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Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

Interns’ Favorite Articles of the Week, 10/25/13

Juvenile inmates in Prattville, Alabama. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.

Prisoners of Profit Part 1: Private Prison Empire Rises Despite Startling Record Of Juvenile Abuse,” by Chris Kirkham. Huffington Post, October 22, 2013.

In this long-form investigative piece on the private youth prison industry, Chris Kirkham profiles the rise of the Youth Services International corporation under the shrewd leadership of its founder James Slattery. Slattery has turned the YSI into the most lucrative youth prison company in the nation, donating massive amounts of money to state politicians who have been more than willing to green-light the construction of more YSI houses of horror. The results of this calamitous partnership have been surging profit margins for shareholders and climbing rates of recidivism for emotionally scarred teenagers.

—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.

Prisoners of Profit Part 2: Florida’s Lax Oversight Enables Systemic Abuse At Private Youth Prisons,” by Chris Kirkham. Huffington Post, October 23, 2013.

Chris Kirkham’s vivid, horrifying long-form piece exposes the sump of venality and abuse that is the for-profit prison system. It charts the sordid rise of prison executive James Slattery, an archetypal corporate villain whose company’s reported brutalities read like Dickens fodder: maggot-infested meals, sanctioned youth fights, unreported sexual and physical abuse, vermin infestations and staggering negligence. Bonus: a HuffPo article you can read without the usual parade of inane sidebar links (“What Victoria’s Secret Models REALLY Eat”).

—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.

Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed,” by Mark Mazzetti, Robert F. Worth and Michael R. Gordon. The New York Times, October 23, 2013.

This detailed timeline of the Obama administration’s decision-making process regarding the Syrian conflict paints a troubling portrait of indecision and faulty intelligence. It also reveals that Obama’s chief of staff, who the authors claim was heavily influencing the president during this debate, pushed for a policy that prolonged the war in the hopes of miring Iran in an extended quagmire. This article is a must-read for anyone who has been following the Syria debate for the past three years.

—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.

Who Pays Writers? We Asked the Editors.” Scratch Magazine, October 22, 2013.

Scratch Magazine—which has branched out from the popular blog “Who Pays Writers?”—launched this week with an interview from this past August with three web editors: Nicole Cliffe at The Toast, Dan Kois at Slate and Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic. Each were asked for the dirty details on how they calculate what to pay their freelance writers, comment sections (yay or nay), navigating web traffic and how to pronounce “Choire Sicha.” There are also many kind words in there about Slate’s Emily Yoffe, before she told college girls they should stay sober to fend off rapists and the Internet exploded. (Note: For a slightly more Soviet take on the editorial process, check out this wonderful article from The Chronicle of Higher Education).

—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.

Fresh Leak on US Spying: NSA Accessed Mexican President’s Email,” by Jens Glüsing, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark. Der Spiegel, October 20, 2013.

With each new disclosure of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance activities, the United States’ international credibility suffers a fresh blow. This week, details of a particularly aggressive NSA campaign in Mexico surfaced, revealing that agents have, for years, systematically infiltrated the confidential communications of high-ranking officials, including former president Felipe Calderón and his successor, Enrique Peña-Nieto. Given the geostrategic importance of Mexico as one of our key trading partners—not to mention the strain that similar disclosures have placed on diplomatic ties with other regional allies such as Brazil—these latest revelations could have serious ramifications for US-Mexico relations.

—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.

High-Class Pawnshops Fill a Lending Void,” by Ianthe Jeanne Dugan. The Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2013.

This investigation by Ianthe Jeanne Dugan explores the cottage industry of pawnshop lenders that has arisen in the wake of the financial collapse. Since commercial banks stopped lending to small businesses in 2008, the shadow system run by high-class pawnshops have stepped up to the plate to meet the demand for small loans. Unlike commercial banks, pawnshops do not have to abide by traditional finance laws. The result is that some pawnshops can get away with surprising lending practices, such as charging 200 percent interest annually in some states.

—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.

Amol Rajan: Only fools will underestimate ‘weak’ Ed Miliband,” by Amol Rajan. London Evening Standard, October 23, 2013.

Living in the land, as we do, of accusations that Obamacare is “socialist” and that the Democratic Party is some kind of poisonous Fascio-Leninist beast, it was refreshing to see this from the editor of The Independent over the pond. Rajan’s ever-rambunctious prose and firebrand wit go a long way towards helping to debunk the “false narratives” about Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader (and former Nation intern) because, as he puts it, “a passing interest in epistemology, and a deep belief in the virtue of journalism, compel me to remind you that there is such a thing as truth, and that our political class has a diminishing concern for it.” The myths—that Miliband is “weak, a Marxist and lacking policy” have recently been oozing from that fortress of darkness, the Daily Mail (which, funnily enough, occupies—or should I say, haunts—office space one floor above the Standard and Independent in London’s Kensington High Street), so it’s nice to see another right-leaning paper stoking debate. As Rajan puts it, “Next time you hear one of them [a politician] call Ed Miliband weak, a Marxist or lacking in policy, remember that what they’re really saying is they don’t like his face.”

—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.

CNBC Host’s Stunning Slam on Ted Cruz: ‘Can We Get Some…Mexican Music, Maybe?’” The Blaze, October 23, 2013.

CNBC needs a map. On yesterday’s job numbers, CNBC host Steve Liesman requested some “Mexican music” to go with their conversation about congressman Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz was born in Alberta, Canada, and his father is Cuban.

—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.

Al-Qaeda bunco artist rolls terrorist from KC,” by Mark Morris. The Kansas City Star, June 29, 2013.

With the release of two separate reports on US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, the secrecy of the Obama administration’s war on terror is back in the news. The NSA regularly claims that fifty-four attacks have been thwarted thanks to information collected through the organization’s surveillance programs, but there’s little evidence that this figure is accurate. In fact, only four specific cases have been identified. One involved a Kansas City man, so the KC Star decided to investigate.

—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health and East and Southeast Asia.

She Came to Riot,” by Jennifer Pan. Jacobin, Issue 11-12.

How is the nostalgia for riot grrrl aesthetics “sanitizing” their feminist politics? And how did the subcultural in the ’90s become mainstream today? Here you’ll find a concise history of US feminist movements (up until this point as it dovetails with neoliberalism) and a sharp critique of our priority on visibility and representation. Radical redistribution needs to be at the heart of our politics, she argues. It’s bumper-sticker banality or revolution.

Students Demand College-Logo Brands Join Fire and Safety Agreement

Relatives of Rana Plaza victims. (Reuters/Andrew Biraj)

This week United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is holding demonstrations at more than thirty colleges and universities across the country as part of an International Week of Action to End Deathtraps commemorating the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

Students and workers are demanding that apparel brands who produce apparel for US universities sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement now signed by over 100 brands and retailers, promising greater protection for workers and a voice for unions in addressing deadly working conditions. To date, not a single college-producing apparel company has signed the agreement. Bangladeshi unions are also holding demonstrations at the site of Rana Plaza collapse.

“When a disaster like Rana Plaza happens it is important for us as students to remember the dead and fight with the living to ensure that apparel brands like VF Corporation and Adidas take responsibility for worker safety in their factories. These disasters are entirely preventable; it’s up to our university to require the brands we do business with to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord and end deathtrap factories in their supply chains,” said Katherine Corbit, a student at the University of Michigan.

Three out of the four largest industrial disasters in the history of the garment industry have occurred in the past year alone. Demonstrations this week are the latest in the “End Deathtraps” campaign spearheaded by United Students Against Sweatshops. USAS is holding die-ins, vigils, teach-ins and other demonstrations at colleges and universities across the United States, including New York University, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University, Duke University, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Syracuse University, and the University of Southern California.

Meanwhile, a minority of US brands and retailers led by Gap, Walmart, and the VF Corporation in July attempted an end-run around greater regulation when they unveiled a corporate-run safety scheme called the “Alliance for Worker Safety.” Students and labor unions have slammed the program for its exclusion of worker representatives and lack of legally enforceability.

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“We will demand our universities terminate contracts with any college-logo brand that joins Gap and Walmart in playing public relations games with workers’ lives. The stakes are too high for our universities to stand on the sidelines—we must require brands like VF Corporation and Adidas to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord, ” said Caitlin MacLaren, a student at New York University.

USAS is now gearing up for the next phase of its campaign to publicly shame companies that refuse to address safety conncerns.

Jason Motlagh writes about the lack of compensation for the families of Rana Plaza victims. 

Brown Divest Coal: An Honest Vote on Divestment

A coal processing plant in West Virginia. (Reuters/Jim Young)

This opinion column was originally published in the Brown Daily Herald.

In one week, Brown University’s Corporation will meet, discussing and likely voting on whether the University should continue to profit from any of the 15 largest coal companies it’s currently invested in. This decision is critical: for those suffering in communities impacted by mountaintop removal, for the millions who will be hit by hurricanes and natural disasters worse than Katrina and Sandy and for the global community that will have to respond to the damages that will be wrought because we have changed the temperature and composition of our atmosphere.

This decision will also have implications for our community’s trust in Brown to reflect our values. Will the statements from our faculty members, researchers, University committees, student groups and petition signatories be heard? Will we take this opportunity to act seriously, or will we be another Harvard, too committed to the status quo to take action against the worst environmental disaster humanity has ever faced? Are we “Boldly Brown”—or something else?

With such an important vote, the integrity of the Corporation’s decision-making process must be respected. As the Brown University Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy reads, “All decisions and actions taken by members of the Brown community in the conduct of University business shall be made in a manner that promotes the best interests of Brown University. Members of the Brown community have an obligation to address both the substance and the appearance of conflicts of interest and commitment and, if they arise, to disclose them to the appropriate University representative and withdraw from debate, voting or other decision-making process where a conflict of interest exists or might arise.”

According to this policy, several members of the Corporation who have clear connections to some of the 15 coal companies considered for divestment should recuse themselves from any “debate, voting or other decision-making process” concerning divestment from coal. These members are:

Brian Moynihan ’81 P’14: Moynihan is on the University’s Board of Trustees and is president and CEO of Bank of America, which as of Aug. 14 has $1 billion worth of holdings in 14 of the 15 companies in question.

Richard Friedman ’79: Friedman is on the Corporation’s Board of Fellows and is head of the Merchant Banking Division at Goldman Sachs, which as of Aug. 14 has $1.1 billion invested in 14 of the 15 companies that Brown is considering for divestment.

Steven Cohen P’08 P’16: Cohen is on the Board of Trustees, and is the founder and hedge fund manager of SAC Capital, which as of Aug. 14 has $33,597,000 in holdings in 11 of the 15 coal companies.

Theresia Gouw ’90: Gouw is a member of the Board of Fellows and a partner at Accel Partners. Accel-KKR, a partnership between Accel Partners and KKR, is a cofounder of globalCOAL, a global coal trading platform. Licensed users of globalCoal include Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak, all companies targeted for divestment.

Todd Fisher ’87 P’17: Fisher is on the Board of Trustees and is KKR & Co. L.P.’s global chief administrative officer. Accel-KKR is a cofounder of globalCOAL.

We recognize these five members may not be the only Corporation members with ties to the 15 coal companies—there may be other connections we are currently unaware of. This vote is of utmost importance to our community. It is a statement of who we are as a university and what our values are, and thus we ask that any Corporation member with ties to these 15 coal companies make a public statement of recusal from all decision-making processes hereafter concerning divestment from coal—including voting.

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Because the minutes from Corporation meetings are only released 25 years after the fact, a public statement is the only way the community will know that the vote on divestment has been made with Brown’s best interests in mind. If public statements of recusal are not made—and the Corporation votes against divestment behind closed doors with personal and company profits at stake—any notion that the Corporation can be trusted to make decisions on behalf of our community will be lost.

Our university is more important than company profits and personal gain, and we ask that the members of the Corporation respect that. Moynihan, Friedman, Cohen, Gouw, Fisher and any other Corporation members with ties to these companies: We’re waiting for your statements of recusal.

The Brown Divest Coal Campaign is asking Brown University to divest from any holdings it has in the 15 largest coal companies in America and is hopeful for a yes vote on divestment this October.

Harvard students urge a reluctant administration to divest from fossil fuels.

Interns’ Favorite Articles of the Week, 10/18/13

Bombs strike Baghdad in 2003. According to a recent study published in the PLoS Medicine journal, almost 500,000 people were killed during the Iraq War. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.

The Latest News in Fossil Fuel Addiction,” by Michael Klare. TomDispatch, October 15, 2013.

Part of the transition to a post-capitalist, locally based society involves reconfiguring our living arrangements so that we’re less dependent on fossil fuels to get around. It beggars the mind to think of what this would look like among the tentacled metropolises of highways, retail stores and suburbs like Houston and Phoenix, and the oil industry would prefer that we not try. In fact, they’ve begun singing a new chorus, heralding the coming of an American “industrial renaissance” thanks to surging levels of petrol production brought about by innovative drilling techniques. In his piece, Michael Klare kills the euphoria of the energy industry and their government stooges by reminding everybody that more drilling means more carbon emissions means a more hostile planetary environment.

—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.

The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic,” by Maggie Koerth-Baker. The New York Times, October 20, 2013.

It might be reductive to imagine an apparatus connecting the pharmaceutical industry with American public schools designed exclusively to deliver psychostimulants into children’s bodies. But if it does exist, Maggie Koerth-Baker’s op-ed on spiking ADHD identifies one of the system’s levers: standardized testing. Koreth-Baker relates how early adopters of No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that penalizes low-scoring schools, saw their ADHD rates jump to double that of states that signed on later; nationwide, ADHD diagnoses rose 22 percent within four years of the law’s enactment.

—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.

New Study Estimates Nearly 500,000 Died in Iraq War,” by Courtney Subramanian. Time, October 15, 2013.

This article describes a recent study in the peer-reviewed PLoS Medicine journal that estimated the death toll from the Iraq War to be almost 500,000. What I found particularly significant was the fact that almost half the deaths were nonviolent ones caused by the destruction of health-related infrastructure. Syrian doctors are currently sounding the alarm that this catastrophe is now repeating itself in Syria. This timely study serves as a reminder that the situation in Syria can get much worse, and the window for providing the humanitarian aid that could save hundreds of thousands of lives is still wide open.

—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.

US Accuses 2 Rabbis of Kidnapping Husbands for a Fee,” by Joseph Goldstein and Michael Schwirtz. The New York Times, October 11, 2013.

This headline pretty much says it all. The article begins like a lot of good Jewish jokes, and ends with a lot of lawsuits. Plus in the middle there’s torture, a rabbinic council in Williamsburg and FBI agents posing as observant Jewish wives with murderous intent.

—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.

Privacy Fears Grow as Cities Increase Surveillance,” by Somini Sengupta. The New York Times, October 14, 2013.

Big data has long been the ally of Silicon Valley start-ups, NSA operatives and online retailers, but it recently cozied up to a new partner: local law enforcement. In cities from Oakland to Boston, police forces have established elaborate, centralized surveillance systems—linked networks of license plate readers, radiation sensors and high-tech cameras—aimed at reducing crime. There is no doubt that such tools assist officers with their work, nor that the security firms who produce them are reaping extraordinary profits from these programs. What remains unclear is the benefit, for the average law-abiding person, of having his or her everyday movements recorded.

—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.

All Is Fair in Love and Twitter,” by Nick Bilton. The New York Times, October 13, 2013. vs. “Two-Hit Wonder,” by DT Max. The New Yorker, October 21, 2013.

Published only a week apart, these two profiles of tech darling Jack Dorsey in The New York Times Magazine (actually an adapted excerpt from Nick Bilton’s forthcoming book Hatching Twitter) and The New Yorker offer slightly different interpretations of the power struggles that befell Twitter while it was still a Silicon start-up. While Bilton’s piece makes the bolder claim that Dorsey was instrumental in pushing out Twitter co-founder Noah Glass and later playing dumb, Max appears to draw on a wider range of sources and former Twitter employees who back up Dorsey’s claim that he “didn’t give the ultimatum.” Regardless of their differences, both these profiles have succeeded in ruffling some feathers in Silicon Valley where founding myths are hallowed ground and the personalities of tech-innovators like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs are endlessly scrutinized. They ask, who takes credit for an idea? Who profits off it? And who wins a spot in the public limelight whether deserved or only carefully cultivated?

—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.

US directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans,” by John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke. Reuters, August 5, 2013.

“Our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.” Thus speaks an unnamed source in a story that is full of them, the tale of the DEA’s Special Operation Division and the way they’ve gleaned information from NSA wiretaps. Shiffman and Cooke have worked with sources and documents in an artful way to get this important story, which is already raising eyebrows in the legal profession. As prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. opines: “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?” The scariest thing about this article is that the agency covered up the information gleaned from the wiretaps in court using a technique known as “parallel construction”—and that this procedure seems to have been so regular that a source described it as part of “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information.” Perhaps most incriminatingly, Finn Selander, a former DEA agent, told the reporters, “It’s just like laundering money—you work it backwards to make it clean.”

—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.

Starbucks to take on Juan Valdez in Colombia,” by Marina Villeneuve. The Washington Post, October 12, 2013.

Coffee giant Juan Valdez is set to duel for Colombian consumers with the Seattle-based mega-chain Starbucks. The enormously successful American company has declared its intention to open fifty stores in that Latin American country within the next few years. Smaller Colombian coffee chains have expressed hope that the new competitor will break Valdez’s grip on the market, but only time can tell who will end up benefiting most.

—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.

Portrait of an Afghan Assassin,” by Matthieu Aikins. Mother Jones, October 7, 2013.

Aikins investigates a “green-on-blue” attack in Afghanistan, calling attention to a conflict that much of America, including the media, seems to have forgotten, and challenging the notion that the US military won’t be there much longer.

—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.

Malala Yousafzai and the Missing Brown Savior Complex,” by Taufiq Rahim. The Huffington Post, October 12, 2013.

This article responds to an earlier post entitled “Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex.” I think this piece can further flesh out its argument on why and how the anti-imperial criticisms of the “chattering classes,” as he calls them, don’t look closely enough at the complex geopolitical realities and “will bring no one closer to emancipation,” though his call for the local media to support indigenous leadership and activism is important. In any case, these corresponding articles are engaging critically with the players and symbols in our media that over-hype and don’t do enough at the same time.

The Time To Divest: A Response to Harvard President Drew Faust

Students at Harvard University are urging the administration to divest from fossil fuels. (Flickr/Kelly Delay)

We are taking our future into our own hands.

Harvard students, alongside thousands of others worldwide, are pushing our university to divest from fossil fuels. Our message is simple: if we do not uproot the political influence of the fossil fuel industry, we will face catastrophic climate change.

Harvard University President Drew Faust made a statement on October 10 opposing divestment and siding with the fossil fuel industry. We look to leaders like President Faust to support efforts that better the world and are disappointed that she has chosen the wrong side of history.

President Faust’s response reveals fundamental misunderstandings about our movement. We do not expect divestment to have a financial impact on fossil fuel companies, as President Faust implied. Divestment is a moral and political strategy to expose the reckless business model of the fossil fuel industry that puts our world at risk. It exposes the fossil fuel industry’s influence on our democratic system, its perpetuation of climate change denial, and its continued extraction of hydrocarbons that heat our planet. Divestment calls on citizens to build a powerful climate movement and pressure elected representatives to enact meaningful legislation.

The time has come for institutions to take a stand on climate change by divesting. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group I report (IPCC WGI) shows that the world is currently warming ten times faster than at any other point in the last 65 million years. The globe is on track to warm over four degrees Celsius by 2100, a level that is incompatible with current civilization. We need political climate action now, and neither Harvard nor any other university can responsibly rely solely on research and campus greening to push forward such action. Claiming that research and education alone can achieve necessary political legislation is idealistic.

When the science of human-induced global warming became clear two decades ago, fossil fuel companies could have adapted their business to be compatible with a stable future. Most major environmental groups advocated for this shift with substantial effort and resources. Yet fossil fuel corporations continued to extract carbon reserves in the pursuit of profit, foisting unfathomable costs on our generation and beyond.

In dismissing our calls, President Faust accuses our movement of hypocrisy because “we are extensively relying on those [fossil fuel] companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day.” But we do not claim to be above the system in which we live. It is nearly impossible not to use fossil fuels because industry-crafted policies block a transition to renewable energy sources. Divesting is a step towards transitioning to the energy economy that we need. Institutional action is necessary to confront systemic failures like the climate crisis.

President Faust wrote that Harvard should not be a “political actor” and insisted that endowments are not tools for social change. This myopic view denies Harvard’s proud history of political action, which includes divestment from tobacco corporations and oil companies supporting genocide in Darfur as well as partial divestment from apartheid South Africa. More importantly, it fails to acknowledge that investments are inherently political whether we like it or not. Claiming neutrality at this moment in history is claiming ignorance of the world’s problems.

Many leaders, including President Faust, suggest shareholder engagement with the industry rather than divestment. But Harvard has proven this strategy’s inadequacy. In 2011, its Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility voted against a shareholder resolution to establish a committee within ExxonMobil that would shift the company towards environmentally sustainable energy. Harvard considered the resolution “unreasonable in asking the company to address such a major shift in its business focus.” Given this decision, it’s hard to believe that shareholder engagement can ever convince an industry to write off most of its assets or even convince the fossil fuel industry to confront climate change.

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Our generation and the generations to follow will judge today’s institutional leaders on whether they chose to defend our future. True leaders do not cling to the status quo of climate degradation and false neutrality—they transform the world for a better tomorrow.

We call on Harvard and institutions around the world to stand up for our futures.

Alex Suber argues that divestment can't be viewed as a panacea for fossil fuel consumption.

The Shutdown and Students

The government shutdown wrapped up its second week as the deadline to avoid debt default creeps closer. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

This article was originally published by the student-run Daily Cal at the University of California, Berkeley.

The battle lines have been drawn. As the government shuts down, our leadership continues to be uncooperative. The government’s traditionally routine authorization to keep its doors open, known as the continuing resolution, has once again devolved into gridlock. Both political parties continue to bask in national attention as they herald their plans as the most responsible solution to today’s manufactured crisis and demonize their opposition in the media. The parties are hoping to energize their bases and open the wallets of high-profile donors. We are witnessing the firing salvo of the 2014 congressional elections as both sides bask in national attention. Our leaders should instead be working together toward solutions rather than blaming one another.

Understandably, the American people are disgusted by Washington’s consistent inaction. The global community laughs at the inability of our leaders to resolve their petty differences. I find it egregious that eleventh-hour-deadline-induced fights have become the forum of “debate” about fiscal responsibility, especially when the real loser to emerge from these cyclical crises is our generation.

The financial trajectory of our nation is particularly important to young adults, as we are the ones who will feel the greatest burden of today’s fiscal policy in insolvent social programs, rampant costs of education and more. Financial uncertainty threatens the prospect for generational equity, that we should have the same, if not better, opportunities than our parents and grandparents. This concept is central to our mission at Common Sense Action, especially here at Berkeley, where our rich history of activism further encourages our desire to make student voices heard.

Our lawmakers must find a way to rationally discuss fiscal reform instead of treating the subject as another excuse to engage in partisan warfare and political hostage-taking. House Republicans have made a risky tactical decision to conditionally tie government funding to weakening segments of the Affordable Care Act, a stance that is anathema to Senate Democrats and President Obama, who fought tooth and nail to get the law passed in the first place. These non-negotiations highlight the parties’ seemingly irreconcilable prescriptions to our greater financial unsustainability.

Our national debt must be controlled in order to make the necessary investments for economic growth, not in spite of them. Moreover, financial sustainability is essential in ensuring that our government works for us rather than forces our generation to work ever harder to support bloated social programs, an aging population, etc.

The government shutdown will have far-reaching economic consequences as a result of market uncertainty, direct federal unemployment and bureaucratic inefficiency. Other than being unable to celebrate Yosemite’s birthday on site this weekend, Berkeley students should be more concerned about the potential for an economic shock that could have long-lasting effects on job growth at the critical moment many of us are preparing to enter the workforce. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are experiencing furloughs that will have immediate negative economic consequences resulting from reduced consumer spending. Resource-strapped federal agencies will have to continue essential operations but in doing so must forfeit much of their capabilities, especially in terms of regulation and enforcement.

Nonetheless, the government shutdown is only a precursor to the looming debt-ceiling crisis that will threaten the already fragile economy in the coming weeks. The framing of that negotiation is not yet entirely clear, but we’re on track for the funding and borrowing debates to be wrapped together into a very dangerous confrontation and a maelstrom of government paralysis. If a continuing resolution is not passed and the government shutdown continues until we reach the debt ceiling, the federal government will simultaneously lack the legal authority to borrow money and spend on “nonessential services,” which are for the most part quite important. Despite the name, these services include things such as access to federally operated parks and museums, nutritional supplements and disaster-preparedness funding.

As a result, the economic impact of inaction will be disastrous, with the Bipartisan Policy Center estimating an immediate 32 percent cut in government spending in one scenario. With a systemic debt crisis, the last thing we need is to risk a relapse into recession or another credit downgrade, potentially worse than that of 2011, which the BPC estimates is costing taxpayers more than 18 billion dollars. This outcome will only make our debt less manageable and further burden our generation with future financial uncertainty.

Considering the political constraints set by the fast-approaching midterm elections, the only solution seems to be the late-night joint committees we have become all too familiar with. Cooperation is understandably difficult with the two parties holding very divergent philosophies about the role of government. However, I believe that only through mutual concessions can a responsible solution be reached without either side having to initiate the compromise. The larger issues of long-term fiscal responsibility must then be methodically approached during times of legislative peace to ensure thoughtful discussion and formulation. Ultimately, both sides are also going to have to compromise on some of their key values to make progress on our dire financial situation.

Neoliberalism: Why the American Dream is Losing Steam

A demonstrator on Wall Street holds a sign announcing the end of the American Dream. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Writing Contest Finalist

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here.   —The Editor

It was the 1970s, and Michael Skladany was spending his summers working at a steel mill on the outskirts of Cleveland. It was backbreaking work. But the son of blue-collar, working class parents knew that it would pay for his college education.

Forty years later, Dr. Skladany told his story to his introductory sociology class. And all 100 students laughed.

We laughed because it was preposterous to imagine saving up for an entire year’s worth of tuition, plus housing, with a summer job. We laughed because steel mills in Cleveland have been laying off thousands of workers, not hiring them. And we laughed, perhaps ruefully, because many of us attending our public university in Ohio have to work two or three jobs in addition to taking a full course load during the year.

What happened between the 1970s and now that could have caused such a drastic difference? The answer lies in a political, economic and social trend that has put the United States on track to the worst economic inequality since the Gilded Age: neoliberalism.

“The main achievement of neoliberalism has been to redistribute, rather than regenerate, wealth and income,” writes David Harvey in his book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism. That school of thought has steadily worked its way through the cracks and crevices of U.S. public policy since the 1970s. It has eliminated the social safety net and replaced it with tax cuts for the rich, privatization of public institutions and subsidies for corporations, thereby creating a class of the unimaginably wealthy. CEO-to-worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950. The earnings of the top one percent of U.S. citizens have tripled since 1979, while wages for the middle class have stagnated.

And the redistribution facts are grim. In a 2012 series called “The Unequal States of America,” Reuters found that the Bush income tax cuts, which were marketed as beneficial to the poor and middle class, actually redistributed almost $2 trillion to high earners over the last decade. Other neoliberal policies, such as privatization of prisons, are marketed as cost-effective to states, but they come at a great human cost. Since the 1980s, U.S. incarceration rates have quadrupled, even though the crime rate has been on the decline. As of 2001, one in six black men in the United States had been incarcerated. The NAACP estimates that if current trends continue, one in three black men born today will spend time in prison at some point in their lives.

Neoliberalism is the main cause of our broken political system because we cannot have a functioning, participatory democracy while simultaneously eliminating jobs, imprisoning huge segments of our population, and saddling the next generation with mountains of student loan debt. Consider today’s working class families. Richard Wolff, in Capitalism Hits the Fan, writes that they have to send more family members to work as the standard of living continues to rise. To keep pace, they work more hours, take on more credit card debt, and take out college and home-ownership loans. That increases stress, anxiety and depression, resulting in a generation of pharmaceutical-addicted workaholics who genuinely believe their inability to transcend class lines is their own fault. This flawed, meritocratic system has caused “failing, distrusted institutions, massive inequality and an increasingly detached elite,” writes Chris Hayes in his book Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.  

The colossal divide between the haves and the have-nots is partly due to the skyrocketing costs of higher education, which was once the great catalyst for social mobility. Now, it is nearly impossible to imagine a time when middle- and working-class families could afford to send their children to college. Last year, Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education Virginia Foxx told radio host (and convicted criminal) G. Gordon Liddy that she has “very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that.” What opportunity is there for poor and middle class students whose only choice is between paying off student loan debt for the rest of their lives, or not going to college at all?

There is no opportunity — and no democracy — when neoliberalism is the hegemonic political paradigm of the day. We cannot rely on our broken political system to create meaningful, lasting change when the people elected to represent us also represent an elite group who are disenfranchising an entire portion of the population while making social mobility through education nearly impossible.

For those of us continuing to fight for the American Dream, a concentrated effort to combat neoliberalism at every juncture is the only thing that will fix our broken politics. 

Across the South, Youth Resist Racism and Homophobia

The South Beach community gathers two months after the killing of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez. (Credit: Reuters)

E-mail questions, tips or proposals to studentmovement@thenation.com. For earlier dispatches on student and youth organizing, check out the previous post. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. At the Border, Dream 30 Hand Their Fate to ICE

With a record 2 million deportations under its belt, the Obama administration shows no intention of stopping. In response to the numerous families who continue to be broken by deportations, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance launched its #BringThemHome campaign. In ongoing waves, DREAMers, and now undocumented parents and families, have been presenting themselves at a US port of entry asking for permission to return “home.” In July, the #Dream9 entered through Nogales, Arizona, and were detained for seventeen days before being released to their families. On September 30, the #Dream30, representing twelve states, presented themselves at the Laredo, Texas, point of entry and were detained and sent to El Paso Processing center. Who are these people? Each had a different story of how they had gotten to this point, but they all shared a dream—a desperation—to come home. They were gay, straight, jocks, nerds, junior ROTC, evangelical, Catholic, atheist—all raised in the US, all undocumented, brought here as young children by their parents, and all unafraid. So far, nine have been paroled and sent home; communities across the country are mobilizing for the rest to join them.

—National Immigrant Youth Alliance

2. On Capitol Hill, Undocumented Youth Get Arrested for Citizenship

On October 8, along with more than 200 people, including members of Congress, I participated in civil disobedience in front of the US Capitol. We were detained and arrested, demanding that Congress act now on immigration reform. I was arrested along with my colleagues from United 4 a Dream, a United We Dream affiliate based in North Carolina fighting for equal access to higher education, civil liberties, jobs and opportunities. I’ve always held myself back, and this was the first time I felt that no one was controlling me. Since I have a final order for my removal, my mother was worried that I’d be arrested and deported back to El Salvador. But I told my mother that I did it for her. I did it for my friends and for everyone else who understands the importance of passing immigration reform this year, one that grants permanent protections for our families and that honors the dignity of our community.

—Juan Carlos Ramos

3. After Deadly Tasing, Miami Youth Mobilize

On August 6, 18-year-old Colombian-American Israel “Reefa” Hernandez was fatally tased in the heart by Officer Jorge Mercado while tagging a shuttered McDonalds in Miami. As of yet, no results have been released regarding the autopsy or the investigation; Officer Jorge Mercado, who has a history of alleged misconduct, has not been held accountable for the tasing; and no Miami Beach Police policies or practices have been changed, or even assessed in light of this incident. In response to inaction from Miami elected officials and police, the community created a #JusticeForReefa coalition, which includes the Dream Defenders. The coalition launched a week of action on October 3, with a gallery opening featuring art by and in honor of Reefa, who saw art and skating as part of a culture of resistance; the unveiling of a community-built skate ramp with performances by a local children’s breakdancing group; and a hip-hop concert featuring Miami rapper The Pharcyde. The events culminated in a massive march through the heart of Miami–South Beach, where Reefa’s family spoke in his memory. A Dream Defenders member also spoke about how a movement of black and brown youth against racial profiling and police brutality is rising.

—Dream Defenders

4. After Zimmerman, Florida Comes to Ohio

After George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the killing of Trayvon Martin, youth discovered that Republicans were attempting to bring the same “kill at will” Stand Your Ground legislation to Ohio. Since then, young people across the state have jumped into action, collecting petition signatures, helping to pass city resolutions against the bill and taking the fight to those responsible for spreading the legislation across the country. In August, the Ohio Student Association Black Youth Power Network joined other groups in DC to march on the headquarters of ALEC. Last Wednesday, the OSA led a die-in outside the Ohio Statehouse with Stand Up for Ohio and other organizations in the state. In Ohio, where mass incarceration, voter suppression, the school-to-prison pipeline and the attack on public education rage on, resistance to Stand Your Ground shines a light on widespread racial injustice.

—James Hayes

5. As Gates and Walton Plot, Students Make Noise

In Philadelphia, education is facing an unprecedented crisis, with approximately one counselor for every 3,000 students, one nurse for every 1,500 students and dozens of programs cut with no signs of restoration. On September 30, representatives from the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Gates-funded Philadelphia School Partnership and other major corporate education reform groups held a closed meeting in town. The Philadelphia Student Union planned a noisy action outside the meeting to tell attendees that student voice continues to be excluded by those who claim to be interested in “reforming schools” while funneling millions into privatization. With a piñata as a “school,” student-actors represented the governor, mayor, city council, Superintendent William Hite and the groups at the meeting. The students broke the piñata to symbolize the purposeful disinvestment from public education by elected public officials and foundations that funnel billions into privatization plans.

—Philadelphia Student Union

6. In Mississippi, Youth Confront Ex-Gay Menace

On the week of September 22, members of GetEQUAL MS, OMEGA MS and Walk Fellowship Church of Hattiesburg held a rally of “Love and Acceptance” to protest a conference held by Lakeside Baptist Church. The three-day conference, “Coming Out: A Gospel Response to Same-Sex Attraction,” promoted conversion therapy, a practice opposed by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association and shown to be connected to severe psychological damage and even suicide. On the final day of the conference, messages of love and acceptance, such as “God loves you just the way you are,” poured in by the hundreds from all over the United States and Canada. The conference was followed by a candlelight vigil to remember those who are no longer with us due to various forms of homophobia, as well as a question and answer session entitled “What the Bible REALLY Says About Homosexuality,” hosted by Walk Fellowship.

—Zach Magee

7. In North Carolina, Students Win at the Polls

On October 8, election day in Wake County and Pasquatank County, North Carolina, students came out in force. In Wake County two school board candidates previously funded by conservative kingmaker Art Pope lost seats after candidate forums and questionnaires publicly revealed their views. In Pasquatank County, Montravias King, a senior at Elizabeth City State University who was previously denied access to run by the local board, won his race for City Council. NC Vote Defenders monitored polls in both these counties, disseminating information on changing voting laws to make sure that local voters knew their rights. They also helped monitor for instances of voter suppression or intimidation in response to the new “monster voter bill.” Post-election, youth and students are continuing to build power on campaigns challenging new policies at the university level and calling for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline.

—NC Vote Defenders

8. In Virginia, TurboVote Plugs In Thousands More

With Virginia about to select a new governor, voter engagement among students is ramping up. On September 24, National Voter Registration Day, Virginia21, a college student advocacy organization, decided to invest in TurboVote to bring simple voter registration to Virginia’s public colleges for the 2013 gubernatorial election. TurboVote is a new web-based software that enables simple voter registration, absentee voting and election reminders for local, state and federal elections. In our first day alone, we registered nearly 900 students. Our focus has been on minimizing the amount of in-person voter registration that we carry out and instead spend that time using technology to scale our efforts and reach hundreds more students. Both Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates supported our efforts, making it one of the most successful registration efforts in VA21 history.

—Peter Martin

9. The Pushout Endgame

On the week of September 30, the Dignity in Schools Campaign and allies hosted rallies and events in twenty-two cities for the National Week of Action on School Pushout. This theme bore particular significance in Los Angeles, which passed the Student Climate Bill of Rights, which stops punitive suspensions for “willful defiance” and calls for more balanced and conscientious responses to student incidents, in May. As a student organizer with the Community Rights Campaign, I helped bring together students, parents, educators and activists to understand their rights under the new discipline resolution, especially with regard to school pushout that happens as a result of increased policing on our campuses. CRC also worked with DSC-LA to bring policymakers and legislators on a tour of school sites that have are already implementing restorative justice as an alternative to pushout policies like suspensions and police tickets and arrests at school.

—Minkah Smith

10. The Other Globalization

United Students Against Sweatshops members returned from a delegation to Bangladesh in late August, and are now launching an international campaign in solidarity with workers in Bangladesh to secure safe working conditions for garment workers who produce collegiate apparel. Following the worst industrial disaster in history at the Rana Plaza factory, which killed 1,129 workers, and another factory fire on October 8, which claimed the lives of at least ten workers, students are demanding that brands producing college apparel sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and take responsibility for worker safety in their subcontracted factories. Meanwhile, on September 25, USAS announced a national partnership with the AFL-CIO, the first that the AFL-CIO has made with a student organization, marking a new era of collaboration between the two organizations to tackle domestic and international labor struggles.

—United Students Against Sweatshops

The Unraveling of Representative Democracy

An Occupy Wall Street activist protests the influence of corporate funding in financing electoral campaigns. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Writing Contest Finalist

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here.   —The Editor

The contemporary American political arena has been marked by the intersection of crises that have threatened justice in a multitude of fronts - economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, etc. Elected officials and public servants alike are tasked with addressing these pressing and often extremely complex issues in the pursuit of solutions that encompass prosperity, security, and justice - in all of its forms - on behalf of the constituents to whom they owe their livelihood. This representative form of democracy is one of the great achievements - perhaps the greatest - of the American experiment. It provides the populace the opportunity to have an impact on the trajectory of their nations destiny based off of the principle of self-governance - the idea that political power is to lay in the hands of all of the people rather than being concentrated heavily under the authority of a small group of wealthy elites, a trend that has persisted throughout all of human history. This necessary dichotomy of a powerful citizenry and entrusted representatives designed to be directly accountable to that citizenry has been both the foundation and the engine of progress manifested in the promise of America.

However, the foundation has begun to come undone, as the idea of an elected official who faithfully acts upon the interests of the common man to whom he is accountable has been exchanged for the reality of the corrupt politician acting in subservience to any corporation that is willing to invest liberally into his/hers campaign coffers. This reality has been embraced with open arms by the Supreme Court of the United Statesevidenced by the 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, ruling that the First Amendment allows for unlimited corporate money to be funneled into the political system with little to no transparency. The effects of this unlimited and opaque influx of money into institutions of political power have been insidious and widespread, tearing at the foundation of the political system like an insurgency of termites. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) estimated that approximately $7 billion was spent on the 2012 election altogether, with Super PACs, the notorious new form of political action committee that has risen to popularity post-Citizens United, reported to have spent approximately $950 million of that figure.

That is why unlimited money in politics is the root cause of the fractured political system within the United States and, by extension, responsible for the expansive nature of the crises we face. Corporate money has financed willful negligence on the part of elected officials in regard to these crises, instead favoring the advancement of their own agendas that too often are contrary to the interest of the general welfare. The voices of ordinary Americans are being drowned out by the gratuitous amounts of capital involved in the electoral process. This is evident in the analysis of the issues that plague millions of Americans on a daily basis.

For example, analyze the fallout of the United States economy that began in 2008, the depth of which still profoundly impacts tens of millions of Americans. This massive recession should have led to immediate and effective measures on the part of regulatory institutions to ensure some degree of economic stability and to prevent future economic crises. Instead, the 'Too Big To Fail' Banks have yet to be restructured and the establishment political class has avoided any form of prosecution or accountability on the part of the white-collared plutocrats who possess a large share of responsibility for the damage incurred. Millions lost their homes, their jobs, and their dignity while Wall Street received billions in Federal money for causing all of it.

This extends also to the devastation of our ecological system. Instead of heavily pursuing and investing in renewable and sustainable forms of energy in order to combat the very real climate change currently facing mankind, large oil and gas companies such as British Petroleum and Exxon Mobil have used their massive profits in order to pursue an agenda that further advances climate change, retaining their stranglehold over those that are supposed to be keeping them honest. Their political clout is directly related to the size of their checkbook and allows for them to push humanity further towards the border of extinction.

The combination of an economic system that allows for great levels of disparity and inequality amongst members of society and a political system where money is legally equivalent to political speech and effectively equivalent to political power has resulted in perpetual corporate dominance of the American political system. This fundamental reversal in position has transitioned political power from the calloused hands of the American worker into the hands of the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs. Until this is changed, progress will be elusive on almost every front.

Interns’ Favorite Articles of the Week, 10/11/13

Homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.

In Banking, Should There Be a ‘Public Option’?The New York Times, October 1, 2013.

Though the subject may be a bit dry, interest in public banking has risen markedly since the financial collapse of 2008. This edition of the New York Times’s “Room for Debate” features prominent voices in the conversation over state-owned financial institutions. Most interesting are the insights of Pierre Beynet detailing how public banking can address particular needs of a local economy: “Some countries have created public banks to support sectors facing difficult access to market financing, for example small enterprises or start-ups.”

—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.

Academy Fight Song,” by Thomas Frank. The Baffler, Fall 2013.

Thomas Frank illustrates how our infatuation with the market and faith in the magic of a college degree has allowed tuition rates to spike, educational quality to suffer and a new administrative class to reap the profits. As students drown in debt, aloof trustees grouse about increasing “strategic dynamism.” Though much higher education writing tends towards the dry and pedantic, Frank writes with wit and vigor, and peppers his essay with sentences like: “When the board forced the president to resign last June, they cloaked the putsch in a stinky fog of management bullshit.”

—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.

Obama May Have Botched an Earlier Syria Peace Deal,” by Michael Hirsch. The Atlantic, October 4, 2013.

This troubling read sheds even more light on President Obama’s terrible handling of the Syrian conflict. Apparently, the Obama administration willfully bungled a potential deal involving the Russians at a much earlier stage in the war out of fear that it would make the president look weak during his heated campaign against Mitt Romney. As the author points out, the atmosphere was much more conducive to a negotiated settlement then, when Assad was losing ground and the various groups of opposition fighters were significantly less radicalized.

—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.

The Evangelist,” by Andy Kroll. The American Prospect, October 9, 2013.

I was really torn this week between spotlighting snake-handling pastors on NPR and a Python-wielding born-again Christian tech wiz at The Prospect. There may be more similarities between the two than meet the eye, but you can mull that one over on your own time. For now I leave you with the story of Jim Gilliam, a programming prodigy who, after many tussles with life and death, came to invent the organizing software NationBuilder, which broadly seeks to connect people and projects—in Gilliam’s words “democratize democracy.” Gilliam has also taken some heat for aligning his nonpartisan NationBuilder with the Republican State Leadership Committee, leaving Democrats to wonder whether he’s selling the second coming of the Internet, or snake oil.

—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.

What Happened to Mexico? An Interview with Anabel Hernández,” by Tim Barker. Dissent, September 30, 2013.

Anabel Hernández’s Los Señores del Narco, a hard-hitting investigation into the Mexican drug war, sent shockwaves through Mexico when it was published in 2010. Hernández exposed the myths of then-president Felipe Calderón’s highly publicized crackdown on narcotrafficking organizations, revealing inextricable ties between cartel dons, business leaders and high-ranking officials in Calderón’s own government. A translated version was recently released in the US and UK, and Hernández talks with Dissent’s Tim Barker about the influence of her book, legal impunity in Mexico and the devastating transnational consequences of recreational drug use. As she tells Barker, “The problem I talk about in Narcoland is not a Mexican problem, it’s a problem for the whole world. When any country opens the door to illegal drugs from Mexico, they open the door to the cartels, and they come inside.”

—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.

Sandy recovery aid applicants spend, wait and worry,” by Jeff Morganteen and Laura Nahmias. The New York World, October 8, 2013.

Among the victims of the government shutdown are New York homeowners affected by the wrath of Hurricane Sandy almost a year ago, according to this New York World story. Before New York City can release the $50.5 billion disaster aid bill Congress passed in January, every grant proposal must go through a rigorous review process by federal agencies, many of which are now on furlough. The bureaucratic entanglements New Yorkers must navigate in order to access aid have left many adrift in endless paperwork. With the review process on hold as Congress debates the debt ceiling, many will continue to be left to their own devices without government aid as the first anniversary of the storm approaches.

—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.

How the US raid on al-Shabaab in Somalia went wrong,” by Abdalle Ahmed, Spencer Ackerman and David Smith. The Guardian, October 9, 2013.

“They looked like three big cows.” That’s how Abdurahman Yarow, a “longtime resident” of Barawe, Somalia, described three Navy SEALs whom he saw in the early hours last Saturday. “I now understand the big cows I saw in the night were the American special forces with their military bags on their backs going in the direction of the house they targeted.” The house was that of al-Shabaab Commander Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, and the Seals had been sent there to capture him alive; they didn’t succeed in their mission. This Guardian article—one of the best reported I’ve seen on the matter, considering the difficulty of reporting in Somalia—gives a blow-by-blow account of the raid and some much needed context.

—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.

Cuban Communist Party appoints new editor of Granma.” BBC, October 9, 2013.

It has finally happened. After years heading the Cuban Communist Party’s official newspaper, Granma, orthodox hardliner Lázaro Barredo Medina has been replaced by Pelayo Terry Cuervo, seen by many as more moderate. This move comes on the heels of the national conference of Cuban journalists in July and statements favoring press reform by Miguel Díaz-Canel who seems the presumed favorite to succeed Raúl Castro. Many speculate that this may augur more fundamental reforms in how the state run media works.

—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.

Why Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel Loves Selling Drugs in Chicago,” by Jason McGahan. Chicago, October 2013.

This investigative report by Jason McGahan is based on court documents and federal records stemming from the grand jury indictment of Jesús Vicente Zambada, the son of the Sinaloa drug cartel’s number-two boss. Besides its gritty narrative and graphic detail, what makes the story so good is the way in which McGahan explores the trafficking operations of a famous Mexican cartel firmly within the localized context of Chicago. Also recommended: McGahan’s recent review of journalist Anabel Hernández’s book, Narcoland.

—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.

The attention economy,” by Tom Chatfield. Aeon, October 7, 2013.

Perhaps it’s ironic or a little embarrassing that I’m posting this article, which is currently wedged between the ten-plus tabs (of other intriguing but, for now, “tabled” articles) on my Google Chrome window. From exploring the Latin roots of “attention” to unpacking the joy of the Satanic gaze, this isn’t just another piece lamenting the world of ads, “profitable clicking” and the endless quantification of our identities and interactions. Many of us who are increasingly structuring our lives around information and the media, whether we can help it or not, will appreciate its reflection on how we value and valuate our time—work or leisure, productivity or procrastination—with ourselves and others.

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