The headline to this ThinkProgress story reads “A Black College Student Has The Same Chances Of Getting A Job As A White High School Dropout.” At the same time, this Pew Research Center study shows that 63 percent of Americans believe “Blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for own condition.”
How do these two things square with each other?
They don’t. But that doesn’t actually matter. Americans aren’t swayed by facts or statistics but by narratives. The narrative we have internalized with regards to racism is one of unimpeached progress. We’ve gone from slavery to Jim Crow to civil rights to a black president without a hitch.
Meanwhile, the thing that black parents across the country have told their children for generations about having to work twice as hard to get the same things that are handed to white people, remains true. Yet 63 percent of Americans choose to believe black people are unambitious, or lazy or incompetent. Racism, the kind that limited opportunities for black Americans, is a thing of the past, we would like to believe.
This was the entire point of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s June cover story for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” He built his argument not around the injustice of slavery but the injury suffered from redlining and housing discrimination, racist public policies with roots in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. He illustrates that we don’t have to reach so far back in American history to see the treatment of black people as second-class citizens. Truly, we don’t have to look beyond today’s headlines.
In his essay “The Little Man at Chehaw Station,” Ralph Ellison wrote: “Perhaps we are able to see only that which we are prepared to see, and in our culture the cost of insight is an uncertainty that threatens our already unstable sense of order and requires a constant questioning of accepted assumptions.”
The United States isn’t prepared to see its racist past or present, as it would upset the narrative that has become a source of national pride. We aren’t yet brave enough to forge a new identity.
Read Next: Mychal Denzel Smith on how America is still trying to ‘do the right thing.’
Around Independence Day, an American cryptic puzzler’s fancy naturally turns to thoughts of the US. It isn’t always easy: the crossword puzzle is a home-grown American invention, but the cryptic—or, ahem, “British-style” puzzle—is an import from across the Atlantic.
But one slice of Americana that does recur throughout cryptic puzzledom—both in The Nation and elsewhere—is the roster of the fifty state names. With its wide range of etymological flavors (English, Spanish, Native American and more) and variety of lengths and letter patterns, these constitute a little gold mine of cryptic resources for puzzlers.
We’ve made good use of them, too. A quick survey of our files shows that only twelve states have yet to put in an appearance (and one or two are waiting in the wings, in puzzles that are written but haven’t appeared yet).
Not surprisingly, the main use for state names is as the shortest path to their two-letter postal abbreviations; in fact, practiced solvers have learned to try those first on seeing the name of a US state. For instance:
SCYLLA South Carolina partner brought back a terrifying monster (6)
FLOUNCE Ribbon in Florida with little weight (7)
CLOSET Secrecy concerning sexual orientation to face defeat in Connecticut (6)
MARTIAN Alien in Massachusetts train wreck (7)
Sometimes, though, a state name can appear in a clue just as itself, since it’s the easiest way to specify an American city or town, either in the definition:
CHICO Marx in a California city (5)
SAGINAW Detected a trap inside Michigan city (7)
…or the wordplay:
ANTIPODES Hiking mineshaft in Arizona town leads to the other side of the world (9)
BILLINGSGATE Abusive language in Montana scandal? (12)
And once in a while, the postal abbreviation can combine with a direct reference, as in this &lit. clue:
NASHUA It’s, like, in New Hampshire, near the edges of USA! (6)
Here’s another combination strategy:
A LA MODE Fashionable mission in Texas and Delaware (1,2,4)
State names also make good grid entries:
INDIANA Gary’s place is at home with a goddess (7)
UTAH Hesitation to bear thanks where Mormons are plentiful (4)
And so do their derivative forms:
CONNECTICUTER Associate with one better-looking New England resident (13)
IOWAN One that hurts an American from the Midwest (5)
OKLAHOMAN Sooner or later, boy chases after perverse LA hook (9)
Probably the apotheosis of state-naming in our puzzles so far was this pair of entries from Puzzle #3308, based on a bit of wordplay we borrowed the puzzler Mark Oshin (a k a Mr. E):
VIRGINIA SLIMS State: “Video-game family getting last of menthol cigarettes” (8,5)
MINNESOTA FATS State: “Workers mostly returning for pool hustler” (9,4)
Happy Y to all our friends and solvers! (That’s Fourth of July, of course.)
This week’s clueing challenge: WYOMING
To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.
—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.
"Cecily McMillan's Statement of Release." JusticeforCecily.com, July 2, 2014.
Following a biased mistrial (one among too many recent miscarriages of justice), Cecily McMillan was released on Wednesday after fifty-nine days in jail. Her statement of release reminds us of the pressing injustices that plague current Rikers inmates—stories that are so little mentioned because they come from the most disenfranchised segments of society. This statement bridges the gap that separates prisoners' daily concerns from theoretical discussions of mass incarceration by revealing those demands, which local movements will hopefully pick up. As of now, the lack of visibility of those who disappear into jails or prisons permits the worse excesses. Cecily's mention of the solidarity and the sisterhood at Rikers is inspiring, revealing issues that we should lend our ears and voices to.
—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.
"Social and Economic Benefits of Reliable Contraception," by Jacoba Urist. The Atlantic, July 2, 2014.
In light of the Supreme Court's controversial decision to side with Hobby Lobby, the fight for women's rights still has a ways to go. Jacoba Urist of The Atlantic argues that the benefits of providing reliable access to contraception empowers women regardless of socioeconomic status and even extends to the well being of society. Urist's argument touches on how the debate surrounding contraception relates to income inequality, health issues and the opportunities made available to younger generations.
—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.
“Migrant Women Documenting Their Experiences Crossing the Border,” by Verónica Bayetti Flores. Feministing, June 12, 2014.
In this piece, Verónica discusses part of what’s missing from the discourse of crossing the border, and that’s the stories of women. Bayetti Flores points to the work of freelance photographer Encarni Pindado, known as MigraZoom, which provides disposable cameras to migrants so that they can document their own journeys. One of the themes from the women migrants’ photos, which Bayetti Flores focuses on, is sexual violence and strategies to avoid violence, but also “harm reduction practices such as taking contraceptives before crossing the border to avoid pregnancy should they get raped along the way.” What I found most important about this project is that it is a reminder that these individuals are people, often brutally dehumanized, who, as one immigrant woman explains, “deserve respect…deserve a chance to work, and to live well and to study.”
—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.
"Three Reasons the Hobby Lobby Decision Is Worse for Women of Color," by Miriam Zoila Pérez. Colorlines, July 1, 2014.
How does Monday's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision affect women of color? This article succinctly illuminates three major ulcers that will be irritated in women's health policy with this monumental restriction: the cost of contraception, the risk of unplanned pregnancy, and America's history of sterilization and reproductive control over black and brown women.
—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.
"Moaning Moguls," by James Surowiecki. The New Yorker, July 7, 2014.
In the infancy of Obama's presidency, I remember the president letting bankers know, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." That statement might have been premature—sure, there was outrage in the wake of bailouts and the outrage over executives' compensation, but it was well before Occupy, before rising numbers of Americans of all kinds identified as lower class, before the words "income inequality" were on everyone's lips and even people like Rick Santorum were suddenly talking about social mobility. In “Moaning Moguls,” James Surowiecki notes the plight of the beleaguered rich—those CEOs who feel besieged by the prospect of (marginally) higher taxes and the (relative) scorn of the public. They cope with a disdainful public by making obscene comparisons of their tax burdens to life in Nazi Germany, with one even arguing that the wealthier you are, the more votes you should be entitled to have. Before a sharp rightward turn in corporate America over the past three decades or so, corporations regularly saw their interests and those of their employees and customers as the same. Globalization and the boom in financial services has changed all that, Surowiecki writes, because their customers are no longer only Americans or the wealthy. This reminds me of an essay in Politico that's been gaining traction this week by Nick Hanauser, a Seattle entrepreneur worth billions who warns his comrades in affluence that if workers’ pay isn’t raised the way Seattle’s was—their minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour—they will, eventually, risk open rebellion. He tackled trickle down economics, seeing its reasoning rooted in ideas little different than antiquated notions like divine right. Hanauser lifts the veil a bit on the perspectives of plenty of people in business—"We love our customers rich and our employees poor"—and how it has been consistently proven that raising the minimum wage has not harmed business, nor has the prohibition of child labor or the actual establishment of the minimum wage. He proves how these fights for progress often repeat themselves, always face resistance but are always necessary.
—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.
“The Supreme Court Should See What I See As an Abortion Clinic Escort,” by Lauren Rankin. RH Reality Check, June 30, 2014.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a 35-foot buffer zone to protect patients from protestors outside abortion clinics is unconstitutional; that it impedes free speech. But according to Lauren Rankin, who volunteers at an abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey, the Supreme Court is in effect protecting the right of anti-choice protestors to not only speak to abortion patients, but also to physically block them from entering clinics and film them against their will. Rankin describes the difference a buffer zone at the clinic where she works made for patients, whom she saw "reduced to tears and shaking, just for trying to access the health care to which they are constitutionally entitled," before the zone was installed.
—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.
“Hobby Lobby Ruling Proves Men of Law Can't Abide 'Immoral' Women Having Sex,” by Jessica Valenti. The Guardian via AlterNet, July 1, 2014.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby on Monday, which gives corporations the right to deny coverage of certain kinds of contraception to their employees based on religious freedom. Now, Hobby Lobby may indeed have religious objections to contraception, but let's be frank, as Jessica Valenti was in her Guardian piece on Tuesday: Hobby Lobby sued because the company believes pre-martial or non-procreative sex is a big no-no for women. Essentially, we can view the initial case and the Supreme Court's eventual (and predominantly male-decided) ruling as yet another attempt to make sure women cannot have sex as freely as men. What's sad is that this is not the first time women's reproductive autonomy will be affected by governmental policy and institutions (forget about the history; this week alone five states passed policies that make it significantly harder to get an abortion). And surprise, surprise (like a lot of things) women of color will likely be facing the brunt of this (predominantly white male-decided) ruling. It's just another case to add to the long list of forced contraception, sterilization, abortion and unsafe birthing practices our government has normalized for women of color. (Sigh.)
—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.
“Protesters in Murrieta block detainees' buses in tense standoff,” byMatt Hansen and Mark Boster. The Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2014.
Hatred and violence directed toward undocumented immigrants in the United States is at an all-time high. Proof can be found in Murrieta, California, where residents blocked busloads of refugee children and undocumented immigrants from entering their city. In downtown Murrieta, 200-300 protestors relayed their dedication to keeping California "American" by forcing the buses to turn back prior to entering the border patrol station in the community. Murrieta Mayor Alan Long allegedly prompted the protest, stating that “Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities”. The buses were met with chants of "USA" and signs that read "return to sender." Many connect the influx of migrants, specifically children, to the increasing violence and poverty found in some Central American communities. I firmly believe that the fabric of the United States is woven by the desperate and oftentimes undocumented risks of immigrant communities. But the United States does not have an "immigrant problem"—it's in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. With border patrol agents detaining more that 52,000 unaccompanied minors in the southwest, many communities have been slow to act with compassion. It is perplexing that a nation that celebrates the struggling immigrant narrative—although an oftentimes-Eurocentric retelling of the exploitation Native and enslaved communities—would deny this same access to opportunity to those crossing another type of border. But Americanness has become more about nine-digits on a card than liberty and justice for all. And as it always does, history will remember our intolerance.
—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.
“A City of Convicts: The statistical sleight of hand that makes the U.S. crime rate seem lower than it really is,” by Josh Voorhees. Slate, June 30, 2014.
When recording crime in the US, writer Josh Voorhees takes one group into account that is often overlooked: the prison population. Without including this population of 2.2 million people, today’s violent crime rate is nearly half of what it was in the early 90s. In 2012, 1.2 million crimes were reported to the FBI, and a little more than 5.8 million were self-reported by inmates according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. Voorhees argues: “The brutality occurring behind bars deserves a fuller accounting—particularly given that we know there are innocent men and women serving sentences they don’t deserve.” He notes that the numbers suggest that violence itself hasn't disappeared, but has nearly been relegated to a place the public barely sees.
Read Next: What are Nation interns reading the week of 06/27/2014?
Over the past decade, a group of workers has stepped slowly from New York City’s middle-class kitchens and living rooms into the forefront of the country’s labor rights movements. Domestic workers—the nannies, health aides, housekeepers and other household service workers—have organized, petitioned lawmakers, and championed Domestic Workers Bill of Rights legislation, which has been passed in four states so far. But the rise of the labor movement has come with some growing pains. The journey of Andolan, one of the first domestic workers’ groups to emerge in New York, attests to the power of grassroots labor activism, along with the hurdles that often crop up with each movement milestone.
Andolan began organizing in Queens the late 1990s with just a handful of domestic workers from South Asia. They evolved into a fierce crop of community leaders who knew the vernacular of their ethnic communities as well as the language of political struggle. Departing from the traditional union model, they meshed social work with advocacy, helping women take legal action against abusive bosses, and connecting them to services ranging from counseling to self-defense classes. They made history with a lawsuit brought by an Indian worker against her former employer, claiming grueling work hours and massive wage theft, which led to a $94,000 settlement—an unprecedented sum for a domestic worker case, the group noted. Together with the local labor network Domestic Workers United, the group campaigned for stronger labor protections and shepherded the first-ever Domestic Workers Bill of Rights through Albany in 2010. In recent years, justice for household workers has become a hot cause, with campaign endorsements from Hollywood celebrities and official initiatives for global domestic worker protections through the International Labour Organization.
A new documentary, Claiming Our Voice, traces Andolan members as they learn to grapple with their own history. Centered on a homemade theater production—a show developed by the women under the guidance of South Asian-American artist YaliniDream—the film, directed by Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel, follows the women as they seek self-expression beyond the simple survivor narrative. They reconstruct their stories as individuals and as a collective, with a pastiche of dialogue, song and dance, merging folk traditions with contemporary politics and radical performance art.
As a kind of Pins and Needles for the South Asian diaspora, the performance is a seemingly simple act of storytelling—the women are essentially playing themselves. The dialogue and choreography depict memories of economic hardship in their homeland and after migration, facing exploitation and degradation as laborers, and marching together with fists in the air. Between the staged scenes, women speak in interviews about their fears and hopes on their own terms, outside the tight format of the media interviews and tragic testimonials that they were often asked to give.
Mursheda Begum, a worker who came from Bangladesh in 1997, said in the film, “My country’s people are always ashamed to say their own story. I can tell my own story and somebody can learn from me…. We are all together fighting for our rights. Everybody has a story…. You say [something], and then you have a problem solved. You don’t say anything, the world doesn’t know your problem. I’m not scared now. We are powerful because we are Andolan members.… I have power inside me.”
But there’s a bittersweet epilogue to the narrative. In 2010, about two years after they were applauded on stage, Andolan closed its office space and gave up its incorporated status, and after many years struggling as a staffed, funding-dependent nonprofit service agency, went back to being a volunteer-led organization. Andolan has continued to function in its pared-down form, but has shifted back to more intimate roots, with informal meetings and a focus on supporting individual members—not necessarily legal intakes or grant writing. This trajectory, which many successful nonprofits encounter at some point, touches on deeper questions about the sustainability of worker-based grassroots organizing over the long term, as long as they depend on fiscal sponsors subject to volatile government budgets and the whims of elite foundations.
The worker centers of the so-called “alt labor” movement have reshaped the political landscape for marginalized sectors like day laborers and immigrant guestworkers. Representing highly segregated sectors, the groups have reenergized dialogue on immigration policy and racial and economic justice within mainstream organized-labor circles. Activists have developed creative tactics like viral media campaigns and community education programs to complement the standard activist arsenal of strikes and pickets.
Yet paying the bills remains a challenge, particularly when your membership is poor, you don’t collect dues, and foundations and government agencies require complex application processes and extensive reporting of “deliverables.” The recession hit workers on both ends, too, gutting jobs and wages for individual workers and destabilizing the already tenuous financial bases of young community-based groups.
One 2011 study found that nearly 90 percent of nonprofits were still impacted by the recession, struggling with depleted government and foundation funding streams.
The bottom line that has bedeviled Andolan and so many other groups is the paradox of sustaining grassroots activism: the vitality of any movement is by nature fast-changing and spontaneous, while building a sustainable organization requires stability and the ability to plan for the long term, which the poor by definition tend to lack. Genuine low-wage worker advocacy is hard to do without dedicated volunteers who represent the workforce, yet no poor people’s movement can run on voluntarism alone.
Now as a volunteer group, Andolan is consulting with members and ally groups on how they might restructure. “People cannot even think about giving up this organization…. This organization is needed,” says founding member Nahar Alam, who now works at New York University. “But how [to sustain it]… we have to rethink that.”
Still, Andolan has come farther than most. As the film rolls out the nonprofit’s legacy, Alam has been reflecting on the other groups inspired by Andolan’s organizing model (work is underway to create an archive to document the group’s history and accomplishments). Many young activists cut their teeth working with Andolan years ago and have since gone on to build established campaign groups like the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
“I’m thinking that this is from us, we started it,” Alam says. “And this campaign is now big enough [to reach] not only nationwide, it’s like worldwide.… Those people came out from Andolan. And this is our asset.”
At the end of the day, Andolan won’t be remembered for how long they stuck around, but how they changed one of the most thankless jobs in the world into the vanguard of a new labor struggle.
Claiming Our Voice is produced by Fine Grain Films, with Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel and Chitra Aiyar (disclosure: Aiyar is also a former member of the Asia Pacific Forum Collective, of which the author is a current member).
Read Next: Michelle Chen on New York’s food industry.
In the early 1940s, faced with the destruction wrought by the Great Depression and a brewing world war, the United States government established the Victory Bonds program. Through the creation of affordable government-backed bonds, the program gave Americans of modest means the chance to invest in their country during crises that called for immediate action.
Today, the fight against climate change demands that same urgency. That’s why The Nation is joining Green America in calling on Congress to pass a bill creating Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB).
Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, CEVBs will allow any American to invest as little as $25. Advocates for the bill expect the sale of the bonds to raise up to $50 billion, which will then leverage an additional $100 billion from private and public investors. The money raised would fund essential tax credits to renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as companies specializing in energy-efficiency. These investments have the potential to lessen the demand for fossil fuels, reduce the amount of CO2 poured into the atmosphere, and create one million good US jobs.
Truly addressing climate change cannot happen just through investments in clean energy; as Chris Hayes pointed out in an essay for The Nation this spring, we can only avert planetary disaster if we leave destructive sources of energy in the ground—and if we force fossil fuel companies to forgo trillions of dollars in profits.
Earlier this spring, members of the Yes Men joined with indigenous activists to demonstrate what a truly bold energy policy would look like. Posing as US government officials, they spoke at the Homeland Security Congress, announcing a plan to convert the United States to one-hundred percent renewable energy by 2030. The activists then went on Democracy Now! to discuss their prank.
Click here to jump directly to Reed Richardson.
1) Randy Newman’s “Faust” at City Center
2) Richard Thompson at The Irridium
3) Henry Kissinger says something crazy
Lucky yours truly, I got a last minute ticket to see the only New York performance of Randy Newman’s adaptation of Goethe’s “Faust” at City Center, a one-night-only concert directed by Thomas Kail, as part of the City Center Encores! Off-Center series. Randy came out dressed in a devil’s costume—apparently fooled by the rest of the cast that they would be in costume too. He introduced the piece by explaining, which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1995, by explaining, “This is my version of Goethe’s ‘Faust.’” “His ‘Faust,’ of course, is a masterpiece. I read the classic comic book, and I concur.” He then wondered aloud whether his version would stand with Goethe’s in the Western canon for hundreds of years as well. “Only time will tell,” he mused.
OK, perhaps not. Perhaps only a few of the songs are even at the top of Newman’s incredible canon. But the piece, as performed by Newman as Lucifer (or “Luci” as God calls him), Laura Osnes, Tony Vincent, Isaiah Johnson, Vonda Shepard and Michael Cerveris, together with a wonderfully evocative and funky 16-memberBroadway Inspirational Voices, under the direction of the choirmaster Michael McElroy, and a perfectly fine mini-orchestra, got everything out of the play’s music there is—even including the wonderful album version with all the LA singer/songwriter star power on it.
The plot is a contemporary version of Goethe’s story, but it takes place in South Bend, Indiana on the Notre Dame campus (with a side trip to Central America). The highlight, no contest, was a beautiful duet by Randy and Vonda Shepard of the sappy masterpiece, “Feels Like Home,” the applause for which literally stopped the show. I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to see it performed again, but buy the album. Also Newman’s recent recordings of his old stuff which has been appearing on Nonesuch of late and is, like Newman, a reliable bittersweet pleasure and also a cultural treasure.
Speaking of which, thanks also, I think, to PBS’s “Front and Center” program, a small number of lucky folk got to see the amazing Richard Thompson (and bass and drums) at the intimate Irridium club in Times Square on Monday night. What a thrill it was to be able to witness up close the man move his fingers up and down the frets. Thompson is perhaps the most impressive guitarist I have ever seen who is not famous for being a “guitar god.” He works pretty hard too, given that he is the only guitarist in his band. I think the reason he is not spoken of in the same sentences as Clapton, Allman, Gibbons, Vaughan, etc is that his music is not blues-based. It’s English/Scottish folkie music, electrified. And while the songs are clever and intricate, not so many of them are hummable. Some, however, are beautiful, “Dimming of the Day,” which he did not do and “Wall of Death” which he did. “Tear-Stained Letter” is always a rave and that was the first encore. Anyway, watch the show and amaze yourselves. If you need a primer on RT, start with the divorce album he did with his ex, Linda Thompson, “Shoot Out the Lights.” It is the third best divorce album of all time, in this opinion, after (of course) “Blood on the Tracks,” and “Tunnel of Love.”
Before going to the show, by the way, I went to a pretty interesting panel at Thompson/Reuters about World War I, moderated by my friend Sir Harold Evans, which was going fine until Henry Kissinger made the crazy statement that all five wars entered into by the US since World War II had been so with the country united. Speaking from the back of the audience, I expressed my (polite) amazement at this fact, given that Iraq I and Iraq II were incredibly contested from the start, and Vietnam was only approved of because we were so profoundly lied to. Kissinger did not really reply and Harry could not really hear the question so the response was most unsatisfying. Depressing as all hell, I gotta say, but it gave me an idea for a column and the food was pretty good, so ok, onward. (I see there is video here. I come in at about 65 minutes, though it does not really work out well because Harry could neither see nor hear me and “Dr. Kissinger,” as everybody annoyingly called him, was able to easily evade the point.)
Oh and to you BDS folk: My guess is that if you’ve lost Noam Chomsky….
From Hobby Lobby to Climate Change: How the Media Enables the Right-wing’s Politicization of Science
by Reed Richardson
We’re at a particularly hyper-partisan moment in our country. As such, one would think the existence of a scientific consensus on a policy issue would offer the mainstream media a welcome oasis from the mirage of social media myths and the desert of dueling soundbites that all too often crowd out informed comment. Using such a consensus as a no bullshit baseline, an objective journalist could more honestly explore opposing arguments, measure them against evidence, and judge their veracity. This is no small thing, because if modern journalism is to continue to live up to its Constitutional promise, it can’t merely be about telling the who, what,when and where of the world anymore, it must go beyond that to explain the how and why.
But time and again, the establishment media fails at reaching this higher bar. Instead of contextualizing policy debates by weaving in extant scientific knowledge or academic research, the national press all too readily churns out formulaic stories filled with superficial horserace reporting. A press corps so consistently unmoored from facts becomes very vulnerable, however, when one of our nation’s two political parties undertakes a proverbial war on science. With very little effort, policy debates can get hijacked and devolve from discussing relevant facts to a lobbing ad hominem insults. This simple-minded journalistic approach renders the underlying science of any issue moot. But it’s a safer career move, since it just wouldn’t do well for an “objective” journalist to always be pointing out that, on issue after issue, one party has become fully detached from scientific reality. In a “both sides do it” media culture, no party or ideology can ever lose legitimacy, no matter how crackpot its ideas about how the world works.
Exhibit A in the mainstream media’s failure to execute this due diligence is its consistently ill-informed climate change coverage. Even though an overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and man-made, the media rarely, if ever, treats this mountain of evidence as a given. Instead, it treats this reality very much like a battle of opinions or, more accurately, of belief systems: Liberals believe in climate change, conservatives don’t. Climate change is not an ideological principle or a policy outcome about which reasonable people can disagree, though; it’s an observable phenomenon. So when the media enables anyone to deny the existence of climate change, it is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.
Nevertheless, this malpractice happens every single day. Whether pigeonholing global warming as a niche topic,soliciting denialist voices and granting them an outsized platform, or outright disappearing of the crisis, the press regularly plays into conservatives’ hands, helping them manufacture dissent and sow confusion amongst the public even though none exists in the scientific community. Among Tea Partiers, disbelief in anthropogenic climate change has become something of an article of faith, so much so that, contra the parable of Noah, no amount of catastrophic warnings can change their stubborn minds. And in much the same way that Pope Urban VIII’s Vatican concocted an “investigation” to disprove Galileo’s proof of a sun-centered solar system, right-wing denialists have cooked up numerous alternative climate change theories that neatly conform to their worldview, but which all fall apart under scientific scrutiny.
The public policy ramifications of this media failure hit home again this past Monday. That’s when the Roberts Court’s conservative majority ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a craft retailer that sued the federal government for infringing on its religious freedom. At the core of the company’s objections was its claim that four of the 20 methods of contraception mandated by the Afforable Care Act are abortifacients (i.e. they terminate an in-progress pregnancy).
The good news: just like climate change, there was an overwhelming scientific consensus about this claim. Let’s be totally clear—the idea that IUDs and morning-after pills are abortifacients is clearly rejected by medical science. And no less than the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Health, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the Mayo Clinic agree. To all of these organizations, to whom we trust to regulate, advise, and train our nation’s professional healthcare providers, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg is successfully implanted in the uterus, so IUDs and Plan B morning-after pills are contraceptives. Full stop. So, case dismissed, right?
The bad news, of course, was that there was an overwhelming scientific consensus about this claim, and just like with climate change, conservatives on the court simply didn’t care. Never mind that the medical facts in the case strongly suggested Hobby Lobby had no real standing to sue in the first place. In fact, on page 9 of Justice Alito’s majority ruling, we find this inconvenient truth conveniently tucked away down in a footnote:
“The owners of the companies involved in these cases and others who believe that life begins at conception regard these four methods as causing abortions, but federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.”
The whole Hobby Lobby case, in other words, was built upon a willfully accepted fallacy. Monday’s Supreme Court decision wasn’t a victory for religious freedom over the government as much it was a triumph of religious belief over science. (There’s also rank hypocrisy and disingenuousness at work here as well. Hobby Lobby’s employee retirement plan invests in the very pharmaceutical companies that make emergency contraception. And up until two years ago, Hobby Lobby’s health insurance plan actually offered IUDs and Plan B. Only after being contacted by a right-wing legal group—hunting for a proxy in their fight to weaken Obamacar—did the company conveniently discover its religious objection.)
Nevertheless, right-wing and “pro-life” supporters have so successfully muddied the facts about contraception, the press demonstrated little interest in correcting them. Case in point, the New York Times’ big, lead story on the decision, which whistled right past the plaintiff’s key claim:
“The health care law and related regulations require many employers to provide female workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for a variety of methods of contraception. The companies objected to some of the methods. “No one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs,” Justice Alito wrote. The dissenters agreed.
“The companies said they had no objection to some forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. Justice Ginsburg wrote that other companies may object to all contraception, and that the ruling would seem to allow them to opt out of any contraception coverage.”
Notice something missing here? For some reason, the Times tells us all about which specific contraceptives Hobby Lobby doesn’t object to, but we never learn which ones they do object to, and more importantly, why, and if their objections had any scientific merit.
The Washington Post’s Supreme Court write-up at least included more specifics than the Times, but its scattershot approach leads it to fall back into the same old false equivalence framing:
“Some businesses object to offering contraception at all, while others, like the companies that brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, say offering certain types of birth control, such as IUDs, make them complicit in abortion.”
[…11 paragraphs later…]
“In this case, the companies’ owners say that four of the 20 contraceptives approved by the FDA work after an egg has been fertilized and thus are abortifacients. While many, if not most, doctors and scientists disagree, Alito said the point is that the owners believe offering such services—such as the morning-after pill and IUDs—violates their religious faiths.”
Notice, again, how Alito’s whole justification for ruling against Obamacare rests upon what the Hobby Lobby owners believe. Does the Post pushback on this citing expert medical analysis? Does it point out a lot of people believe a lot of crazy things with no basis in fact but they still don’t merit a judicial carve-out from federal health regulations. Not really. It equivocates with “many, if not most doctors and scientists disagree,” an intentionally squishy qualifier that offers little more than the pretense of context.
Tellingly, mainstream media coverage, overall, wasn’t much better than Fox News. This was how they didn’t get it right: “Dozens of companies, including Hobby Lobby, claim religious objections to covering some or all contraceptives. The methods and devices at issue before the Supreme Court were those the plaintiffs say can work after conception.” In fact, the latest research suggests that IUDs and Plan B actually don’t work after conception. But even if they do, it’s important to remember that the scientific consensus clearly says that preventing a fertilized egg from implanting is not an abortion. In fact, the Affordable Care Act is explicitly forbidden from funding coverage for abortions. That “dozens of companies” are making—or, more precisely, making up—an argument to the contrary shouldn’t be worth a bucket of warm spit when it comes to crafting public health policy.
This doesn’t stop some conservatives from trying to have it both ways—to both dismiss scientific consensus while pretending its on their side. Back in May, for example, GOP Senator Marco Rubio even went so far as to claim the “science is settled” that life begins at conception. No sir. Others on the right have tried to polarize the medical definition of pregnancy, claiming it is “an odd insistence” of “the Left” without mentioning all the nonpartisan medical professional organizations that endorse this same conclusion. Getting points for chutzpah and projection, one obtuse conservative snarkily dinged the “anti-Science Left” for failing to recognize that you can’t produce a life without a fertilized egg. Of course, you can’t produce life beyond a few cells unless that fertilized egg is implanted in a woman’s uterus, but then disappearing women out of the discussion of contraceptive choice and reproductive rights is another common tactic among the right. On a related note, Alito’s 49-page opinion only mentioned “woman” or “women” 13 times.
By failing to honestly address the science at the root of the Hobby Lobby case, the media has fallen for the same old conservative spin that, for years, has also corrupted its climate change coverage. In a way, it mirrors the actions of the Roberts Court’s conservative majority, which similarly granted greater weight to the plaintiffs’religious interpretation of medical science than to actual medical science itself. Sadly, this brazen act of judicial corporate activism was compounded by a tragic failure of explanatory journalism. And thanks to the latter, the public is less informed about broad consequences of the former. As now almost anyone—or anything, for that matter—can construct a so-called religious freedom if science and the evidentiary process need not be involved in defining the boundaries of said freedoms.
The Hobby Lobby case has set us upon a dangerously slippery legal slope. By endowing for-profit companies with unprecedented rights over their employees and unheard of freedoms from federal regulations, conservatives have set the conditions for future corporate discrimination as well as delegitimization of the government. But it is also a broader, cautionary tale about how poorly the mainstream media holds conservatives accountable for their often specious scientific claims. Facts are the most precious currency of journalists, but if they aren’t willing to speak scientific truth to power—whether it’s on reproductive rights or evolution or climate change—it’s not just the press’s reputation that suffers. We all do.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.
I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
There are many ways to express patriotism. Yet there remains a common sense that the best expressions extend beyond ideology and partisanship to embrace the noblest ideals and deepest truths—of the American experiment.
In this time of deep division and money-driven hyper-partisanship, can that higher common ground still be reached?
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who has been the steadiest antiwar voice in the US House, and Congressman Scott Rigell, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve before representing Virginia as a very conservative Republican, have found it. They may disagree on many, perhaps most, issues. But Lee and Rigell are in absolute agreement that President Obama and Congress should resist “calls for a ‘quick’ and ‘easy’ military intervention in Iraq.”
Lee and Rigell recognize that while the rise of sectarian violence in Iraq is a serious concern, it cannot become an excuse for the casual redeployment of US troops to the country where so many Americans and so many Iraqis have already perished.
“We do not believe intervention could be either quick or easy. And, we doubt it would be effective in meeting either humanitarian or strategic goals, and that it could very well be counter-productive,” write Lee and Rigell in a joint letter to President Obama. “This is a moment for urgent consultations and engagement with all parties in the region who could bring about a cease fire and launch a dialogue that could lead to a reconciliation of the conflict.”
The letter, which eighty House Democrats and Republicans have signed, urges the president to be restrained in his own response and to accept respect the further restraint of the system of checks and balances outlined in the Constitution.
“As you consider options for U.S. intervention, we write to urge respect for the constitutional requirements for using force abroad,” it reads. “The Constitution vests in Congress the power and responsibility to authorize offensive military action abroad. The use of military force in Iraq is something the Congress should fully debate and authorize. Members of Congress must consider all the facts and alternatives before we can determine whether military action would contribute to ending this most recent violence, create a climate for political stability, and protect civilians from greater harm.”
Deep caution with regard to military intervention has a deep history in the United States of Thomas Jefferson, who warned that America should “have nothing to do with conquest,” and James Madison, who declared, “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”
On July 4, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams used the anniversary to describe the thinking of the nation with regards to its place in the world—and the concerns that underpinned that thinking.
Adams’s statement remains the finest expression of the unique balance that a republic must strike if it wishes to avoid paying the unaffordable wages of empire.
Above all, Adams reminded Americans that while they have a responsibility to speak up for global democracy clearly and without apology, they have an equal responsibility to avoid entangling themselves in the turmoil of other lands. Echoing the warnings of George Washington, the great diplomat warned that such entanglements would ultimately undermine liberty in the United States—as they would require of America economic and political compromises that were inconsistent with domestic democracy.
After reading aloud the Declaration of Independence in its entirety, Adams said of America:
“Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. [But] she well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
“The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit…”
The genius of the American experiment, said Adams, was found in the revolutionary spirit of 1776, which rejected the corruptions of empire—the worst of which stem from the impulse to meddle in the affairs of other countries.
“Her glory is not dominion, but liberty,” Adams said of the United States. “Her march is the march of mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”
Adams concluded his address by urging Americans to renew their acquaintance with the revolutionaries against colonial meddling and empire who founded the American experiment, to celebrate their example and to: “Go thou and do likewise!”
Barbara Lee and Scott Rigell are doing likewise, and the House members who have signed their vital letter are wise to recognize the danger that arise when the United States involves herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s foresight in her Hobby Lobby dissent
One key to solving the ISIS crisis is hunkered down in the presidential palace in Damascus, and his name is Bashar al-Assad. Demonized by the United States and by neoconservatives long before he waged a ruthless, take-no-prisoners blitzkrieg against the American- and Saudi-supported rebellion that began in 2011, Assad has proved to everyone (with the possible exception of Secretary of State John Kerry) that he’s staying put, at least for the foreseeable future. For all intents and purposes, Assad has won the civil war in Syria, and short of an Iraq-style invasion—which isn’t in the cards— there’s no way for the United States to oust Assad. Which is a good thing, because his ouster would immeasurably strengthen the extremists who’ve led the fight against him, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, now “the Islamic State,” the Caliphate-mongering radicals who are an Al Qaeda offshoot. On the other hand, by ending its support for the Syrian rebels, who don’t have a prayer anyway, the United States would strengthen Assad and allow him to crush ISIS.
It’s gradually dawning on America’s foreign policy establishment that Assad isn’t going anywhere. Back in December, a foresighted Ryan Crocker—no weenie, having served as US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars—suggested that the United States ought to accept that Assad has won. In a December 21 New York Times op-ed, Crocker wrote:
It is time to consider a future for Syria without Assad’s ouster, because it is overwhelmingly likely that is what the future will be.… Better armed, organized, supported and motivated, Assad isn’t going. Most likely, he will get the country back, inch by bloody inch. Perhaps Al Qaeda will hold a few enclaves in the north. But he will hold Damascus. And do we really want the alternative—a major country at the heart of the Arab world in the hands of Al Qaeda? So we need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad—and consider that as bad as he is, there is something worse. A good place to start is Geneva next month and some quiet engagement with Syrian officials.
Assad, who’s wrongly been accused of covertly supporting ISIS, last week joined the war against ISIS in Iraq officially, sending his air force into Iraq—with the support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government—to bomb ISIS positions near the Syria-Iraq border. Taking note of that, Leslie Gelb—another US foreign policy graybeard—opined that the United States ought to ally itself with Assad’s potent forces:
The second step of this strategy is to set President Bashar al-Assad of Syria against the jihadis in Iraq, an offensive he started on his own with airstrikes last week. This would acknowledge the reality of Iraq and Syria as one strategic, anti-jihadi battlefield. But instead of capitalizing on Mr. Assad’s anti-jihadi instincts, the Obama team now proposes to do what it has resisted doing for almost three years—to send hundreds of millions of dollars in arms aid for the Sunni rebels battling the Assad government. This move has American priorities backward. It will turn Mr. Assad away from the jihadis in Iraq, and back to fighting American-backed rebels in Syria.
From the start, President Obama’s wrongheaded support for the anti-Assad revolt is what led directly to ISIS’ resurgence. By calling for Assad’s ouster in 2011 and 2012, by green-lighting Saudi and Turkish aid to the rebels, by ordering the CIA to train anti-Assad forces in Jordan, by drawing red lines that he couldn’t enforce, and by supplying those ragtag rebels, Obama unleashed hellish forces in Syria that neither he nor his Saudi and Turkish partners could control. Unspeakable atrocities have been committed on both sides, and it’s obvious that Assad is no friend of humanity. But he’s there, and he’s better than ISIS.
According to Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast, there’s an actual debate going on inside the White House and the State Department over whether to call it quits in Syria. Writes Rogin:
There’s a battle raging inside the Obama administration about whether the United States ought to push away from its goal of toppling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and into a de facto alliance with the Damascus regime to fight ISIS and other Sunni extremists in the region.… The 3 1/2-year grinding civil war is Syria has been put on a back burner for now. Some officials inside the administration are proposing that the drive to remove Assad from power, which Obama announced as U.S. policy in 2012, be set aside, too. The focus, these officials argue, should instead be on the region’s security and stability. Governments fighting for survival against extremists should be shored up, not undermined.
Some analysts suggest that there’s an emerging “Shiite crescent” or a Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus “axis,” but that way too simplistic. True, in battling ISIS, all three governments ought to be seen as potential partners of the United States. But Assad, while an ally of Iran’s, isn’t an Iranian stooge, and he’s not really even a Shiite. And, whatever the eventual outcome of the civil war in Iraq, it won’t eliminate the Sunnis there, who will continue to press their claims for a share of power in Baghdad, with the support of the Arab heartland. And Iran has no imperial interest in the Arab world. It’s interest in Iraq is to prevent the emergence of a threat to Iran, and it’s interest in Syria and in Lebanon’s Hezbollah is mostly as leverage against Israel and its continued threats to bomb Iran over its nuclear program. So the solution in the Syria-Iraq civil war is political and diplomatic, not military. And it starts with an entente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which are alarmed by ISIS’ recent gains, and both of which can vastly influence their proxies in Syria and Iraq.
Read Next: Will Obama strike a nuclear deal with Iran?
Years ago, I noticed that America’s major drugstore chains tend to utilize the same corporate color scheme. Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid—all patriotic in red, white, and blue. Even regional chains take their identity cues from Old Glory. But this July 4, American corporations—including one drugstore chain, in one recent example—are using tax loopholes to act in the most unpatriotic of ways.
Walgreens, The New York Times reported, is looking to relocate from Illinois to Switzerland, in the process merging with a Swiss corporation and reincorporating itself as a foreign entity. It is, bluntly, an old-fashioned tax dodge, aimed at trimming eleven percentage points off the company’s corporate tax rate. Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that the move will cost US taxpayers more than $4 billion over the next five years. Using a procedure called “inversion,” an American company can reincorporate itself overseas as long as its domestic (US) owners retain no more than 80 percent of its stock. Walgreens, after merging with European drugstore chain Alliance Boots (itself a loophole-exploiter, having moved from the UK to Switzerland itself in order to lower its tax bill), will meet the criteria and legally become a Swiss corporation.
As the Times reported last fall, inversion is increasingly popular among American corporations. California chip maker Applied Materials merged with a Japanese competitor, Tokyo Electron, and the New York advertising group Omnicom merged with the French Publicis Groupe, to name two of the 20 inversions completed since April 2012. Applied Materials will save about $100 million in taxes each year, Omnicom $80 million.
There are few acts more unpatriotic than siphoning your tax dollars away from Uncle Sam and into your own pocket. Decreased tax revenue leads to yet more cuts in our social safety net, which is already ragged enough to begin with. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, Walgreens $4 billion-plus dodge could be used to fund 1.5 years of prescriptions for the entire VA veterans population; 639,000 people covered under Medicaid; or 3.5 million children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Perhaps Walgreens corporate greed isn’t surprising, as recent events have shown just how little America’s corporate class actually cares about veterans, Medicaid, and the uninsured
But it’s still enraging. Walgreens earns nearly one-quarter of its $72 billion in annual revenue from…Medicaid and Medicare disbursements; that is, directly from the government—or taxpayers like you and me. Though his eye was more on outsourcing labor than on tax-dodging, Ralph Nader in 2012 wrote of the blatant anti-American practices of US corporations, “The bosses of these companies believe they can have it both ways—getting all the benefits of their native country while shipping whole industries and jobs to communist and fascist regimes abroad that keep their workers in serf-like conditions.”
With inversion, companies like Walgreens are also trying to have it both ways: reap the revenue from America’s enormous consumer base and public-health moneys, then save a bundle by stiffing the government on their fair share of the bill. This Fourth of July, remember that patriotism means more than red, white, and blue, more than the flag. It means taking responsibility for and stewardship over our shared home.
Read Next: How New York real estate became a dumping ground for the world’s dirty money
Hélène Barthélemy, New York, New York
Willing Slaves of Capital, by Frédéric Lordon
It was initially a bit tedious to plow through the heavily theoretical language of Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital, but I did it because I had no choice: I was working at the publishing house that had published it. Yet, now six months later, I find myself constantly going back to the book’s ideas, notably the question of why we work. Not only do we work to gain sustenance, we eventually become so enlisted and dedicated to our employer that we find pleasure in work. Company culture, faces, marketing, team-building all contribute to enlist us to the cause of our work (now our cause!), concealing the negative reason why we do it (to be able to live) with more pleasurable ends. It convinces us that it is, for instance, our vocation.
A lot has been written about the problem of conceiving of someone’s work as pleasurable (which often serves as a justification for decreasing wages or problematic gender roles). Lordon just says that the way your desires are formed has to be taken into account when imagining an alternative society. And, as long as you remain aware of the obligation, perhaps happy enslavement doesn’t sound too bad. There are not that many other viable options… till we abolish wage-labor, of course! For the lucky few, it is also intellectually fulfilling: to prove the point, this is about a book that I read… at work!
Summer Concepcion, Los Angeles, California
Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Given that being an intern has provided me the opportunity to work and live in New York City for the first time, it was only appropriate that a dear friend of mine from Chicago gave me Patti Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir as a gift. Smith, the fortieth anniversary of whose debut album Horses will be celebrated next year, effortlessly weaves stories of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe together with life in NYC during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The couple’s dedication to art was their own version of the “American dream”—a dream many New Yorkers can relate to and come to the city for. Despite the struggles the couple faced between their relationship and keeping their artistic ambitions alive, Smith’s innately poetic voice makes Just Kids an homage to the many worlds that come together when one lives in NYC. It is no wonder why Smith has remained an icon decades later—her art continues to resonate to this day.
Erin Corbett, Chicago, Illinois
On Female Body Experience: Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays, by Iris Marion Young
I picked up this book after reading Young’s “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State” for a spring course, wanting to read more on feminist philosophy. I started my reading with the essay “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality,” in which Young takes us beyond the biological differences between men and women, discussing the female body’s comportment and movement in relation to the surrounding space. This collection of essays uses a feminist framework to locate the subjectivity of the feminine body in its social surroundings.
Victoria Ford, Greenville, South Carolina
Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, by Salamishah Tillet
This book, both academic and personal, critical and generous, traces the ways in which contemporary artists from Bill T. Jones to Kara Walker to Carrie Mae Weems resurrect and reimagine American slavery. Each artist, while revisiting historical and literary characters, as well as the ghost homes of slave forts, argues not for legal recognition in a post–civil rights society but for a fully realized and empathetic civic membership. By unpacking these pieces of photography, dance and visual art, Professor Tillet teaches readers to reconcile with our deeply broken vision of American democracy—one that exists in the belly and bedlam of our current Americana refusal to remember the original sin upon which this nation was born.
Douglas Grant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, by Rick Perlstein
I admit a certain bias in mentioning Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, due out in August, because I am doing research for his third work on the history of American conservatism. It’s the best read on the seventies’ zeitgeist (it follows his other engrossing tome, Nixonland, which is the best read on the sixties and its intertwining chaoses). It’s not exactly the kind of book that lets you sprawl out on a beach towel with your toes digging in the sand, but it’s the kind of book that doesn’t let you go.
Hannah Harris Green, Madison, Wisconsin
Every Day is for the Thief, by Teju Cole
Every Day is for the Thief is Teju Cole’s fictional adaption of a blog he wrote while visiting Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up, for the first time in thirteen years. Cole told Interview that this blog is “still the most intense writing I’ve ever done. For 30 days it was like I almost didn’t exist as a person.”
Alana de Hinojosa, Davis, California
At the Bottom of the River, by Jamaica Kincaid
At the Bottom of the River is a collection of ten short stories told through the point of view of a girl-woman as she plunges into the memories of her childhood in the Caribbean. Short and sweet, spooky and enchanting, these stories speak to the mysteries of her Caribbean home—the monkeys in the trees, the river too large to cross, the father she loves, the mother she will always trust, the way blackness comes to her in the night, on her skin and in her blood and the way a growing girl-woman must learn to see and navigate her postcolonial Caribbean world. Quick to read, though complex and deep, At the Bottom of the River is the perfect read for your lunch break or as you commute to work on the subway.
Crystal Kayiza, Jenks, Oklahoma
Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
For over half of my twenty-one years of life, this nation has been at war. Living in a society so entrenched in its militarism and obsession with violence, it is easy to forget that war is physical and not just images between headlines. “How in your opinion do we prevent war?” are the jarring lines on the first page of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Drawing these words from Virgina Woolf’s Three Guineas, Sontag critiques our “diet of horrors.” Her insight delves deep into compassion and critiques our consumption of atrocities. While visual culture depicts what humankind is capable of, it simultaneously exposes our distance from suffering—because, as Sontag eloquently outlines, no matter how far away, war will be waged and suffering will soon follow.
Agnes Radomski, Los Angeles, California
The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope, by Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan
This collection of short articles touches on everything from war and capital punishment to climate change and dirty energy—all topics reported in depth on the daily news hour Democracy Now! It provides a critical commentary on the most important social justice issues shaping our society and is a must-read for any independent news junkie!
Read Next: What are Nation interns reading the week of 06/27/14?