FISA CASE BACK ON: On March 21 The Nation, along with the ACLU and other organizations and individuals, won a huge legal victory when the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reinstated our landmark lawsuit challenging an unconstitutional government-spying law.
One of the most egregious of the post-9/11 civil liberties abuses was the Bush administration’s secret warrantless wiretapping program. After it was exposed by the New York Times in 2005, the administration used fear of terrorism to browbeat Congress into granting sweeping new powers to the government through the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA). That law allows the executive branch to conduct international surveillance without requiring it to identify targets and without meaningful judicial oversight; in particular, it grants the government nearly unlimited power to monitor the international communications of US citizens.
In 2008 The Nation joined Amnesty International USA, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Watch, the Service Employees International Union and others, with the ACLU and NYCLU as counsel, in a federal lawsuit against the act. Our case, which included testimony from Nation writers Chris Hedges and Naomi Klein, argued that the statute was a serious impediment to our work as human rights, labor, legal and media organizations, which requires us to engage in sensitive communications with colleagues, sources and clients abroad.
The appeals court reversed a 2009 district court decision that ruled we didn’t have standing to challenge the law because we couldn’t prove that our communications had been monitored. The constitutionality of the FAA is yet to be decided by a court, but now the case can go forward; as Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case in court, said, “The government’s surveillance practices should not be immune from judicial review, and this decision ensures that they won’t be.” ROANE CAREY
EXHUMING McCARTHY: When hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites rallied to protest Governor Scott Walker’s assault on public employee unions and related power grabs, Wisconsin history professor William Cronon developed an online study guide for people who might be interested in where the governor’s ideas were coming from. Citing conservative and progressive scholars, Cronon described the work of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to influence state policies. The study guide proved to be popular, and Cronon wrote a thoughtful opinion piece for the New York Times.
None of this sat well with the Wisconsin Republican Party, which sent a letter (written by a former Walker aide) to the University of Wisconsin, demanding access to Cronon’s e-mails regarding the Wisconsin conflict. Cronon responded that he had nothing to hide but hoped Republicans would rethink the demand. “I find it simply outrageous that the Wisconsin Republican Party would seek to employ the state’s Open Records Law for the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass, or silence a university professor (and a citizen) who has asked legitimate questions and identified potentially legitimate criticisms concerning the influence of a national organization on state legislative activity,” he observed.
Cronon’s observation was spot-on, and it has been reinforced by news from neighboring Michigan, where a governor has stirred debate with attempts to undermine not just unions but local democracy. A week after Cronon was targeted, the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy demanded e-mails sent by professors at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University that mentioned “Scott Walker,” “Wisconsin,” “Madison” and “Maddow”—as in MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Like ALEC, the Mackinac Center has received funding from groups tied to the billionaire Koch family, a factor in Wisconsin since Walker took a much-publicized call from a journalist he thought was David Koch.
But there is a darker connection here, a connection to the past when the Republican Party of Wisconsin twice endorsed the candidacy of Joe McCarthy for Senate. McCarthy spent a lot of his time “investigating” academics and others in Wisconsin, Michigan and states across the country who dared dissent against his red scare. It was an intimidation tactic that finally was rejected even by the senator’s fellow Republicans. They should be speaking up now against these ugly assaults on academic freedom and the right to dissent. JOHN NICHOLS
BEYOND A BOUNDARY: On March 30, for the first time in history, rivals India and Pakistan faced each other in the semifinal of a cricket World Cup. With both nuclear-armed neighbors singularly devoted to the sport, this was a particularly high-stakes match. Although the rivalry is fierce, cricket has long been the one force capable of bringing the subcontinent together. India, which ultimately won, issued some 5,000 visas to Pakistani cricket fans for this tournament alone.
In the run-up to the match, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart, Yusuf Raza Gilani, to India so that they could watch the match together. The move set off a diplomatic thaw between the countries, as the home secretaries of the two nations met to discuss security issues. Relations between India and Pakistan have been strained since the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which the Indian government maintains originated in Pakistan.
At the end of this much-hyped round of “cricket diplomacy,” Pakistan decided to allow Indian investigators into the country to probe the 2008 attacks, both countries agreed to set up a “terror hot line” and the Pakistani prime minister extended an invitation for a reciprocal visit from Prime Minister Singh. RIDDHI SHAH
CONGRATS, ERIC: We’re pleased to note that Nation editorial board member and Columbia University professor Eric Foner has been awarded the Bancroft Prize for his latest book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (Norton, 2010), a political biography of the sixteenth president and his ideas about slavery. Among the most prestigious awards in academia, the Bancroft is given annually to distinguished works in American history or diplomacy. Historians Sara Dubow (Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America) and Christopher Tomlins (Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America) were this year’s other winners.