with Iran will be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy—or, if you prefer to harken back to the drumming for war with Iraq, a cakewalk. (Kristol’s ECI—which, speaking of Iraq, was birthed in the same office as the neoconservative Committee to Liberate Iraq—threw a million dollars behind Cotton’s Senate campaign.)
As Jim Lobe noted, all this comes as Republican presidential hopefuls—some of whom in the Senate are set to introduce their own compromise-killing measures—are getting ready to prostrate themselves before Sheldon “Nuke Iran” Adelson, the Republican mega-donor and hard-line Likudnik that funds a virtual who’s who of Washington’s network of neocon think tanks and anti-Iran diplomacy groups. Adelson demands of his beneficiaries total fealty to his extraordinarily hawkish pro-Israel views (he even publicly upbraided AIPAC, which he has funded to the tune of millions, over the group’s support for George W. Bush’s short-lived Annapolis process for Israeli-Palestinian peace).
That tidbit of a fact helps to place some of this maneuvering (some might say posturing) in an important historical context. For the neocons, what’s wrong with the Corker-Cardin compromise is not the compromise itself, but rather who it was with: namely, Democrats. There’s a long history that we needn’t get into here (check out Dan Luban’s excellent review of neoconservatism’s history for some of it and Norman Podhoretz’s disappointment in Jewish Democrats for another angle), but suffice to say that neoconservatives have realized for some years now that Democrats, especially staunchly liberal Democrats, are too squishy on foreign policy to be good allies. A lot of it boils down to Democrats just not being excited enough for foreign wars.
And so the neoconservatives and their closest allies in the far-right pro-Israel world hammer away at anything that Democrats have touched; the rejectionism and obstructionism of the Tea Party makes for a fine comparison to the way neocons treat moderate Republicans on foreign policy, not to mention the Democrats they would work with. And AIPAC has not been immune: my old boss Peter Beinart has documented this well in instances like the 2012 Democratic convention Jerusalem platform fight and the Chuck Hagel nomination row. The neocons want to pull AIPAC—with all its clout and money—into the Republican fold because they think bipartisan Middle East hawkishness is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.
AIPAC seems pretty freaked out about it, and who can blame them: they’re losing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started really alienating Democrats with his constant, cocksure interventions into the American debate over Iran—not to mention effectively endorsing the Republican in the 2012 US election—and kept driving coffin nails with his racist election tactics. The GOP, however, is eating it all up. What’s more, the big pro-Israel money, particularly but not limited to Sheldon Adelson, is firmly committed to yanking the GOP right on Israel—and that’s working, too!
In the case of the Iran bill, this is likely to hamper neoconservatives and AIPAC alike in their efforts to squash an Iran nuclear deal. If any of the negotiation-killing amendments are added to the Corker-Cardin bill, hawkish Democrats are going to squirm but eventually sustain President Obama’s veto. The naked partisanship of the neocons’ machinations are so obvious that it’ll be an easy decision, even for hawkish Democrats like Chuck Schumer. This would be just the latest instance where GOP partisanship has staved off a congressional affront to Obama’s diplomacy.
But it’s still worth noting that causes considered “pro-Israel”—and make no mistake that killing an Iran deal is, in Washington, a pro-Israel cause—are increasingly being conflated with doctrinaire neoconservatism and taken up solely by Republicans. This is the battle neocons are winning—but being the ideologues that they are, Kristol and his comrades will be satisfied with nothing short of total victory in the war. Which, in the case of Iran, would be launching an actual one.
Read Next: Ali Gharib on how NBC knowingly let Syria rebels’ false war propaganda stand for years
This post is part of The Nation’s biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out March 16 and April 10. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. “$15 and a Union! No Music!”
On April 15, I went on strike from my job at McDonald’s in St. Louis because I need more than $7.65 an hour, minimum wage, to take care of my family and pay for tuition as an incoming college freshman studying to be a healthcare provider. Adjunct professors, students, home care workers and childcare workers—here and across the country—came out in force to show how the Fight for $15 is growing. We protested at fast-food restaurants, chanting “$15 and a union! No music!”
2. “Come On Out, We Got Yo’ Back!”
Since 1999, the Progressive Student Alliance, a local of United Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, has been fighting with the campus union, United Campus Workers, for living wages and justice for women and people of color. On April 15, as part of a national student mobilization, we traveled from Knoxville to Ferguson with Show Me $15. When we made it to West Florissant Avenue, we joined 400 others, and a large group rushed into McDonald’s to support fast food workers, chanting “Come on out, we got yo’ back!” As we marched to Canfield Street, where Mike Brown was killed, we held 4 minutes of silence for the four hours that police let him lie in the street after being executed. This was a day of rage in which we rallied, took back the streets and showed that we are not intimidated by corporate resistance to raising poverty wages.
3. Jamming the Immigration Court
On April 17, hundreds of immigrants and advocates from across the country gathered in New Orleans, where a panel of three judges weighed a request for an emergency stay on a lawsuit filed by 26 anti-immigrant Republicans to delay the implementation of DACA and DAPA, a program announced by the Obama administration in November, which promises to shield millions from deportation. I was in the courtroom with someone who would be able to qualify for DAPA—my mom, who, 22 years ago, made the courageous decision to leave her family and career in order to give my sister and me a shot at a better future. As we listened to the arguments from both sides, we could hear the roar of people outside. As the case rolls on, we will continue preparing our community to apply for relief.
4. Preparing for Walter Scott
Following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Charleston community members formed a plan for how we would respond to a similar tragedy in our community. When Walter Scott was killed on April 4, we operated from a stance of “Negotiate, Demonstrate, Resist,” with a vision of justice founded on ending the epidemic of violence against the black community and implementing a system of police accountability. On April 8, we assembled outside City Hall, calling on the mayor to establish a Citizen Review Board, which would have the power to investigate officers independently—a departure from the rubber-stamp internal investigations that have resulted in few charges, and zero convictions, in the 209 officer-involved shootings in South Carolina in the five years preceding Walter Scott’s death. While waiting for a positive response, we have temporarily escalated to the “Resist” stage of our strategy—shutting down intersections, highways and access to City Hall on several occasions. We will continue mounting pressure until the city responds.
5. Disrupting for Racial Justice
On Saturday, April 18, the University of California–Berkeley’s annual “Cal Day,” the Black Student Union blocked Sather Gate in protest of a racially hostile campus climate. On February 13, the BSU presented the chancellor with a list of ten demands aimed at increasing recruitment, retention, mental health and other resources available to Black students on campus. After receiving incomplete responses to the demands, we decided to take the message public. Despite being harassed with racist comments both online and in person, we remained peaceful while protesting for almost three hours. In the coming weeks, we will persist until our demands are implemented.
6. In Middletown, Injustice Is Not an Investment
On Thursday, April 16, 38 students at Wesleyan University hosted a sit-in at President Michael Roth’s office. As a coalition for divestment and transparency, and in conjunction with other schools with escalating campaigns, we are calling for total divestment from fossil fuels, the prison industry and the Israeli occupation. After we took over the office at noon, the president sat down with us, but no progress was made. We remained there until 10:45 PM, leaving out of consideration for the security staff who would have had to work 16-hour shifts, before returning at 7:45 the next morning with a set of updated demands for prison divestment. Subsequently, the president agreed to find out if the university had holdings in private prisons and companies such as G4S, CCA and GEO and, if so, divest and ensure no future investments would be made.
—The Coalition for Divestment and Transparency
7. In Tuscaloosa, a Historic Sit-In
For two years, students at the University of Alabama have called on the university to join the Worker Rights Consortium to ensure proper monitoring of the factories that produce collegiate apparel. On Monday, April 6, ten students, alongside community supporters and two Bangladeshi supporters, one of whom survived the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that claimed over 1,100 lives, staged a sit-in at President Judy Bonner’s office—the first documented occupation of the president’s office since the university was established in 1831. Chanting, singing and remembering those who came before us, we demanded that the university respect the lives of garment workers that make its apparel and make the decision to join the more than 180 universities affiliated with the WRC.
—United Students Against Sweatshops, Local 144
8. In Grinnell, Student Power Rises
On April 18 and 19, 90 Iowans came together at Grinnell College to form the Iowa Student Power Network. Alongside members of USSA, SLAP, Iowa CCI and the Virginia Student Power Network, as well as former US Representative Berkley Bedell, students from eight campuses launched statewide campaigns to end sexual assault, fight for climate justice and build power in all 99 Iowa counties. To kick off the network, we launched the Divest Grinnell campaign with an aerial photo action visualizing “IA Students > Fossil Fuels.” We are planning to host our next convergence in the fall.
—Iowa Student Power Convergence Steering Committee
After months of research and planning, Philadelphia Student Union members from the city’s flagship Science Leadership Academy launched the #MoreThanATest website, which catalogues dozens of testimonies detailing why our education cannot be reflected by standardized test scores. We demand that Pennsylvania remove Keystone testing as a graduate requirement. Instead of the current formula, in which schools receive more or less funding based on test scores, we believe that all schools should receive full and fair funding. Decision-makers cannot expect us to perform well on tests when our schools’ resources are cut year after year. Alongside students across the country this spring, we are encouraging everyone to opt out.
—Philadelphia Student Union
On April 10, the University of California–Santa Cruz revealed that it is under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations due to mishandling complaints of sexual violence on campus. Three days later, students on campus took part in the Carry That Weight National Day of Action, shouldering mattresses to symbolize the burden sexual violence places on survivors. We held a 4-hour, continuous carry in a major campus hub, asking passersby to stop and help us in order to raise awareness. At the end of the day, two groups of students marched through campus carrying mattresses, chanting and holding signs saying “End Rape Culture” and “Safe Campuses are a Civil Right.” The Day of Action, which fell during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, is one of many events planned to engage the campus in ending sexual violence.
President Obama took the inter-Democratic party debate over trade up a notch Friday morning, when he joined a White House conference call with Labor Secretary Tom Perez and a small group of reporters as a surprise guest and mounted a vigorous, and at times testy, defense of his administration’s trade policy. Obama spoke for 31 minutes straight, and became almost the fact-checker-in-chief: pushing back on several specific points raised by Democrats about the deal, ranging from labor standards to fast-track to the secrecy of the process.
At the end of the call, Obama offered a warning: “What I am averse to is a bunch of ad hominem attacks and misinformation that stirs up the base but ultimately doesn’t serve them well. And I’m going to be pushing back very hard if I keep on hearing that stuff.”
Many of Obama’s claims, however, don’t match up to what we know about the deal so far. Others are impossible to fact-check, as the final language of the deal remains a secret to the public and even many congressional staffers.
The members of Congress who have seen the deal can’t disclose what’s in it, but their public statements reveal a deep unease about the text. This was illustrated clearly in an anecdote Obama told about Representative Sandy Levin, the ranking member of the House Ways & Means Committee. “I sat down with Sandy Levin. He gave me a list of probably 20 things that he wanted to see in the trade deal,” Obama said. “And I spent an hour walking through one by one, showing him how on 18 of the 20, we had addressed either 100 percent or 80 percent of his concerns.”
Levin’s office declined to comment on whether that was a fair characterization of the meeting. But incidentally Levin did release a statement one hour after the call, about the passage of fast track through the Ways & Means Committee. It didn’t sound like the words of a man who had a vast majority of his concerns assuaged.
“The negotiating objectives included in the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan TPA legislation are primarily so vague or flexible that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated without strict guidelines in many areas,” Levin said. “Workers in Vietnam and Mexico have no assurance that labor laws in those countries would be brought into compliance with International Labor Organization standards. Foreign investors could challenge an American law or health regulation in an arbitration panel without clear guidelines, instead of U.S. courts with clear rules of law. Countries will be able to manipulate their currencies—harming American businesses and workers—without any clear recourse except consultations. Or take agricultural market access. The negotiating objective is simply to ‘reducing or eliminating’ duties on agricultural products. Japan’s opening offer met that objective, because they agreed to ‘reduce’ but not ‘eliminate’ agricultural tariffs on hundreds of products.”
The labor standards in the trade pact, and the extent they will be enforceable, are a huge point of contention between the White House and Democrats. If TPP adopts weak or unenforceable labor requirements, American jobs and production capacity would flow even more quickly towards other countries in the trade pact.
As Levin’s comments relay, Democrats and organized labor want the pact to force compliance with the International Labor Organization standards, which apparently won’t be the case. Past trade deals with Jordan and Cambodia adopted those standards, and were endorsed by labor groups. This would make Obama’s contention during the call that TPP would be “the most progressive trade deal in our history” pretty debatable.
Many union organizers assume, with good reason, the labor standards in TPP will fall somewhere below the ILO rules. Perez didn’t do much to assuage these fears in a recent interview with The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, where he said that Vietnam—which has essentially zero labor rights—would only have to make “significant changes” in labor laws in order to enter TPP.
Obama also strongly disputed that the bill was being fast-tracked: “there’s nothing fast about it,” he said, adding that Congress has 90 days to review the deal before it votes.
That is true—but Democrats and advocates have raised serious concerns about how hard it would be to remove TPP or any future pact from the fast track if there were concerns about the final text.
Once the current fast-track legislation is enacted, only the Senate Finance Committee or House Ways & Means Committee can derail fast track (meaning, revert to a 60-vote requirement with amendments possible) before the final vote, by negatively reporting out the implementing language of TPP. But the resolution to stop fast track generated by that committee vote would then need a full congressional vote, and that resolution would not be privileged—meaning House Speaker John Boehner or Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell could simply decline to bring it for a floor vote, thus keeping fast track in place. Both men strongly favor TPP.
Moreover, this whole process can only happen after the president signs the trade bill and sends the implementing language to Congress. Even if Congress somehow derailed fast track and amended TPP, all the signatory countries would have to agree to back out and renegotiate.
What’s especially notable about this is that, under the fast-track legislation passed in 1988, either committee could stop fast track immediately with a simple majority vote—no wider floor vote would even be needed. This could also happen before the president entered into the trade pact. In this way, as Public Citizen has noted, the TPP process is a significant a step back from NAFTA when it comes to fast-tracking.
Obama also blasted critics who call TPP secret, and said “When I keep on hearing people repeating this notion that it’s ‘secret,’ I gotta say, it’s dishonest.” He added that members of Congress have been offered 1,700 briefings on the pact and can see the text whenever they like.
But Obama also admitted that some parts that are being negotiated—and there are a lot of them—remain secret. This is also a case where Obama and some TPP critics are talking past each other; Elizabeth Warren says not that TPP is secret from her but, in an e-mail to supporters this week, said it was secret to them. The AFL-CIO’s Eric Hauser told The Nation in a statement that “the best way to regain workers’ confidence is to release the text, not scold the critics.”
During other parts of the call, Obama did some exercises in partisan identification. His message to the Democratic base in recent days has been: You know me. “My overarching priority in everything I do, since I was elected and until I am done with my last day of the presidency, is figuring out how we can create greater opportunity for the middle class and people who are working hard to get into the middle class,” he said, before reciting a litany of administration accomplishments from the stimulus act to rescuing the auto industry.
It’s a good political strategy, though one that may be hard to advance. No major environmental or labor groups have backed the deal—and many are fighting it tooth-and-nail. As David Dayen noted Friday, many of the TPP endorsements listed on the White House website from smaller-scale environmental groups aren’t endorsements at all—they are letters requesting better terms in the TPP and even in some cases offering concerns the the hoped-for terms won’t be met.
The difficulties facing the White House here were evident in Perez’s response to a question from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on this topic. Perez went on to list three progressive backers of the deal: former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (who just joined Bain Capital), Ben Cardin, and former Washington governor Christine Gregoire. With respect to those politicians, Perez was reaching pretty far into the barrel of high-profile liberal stars.
And perhaps the biggest obstacle to Obama’s party-identification gambit: all those Republicans boosting the deal. Also on Friday afternoon, Republicans announced that Representative Paul Ryan—who Democrats spent much of 2012 vilifying as a budget-slashing pawn of Wall Street—would give the weekly address on the topic of TPP.
Read Next: George Zornick on the increasing intensity of the TPP debate in the Democratic Party.
The scene of hundreds of corpses drifting in the Mediterranean is just starting to stir the conscience of European Union authorities. But despite vague promises of aid, ministers remain adrift in an ethical crisis, still unwilling to open “Fortress Europe” to some of the world’s most desperate people.
Even in the wake of the devastating migrant boat wreck on April 19, at an emergency summit in Brussels, the head of the EU border enforcement agency Frontex rebuffed proposals to expand search-and-rescue operations, saying such measures were outside the agency’s “mandate.” But EU ministers did pledge to triple funding for Mediterranean maritime operations and supply “naval assets” and helicopters for enforcement.
Humanitarian advocates, however, call these measures shamefully inadequate. They demand a systemic approach that not only helps prevent death at the border but also offers more legal pathways to migrate from the Africa region, especially as the refugee crisis intensifies in the Middle East and Africa’s growing conflict zones.
“European migration policies are part of the problem,” says Iverna McGarran, director of programs at Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. She points to the escalation and militarization of enforcement at both land and sea borders, in order to deter, rather than channel migration. But a realistic solution would involve both “extending the scope of search-and-rescue operations and [ensuring] adequate assets and resources,” across a significantly expanded operation area, along with “a more global reform of European migration policies and practice.”
A more comprehensive response would expand family reunification and humanitarian admissions and allow free travel among the 28 member states, which is currently restricted. And in the long run, an EU-wide resettlement program is vital, lest authorities continue to warehouse migrants indefinitely in the current ragged network of squalid, prison-like detention camps.
With the limited exceptions of Sweden and Germany, McGarran notes, most European countries had offered “appallingly low [numbers of] places” for refugee admission, both reflecting and exacerbating ethnic polarization across Europe.
Amid talk of sending warships to stem migrant flows, officials continue to pass off responsibility for refugees to neighbors. Reuters reports that EU governments “will consider a voluntary scheme to ease the burden of arrivals on ‘frontline’ states in the south—notably Italy, Greece and Malta,” but an emerging “pilot scheme” to resettle migrants across Europe remains largely speculative and without a firm figure on how many would be brought in and where they would go. And while officials dither, the rate of new arrivals is approaching 5,000 a week.
They are following the harrowing route documented in the testimony of a 21-year-old migrant from Gambia, who sailed to Malta in January:
People started losing their mind. Some said they wanted to go and get food or go back to their country, then jumped into the water. I do not know how many jumped… I lost concentration… Some drank sea water… Many died… We threw the bodies in the water, I do not know how many.
According to Amnesty, the migrants had set sail from Libya and drifted at sea for days with “no telephones, water, or food, and no life jackets…. packed so tightly in their small inflatable dinghy that they could not sit or lie down to sleep.” After arrival they wound up in detention, joining the thousands wending through the byzantine asylum-petitioning process—or they might just escape again, into Europe’s growing population of impoverished undocumented immigrants.
European ministers now fret over whether the migrants are real “refugees” fleeing crisis, or merely “economic migrants” who want jobs. Activists say this semantic dichotomy undermines the fundamental humanitarian issue: No one, regardless of why and how they made the journey, deserves to suffer and die this way.
Officials are also focused on limiting “incentives.” EU leaders had originally scaled back the early search-and-rescue scheme out of fear that an overly liberal border policy acted as a “pull factor” that only encouraged more migration by sea. The theory hinges on a false assumption about migrants’ motives, say activists, because people make the perilous journey essentially because of desperate circumstances in their places of origin, including war and persecution. Unless shuttering borders could somehow shut down global conflict, political oppression, labor exploitation, and social strife overseas, human rights groups say that closing borders is basically the EU leaders’ way of putting on blinders.
Amnesty’s latest report shows the removal of the major supposed “pull” factor last year—ending an EU-wide search-and-rescue maritime operation called Mare Nostrum and leaving only a skeletal parol force in its wake—only intensified another push factor: “While the end of Mare Nostrum has not led to a drop in departures, it can however reasonably be linked to an increase in deaths at sea.” Even prior to the latest mass drowning, migrant deaths were spiking, and the total has nearly doubled to more than 1700, or about a thirty-fold increase over the same period last year.
The conditions reported on the migrant trail underscore countless other human rights violations in the region: darker-skinned migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are subjected to racial discrimination and brutality in the lead-up to and during their journey. Women face epidemic levels of sexual abuse. Libya’s militias and chaotic civil conflicts also abet the business of trafficking syndicates.
To the extent that EU officials seek to remedy any “push factors,” they have made jingoistic overtures toward attacking the trafficking industry, seeking to “identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers.”
The fact that officials seem more enthusiastic about deploying gunships than extending asylum underscores the cyclical nature of this crisis: Governments respond with violent tactics when humanitarian cooperation and social justice are what’s actually needed.
Dismissing the rhetoric of “push factors,” McGarran points out that despite the lethal risks, “people are still boarding those boats. That a family, mothers, fathers, bringing their children would still board the boats, compared to the extent to which their lives are at risk—it says a lot about what’s pushing them. They’re fleeing from poverty, conflict, torture and violence.”
As vicious as the migrant trade is, the market that has developed around this bloody passage is, like migration itself, a symptom, not a root cause. The underlying problem lies in the violent inequalities between the societies separated by the Mediterranean.
Most Europeans will probably never face that choice between leaving home or death and misery. But this dilemma weighs like a leaden shackle around the neck of every corpse floating in the ocean today. Just a stone’s throw from a place where—by some miraculous grace, and by historical tragedy—a small island of hope resides.
Read Next: Federal contract workers strike in DC
The crisis in Ukraine has taken on a global bent in the last few months, drawing Russia, the United States, NATO, and even China into its web. While many political pundits initially considered war with Russia to be an unlikely consequence of Ukrainian strife, a clash between the United States and Russia is now widely acknowledged as a serious possibility.
The Nation’s Stephen Cohen visited The John Batchelor Show this week to reflect on how the conversation has changed.
“When you and I first started talking about the Ukrainian crisis earlier in 2014,” Cohen told Batchelor, “I began framing it as so dangerous that it could slip toward actual war.… I think we probably sounded like alarmists then because nobody else was saying that. But here we are ten months later, and…you’ve got a whole series of centrist people telling us what you and I worried about ten months ago, that war with Russia is now something we have to think about.”
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The Easter Rebellion began when a secret group of Irish nationalists, aided by socialists, assaulted British government buildings in Dublin and seized the post office. The uprising was put down by the British within the week and the conspirators were hanged. Most of Ireland’s 32 counties achieved independence in 1921, and the Republic of Ireland was formed in 1949. Six counties of Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom, to the mild consternation of some. Rollo Ogden, editor of The Nation’s then–parent publication the New-York Evening Post, wrote an editorial on “The Irish Outbreak” in May of 1916.
That the recent outbreak was so inept as to be almost idiotic must be evident to the minds of all but the Irishmen who took part in it. They have brought immense disrepute upon themselves, and have done it in an attempt absurdly ill-chosen and doomed to failure. England never had so many troops at ready disposal as she has to-day to put down an Irish rebellion…. The best that the friends of Ireland can hope for is that the revolt will speedily be forgotten. Its moving spirits were young dreamers and writers who rushed to the sacrifice with a Sophocles in one hand and a rifle in the other. If the English are wise, they will not execute the captured rebels, but treat them as amiable and pathetic lunatics mostly in need of restraint and care.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.
The phrase “Clinton rules” has two very distinct meanings. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s enemies use it to mean that the couple flout rules that apply to everyone else. (See, for example, the recent anti-Clinton Wall Street Journal editorial “The Clinton Rules.”) In the early years of the blogosphere, however, liberals used “Clinton rules” as shorthand for the way journalists regularly abandoned ordinary standards of evidence to breathlessly pursue Clinton pseudo-scandals, often cooked up by right-wing operatives. As the Daily Howler wrote in 2007, “Under ‘the Clinton rules of journalism,’ you can say any goddamn thing you want—as long as you say it about the Clintons.”
Both versions of ‘Clinton rules’ describe real phenomena, and with any given Clinton story, it can be extremely difficult to figure out which Clinton rules are at work. Things are easier if you start off with a strong stance on the couple, always assuming the worst of either the Clintons or of anyone who criticizes them. But if you believe, as I do, that the Clintons have been demonized and persecuted to a preposterous degree and that they have cut ethical corners, if you delight in the idea of a female president but dread the return of the Clinton circus, it’s not easy to sort out who the real wrongdoers are in each new Clinton investigation. You find yourself plunged into rabbit holes, arguing about minutia, wishing for some sort of ideological heuristic to make sense of it all.
Take today’s New York Times investigation, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation as Russians Pressed for Control of Uranium Company.” The story implies—but does not clearly allege—that money funneled to the Clinton Foundation greased the wheels for a deal that left Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, in charge of 20 percent of American uranium reserves. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was part of a committee of cabinet officials that had the power to accept or reject the deal.
The origin of the piece is suspicious. On Monday, Times reporter Amy Chozick wrote about a forthcoming book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, by the right-winger Peter Schweizer. (Among Schweizer’s other books is Makers and Takers: Why conservatives work harder, feel happier, have closer families, take fewer drugs, give more generously, value honesty more, are less materialistic and envious, whine less…and even hug their children more than liberals.) According to Chozick, Clinton Cash is potentially more threatening to the Clintons than other right-wing hit jobs, “both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.”
This last line caught many up short. Why on earth would The New York Times enter into an “exclusive agreement” with a right-wing hack like Schweizer? After all, there’s nothing to stop the paper from following up on Schweizer’s reporting on its own. Why make a deal with him? What did it entail? Chozick didn’t say, and a piece today by Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor, only clarified things a bit. “Any agreement limiting journalistic inquiry is unacceptable; the wording in the original story certainly suggested that,” wrote Sullivan. “I believe…that such a thing didn’t happen here; that, rather, The Times merely pursued the angle it was most interested in, with no restrictions. But I still don’t like the way it looked.” Indeed, it looks terrible—a clear example of the second sort of Clinton rules.
The uranium piece is the first fruit of this exclusive agreement, which is reason to approach it skeptically. Yet when you read it, it appears pretty damning. Maybe, you might start thinking, the Clintons really have bent the rules in shocking ways.
The story begins in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the mining magnate Frank Giustra, a generous Clinton donor, is negotiating a deal for stakes in three mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency. There is a strong suggestion that Bill Clinton made the deal happen:
The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator. Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom.
After that, Giustra’s company, UrAsia, merged with the South African concern Uranium One. The new company was then gradually taken over by Russia’s Rosatom. “[S]hortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock,” the story says.
Even if no quid pro quo is substantiated, it all sounds pretty sketchy. But not so fast! There are reasons to doubt that the Times account is entirely accurate. Take that 2005 trip to Kazakhstan by Clinton and Giustra. The Times first reported on it in 2008, but shortly after, Forbes writer Robert Lenzer found that the two men had not in fact traveled together, citing the flight manifest of Giustra’s plane to prove it. “Clinton arrived in Kazakhstan late in the afternoon Sept. 6, 2005, on billionaire Ron Burkle’s plane, four days after Giustra,” wrote Lenzer. “By then Giustra was well on the road to finalizing a memorandum of understanding to acquire a 30% interest in the Kharassan project for $75 million; the state owned the other 70%.”
From the Times story, there’s no way to tell whether the paper is simply repeating an old mistake, or whether Forbes’s debunking has itself been debunked. It’s hard to imagine that the Times could have been so sloppy about facts that have already been aired. But Clinton rules—the second kind—mean there’s a lower standard where attacks on the Clintons are concerned.
So if the Times is building on the work of a right-wing smear merchant, and is in fact wrong about Clinton traveling with Giustra, does that mean we can dismiss the piece? Well, not unless someone in the Clinton camp can explain away this paragraph:
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
Beneath all the allegations about influence-peddling, this is the single clearest charge in the whole Times story. There is, as of yet, no evidence that Bill Clinton intervened with Kazakhstan’s dictator on behalf of Giustra. And there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton did anything inappropriate as secretary of state to enable Russia to take over the company that Giustra helped build. But this failure of disclosure by the Clinton Foundation is itself a minor scandal, whether or not Hillary Clinton bears any direct responsibility for it. For now, the broader story remains murky, but here, at least, is one rule that seems to have clearly been broken.
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My new Nation column is called “Remembering the Left-Wing Terrorism of the 1970s” and it’s a discussion of Bryan Burrough’s book on that topic, Days of Rage.
And here is an excerpt from Inequality and One City published by The National Memo.
Michael Feinstein’s Sinatra Tribute for American Songbook at Jazz at Lincoln Center
Your intrepid reporter was very much out and about this week. It began with the first in a series of Michael Feinstein-curated three-part series of American Songbook performances dedicated to the life and legacy of Frank Sinatra who was born 100 years ago this year. During the first of these three dedicated programs his guests were Ann Hampton Callaway, Lynn Roberts, and Nick Ziobro, all backed up by a seventeen piece big band. It was a pretty fun evening. It stuck, mostly, but not entirely to the early pre-Capitol-era Sinatra which was heavy with Cole Porter and other songs that were later reworked (and improved) over time. Feinstein is as much an educator as an entertainer and so one learned a great deal too. Lynn Roberts, who has been performing for seven decades, sang with Frank and the Dorsey band. Callaway did not sing with Frank, but sang in the small rooms in Vegas when he played the big rooms, and this 19-year-old Nick Ziobro really did put one in mind of the young man who broke hearts at the Paramount Theater. The question is whether you can enjoy “Sinatra” without Sinatra. You can for sure, and most everyone did, but the evening is haunted by “The Voice.” Frank’s great taste both in songs and arrangements—coupled with the great big band made for a pleasant, if not earthshattering evening.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Tribute to Joe Temperley
A few nights later, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra paid tribute saxophonist and clarinetist Joe Temperley who, together with only Wynton Marsalis, has been in the orchestra for the full 26 years. Temperley, who is 85, performed with the orchestras of Humphrey Lyttelton, Woody Herman, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Clark Terry, Joe Henderson and most significantly Duke Ellington. But instead of playing old chestnuts from those days—or at least exclusively old chestnuts—band members saluted him with original compositions and debut arrangements that gave him a chance to shine (Wynton wrote and arranged a five-movement concerto). Another big highlight was the closer—a piano and sax duet by Temperly and pianist Dan Nimmer on Ellington’s "The Single Petal of a Rose" from "The Queen's Suite,” that left the audience breathless. Says Wynton of Temperly: “There is no greater sound on earth.” Well, I don’t know about that. But it sure was moving, and powerful and on occasion, beautiful.
John Pizzarelli and Daniel Jobim at the Café Carlye
The Café Carlyle has brought back John Pizzarelli, following his recent run with his at-least-as-talented wife, Jessica Molaskey, this time as a team with the Brazilian singer-songwriter and pianist Daniel Jobim, grandson of the seminal Antonio Carlos Jobim for a show called “Strictly Bossa Nova II,” which I guess is a sequel to a previous show of which I was unaware. Which is too bad, because this show was terrific. Though so, apparently was the last one. Will Friedwald wrote of it: “Mr. Pizzarelli and his rhythm section . . . renew our faith in the Jobim classics as well as the idea of sambaing up the likes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter.” At one point, Pizzarelli termed an album off of which they did three songs, João Gilberto’s “Amoroso” to be the “musical equivalent of Viagra.” Well, okay, but I thought it was a great deal more romantic than just that. obim sang softly, in a near whisper and the band, Helio Alves on piano; Duduka DaFonseca on drums; and younger brother Martin Pizzarelli on upright bass demonstrated how much newness can be found in music you thought you knew—whether it was “Great American Songbook” style songs converted to bossa nova style (“‘S Wonderful,” “Change Partners,” or songs that began that way but received their reinterpretations and revisions from this gorgeous and sensitive ensemble. (The drumming was particularly revelatory.) And as weird as this is to say, I actually preferred their versions of the songs to those performed on the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim against all apparent popular opinion, I find to be one of Frank’s least successful albums—especially his famous albums. Ticket prices are just as high as ever, but Pizzarelli is just as charming and talented as ever and this beautiful bossa nova show cannot help but leave a smile on your face. And if all you know about it is “The Girl from Ipanema,” you’ll come out knowing a lot more than when you went in.
Hand to God on Broadway at the Booth Theatre.
Hand to God, currently at the Booth Theatre, is a wonderful play about a gray sock puppet with fake fur, real teeth and a bad case of possession by Satan. It’s hard to describe how creative and original—also ridiculous—this play is. Have you ever wanted to see two puppets screwing for a really long time—especially since it was the boy-puppet’s first time—in pretty much every imaginable position, and lots of funny faces?
I’m not sure what it’s really “about.” It takes place in a church basement during the meetings of a puppet-making class. The wonderful Sarah Stiles plays Jessica who is “really more into Balinese shadow puppetry,” but she will “take what [she] can get.” The puppet, Tyrone, is the best of the characters—and that is saying something, even though you can see Jason’s lips moving the whole time. And believe it or not, his hand gestures are the funniest part—that’s right a puppet’s hand gestures—along with his profane mouth. The play is being compared to “The Book of Mormon,” which I still haven’t seen, but people who have, tell me it’s not quite as funny as this one. My guess is that there is more to embarrass a dad who has taken his teenage daughter to it in “Hand to God” than in a play about Mormons, and there is also something to be learned for a sophisticated New York audience about the trials and tribulations of religious folk in the heartland who find their faith tested. Still, it’s mostly fun and lots of it. Great cast, too.
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