Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.
“Wall Street Is Still Giving to President,” by Peter Nicholas and Daniel Lippman. The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2012.
Despite Obama’s attempts to raise taxes on one-percenters by ending the Bush tax cuts and regulate Wall Street with the Dodd-Frank bill, the securities and investment industry is nonetheless filling the president’s campaign coffers. The WSJ reports the 77 bundlers he now has from the aforementioned industry have already topped 2008 levels by $300,000, with $14.5 million.
Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.
“Conscience Clause’ Gone AMOK—Rape Victim Denied Morning After Pill By Prison Guard,” by Robin Marty. RH Reality Check, June 29, 2012.
A Tampa woman was raped, treated by a rape crisis center and given two emergency contraception pills—one to be taken at the center and one to be taken 12 hours later. When she reported the rape to the police, she was arrested on an old warrant for failure to pay restitution and failure to appear. The prison guard confiscated the second pill because it “was against [the guard's] religious beliefs,” and now the victim is suing the Sheriff's office. This case is horrifying, but ever-more commonplace as the fight for “religious freedom” (and against women's rights) expands the conscience clause, from nurses to bus drivers and, now, prison guards.
Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.
“Cost to Protect U.S. Secrets Doubles to Over $11 Billion,” by Scott Shane. The New York Times, July 3, 2012.
The past decade has demonstrated that it has became increasingly more difficult to be in a space of dissent in the United States. However, due to the increasing levels of secrecy, not only is it more difficult to be in a space of dissent, but it is also more difficult to access information that would allow a space of dissent to emerge. The fact that the government has doubled the amount that it spends on secrecy in the last decade confirms this.
Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad.
Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the world’s prison capital: “Part 1: Louisiana is the world’s prison capital,” by Cindy Chang, Scott Threlkeld, and Ryan Smith. The Times-Picayune, May 2012.
In this sprawling 8-part series, investigative journalists in Louisiana explore how the state came to incarcerate more individuals per capita than anywhere else in the world, reaching disturbing conclusions about the exploitative roles of both for-profit prison companies and local law enforcement agencies. In a system in which each inmate is worth $24.39 per day in state funding, empty beds mean money lost. The consequences, as you can imagine, are dehumanizing.
Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.
“Expert: Health ruling could be used to challenge pollution rules,” by Ben Geman. The Hill, June 29, 2012.
This post on the Hill's environment blog tackles a question raised by a law professor at Syracuse University about what implications the Supreme Court's health care ruling could have for environmental regulation. Since the court decided that Congress can only regulate what individuals do, not what they don't do—which is how the individual mandate survived as a tax not under the Commerce Clause—what's being considered now is whether this will provide new grounds for objections to environmental regulations. For instance, couldn't requiring a company to install a pollution control device be seen as forcing someone to purchase a product, and therefore argued unconstitutional under the court's recent ruling?
Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.
“Washington and Damascus: What Will Stop Ongoing Violence to Civilians?” by Saul Landau. Institute for Policy Studies, June 25, 2012.
Legendary scholar and filmmaker Saul Landau argues that diplomacy, not military escalation, is the only way forward regarding the situation in Syria. The international community is having a hard time differentiating the parties that are committing atrocities and escalating the violence. The recent news coming out of Syria is not completely clear and the U.S. media has, for the most part, accepted opposition claims uncritically. While Asad's government has "shelled neighborhoods," it has been reported that the rebels are also committing violent acts. Landau warns against another western venture into the Middle East. He cites British journalist Patrick Seale, who argues that the West should "unite with Russia and China" to pressure "both sides" to stop the violence and negotiate.
Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.
“Filling the Skills Gap,” by Joe Nocera. The New York Times, July 2, 2012.
The Nation’s own Dana Goldstein has reported on the importance of vocational education, and how the youth unemployment rate in other Western countries is lower than that of the US with the help of such apprenticeship programs. In this article, Nocera highlights a program called Year Up, which trains high school graduates to work in an office setting by learning "middle-skills" such as computer support. I think the program is a step in the right direction, as I'm of the convention that the education system after 8th grade is in desperate need of reform. Perhaps in our parents' time high school actually taught students something worthwhile—but now? It's four-years of busy work and regents exams that have nothing to do with transitioning students into the workforce/college, which, in this day and age, should be the goal of high school. The first two years should be about culturing students in history, literature, the arts and sciences so they can better integrate themselves into our globalized society. And the last two years should be about preparing them for their future, whether they will go on to a certification program, community or senior college. During these two years they can enroll in an internship or apprenticeship program so they can narrow their focus, and gain work experience (perhaps even some pay) in the process. Not too long ago my brother was an intern at Smith Barney at the age of 16, and his accumulated work experience since that time landed him a position at corporate Avon. By the time I was 16 in 2006, such opportunities ceased to exist, most likely due to the shift in culture (and dwindling job opportunities) where now college graduates are occupying such internships. Bottom line: We need to remove the stigma of vocational education, support our drowning community colleges, and reform high schools so their graduates will be better prepared for whichever path lies ahead of them.
Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.
“Asian Americans Respond to Pew: We’re Not Your Model Minority,” by Julianna Hing. Colorlines, June 21, 2012.
Pew's recently released study “The Rise of Asian Americans” mixes skewed data with mythology to reinforce the old stereotype of the “model minority,” a simplified and damaging image of what is in actuality a diverse community. Misleading measurements of median household income (vs. per capita income) indicate that Asian Americans are comparatively well-off while failing to address living arrangements—in fact, earlier this year the Economic Policy Institute found that Asian Americans have actually suffered the worst from long-term unemployment. The danger of Pew's simplified findings, and the way the study has been portrayed in the media, is that institutions and policy makers may ignore real disparities and injustices that exist within the community.
Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.
“Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation,” by Ethan Bronner. The New York Times, July 3, 2012.
Because our jails are run for profit, it only makes sense that our courts are too. It's not surprising to find for-profit companies tracking indigent people down for misdemeanors or violations and giving them the option of paying outrageous fees or serving jail time (which comes with added fees). It's articles like this that demonstrate how seriously warped our justice system is—and that's not even confined to the bad ole' south (which is the topic of the article). District Attorneys across the country wage a war on the poor by turning DWI's, speeding violations, disorderly conduct, etc. into costly and punitive ordeals, with justice being muted out by the complete financial destruction of the “offender.”
Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.
“NPR misses mark with Mingo ‘war on coal’ profile,” by Ken Ward Jr. The Charleston Gazette, July 3, 2012.
The Coal Tattoo blog at the Charleston Gazette is a reliably sharp look at the environmental issues facing the industry, from inside a state where news about coal is very much an immediate reality. So when NPR published a piece this week about “clean coal” and the peculiar results of West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary, Coal Tattoo responded with a heap of context—and made the story that much more interesting.
Here's what happened: An imprisoned felon named Keith Judd managed to get 40 percent of the vote in the WV primary, actually beating Obama in a number of counties in the state. The reason? Obama’s perceived “War On Coal.” But the NPR piece, as blogger Ken Ward Jr. points out, didn't mention that coal jobs in West Virginia actually increased during Obama's first three years in office, and that intra-state competition is affecting mine employment too. The NPR story is fascinating, but append Coal Tattoo's take, and perhaps we can see all the way around.
Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.
“After America: Will civil war hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves?” by Dexter Filkins. The New Yorker, July 9, 2012.
Filkins is a Pulitzer-winning combat journalist who neither screeches about the evils of every American action, nor does he sugar the stories of the very uncertain future for the Afghan government and its ethnic multitudes. Weaving in the political history, Filkins describes the obstacles—Afghan military preparedness, local dependency, official pessimism and incompetence—but he impressively details the weakening of the Taliban, the successes within the Hazara minority, and the positive development of the country's infrastructure.
Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.
“The decade of war to come,” by Nick Turse. Al Jazeera, July 2, 2012.
Nick Turse offers a comprehensive snapshot of aggressive US foreign policy under Obama. Turse describes how the coarse paradigm governing Bush-era policy has given way to expansive 'small footprint' military and intelligence endeavors. As Turse points out, perhaps most disturbing is the confidence with which this new, potentially destructive, style of warfare is being waged.