Ever since President Obama announced that the Keystone XL pipeline would be in the national interest only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” the project has been scrutinized primarily on those terms. But there are other concerns to factor into an analysis of the project’s costs and benefits, particularly the local effects on communities along the pipeline route, from the tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas.
“I believe the health impacts of tar sands oil are being ignored,” Senator Barbara Boxer warned at a press conference Wednesday, where she and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called on the Obama administration to conduct a thorough review of potential public health implications of extracting, transporting and refining oil from the tar sands before making a decision about the pipeline. Although the State Department finalized the environmental assessment of the project last month, Boxer said the report “was woefully inadequate when it came to exploring human impacts of the pipeline.” (The State Department had not responded to a request for comment at press time.)
Those impacts include rising cancer rates in places like Fort Chipewyan, a First Nations community downstream from a major tar sands site in Alberta; air pollutants and carcinogens in neighborhoods where refineries will process the oil, like Port Arthur and Manchester in Texas; immediate safety risks from transporting corrosive crude; and mountains of pet coke, an oil sands’ byproduct, which are growing throughout the Midwest. Much of this risk would be born—and is already being born—by poor people of color. Port Arthur, for example, has a 26 percent poverty rate, compared to 17 percent in the rest of Texas; three-quarters of the residents are of color. Manchester, a predominantly Latino community, is already one of the most polluted neighborhoods in the country.
“Health miseries follow tar sands—from extraction to transport to refining to waste disposal,” said Boxer. “Children and families in the US have a right to know now—before any decision to approve the Keystone tar sands pipeline—how it would affect their health.”
The State Department has been criticized before by lawmakers and the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly assess the health threats posed by KXL. “We’re at a point where health issues are often glossed over,” said Danielle Droitsch, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-author of a report on the health effects of tar sands crude. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a substantial body of research into whether oil from the tar sands impacts health differently than traditional crude. “At a minimum we’re going to have to study this a little bit further. Frankly, there’s enough out there to suggest this stuff is actually worse, and that what we really need to do is transition away to cleaner sources,” Droitsch said.
The public health blindspot extends beyond KXL. The Obama administration has embraced the North American oil and gas boom without really acknowledging that extracting and refining more fossil fuels at home means increasing the immediate health risks associated. Like Keystone, an “all of the above” energy strategy should be examined for its potential climate impact, which is itself a public health threat. But there are also questions to address about environmental justice and accountability for the petrochemical corporations powering the domestic boom. Many communities—in southern Louisiana, for example—have been sacrificed for the oil economy already. Whether more are ruined is a matter of deliberate policy making, not an inevitability.
Democrats in the House are also hammering the State Department for deficiencies in its environmental review. On Tuesday, Representative Raúl Grijalva asked the Government Accountability Office to audit the conflict-of-interest procedures the State Department used when it selected a contractor to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement. Several reports suggest that Environmental Resources Management, the London-based company hired to do the study, failed to disclose relationships with TransCanada and other corporations that would benefits from tar sands development.“If this is going to be a scientific basis for a decision on the pipeline…then the credibility of that information must be without any doubt. And at this point, that doubt exists,” Grijalva said at a press conference on Tuesday. The GAO told reporters it had not yet decided whether to conduct the review, but Grijalva said he’d been told the office would pursue an inquiry.
The State Department’s inspector general announced Wednesday that its own review found no violations, but Grijalva still wants a third-party review. “The inspector general was only asked to examine whether the State Department followed its own flawed process for selecting a third-party contractor. The fact that the answer is ‘yes’ doesn’t address any outstanding concerns about the integrity of ERM’s work, the State Department’s in-house ability to evaluate its quality, or whether the process itself needs to be reformed,” Grijalva said in a statement.
Read Next: Young activists are risking arrest as they protest against Keystone XL.
On Tuesday, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State John Husted moved to restrict early-voting hours in the Buckeye State, eliminating early voting on Sundays and weekday nights. The goal, according to Husted, is “to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat and to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity in the voting process no matter which method they choose.”
Never mind that Ohio voters already had opportunities to vote easily, and that the 270 potential voter-fraud cases in the 2012 election that Husted passed on to prosecutors represented “less than five one-thousandths of 1 percent of the 5.6 million ballots cast in Ohio in the 2012 election,” according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. That’s right—less than 0.005 percent.
Husted’s decision puts the kibosh on “Souls to the Polls,” a program that for decades has brought African-American voters directly from church to early-polling sites. It’s easy to see the implications of Husted’s decree: Zachary Roth of MSNBC writes, “There’s little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56 percent of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, even though they made up just 28 percent of the county’s population.”
Meanwhile, on the more, er, democratic (you can choose whether you think “democratic” ought to be capitalized) end of Ohio’s political spectrum, State Senator Nina Turner, a Democratic candidate for Husted’s job, hosted an eminently reasonable Twitter chat about voting rights and about prospects for getting more diverse candidates elected to political office. (For a transcript, search #AskNinaTurner on Twitter.) Turner has been endorsed by Emily’s List, which co-hosted the chat.
Turner takes issue with Husted’s claim that the restricted hours will bring an equal opportunity to cast a ballot for voters in all eighty-eight counties in Ohio. “I truly believe that fairness and equality does not mean uniformity, it means understanding the diversity of the electorate,” she said, noting that the population of Ohio’s largest county (Cuyahoga) is ninety-five times greater than that of the state’s smallest (Vinton). The same rules will have different effects in different communities, and a one-size-fits-all policy—homogenization rather than accommodation—doesn’t make sense when we’re trying to diversify both the electorate and the government it elects.
Turner is a wonderful exemplar of the diversity that American citizens ought to be voting into state (and national) offices. “We have to start by electing more women who are leading intersectional lives so they bring that voice to the table in office,” she said today. “But just having those voices in the room isn’t enough.… we must elect voices who will speak up and give perspective. What good is being in the room if you do nothing with the opportunity to make real lasting change[?].… We must also work to mentor, uplift & support their (women of color) talents. So many dynamic women of color just need a nudge of support.”
And voter-ID laws and restrictions on early-voting could have a chilling effect on those voices. “Any decision [to] take away Sunday voting disproportionately harms certain demographics of voters, especially elderly & minorities,” Turner said. She points out that the electorate comprises 53 percent women and 47 percent men, so voting restrictions will, in fact, have a larger impact on women than on men—not a happy development when getting more women into government needs to be a priority. What’s more, Turner says, “[A]bout 90 percent of women change their names when married, & many change their names back if they get divorced,” making voter-ID issues much thornier for women than they are for men.
Read Next: Bhaskar Sunkara on Chokwe Lumumba.
To no one’s surprise (I hope)—after the uproar over Max Blumenthal’s Goliath—a book often critical of Israel has provoked a strong backlash and set frequent allies against one another. This time it revolves around the pro-Israel stronghold—at least under former owner Marty Peretz and before the arrival of new boss Chris Hughes—of The New Republic.
Of course, the David Horowitzs of the world had already labeled the book Genesis by John Judis as betraying hatred for Israel and even support for, yes, the Nazis. There were several developments yesterday. After Ron Radosh had attacked the book, Leon Wieseltier, a colleague of Judis at The New Republic, sent Radosh a note going even further; the note was happily published by a right-wing site. This is just one blast:
I know with certainty that Judis’ understanding of Jewish history, and of the history and nature of Zionism, is shallow, derivative, tendentious, imprecise, and sometimes risibly inaccurate—he is a tourist in this subject. Like most tourists, he sees what he came to see…. Remember Rosa Luxemburg’s letter to her friend in which she proudly announced that she had no corner of her heart for the Jews? Judis is her good disciple.
Of course, Wieseltier has proudly picked fights for other staffers before, but he is now the last of the Old Guard there.
This latest hit provoked Peter Beinart (who has been attacked himself for some of his recent musings on Israel) to tweet: “john judis is an old, dear friend of mine. don’t agree w/ him on everything but will stand w/ him when unfairly attacked.” Andrew Sullivan hit Wieseltier here. Excerpt:
These are not arguments; they are insults. And they are as disgusting as they are entirely unsurprising. A simple question: is there an editor at The New Republic capable of preventing this kind of vicious anti-collegial invective? Not when it comes to Wieseltier, it seems. Chris Hughes and Frank Foer seem to answer to him, and not the other way round.
Jacob Heilbrunn (himself a former Wieseltier colleague) does much the same at The National Interest.
The truth is that hysterical petulance is at the bottom of much of Wieseltier’s fulgurations. The contrast between the lofty principles that intellectuals such as Wieseltier purport to espouse and the childish sniping is what emerges most conspicuously in his latest fusillade. In the end, the stakes aren’t really that high and, in any case, until recent decades many Jewish intellectuals were, more often than not, indifferent to Israel (Lionel Trilling) or dubious about it. Now Judis has written a mildly critical account that is triggering a furor. That his detractors would respond so extravagantly and violently may say more about their dispositions than his.
Max Blumenthal noted in a tweet: “Judis says Museum of Jewish Heritage has reinvited him to June 1 appearance—after rescinding invite under pressure.”
Judis then replied himself in a piece at The New Republic titled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely.”
I have to admit that I found it disturbing that after reading one of these reviews, an old friend called to ask me whether in my book I really advocated the abolition of Israel. The fact is that I don’t believe in the abolition of Israel, nor in half the things that these reviewers have attributed to me.…
[M]any states, including the United States, are products of settler colonialism and conquest. There is no going back in these cases. What Israel’s early history does suggest, though, is that Palestinian Arabs have a legitimate grievance against Israelis that has never been satisfactorily addressed. It won’t be addressed by abolishing Israel—that’s not going to happen—but it can be addressed by an equitable two-state solution that gives both peoples a state and that opens the way for Israel’s reconciliation with its neighbors. If there is a lesson to Genesis—and I happen to believe that history can tell us things about the present—that’s what it is.
In an essay for Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks writes that she hates Sheryl Sandberg. Not because she has nice hair or is wealthy, but because she has urged women to “lean in” to their work. Brooks describes taking this advice, leaning in to every opportunity inside and outside the workplace, and ending up utterly exhausted and, in her words, miserable. After briefly contemplating a move to Santa Fe to make crafts for a living, she says she came to an epiphany: “Ladies,” she writes, “if we want to rule the world—or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions—we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.” She declares there has to be “a movement” and her rallying cry is thus: “Women of the world, recline!”
But targeting women with that battle cry isn’t going to bring about the transformation that she craves. The problem is that too many women already lean out—and that far too few men do the same. We need to start by asking men to recalibrate if we’re going to revolutionize the workplace.
Brooks has put her finger on something important: asking women to lean in in today’s world is a bit like asking Atlas to help you move in to a five-floor walk-up. Americans work too much, plain and simple. A Harvard Business School survey of professionals found that 94 percent work fifty hours or more a week, and nearly half put in more than sixty-five hours a week. Out of thirty-three developed countries, Americans are eleventh in how many hours they put in each year, beating out Japan, Germany and plenty of other developed peers.
We also stand out from our developed neighbors in how little time off each worker is ensured. We are the only advanced country that doesn’t guarantee every worker some paid vacation time. We are the only one out of twenty-two developed countries that doesn’t guarantee every worker a paid day off when they get sick. We one of just three countries out of 178 that doesn’t guarantee a new mother can take paid time off when her baby arrives, not to mention fathers.
Brooks also nails it when she notes that “in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out” given that they are “still expected to work that ‘second shift’ at home.” Women are no longer waiting at home with dinner cooked, house cleaned and a cocktail at hand—nearly half of all families have two working parents, and another quarter have a single working one. But someone still has to cook that dinner and clean the house, not to mention watch the kids when they’re home from school or, if they’re infants, all day long.
And that someone is still by and large a woman. Men have upped their share of the chores—they now spend seven hours a week on childcare and ten on housework, up from just two and a half and four hours, respectively, in 1965—but women still spend twice as much time with children as fathers do, and they now put in more hours on that task than the 1960s woman.
Given this contradiction—putting in more hours in the office while still doing the bulk of the work at home—many women already lean out. Nearly a quarter of married mothers don’t work so they can stay home, compared to less than 1 percent of fathers. Fewer women have been entering the labor force, in fact, because of our pathetic workplace policies. In 1990, American women’s labor force participation rate was 74 percent, which netted us a sixth-place rank among twenty-two developed countries. Two decades later, that percentage has only increased to 75.2 percent, while the other countries are at nearly 80 percent—dropping us to number seventeen.
Women are also more likely to change the arc of their careers to take children or other caregiving into account. They are more likely to go part time and cut back on hours—more than 40 percent of women with children have reduced their hours to care for someone, compared to 28 percent of fathers.
Telling women to lean out, then—not to take every opportunity, be aggressive and aim for the top—is not revolutionary. It’s what many women either choose to do or are forced to do in the face of a workplace that has yet to come to grips with the idea that workers have lives outside of the office that need tending to.
What would be revolutionary, on the other hand, would be to target men and, while women are leaning in, ask them to lean out. That would mean men cutting back on their hours, going part-time, telecommuting and otherwise adjusting their jobs to focus on things outside of work. Then they could spend even more time with children—something 46 percent wish they could do—as well as relax in a La-Z-Boy recliner, something Brooks longs for. Her movement begins with women and “bring[s] our husbands and boyfriends and male colleagues along, too,” but it needs to flow in the opposite direction. Men have to lean out before women can relax more without sacrificing something.
But we don’t just have to ask men kindly that they please stop working so much and wait for them to comply. There are policies that could reduce everyone’s work hours and make leaning out gender neutral. One small step would be to change our overtime rules so that more workers have to be paid time and a half when they put in more than forty hours a week, thus re-normalizing the nine-to-five work day. We need to pass far more paid leave policies. A much broader change, though, would be to simply cap work hours. That may sound crazy, but it’s illegal for an employer to make workers put in more than forty-eight hours a week in six of the top ten most competitive countries. Somehow, we need to make more time for children, friends and reclining chairs.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on New York City’s expanded sick leave law
The New York City Council on Wednesday passed a bill expanding workers’ right to paid sick leave in New York, and Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly said that he’d make it the first bill he signs into law. While expected for several weeks, the move underscore how much has changed not just on the west side of City Hall, where the mayor hangs out, but in Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office and the Council chambers on the east wing as well.
The previous Council speaker, Christine Quinn, refused for years to bring the sick-leave bill up for a vote even though it had more than enough votes to pass. As the mayoral campaign got underway and the pressure on her increased she agreed to a watered-down version of the bill that applied only to businesses with fifteen or more employees and included implementation delays, carve-outs for manufacturing and a self-destruct button (the law wouldn’t take effect unless certain economic conditions were met). Even that thin gruel was too rich for Mayor Bloomberg, who vetoed the bill and was overidden.
The new version does away with all the half-measures and applies to firms with five or more workers. It also permits time off to care for a close relative who is sick. The bill’s backers and the mayor did amend their original expansion proposal to give a grace period to smaller firms.
The funny thing about the ideological alignment of the mayor, the speaker, most of the Council and many of the advocacy groups that spent the Bloomberg years clamoring for change is that a measure that, by City Hall’s estimate, covers another 500,000 people is going to become law with so little drama. The same won’t be said of the UPK tax, the minimum wage or any of the other ambitious hopes the de Blasio administration has pinned on Albany.
But the low-volume finale for sick-leave expansion is a fitting end for a four-year debate about a right that, let’s face it, most everyone has and takes for granted. Like the eight-hour day, weekends and other hard-wired aspects of decent working life, in a few years we’ll all look back and wonder why this was such a big deal.
And that has implications not just for sick leave but for other social issues: when you close down the silly debates, you change the parameters of what the civic sphere can discuss.
Read Next: De Blasio slams Bloomberg in his first budget address.
Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27 and February 10. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.
1. As Napolitano Hits Berkeley, Hundreds Mass, Eleven Occupy
On Thursday, February 13, hundreds of students came out to protest University of California President Janet Napolitano at Berkeley during her “listening and learning” tour. The action, organized by the Students of Color Solidarity Coalition, started with a rally at Sproul Plaza, followed by a campus march to receive students who walked out of a meeting with Napolitano in Sutardja Dai Hall. Meanwhile, a group of eleven students occupied the Blum Center to bring visibility to regent Richard Blum, a central figure in selecting Napolitano and pushing for the privatization of the UC system. The SCSC opposes Napolitano’s appointment as president on the grounds that she oversaw human rights violations as secretary of homeland security—she created the Secure Communities program, which has terrorized, incarcerated and deported almost 2 million migrants—and because of the undemocratic process through which the regents selected her, not to mention her lack of experience in education policy and administration. The events of February 13 have opened cross-university organizing opportunities and brought national attention to the critics of Napolitano’s appointment.
—Students of Color Solidarity Coalition
2. As Michigan Sits on Racial Justice, 1,000 Take the Library
On February 18, more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate library for an all-night speakout to protest low under-represented minority enrollment and the poor racial climate on campus. Mobilized by the #BBUM twitter campaign and demands issued to the administration on MLK Day, the United Coalition for Racial Justice launched the speakout to push for a presidential commitment to diversity and inclusion not seen since the Michigan Mandate of the 1990s. Through eight teach-in sessions, the event sought to showcase grassroots solutions to enrollment, climate and other issues of race on campus. A surprise guest, former president James Duderstadt, pointed to the loss of leadership and commitment to diversity in the past several administrations, and the keynote speaker, historian and activist Barbara Ransby, called for students to continue to be the “conscience of this institution,” whose 4 percent black enrollment she called “utterly inexcusable.”
—United Coalition for Racial Justice
3. Greensboro Storms Out
On February 19, outraged over the latest evisceration of the academic budget, more than 500 University of North Carolina–Greensboro students, faculty and community members assembled at the center of campus to protest the blatant corporate pandering engaged in by university decision makers. As students work multiple jobs because of rising tuition costs, administrators decided to build a $91 million recreation center—further increasing the cost of attendance. Meanwhile, enrollment continues to drop as a result of the rising costs and declining quality of education. Students’ demands are simple: fund academics and clear out corporate leadership. The next day, student voices forced a board of trustees meeting into adjournment. Students from the rally have agreed to meet weekly to coordinate continuous pressure on university and state officials.
—Hannah Mendoza and Juan Miranda
4. Philly Fills the Rotunda
On February 12, students from Philadelphia filled the capitol in Harrisburg to protest the state’s prioritization of prison expansion over education. Students from Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union loaded buses alongside Decarcerate PA and other groups to Harrisburg. I was among a number of speakers who gave testimony about the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for human rights for inmates and the lies of the Department of Corrections. Over the past two years, YUC has won major changes, including the promise of no school closures in 2014 and, with the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, a discipline matrix for the city’s student conduct code, replacing zero tolerance policies. We are currently organizing to change the MOU between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department to decrease the rate of arrests in schools, and are also part of an attendance awareness media campaign in which we talk to young people about staying engaged in schools and avoiding the pipeline. Across the city, students are being arrested, stopped and searched, and treated like they are criminals in and on their way to school. What’s the point of school if you feel like you’re in jail?
5. At UIC, Students Strike With Faculty
On February 18, 1,100 faculty members at the University of Illinois–Chicago went on a two-day strike, the first in UIC’s history. After sixteen months of failed negotiations over increased wages, shared governance and increases in hiring, faculty decided to escalate. Students, campus workers and other members of the Campus Worker and Student Coalition marched in solidarity, affirming our collective vision, which includes lowering tuition and paying campus workers a living wage. A petition from United Students Against Sweatshops Local 15 garnered 2,300 signatures from supporters across the region. The cross-issue, intergenerational demonstrations of solidarity represented the deepening and expansion of a movement that is resisting the corporatization of UIC and rethinking how UIC serves the metro region.
—Martin Macias Jr.
6. At UC, the Strike Waters Tremble—Again
At the University of California, food service, maintenance, transportation and patient care workers, represented by AFSCME 3299, are gearing up for a five-day strike, their third in a year. The workers will push for a pay raise to meet the rising cost of living in California, safe staffing levels to combat the 20 percent increase in workplace injuries over the past five years, and job security in the face of massive staff reductions. In solidarity with the workers, students are organizing boycotts of dining commons and asking professors to teach off campus and focus their lectures on issues related to campus worker struggles. Throughout the UC system, we have drawn links between the fight for worker rights and the ongoing campaign to force former Secretary of Homeland Security and current UC President Janet Napolitano to resign. In addition to refusing to address the needs of campus workers, Napolitano represents the twin ideologies of privatization and militarization that have threatened the livelihoods of students and workers across the system by creating an atmosphere of fear and inaccessibility for those whom it is intended to serve.
—Student Worker Coalition at UC Berkeley
7. The Paid Labor Fix
In spring 2013, students at New York University started a petition calling on NYU’s Wasserman Career Center to remove postings for unpaid internships that violate Department of Labor guidelines. This was the first petition holding a university accountable for promoting this legally questionable labor practice. Within weeks, the petition garnered more than 1,100 signatures from students, professors and supporters, and gained the attention of Wasserman representatives. As one of the petition organizers, I met with NYU officials over the summer to negotiate changes to NYU’s internship posting policy. This semester, in a landmark move, NYU decided to implement major changes to its internship site, including the creation of a screening process that requires employers to confirm that their internship abides by DOL standards before posting to the career site. We are now working with students at other universities to start similar initiatives at their campuses.
8. The “Diversification” of American Empire
In Fall 2013, the ROTC program returned to the City University of New York’s City College, Medgar Evers College, and York College, after being kicked out in 1971. Following recent CUNY struggles against David Petraeus’s teaching appointment, the Morales/Shakur Center’s eviction and a proposed “Policy on Expressive Conduct” to stifle free speech, efforts to re-remove ROTC are intensifying. On February 19, 100 CUNY students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at a Medgar Evers town hall to hear anti-war veterans and audience participants debate pro-ROTC speakers on their predatory aim to “diversify” imperialism at the nation’s largest urban university, whose students are mostly working-class women of color. On February 24, the college’s highest governing body voted by majority to remove ROTC, an important victory against CUNY’s turn towards militarization.
—Conor Tomás Reed
On February 22 and 23, ten leaders from Connecticut Students for a DREAM, a statewide network of undocumented students, families and allies, attended United We Dream’s fifth National Congress in Phoenix. Back home in Connecticut, undocumented students are currently fighting for tuition equity. While Governor Malloy signed an in-state tuition bill in 2011, in part due to organizing by C4D, tuition costs still remain a major barrier for those who are undocumented, like me. Under Connecticut statutes, 15 percent of tuition revenue must go back to students in the form of need-based aid. Even though undocumented students pay standard tuition, they do not have access to state or federal aid, which is calculated using the FAFSA, which they cannot fill out. The state’s Board of Regents has the power to fix this by expanding the ways that need is calculated. This spring, our Afford to Dream campaign aims to make this change happen.
On the night of February 17, just days before the final Teach for America application deadline, Students United for Public Education hosted a #ResistTFA twitter chat as part of our Students Resisting Teach for America campaign. The goal was to highlight critical views and elevate the conversation around TFA. Within an hour, #ResistTFA was the #1 trending topic in America and it stayed there throughout the night. Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and TFA alumni shared opinions, experiences and articles about TFA and discussed their reasons for resisting—from TFA’s inadequate five-week training, to its connection with corporate education reform, to proposals for better models than TFA. This spring, we will be continuing our campaign on various campuses by holding teach-ins and panels.
—Students United for Public Education
11. Southern Queer Power
Concerned that the unique struggles of organizing in the South are overlooked by the majority of movement spaces, students at the University of Richmond have established a partnership between the university’s Office of Common Ground, Q-Community, Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity, Southerners On New Ground and ROSMY to offer queer youth leaders across the South a new opportunity to connect and build power. The result, the March 22 Queer Summit, will be a gathering dedicated to queer youth movement-building, skill-sharing and best-practices development, led by those under 25. Of particular focus are ways that power structures continue to trivialize our youth experiences; the Q-Summit will build power through DIY self-care workshops, caucuses among traditionally marginalized communities within our queer family, and leveraging collective voice within universities, religious denominations, academic disciplines and communities.
12. New Student Unionism
On February 7, more than thirty students from across Vermont gathered for the first ever Vermont Student Power Conference and voted to combine separate campus organizations into one unified organization, the Vermont Student Union. Devoted to a democratic system that works to advocate for both student and workers’ rights on all campuses, the VSU is fighting for transparency of administrative spending, support for a living wage and benefits for all Vermonters and more student voice in university decision making. This spring, the VSU is launching a “Meet Us Halfway” campaign, directed to state legislators who are ignoring crucial legislation that would require the state to fund fifty percent or more of the overall Vermont State College budget. They are currently supporting only 14 percent of the overall budget; the rest comes from student tuition.
13. Will Cal State Get Away With Unprecedented Fee Hikes?
At Sonoma State University, San Diego State University, Cal State–Fullerton and Cal State–Dominguez Hills, students are fighting mandatory, campus-based “Student Success Fee” hikes of up to 77 percent. This new breed of fee hikes utilizes a divide-and-hike tactic—introducing fees campus by campus, obscuring what is in reality a systemwide hike. Administrators sell the fees with promises of additional classes and faculty hires, omitting that most financial aid packages don’t cover this classification of fees and pose an extra financial burden on students. They also fail to mention that the current student forums are only one method allowed for implementing them—with the alternate being a democratic referendum vote by the student body. In light of successful, statewide student mobilizations against fee increases less than two years ago, administrators fear that students could vote them down. On February 19, students at Sonoma State successfully overturned them, with the other campuses planning coordinated actions for March.
—Student Committee to Reclaim the People’s University
14. What's Next for CSULA’s Ethnic Studies?
On February 11, after shutting it down a week earlier, students at California State University–Los Angeles took over the academic senate to prevent it from voting down Ethnic Studies as a generational education requirement. On February 25, faculty voted in students' favor. (Video: CSULA EthnicStudies)
—CSULA Ethnic Studies Coalition
15. The Anti-Napolitano Generation
On February 13, Oakland youth joined Berkeley students to protest UC President Janet Napolitano. (Video: StudentNation)
Read Next: Nathalie Baptiste on immigration and brain drain.
My new Nation column is called "Whodunit? Liberals?" (From celebrity deaths to the crisis of the middle class, it's all their fault.)
1) Maude Maggart at the Café Carlyle
I fell in (unrequited) love with Maude Maggart many years ago when she would make regular appearances at the Algonquin Hotel. That much-lamented space is no longer and now Maude has made the move uptown and eastward to the rarified confines of the Café Carlyle, where she made her debut on Tuesday night. As Maude has gotten older, she has grown more confident, more charming, more beautiful and her voice richer and more controlled. Working both in the (helpfully) pedagogical mode of Andrea Marcovicci, Maude is wonderful both at discovering previously unknown gems and giving her audience mini-lessons on their historical (and often times) emotional context. But she is also all about her wild family. She does not mention her famous sister, Fiona Apple, but she is enthralled by her grandmother, a Ziegfeld girl, who, at 65, married a “toad” thirty years her junior, her grandfather, a big-band vocalist and saxophonist, and her parents, who met during a 1970 Broadway run of Applause. (I love the way she talks about her dad.)
Tuesday night’s performance began with three songs from black and white movies about the middle period between falling in love and being in love. Many of her stories focused on the antics of her grandmother and some of the more colorful friends of her father. She closed the formal set with one of the most beautiful renditions of Over the Rainbow I’ve ever heard and then came back for some Irving Berlin to a deliriously appreciative audience. Maude will be at the Café for the rest of the week. If you’re not in the city—and rich (the cover is $70)—you can pick up her new CD Speaking of Dreams, which will be released on April 8. Her previous ones are here.
2) Bobfest 30th Anniversary Show—Rerelease on Blu-ray, DVD and CD
It sure took a while but we finally have a hi-def video version (with remastered audio) of the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration on Blu-ray, DVD and CD. The former two include forty minutes of previously unreleased material including behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage, interviews, etc.
The concert took place on October 16, 1992 at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Bob Dylan's first Columbia Records album. It began with the worst version of Like A Rolling Stone by John Mellencamp and a woman who wouldn’t stop screaming, of all time. It had a lot of filler and crappy versions of songs designed to plug CBS artists too. But much of it was just sublime.
Among the performers were Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Lou Reed, The Clancy Brothers, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, George Harrison (then making his first US concert appearance in eighteen years) and many, many more. Just some of the highlights include:
It Ain't Me Babe - June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Neil Young
All Along the Watchtower - Neil Young
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - Eric Clapton
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Eric Clapton
You Ain't Goin Nowhere - Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin
Absolutely Sweet Marie - George Harrison
My Back Pages - Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison (which is one of the greatest bands ever assembled and an absolutely wonderful performance. It even made it onto my funeral play list.)
I don’t see how you can live without it. Info on the “Deluxe Edition” is here.
3) Johnny Winter Four-CD Box Set
Johnny Winter also played at Bobfest. People I know tell me that Winter is among the greatest guitarist they’ve ever seen and perhaps the most underrated. Sony Legacy is seeking to strengthen this argument with a new four-CD box set that collects fifty-six tracks from twenty-seven albums on a gazillion different labels as well as previously unreleased live cuts from 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival and other places.
True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story also includes performances, with Winter, by Michael Bloomfield, Dr. John, Willie Dixon and Walter “Shakey” Horton, Muddy Waters and his band featuring James Cotton, “Pinetop” Perkins, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, among many others.
Journalism’s Real Hoax Problem
by Reed Richardson
On Saturday, as the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine was unraveling and opposition protestors began overrunning the presidential palace, one damning detail of the deposed president’s excess spread like wildfire across the Internet. It was a photo of his toilet, a regal-like throne covered in resplendent, jewel-like tiles and adorned with sculpted lion’s heads. Among other photos of Yanukovych’s faux Spanish galleon restaurant, vintage car collection, personal zoo, and golf course, the garish commode succinctly spoke to the oligarchic corruption fueling the opposition’s outrage. There was only one problem: the toilet retweeted around the world by thousands of people—including former New York Times editor and current Mashable executive editor Jim Roberts, actually sits inside a two-bedroom apartment in Cyprus. (If you care to see Yanukovych’s actual toilet, gold feet and all, check out #29 in this photo array.)
Halfway across the world in Venezuela, similarly violent anti-government protests are still taking place. And though Venezuela’s President Maduro threatened some independent press outlets, including CNN, over their supposed anti-government coverage and temporarily shuttered some social media sites, plenty of reports about the protest still got out. They, too, came with their share of bogus elements. As this CNN slideshow documents, several popular (and graphic) images of the Venezuela conflict widely distributed online were, in fact, lifted from other recent street protests in Bulgaria, Chile, Syria and Brazil.
Of course, major news stories have always been shadowed by exaggeration, rumor, and conspiracy. (A crazy, 9/11 Truther still thought it necessary to crash the most recent Super Bowl’s post-game press conference.) But these days, anyone with a smartphone and a social media account can be both a reporter and publisher with a potentially instantaneous global reach. Not coincidentally, almost every big breaking news event now occasions fake photos or fabricated storylines that can metastasize across the Internet long before the truth gets sorted out. That a few bad actors might exploit this new technology to exaggerate or manipulate isn’t surprising given human history. That a gullible public might unwittingly magnify their impact isn’t surprising given human nature. Together, they create a fertile ground for perpetrating hoaxes on the media, which presents an increasingly thorny dilemma for modern journalism: How to embrace an increasingly egalitarian ethos of newsgathering without undermining the press’s integrity and legitimacy in the long term?
This is particularly important since the value proposition many news organizations now cling to—having lost their monopoly on distribution—is one of trusted authority. We check the facts, we talk to the sources. Unlike some random, anonymous Twitter account where you’re liable to get the equivalent of news placebos, a worldwide news network like CNN, the thinking goes, is a reliable source precisely because of its professional adherence to standards, its infrastructure, its institutional history.
One obvious way of demonstrating your newsroom’s journalistic rigor is to not fall for hoaxes in the first place. CNN has been doing that with its user-generated iReports from Venezuela—of the 2,700 submissions it received last week, it could confirm less than five percent. And yet, CNN and others proved once again this past week that they’re also not impervious to the irresistible allure of a clickbait hoax. To be fair, it wasn’t alone, as more than thirty news outlets jumped all over a radio morning show prank that had suburban Atlantans protesting Justin Bieber’s potential move into the city. This embarrassing episode for journalism came on the heels of another successful hoax—perpetrated by ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel—about a wolf prowling the Sochi Olympic Village dorms. That one took in esteemed news outlets like New York Magazine and The Washington Post. (To be fair, ABC News seems to have known about this stunt ahead of time and kept quiet; not exactly ethical behavior.)
It’s easy to brush off these lapses in due diligence as inevitable or inconsequential. No news organization is perfect, after all. They all get things wrong from time to time. But that lets the press off too easy. For it really does matter when the same “share first, check later” mentality that social networks get dinged for starts to seep into so-called establishment journalism. It’s indicative of a longstanding problem plaguing the professional media here in the U.S. as well as around the world: a nagging credulity.
There’s a thread that connects a blithely rebroadcasted snippet of dubious Justin Bieber news to larger transgressions, however. The Beltway media’s negligence in vetting the Bush administration’s Iraq WMDs claims might be considered the biggest and most tragic hoax of our generation. More recently, the mainstream press has taken to dutifully repeating the latest horror story trotted out about ObamaCare. Time and again, these tales have proven to be misleading at best and outright lies at worst. Much like a phony photo on Twitter that’s impossible to remove, these false narrative-reinforcing stories simply can’t be corrected with as much verve as they were originally promoted. So, when one political party embraces an alternate universe that thrives upon doctored reality, a media hidebound by objectivity becomes their helpful accomplice.
In the end, a tragic irony results. The very same naïveté and carelessness that the powerful rely upon to manipulate the press is likewise used as proof that the press isn’t deserving of broad protection to do its job. This can stratify the press and leave strong accountability journalism in the hands of an increasingly cloistered group. Case in point, the DOJ’s recently released guidelines for requesting records or surveilling the press. Its constant reference to “members of the news media” comes across as extremely establishment focused and suggests a very circumscribed approach to who the government considers worthy to be called a journalist. This is especially troubling after DNI Clapper’s recent Congressional testimony suggested “freelance journalists” could be considered “accomplices” rather than Constitutionally protected members of the fourth estate.
The responsibility to the truth should always be paramount to the press. Given the enhanced ability of anyone to find and broadcast the truth these days, however, a more open, transparent approach to how and where we get the news is necessary. But as we define out who journalists might be, we can’t define down what journalism really is, lest we find our country again falling victim to a great big hoax.
High Point, NC
Thank you for your thoughtful, well-written truth [“Ted Cruz is Trolling Congress”]. I so agree with you. And while your colleagues in the fourth estate continue to fail miserably at their jobs, at least you have taken the time to discuss Cruz' depravity and its frightening impact on American governance. He's a truly despicable human being and he knows it. Once again, thank you. I really appreciated your article.
Thank you so much for stating the truth about journalism in this day where lies are never corrected. The people don't know what's really wrong with our country, or they think they do because they watch Fox News. Wouldn't be wonderful if news show made sure it was true. If some lied like Ted he couldn't get away with and the papers too. The news would be such a treat and so much fun real reality! Thanks again.
Ted Cruz is ten-times smarter than you midgets - fact!
You are the political status quo...schiffer is the status quo...Obama is the status quo....bush is the status quo. You're all owned by elite bankers and oil corporations that really run this country.
Ted cruz is the first man to threaten the status quo and you people all feel threatened. You're exposed.
Reed replies: Dan, I agree that money can play a pernicious role in influencing politicians, which is why I feel it worth noting for the record that 10 out of the top 20 political contributors to Ted Cruz’s 2012 Senate campaign just so happened to be elite bankers and oil corporations. So, about that “threaten the status quo” bit…
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
Read Next: Stephen F. Cohen writes about media malpractice in the West's coverage of Russia and Ukraine.
“How is it you can have a team in Washington that’s named after a racial slur for Native Americans, but punish young African- American men for how they speak to each other?” This is how Nation sports editor Dave Zirin thinks boxing legend Muhammad Ali might feel about the NFL’s new proposed rule to penalize players for using the n-word on the field. On the fiftieth anniversary of the famous boxing match between Ali and Sonny Liston—an event that Sports Illustrated called the fourth-greatest sports moment of the twentieth century—Zirin spoke with Ali’s daughter Rasheda on MSNBC’s The Reid Report. The two discussed the role that athletes like Ali play as political advocates, a very germane topic after Jason Collins just became the first openly gay player to play in a major American sport.
Chris Christie’s budget address yesterday, to a joint session of the New Jersey legislature, focused on one of the Republican party’s major themes going forward into elections in 2014 and 2016: public employees are the enemy and their healthcare and pension benefits—hard-fought and hard-won accomplishments by unions and others—need to be cut to shreds. That’s the message of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, if he gets re-elected this year and then decides to run for president in 2016, will tout his decimation of Wisconsin’s public employee unions as his chief accomplishment. For Christie, who’s also taken on the teachers and other public employees since being elected in 2009, the issue yesterday was New Jersey’s public pension system and other “entitlements.”
Much of the coverage of Christie’s speech yesterday focused on the fact that the governor was not his usual bombastic self, and indeed Christie managed to work into his speech a mention of Gandhi. The Newark Star-Ledger, in its lede, put it this way: “There was no talk of a Jersey comeback, no bold calls for tax cuts. And no raucous applause.”
But don’t be fooled. Again and again in his address, Christie returned to the idea that public-employee pensions are bankrupting the state, and again and again he urged the legislators about the need to “act decisively.” Earlier reforms, said Christie, “bought us the time to act again.” If not, well, said Christie, New Jersey may end up like Detroit! Referring to past pension changes, Christie said, “But this is not enough.” And he referred to what he called a “looming crisis.”
Some history: back in 2011, over vast, angry protests from unions, Christie and the state legislature enacted a sweeping pension law that hit teachers and public employees like a wrecking ball. It drastically raised the amount that employees had to contribute to their pensions, cut benefits for future workers and eliminated cost-of-living adjustments—and remember, most public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security, so the pension is all they’ve got. That devastating law was enacted only because what left-liberals in New Jersey call “Christiecrats”—that is, Democrats who play ball with the right-wing governor—joined Christie to support it. The bill that passed the legislature “defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House.” And among the chief culprits back in 2011 was Steve Sweeney, the president of the senate and a leading acolyte of South Jersey’s warlord, the political boss George Norcross, an insurance magnate. Back in 2011, Sweeney bitterly attacked the unions: “They lied to their members. When I say lied, I mean it. They lied.” This time around, under pressure from the unions, even Sweeney isn’t going along with Christie’s call to further weaken pensions—at least not yet.
That doesn’t mean that Christie isn’t preparing a dangerous new assault, if for nothing else to gain talking points with the Republican faithful and the big-dollar donors who back Christie. According to the Bergen Record, many political analysts in New Jersey “suspect that Christie might be waiting to roll out a new round of benefit cuts next year, closer to the start of the presidential primaries and, possibly, when the [Bridgegate] scandal fades without further damage to his career.” If that’s true, then Christie’s clarion call for action on pensions is merely the harbinger of a much bigger push to come. Anything you can do, Christie is telling Scott Walker, I can do better.
New Jersey’s unions aren’t laying down. Here’s a sample, thanks to the Record’s indispensable blog, The Political State.
Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, rejected Christie’s assertion that pension costs are “exploding”:
He is doing the wrong thing by misleading New Jersey residents about the state of the pension system. Pension costs are not “exploding.” As a result of deep, painful cuts absorbed by public employees and retirees in 2011, pension costs going forward have been curtailed, and the state is finally on the road to responsible, sustainable pension funding practices.
Said Charles Wowkanech, president of New Jersey State AFL-CIO:
Public employees, unlike the state, have never skipped a payment into the pension system. And, over the past three years, they’ve paid even more to try to bring the funds back to health. At the least, they deserve a state finally willing to shoulder its share of the responsibility so we can climb out of this hole together.
And Hetty Rosenstein, director of the Communications Workers of America’s New Jersey branch, added that Christie wants voters to “hate public employees”:
We are not changing pensions. … I think it’s a diversion. … He’s throwing out red meat—[saying] “Let’s go back to the old bugaboo. Everyone should hate public employees. All of your problems are public employees and their entitlements. And don’t look at the man behind the curtain of Bridgegate, of Hurricane Sandy.” Last year, all we heard about was Hurricane Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. This year we’re back to the public employees.
At a town meeting in North Jersey the day after his budget speech, Christie castigated Democrats for defending workers’ benefits saying, “Democrats don’t want to take the hard steps to reign in entitlement spending.” And he warned that if the legislature didn’t go along with new pension changes he wants, he’ll have to take “extreme measures.” He said:
I’m ready work with the entire Legislature to come up with ideas to fix this, but if they’re unwilling to that do that, this is a problem we’re going to own. I’m willing to take more extreme measures.
He added: “Detroit is giving us a preview of what could happen to us. It’s the trailer of what could happen to us if we don’t get on this even more now.”
Consider yourself warned.
This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
When it comes to immigration, US policymakers have never been shy about which types of foreign workers they want living and working in the United States. In his 2013 State of the Union address, for example, President Barack Obama listed attracting “the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy” as a key tenet of immigration reform.
This sentiment is widespread among policymakers. They want doctors and engineers, not dishwashers and landscapers.
But while this kind of immigration can pay dividends for a small pool of educated migrants and the companies who hire them, it produces losers as well. Like their outsourcing counterparts, some US corporations use imported workers as a way to keep wages down as well as to fill their labor demand. And what happens to the countries these educated individuals leave behind is almost never discussed.
The term “brain drain” was first coined by the British Royal Society to describe the migration of scientists and technologists from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, the term has come to explain the large-scale emigration of educated individuals from the countries of their birth. When a nation exhausts its human capital, economic development is impeded, leaving the citizens who remain in dire straits.
Despite having an entire agency—USAID—that promotes the development of human capital abroad, US immigration policies can have just the opposite effect.
Bait and Switch
The US immigration structure operates on a visa system. The government issues H-1B visas to foreign workers with specialized skills in science, technology and medicine, among many other fields, allowing them to legally reside and work in the United States. This particular visa is popular among large corporations with the resources to pay the visa fees for their foreign applicants. By spending a little extra on the hiring process for these workers, they can net higher profits by paying their immigrant employees less than their US-born counterparts. More than 80 percent of H-1B visa holders, in fact, are paid lower wages than US citizens in comparable positions.
The tech industry in particular is notorious for its abuse of H-1B visas. In 2012, after claiming that it could not fill 6,000 domestic jobs due to a lack of available visas and qualified American workers, Microsoft proposed a solution. If the US government would increase the number of visas available by 20,000, Microsoft said, the company would agree to pay $10,000 for each applicant—nearly four times the usual fee. The revenue earned would go toward funding STEM education programs in the United States.
Microsoft’s bid garnered support from the STEM Coalition, an organization made up of corporations, educational nonprofits and some labor advocates that Microsoft is a member of. The coalition signed a letter expressing support for the visa increase as Microsoft approached a group of senators to craft the bill. It was a noble solution to the alleged problem, but the final draft of the legislation turned out to be vastly different from what Microsoft had initially described. In what was billed as a “classic bait and switch,” the bill ended up calling for an increase of 300,000 available visas—some fifteen times what Microsoft had proposed—with Microsoft only paying a paltry fee of $1,825 per visa, or less than 20 percent of what the company had promised.
The tech industry is not the only sector with a shortage of workers—many parts of the United States, especially rural areas, suffer a shortage of physicians. Part of the problem is that the United States simply does not train the number of doctors it needs—annually, 50 percent of medical school applicants are rejected despite the fact that many of them have stellar GPAs. The steep cost of medical school deters other applicants from even applying. This creates an attractive vacuum for well-trained and ambitious doctors from developing countries—as of 2010, over a quarter of all US physicians were born outside the country.
What’s Left Behind
The increase of available H-1B visas allows for highly educated foreigners to pursue a more prosperous career in the United States. But what does it mean for the countries they leave behind?
In India, home to the large majority of H-1B visa recipients, many medical students opt to study abroad because of rising costs and limited capacity at their public institutions. The medical brain drain in India not only reduces the number of doctors available for care, but it also removes the people needed to push for healthcare reforms.
Considered the most privatized health system in the world, India’s public health system is made up of mainly rural health centers that lack basic infrastructure, medicines and staff. India spends only 0.9 percent of its GDP on healthcare, which promotes a large private healthcare industry that remains inaccessible to the poor. The wealthy can afford to be treated at a state-of-the-art hospital for a stomach ache, while the poor must walk long miles to receive treatment for sicknesses and sometimes discover that the medicine they need is unavailable. The shortage of doctors is staggering: there are only six doctors for every 10,000 patients. People in need of medical attention may spend days waiting in line for tests or drugs because there are simply not enough doctors and nurses available to tend to their medical needs.
India is not the only country that suffers from brain drain, and the loss of human capital does not only affect the medical industry. Zimbabwe is struggling to keep its education sector from collapsing after losing 45,000 teachers in 2010 alone. Haiti has lost more college graduates than any other country in the world. Brain drain is occurring in every region of the developing world.
Plugging the Drain
Ensuring that skilled workers have opportunities to flourish at home is ultimately a challenge for source countries, not the richer countries that absorb them when they leave. But the loss of brain power to the United States and other developed countries creates an unfortunate cycle for poorer countries: educated individuals migrate, leaving their home countries’ tax base and infrastructure in poor shape. The weakened infrastructure in turn means that more people will leave, driving the cycle onward.
In order to solve this problem, the governments of developing nations should strive to create incentives for their educated workers to stay home and use their abilities to create a better and more sustainable society. Perhaps developed countries can provide some assistance through educational partnerships or other forms of cooperation. But because freedom of movement is an inalienable human right, neither the United States nor the source countries can (or should) simply prohibit skilled workers from moving around the globe.
Meanwhile, the United States should reconsider its own prejudices about foreign workers. In their drive to welcome skilled laborers to the United States, US policymakers often overlook the value of unskilled and semiskilled migrants. The construction, agricultural and homecare industries, for example, all rely heavily on the labor of a foreign-born workforce. These are seldom the people praised by pundits as the “best and brightest,” but they’re vital to the US economy and perform valuable work for their fellow Americans.
Immigration can be a blessing for all who are touched by it. But to reap the benefits, we need an honest accounting of the costs. How can countries be expected to manage brain drain when all the plumbers have left?
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