This week's articles critique the United Nations, big labor, big business, the mainstream media and President Obama.


— Alleen Brown focuses on education.

Lawmakers Introduce Sweeping Sex Ed Bill To Expand LGBT Inclusive, Gender Balanced Health Classes,” by Tara Culp-Ressler. ThinkProgress, February 15, 2013.

Last week democratic legislators re-introduced a bill that would fund "medically accurate" sex education programs that are LGBT-inclusive, avoid gender stereotypes and talk about HIV. It's unclear that such a bill's passage would convince states pushing abstinence-only curricula to change course.


— James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.

Immigration Reform May Come With Big Gifts to Employers,” by Samantha Winslow. Labor Notes, February 18, 2013.

What does big labor have to say about immigration reform? For one, not necessarily the same things as its smaller allies. In this piece, Samantha Winslow lays out the immigration reform goals of the US's major labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. Winslow departs from Steven Greenhouse at The New York Times in giving equal time to non-union groups like the National Guestworker Alliance and the National Immigration Law Center. It's an interesting mix of perspectives. How will big labor's immigration reform politics affect guest workers? What does it mean for unions and the Chamber of Commerce to have "common ground"? 


— Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.

The Incredible Shrinking United Nations,” by Suzanne Nossel. Foreign Policy, February 15, 2013.

As this article points out, in recent years, the UN has failed to act as a forum for high-stakes geopolitical decision-making. The UN has not been able to reach a consensus on a definition of terrorism and has not succeeded in spearheading significant actions on climate change. The UN has also failed to deter North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons and remains paralyzed over the situation in Syria. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon lacks charisma and is probably too low profile to act as a real leader addressing global challenges. Nevertheless, the UN and its various agencies play a significant role on technical, development and humanitarian issues, but these actions often remain unnoticed by the public. However, the real problem is the Security Council, plagued by high-level diplomatic rifts, political trade-offs and internal strife, as Member States don’t want the UN to meddle in their own disputes. The author of this article, Suzanne Nossel, identifies three steps the UN should take in order to reverse this trend. First, the UN should use its charismatic leaders and turn them into strong media personalities in order to gain more visibility. Second, the UN should accept to take credit for some of its successful contributions. This could be the case this spring if UN members agree on the world’s first treaty regulating trade in small arms. Third, the UN should take leadership on some issues, for example on LGBT rights within the UN. Yet it remains to be seen if the UN is able to overcome its own internal divisions.


— Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.

Voices from Solitary: Disciplined Into Madness and Death,” Sara Rodrigues. Solitary Watch, February 18, 2013.

Since she was 16, Sara Rodrigues has been incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women in Westchester, New York. Both Sara and her best friend D have struggled with their mental health. When D was released with no transitional assistance, restrictive parole and no job prospects, she ended up back in prison where she eventually committed suicide. Now Sara is kept in solitary for long stretches to prevent her from doing the same. Solitary Watch: News from a Nation in Lockdown published her essay this week on these "factories of misery."


— Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.

‘To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us,’” by Alexander Zaitchik. Salon, February 10, 2013.

Latin America is lucky, in a peculiar way. Unlike other parts of the world extended the pittance of single narratives, the region is apportioned two stories—its countries are either seedbeds of revolution or graveyards filled with the bodies of people paramilitary forces routinely cut down. Today, the story pivots towards the former owing to the re-elections of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Ecuador's Rafael Correa. In circumspect words, the Guardian's Seumas Milne writes about social democracy in Latin America, “True, these are economies and societies at a very different stage of development, and their experiences can't simply be replicated elsewhere. But they have certainly shown there are multiple alternatives to neoliberal masochism – which win elections, too.” Think again.


— Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.

Hellfire, Morality and Strategy,” by George Friedman. Stratfor, February 19, 2013.

This piece, written by the founder and chairman of Stratfor (the controversial security and intelligence firm of WikiLeaks fame), ultimately offers a description—albeit hesitantly—of the dangers of drone warfare when used as a tool for combating jihadist militants. The article, however, denounces any legal or moral argument against the use of unmanned aircrafts, insisting instead that it is strategically dangerous to combat extremist forces with the technique. Though a valid point worth discussing, it is ultimately not what the drone conversation must center around. Through the lens of war law (specifically highlighting the Hague and Geneva Conventions) and accompanying ethics, Friedman insists that drone usage does not violate international war or human rights agreements. State sovereignty, he argues, can only be violated when states prevent attacks within their own boarders; "simple logic," he says. Yet this argument, and much more of the article, largely overlooks larger contexts and connections. What, for example, should we make of US support of states that in turn foster and fund extremist groups? How can we call out failed state sovereignty when the very wars we started have resulted in migration of violent jihadists into new territory? In other words, does historical US action in the regions currently under attack not frame current intervention in a way that might force reconsideration of the morality and legality of drone violence?


— Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.

How to Start a Battalion (in Five Easy Lessons),” by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. London Review of Books, February 21, 2013.

As reporters, we can fall into the trap of writing about monoliths, to approach big subjects as cohesive, single-minded entities. For instance, we tend to look at dictatorships as countries where one leader decides everything, when in reality any dictator is delicately balancing numerous clients and power bases, and his government's actions are accordingly schizophrenic. In this article, Iraqi journalist, photographer and all-around baller Ghaith Abdul-Ahad dissects the monolith of the "Free Syrian Army," which is really just a loose gaggle of hundreds of "battalions" (another misnomer) in search of food, a fight and a few good YouTube videos to send to anti-Assad sugar daddies in the Gulf. Or to the American power-brokers keeping the flow of heavy arms into the country going.


— Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.

A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits in an Industry,” by Julie Creswell. The New York Times, February 19, 2013.

This story exposes how a part of Obama's economic stimulus bill that promoted use of health records was a result of heavy lobbying by the medical records industry. The piece touches on issues of money in politics, big data, privacy and the unexpected consequences of digitization at a time when law and policy has yet to catch up with our digital times.


— Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.

Real As Hell: A Conversation With George Saunders,” by Maria Bustillos. The Awl, February 19, 2013.

Maria Bustillos interviews George Saunders for The Awl. Saunders philosophizes on guilt, Catholicism, mountains, writing—all the good stuff, really.


— Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.

Work is Becoming More Like Prison As Some Workers Forced to Wear Electronic Bands That Track Everything They Do (Including Bathroom Breaks),” by Tana Ganeva. AlterNet, February 15, 2013.

From chain-gangs to shrink-wrapping, prison labor has been an integral part of the US economy throughout this country's history. But the relationship between the market and the slammer has increasingly become a two-way street as companies take inspiration from law enforcement in using surveillance technology to monitor and control workers. Tana Geneva expounds upon a report by the Irish Independent, revealing how a UK supermarket chain uses electronic wristbands to micromanage their employees.


— Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.

Why Latin America Didn't Join Washington's Counterterrorism Posse,” by Greg Grandin. TomDispatch, February 18, 2013.

In this TomDispatch article, historian Greg Grandin celebrates the news that there was not a single Latin American nation among the 54 countries to participate in Washington's expansive rendition program and praises the region's governments for their growing tendency to resist, and even mock, unwelcome diplomatic pressure from the United States. As Grandin has pointed out before, for Latin America, the process of rendition conjures awful memories of the secret detention, torture and disappearances that terrorized the region during the Cold War and directly targeted some of South America's current presidents.


— Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.

Africville: Canada’s Secret Racist History,” by Noah Tavlin. VICE, Feburary 4, 2013.

The Canadian government began the process of establishing Black History Month (every February, as in the US) in 1995, but it took an unusually long time—until 2008—to finalize this recognition. Just in time to mark Black History Month, this piece is about Eddie Carvery, his 44-year protest against the city of Halifax and the struggle for justice for the community of Africville, Nova Scotia. The fact that Nova Scotia was the last stop on the Underground Railroad is a point of pride for most Canadians, but what's rarely discussed is the abhorrent treatment the inhabitants of Africville faced, up to and including the total destruction of the community.