Homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“In Banking, Should There Be a ‘Public Option’?” The New York Times, October 1, 2013.
Though the subject may be a bit dry, interest in public banking has risen markedly since the financial collapse of 2008. This edition of the New York Times’s “Room for Debate” features prominent voices in the conversation over state-owned financial institutions. Most interesting are the insights of Pierre Beynet detailing how public banking can address particular needs of a local economy: “Some countries have created public banks to support sectors facing difficult access to market financing, for example small enterprises or start-ups.”
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“Academy Fight Song,” by Thomas Frank. The Baffler, Fall 2013.
Thomas Frank illustrates how our infatuation with the market and faith in the magic of a college degree has allowed tuition rates to spike, educational quality to suffer and a new administrative class to reap the profits. As students drown in debt, aloof trustees grouse about increasing “strategic dynamism.” Though much higher education writing tends towards the dry and pedantic, Frank writes with wit and vigor, and peppers his essay with sentences like: “When the board forced the president to resign last June, they cloaked the putsch in a stinky fog of management bullshit.”
—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.
“Obama May Have Botched an Earlier Syria Peace Deal,” by Michael Hirsch. The Atlantic, October 4, 2013.
This troubling read sheds even more light on President Obama’s terrible handling of the Syrian conflict. Apparently, the Obama administration willfully bungled a potential deal involving the Russians at a much earlier stage in the war out of fear that it would make the president look weak during his heated campaign against Mitt Romney. As the author points out, the atmosphere was much more conducive to a negotiated settlement then, when Assad was losing ground and the various groups of opposition fighters were significantly less radicalized.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“The Evangelist,” by Andy Kroll. The American Prospect, October 9, 2013.
I was really torn this week between spotlighting snake-handling pastors on NPR and a Python-wielding born-again Christian tech wiz at The Prospect. There may be more similarities between the two than meet the eye, but you can mull that one over on your own time. For now I leave you with the story of Jim Gilliam, a programming prodigy who, after many tussles with life and death, came to invent the organizing software NationBuilder, which broadly seeks to connect people and projects—in Gilliam’s words “democratize democracy.” Gilliam has also taken some heat for aligning his nonpartisan NationBuilder with the Republican State Leadership Committee, leaving Democrats to wonder whether he’s selling the second coming of the Internet, or snake oil.
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“What Happened to Mexico? An Interview with Anabel Hernández,” by Tim Barker. Dissent, September 30, 2013.
Anabel Hernández’s Los Señores del Narco, a hard-hitting investigation into the Mexican drug war, sent shockwaves through Mexico when it was published in 2010. Hernández exposed the myths of then-president Felipe Calderón’s highly publicized crackdown on narcotrafficking organizations, revealing inextricable ties between cartel dons, business leaders and high-ranking officials in Calderón’s own government. A translated version was recently released in the US and UK, and Hernández talks with Dissent’s Tim Barker about the influence of her book, legal impunity in Mexico and the devastating transnational consequences of recreational drug use. As she tells Barker, “The problem I talk about in Narcoland is not a Mexican problem, it’s a problem for the whole world. When any country opens the door to illegal drugs from Mexico, they open the door to the cartels, and they come inside.”
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“Sandy recovery aid applicants spend, wait and worry,” by Jeff Morganteen and Laura Nahmias. The New York World, October 8, 2013.
Among the victims of the government shutdown are New York homeowners affected by the wrath of Hurricane Sandy almost a year ago, according to this New York World story. Before New York City can release the $50.5 billion disaster aid bill Congress passed in January, every grant proposal must go through a rigorous review process by federal agencies, many of which are now on furlough. The bureaucratic entanglements New Yorkers must navigate in order to access aid have left many adrift in endless paperwork. With the review process on hold as Congress debates the debt ceiling, many will continue to be left to their own devices without government aid as the first anniversary of the storm approaches.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“How the US raid on al-Shabaab in Somalia went wrong,” by Abdalle Ahmed, Spencer Ackerman and David Smith. The Guardian, October 9, 2013.
“They looked like three big cows.” That’s how Abdurahman Yarow, a “longtime resident” of Barawe, Somalia, described three Navy SEALs whom he saw in the early hours last Saturday. “I now understand the big cows I saw in the night were the American special forces with their military bags on their backs going in the direction of the house they targeted.” The house was that of al-Shabaab Commander Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, and the Seals had been sent there to capture him alive; they didn’t succeed in their mission. This Guardian article—one of the best reported I’ve seen on the matter, considering the difficulty of reporting in Somalia—gives a blow-by-blow account of the raid and some much needed context.
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.
“Cuban Communist Party appoints new editor of Granma.” BBC, October 9, 2013.
It has finally happened. After years heading the Cuban Communist Party’s official newspaper, Granma, orthodox hardliner Lázaro Barredo Medina has been replaced by Pelayo Terry Cuervo, seen by many as more moderate. This move comes on the heels of the national conference of Cuban journalists in July and statements favoring press reform by Miguel Díaz-Canel who seems the presumed favorite to succeed Raúl Castro. Many speculate that this may augur more fundamental reforms in how the state run media works.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“Why Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel Loves Selling Drugs in Chicago,” by Jason McGahan. Chicago, October 2013.
This investigative report by Jason McGahan is based on court documents and federal records stemming from the grand jury indictment of Jesús Vicente Zambada, the son of the Sinaloa drug cartel’s number-two boss. Besides its gritty narrative and graphic detail, what makes the story so good is the way in which McGahan explores the trafficking operations of a famous Mexican cartel firmly within the localized context of Chicago. Also recommended: McGahan’s recent review of journalist Anabel Hernández’s book, Narcoland.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“The attention economy,” by Tom Chatfield. Aeon, October 7, 2013.
Perhaps it’s ironic or a little embarrassing that I’m posting this article, which is currently wedged between the ten-plus tabs (of other intriguing but, for now, “tabled” articles) on my Google Chrome window. From exploring the Latin roots of “attention” to unpacking the joy of the Satanic gaze, this isn’t just another piece lamenting the world of ads, “profitable clicking” and the endless quantification of our identities and interactions. Many of us who are increasingly structuring our lives around information and the media, whether we can help it or not, will appreciate its reflection on how we value and valuate our time—work or leisure, productivity or procrastination—with ourselves and others.