—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“Everyone Is a Criminal: On the Over-policing of America,” by Chase Madar. The Nation, December 9, 2013.
Madar examines how mindless “zero-tolerance” zeal and decades of increasing police militarization have led us to a point in which few moments in our lives aren’t managed by (mostly) boys in blue. It’s interesting to consider how police proliferation has happened alongside (or complicity with?) the development of a massive surveillance apparatus. With this in mind, it’s probably more absurd to suggest that the US is not a police state.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“Cyberlibertarians’ Digital Deletion of the Left,” by David Golumbia. Jacobin, December 4, 2013.
What does the Left look like online? David Golumbia answers in the negative: cyberlibertarians. From the hacktivist ideology, which posits that liberating information will liberate humanity, to the neoliberal corporatism of Silicon Valley, Golumbia examines the underlying politics of those who own the web. But being progressive in cyber-politics poses vexing contradictions. For instance, Google bankrolled and even coordinated protests against SOPA and PIPA, bills liberals characterized as overreaching favors to the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, online civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are helmed by libertarians and funded by corporations. Cyberlibertarians espouse a distrust of government and a faith in private interests, both of which challenge those who value a democratic government’s role as check on concentrated capital.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“What the New York Times (and France) Got Wrong About Prostitution,” by Melissa Gira Grant. Slate, December 11, 2013.
Last Wednesday, the French National Assembly passed its “fine for john laws,” placing the legal onus on customers rather than sex workers. On Monday The New York Times endorsed this position with an editorial, giddy at the thought that “governments around the world are increasingly guided by the idea that sex workers are victims.” Grant, whose book Playing The Whore will be published by Verso next year, points out that these laws still shame sex workers, pushing them farther underground. She also notes that the op-ed did not consult or quote any actual sex workers in its outpouring of progressive sympathy. As Laurie Penny wrote in her column at the New Statesman about the massive and highly publicized police raids of sex workers in London last week: “At a time when millions of women and girls across the continent are being forced to make hard economic choices—including prostitution—why does the biggest public feminist conversation still resolve around whether or not it is moral to have sex for money…?”
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“ATF uses rogue tactics in storefront stings across nation,” by John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 7, 2013.
This investigation exposes the coercive, shameful techniques used by undercover agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Targeting juveniles and mentally disabled adults, ATF operatives conducted dozens of storefront stings, pressuring their patrons and “employees” to procure guns and drugs to be sold at the stores and then arresting them after several months of illicit transactions. Their phony pawnshops, which paid top dollar for stolen goods, spurred burglaries and theft in the rundown neighborhoods where they were located. Jeff Griffith, a Wichita lawyer representing one of the defendants, makes the glaring, succinct point: "There is enough crime out there, why do you have to manufacture it?"
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“Push to Diversify City Contracting Falls Short of Goals,” by Adam Wisnieski. City Limits, December 10, 2013.
In his second year in office, Mayor Bloomberg resurrected an anti-discrimination law that had had been killed years earlier by Rudolph Giuliani. Bolstered by a 294-page study completed in 2005, Local Law 129 set citywide goals for government agencies to grant contracts under $1 million in certain industries to companies owned by minorities and women, counteracting the stark disparity in the companies that have historically been successful in bidding for city contracts. Yet this three-part series in City Limits reveals that agencies have failed to meet almost every goal the law established. Reporter Adam Wisnieksi provides various explanations for the shortcomings, from a lack of accountability in tracking the law's results to the way it interacts with the city's preexisting procurement rules, which make it difficult for agencies to handpick the contractors they want. This reporting and, in my opinion, much of the digging beneath the headlines you find in the pages of City Limits plays an important role in holding the city government accountable to the goals it sets for itself.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Whose sarin?” by Seymour Hersh. London Review of Books, December 19, 2013.
I was sitting down to eat (and rather hungry at that) when this came over the Twitter feed on Sunday. But for the time I took to read the piece, the wiles of Limus were cast aside, dinner be damned. As Fielding would say, “Men who pay for what they eat will insist on gratifying their palates, however nice and whimsical these may prove”—and my taste was for Hersh’s piece. The meat of my repast was the revelation that the Obama government had indulged in some sort of reconstruction of evidence in trying to go to war in Syria in late August and early September. Hersh alleges, based on sourcework, that there is little evidence to tie Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army to the August chemical attacks, and that the administration lied when it says it was sure it was the culprit. The wine was that the media misreported the story and didn’t try to verify Obama’s claims. I disagree with his article on some fronts. Intelligence gathering is (I’ve read) a complicated process, and always involves some cherry-picking. He also has utter faith in US sensors around Syrian chemical bases, which I think is certainly misplaced. Another problem is that he implies Jabhat al-Nusra could have launched the Sarin gas, which, as Dan Kaszeta, a former army chemical weapons expert, wrote in Now, is almost impossible to countenance. The debate, in any event, is interesting from the government perspective. Hersh has caught the Obama administration in yet another act of duplicity. “Can we ever trust the government on ‘National Security’ matters?” I asked myself as I finished and began to set about my evening vittles. I speared some eggplant. “Probably not.”
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.
“Obama and Castro shake hands: could this indicate a new rapprochement?” by Jonathan Watts. The Guardian, December 11, 2013.
The recent handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro has gotten a lot of flak in the US, with Senator John McCain comparing it to shaking hands with Hitler. Mainstream outlets haven’t been much better. Here is an interesting and balanced look at what the real impact of the exchange may be.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“State of Deception,” by Ryan Lizza. The New Yorker, December 16, 2013.
Lizza’s piece is filled with juicy details from pivotal intelligence briefings, and appends much-needed history to the debate that many are only aware of through the leaks of NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“Madiba in Palestine,” by Robin D.G. Kelley and Erica Lorraine Williams. CounterPunch, December 10, 2013.
In light of the American Studies Association's boycott of Israel, and as an antidote to "what Cornel West calls the 'Santa Claus-ification' of the man who was only removed from the US Terrorist Watch list in 2008," this CounterPunch article reflects on Mandela's political career by looking at his understanding and advocacy of boycotts as a strategy of resistance, his conception of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood as a global movement and his vision of citizenship not based on race or religion. While the historical contexts of apartheid and the Israel-Palestinian conflict are obviously different, comparing the necessity for a victory based "on the sharp edge of principles, struggle and solidarity, not forgiveness, apologetics, and compromise" is vital.