This week, our scandal-ready media leaped on the General Petraeus "love pentagon," obsessing over every single trickling detail in real time. As relief, Nation interns picked some stories you might have missed while pundits were obsessed over military affairs. This week they cover the crisis in Gaza, drones in Pakistan and Qing-era China.
Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.
“Interview: Ali Abunimah on the situation in Gaza.” Al Jazeera, November 15, 2012.
This week, Israel intensified its airstrikes on Gaza in what looked like a full-scale escalation, after assassinating Ahmad Jabari, the head of Hamas' armed military wing, and Palestinian resistance groups, in response stepped up rocket fire at Israel. In light of these recent events, Ali Abunimah gives a very informative interview on Al Jazeera English, offering a timeline of events that led to the situation today in Gaza. Ali's timeline counters the narrative that Israel is engaged in a defensive campaign in Gaza, and shows how this is simply the latest manifestation of Israeli aggression against the blockaded people of Gaza.
Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.
“Sweet Forgiveness,” by Mike Konczal. Boston Review, November/December 2012.
This month, Boston Review features a debate on debt forgiveness. Mike Konczal leads off by arguing that modifications to our bankruptcy and debt collection practices—which have grown far more favorable to creditors in recent decades—that help indebted households decrease their burdens are not only fair, but hold the key to a robust economic recovery. Konczal offers a brief history of such interventions on behalf of debtors during times of crisis in America's past and explains the social and political obstacles, including the opposition of President Obama's top economic advisors, that have stymied such proposals this time around.
Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the Presidency, and China.
“The Real China Model,” by Mark Elliot. The New York Times, November 14, 2012.
The romanticized impression of the Ming and (especially) Qing dynasty "meritocracy" continues to persist, even among many academics. This is strange, given the stunning implosion caused by the rampant corruption in Qing-era China. In this piece, Elliott outlines the truth behind the system: yes, it was possible for anyone in China to take the public exams and elevate themselves in society. However, your socio-economic background was far more important a factor in dictating whether or not you could a) afford the resources you needed to pass the exams, or b) afford to bribe someone. The chance of success in Ming and Qing dynasty China had far more to do with who you knew and who your relatives were (like today's China), than any meritocratic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps system that politicians like to trumpet. It's not unlike another country we are all more intimately familiar with...
Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media, and East Asian affairs.
“Rohingya Refuse to Register as ‘Bengali,’” by Lawi Weng. The Irrawaddy, November 13, 2012.
The Burmese government implemented a door-to-door census in the Rakhine state, where a recent crisis displaced over 110,000 Rohingya Muslims. The move is seen as an attempt to appease international calls for Rohingya citizenship. Locals within the persecuted community, however, remain rightfully skeptical. Burmese authorities' insistence on registering Rohingya as "Bengalis" strips the group of its identity, suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. In fact, Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations. By refusing to recognize Rohingya citizenship, the "reformist" government—led by president Thein Sein and NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi—is complicit in the Rakhine conflict and Rohingya suffering.
Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.
“This Is Awkward: David Petraeus Is In the Next Call of Duty As America’s New Secretary of Defense,” by Stephen Totilo. Kotaku, November 13, 2012.
While former General and recently resigned CIA Director David Petraeus may be in hot water right now, he has a pretty bright future in the world of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In the game, Petraeus is America's Secretary of Defense serving under a female president who looks a lot like Hillary Clinton. Petraeus doesn't appear often in the game and his mistress, Paula Broadwell, is totally absent. But when we first see Petraeus, he's receiving a terrorist prisoner aboard the aircraft carrier named USS Barack Obama. Petraeus is not the only major contemporary figure in the game. Famous conservative and central figure in the notorious Iran-Contra affair, Lt. Col. Oliver North (he illegally sold weapons to Iran to support the brutal Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980s), appears in the game's first mission. Unlike Petraeus, North did his own voice work and advised the game's production. Kotaku does not delve into this but these elements are a sign of how interwoven video games are with American foreign and military policy. What better way to recruit young guys for the US military, CIA, and JSOC than create a cool-looking video game that glamorizes America kicking ass around the world with drones and black ops?
Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence, and regulatory capture.
“The Sins Of General David Petraeus,” by Michael Hastings. Buzzfeed, November 11, 2012.
In the confusing moments after the news of David Petraeus' resignation flashed across our screens here in the Nation's intern pod, comrade Jeff Ernsthausen and I began Talmudically parsing Tom Ricks' brief Foreign Policy blog post on the subject for clues as to what it was all about. We would have been fortunate to have Michael Hasting's damn-them-all Buzzfeed post (published two days later) on hand to inform us that Ricks—like other Petraeus acolytes sprinting to the confession box these past few days, or silently pleading the Fifth—is an integral part of the vast machine designed to perform far dirtier and more self-debasing acts for "King David" than Paula Broadwell ever did. Despite the best efforts of conservative hacks to disparage Hastings personally—taking aim at his book about his dead girlfriend, no less—this almost Baffler-like expose of the incestuous "media-military industrial complex” shows where the real scandal lies.
Annum Masroor focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Pakistan developing combat drones,” by Jon Boone. The Guardian, November 13, 2012.
Last week at a major arms fair in Karachi, Pakistani military officials revealed that efforts to develop its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) have neared completion. While it doesn't possess the combat technology and efficiency of a US predator drone, one official insisted that "it does exist." The official went on to describe its purpose as demonstrating to friendly countries that Pakistan "can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionizing warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability." Many have their doubts; some Pakistani politicians have expressed interest in shooting down US predator drones along the border with Afghanistan, which they consider illegal and a violation of their sovereignty. Others are concerned that drone technology is just the next step in Pakistan's military competition with neighboring India. And many more worry that basic economic and social concerns have, once again, taken a back seat to the country's all-too-powerful military.
Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.
“I was David Petraeus’s Bitch in the 90s and I Hated Every Second of It,” by Duncan Larkin. VICE, November 12, 2012.
It’s kind of amazing how everything comes undone when you get caught cheating on your wife. Such is the truly lamentable case of disgraced CIA director David Petraeus. Without a following of hero worshippers to shun everyone who speaks against him, the general’s distinct and often ridiculous leadership style has finally been allowed to see some scrutiny. Larkin’s piece is angry and profane, yes, but offers an undeniably interesting glimpse at Petraeus before he became the savior of the United States’ mission in Iraq.
Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.
“Healing a Broken System: Veterans and the War on Drugs.” Drug Policy Alliance, November 9, 2012.
After coming home from failing military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, too many US veterans are now trapped in a different kind of war. According to an alarming new study, nearly 1 in 10 vets were arrested after returning from service. Many battling PTSD and substance abuse find themselves incarcerated for low-level drug offenses. As national holidays and presidential candidates sing the praises of our military, its time to consider the secondary consequences of such punitive policies.
Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.
“Favela Rising,” by Toni Marques. Words without Borders, November 13, 2012.
An international literary festival is starting in Rio de Janeiro's favelas. Its name is FLUPP, the International Literary Fair of the Pacification Police Units, and it is the first wide-scale effort to encourage a literary community there. The themes of the festival revolve around favela culture and the rise of the new middle class. This new middle class, as Toni Marques notes, is more concerned with consuming goods than reading books. But "what if literature was next in the favelas? The cops moved in, social services moved in, and though it's true a lot of infrastructure has yet to be built, what if books could move in, too?"
Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.
“How Israel shattered Gaza truce leading to escalating death and tragedy: a timeline,” by Ali Abunimah. Electronic Intifada, November 15, 2012.
This blog post is perhaps the best timeline of the huge surge in violence between Israel and Gaza over the past few weeks. Complete with sourcing, the post makes it clear that Israel has been responding disproportionately to Palestinian militant attacks and rockets from Gaza (which are famously inaccurate and short-ranged), violating several ceasefires and potential truces along the way. While not mentioned here, it's worth noting that the U.S. government has provided several billions dollars in military and economic aid to Israel, making it implicitly responsible for the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths.