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

Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Wraps Up First Semester on 192 Campuses

A new campaign to push colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry has spread like wildfire to over 190 campuses across the country in just over a month. Now, as students head home for the holidays, organizers are celebrating some significant early victories and looking forward to a busy spring semester.

“2012 was the hottest year in American history—drought, wildfire, storm, we had it all,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, one of the organizations leading the new divestment campaign. “But 2013 is going to be the hottest year on American campuses in a very long time, because students have done the math, connected the dots and gotten down to the hard work of divesting from the fossil fuel companies at the root of our trouble.”

In a speech on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) commended students for getting involved in the campaign, “These students are imploring their schools to weigh the real cost of climate change against the drive for more financial returns, and divest from the polluters. With American college and university endowments estimated to total more than $400 billion, this movement by students deserves significant attention.”

Two small schools, Unity College and Hampshire College, have already divested their endowments from fossil fuels. Unity College President Stephen Mulkey wrote in a blog post announcing the decision, “The colleges and universities of this nation have billions invested in fossil fuels. Like the funding of public campaigns to deny climate change, such investments are fundamentally unethical.”

In the last month, a growing number of other colleges and universities are beginning to take the divestment debate seriously:

  • Harvard has met student demands to set up a “social choice fund” for alumni donations and President Faust has agreed to discuss divestment with students next semester. In November, an official student resolution supporting divestment passed with 72 percent of the vote.

  • Swarthmore, where student efforts were recently profiled in The New York Times, also just launched a new process to look into investing its endowment more responsibly.

  • At Bryn Mawr, the CFO of the college told students that the endowment was invested in only a couple fossil fuel companies and divestment should be doable.

  • Middlebury recently disclosed that it has 3.6 percent of its endowment invested in fossil fuels and is launching a formal process this January to consider divestment.

  • Students at Bates, Bowdoin, Earlham, the University of Wisconsin, the University of New Hampshire, the University of North Carolina and elsewhere have also opened up dialogues with their administrations.

With significant media coverage in The New York Times, Time, MSN Finance, Rolling Stone and more, the campaign is also beginning to make an impact in economic circles.

“The speed at which this campaign has spread is causing ripples in the investment community,” said Andy Behar, the CEO of As You Sow, a campaign partner that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy and coalition building. “We anticipate more ‘carbon free’ investment options coming onto the market over the coming months for endowments, foundations, and other institutional investors who want to move investment dollars to build a clean-energy future.”

According to endowment experts, fossil fuel divestment won’t necessarily result in negative financial impacts for a college.

“We’re looking forward to working with students and others to show college administrators that divestment isn’t just the moral thing to do, it’s both practical and responsible, as well,” said Dan Apfel, executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, a campaign partner. “It’s time for colleges to build fossil free portfolios that have strong returns on investment and help move us towards us a sustainable future.”

In fact, colleges have lots of profitable, sustainable investment options at their disposal.

“If instead of propping up Shell or BP, a college invests in, say, more efficient lighting or heating, the median return on investment is 28 percent,” wrote Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, in an oped for The Boston Globe. “Best of all, this kind of investment supports the educational mission of a campus instead of undermining it.”

The divestment campaign is also beginning to reach city and state governments. Earlier this November, the mayor of Seattle committed to working on divesting city funds from fossil fuels. City council members and activists in a handful of other cities are beginning to work on sample resolutions that could be adopted across the country. In Vermont, two state representatives are discussing legislation that would divest the state from the industry.

“After voting in record numbers in 2012, students are seizing on divestment as a strategy to put climate firmly on the political agenda,” said Maura Cowley, the executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, another campaign partner. “Young people don’t just want schools to divest themselves from the fossil fuel industry, they also want their political leaders to untangle themselves from these corporations that are wrecking our future.”

As students prepare for the semester ahead, they are studying the movement to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. In November, they received the blessing of one of that movement’s key leaders, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“The divestment movement played a key role in helping liberate South Africa. The corporations understood the logics of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality,” said Tutu in a video for the campaign. “Climate change is a deeply moral issue too, of course…. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts.”

If the last month is any indication, that pressure is beginning to be felt.

For more on the divestment movement, check out “Climate Activists Hit Hard With ‘Do the Math’ National Tour.”

Middlebury to Consider Fossil Fuel Divestment

In the wake of a high-profile student protest and amid a growing university movement to combat climate change, Middlebury College announced in early December that it would initiate steps to address the feasibility of divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

In a campus-wide email, College President Ronald Liebowitz expressed his willingness to “engage the community on an issue of great interest and import to the College and its many constituents”—a commitment to expand dialogue on concerns previously only discussed seriously in activist forums. He explained that Middlebury would host a series of panels on divestment with representatives from the College’s endowment management firm, Scholar-in-Residence Bill McKibben, and veteran investors. “A look at divestment,” he continued, “must include the consequences, both pro and con, of such a direction, including how likely it will be to achieve the hoped-for results and what the implications might be for the College, for faculty, staff, and individual students.”

In an unusual and impressive demonstration of transparency regarding the College’s finances, Liebowitz also disclosed the percentage of the institution’s $900 million endowment currently invested in fossil fuel companies: roughly 3.6% or $32 million. The statement provided a degree of openness that many say has been missing since 2005 when the College began outsourcing the investment of its endowment to Investure, LLC, an investment management company with an aggregate portfolio of approximately $9.1 billion.

Liebowitz’s announcement was met with enthusiasm from McKibben, the founder of grassroots sustainability organization 350.org and chief spokesman for the organization’s Do The Math tour, a national campaign encouraging colleges, churches and pension funds to divest their endowments from the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies.

“President Liebowitz used just the right tone and took precisely the right step,” said McKibben in statement released by 350.org. “It won't be easy to divest, but I have no doubt that Middlebury—home of the first environmental studies department in the nation—will do the right thing in the right way.”

On the rural Vermont campus, some students were more tempered in their reaction to the statement. Why wasn’t the College considering more definitive steps, committing to fossil fuel divestment like Unity College in Maine, or pledging to invest in sustainable and socially responsible companies, like Hampshire College in Massachusetts?

“We want to see change happen faster,” said Sam Koplinka-Loehr, a senior environmental justice major. “Panels and discussions are not new,” he explained, “they have been happening since before I arrived on campus.” Koplinka-Loehr was one of five students disciplined by the college for the dissemination of a fake press release in November—a prank designed to raise awareness about divestment and encourage the college to take action.

Other students wondered how the College’s practice of outsourcing its endowment management to Investure—which pools Middlebury’s funds with the endowments of twelve other institutions or foundations—might impact the viability of divestment. The President’s email included a disclaimer noting that the financial information provided was not based on a comprehensive review of Middlebury’s holdings, but rather “the underlying long positions of the Investure Funds of which Investure has actual knowledge from third-party managers.” While this model permits greater efficiency and economies of scale, the many steps of remove limit transparency and could complicate the divestment process.

Members of the student group Divest for Our Future, however, argue that Investure’s co-mingled endowment structure opens up potential for collaboration. They have been in contact with similar student groups at Investure-managed schools such as Smith College, Barnard College and Trinity College in an effort to coordinate initiatives, hoping that acting in unison might encourage Investure to alter its investment policies across the board.

This type of joint effort has a history of success. In 2010, Middlebury students teamed up with representatives from Dickinson College and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund—both of which have endowments managed by Investure—to establish the Sustainable Investments Initiative, an Investure-managed portfolio dedicated to environmentally responsible investment. With $4 million from Middlebury, $1 million from Dickinson, and $70 million from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the portfolio has yielded high returns, says Ben Chute, co-leader of the Socially Responsible Investment Club at Middlebury.

Outside of the logistical debate on feasibility, divestment as an effective strategy to strike a blow at the fossil fuel industry has faced criticism. Nation contributing editor Christian Parenti has questioned the effectiveness of using coordinated divestment as a tool to affect the bottom line of fossil fuel companies, suggesting that if universities were to sell their shares, someone else would likely scoop them up.

Jon Isham, an economics professor and director of Middlebury’s environmental studies program, thinks that while the direct effects of divestment on fossil fuel stock prices may be negligible, the move—if widely adopted—could significantly damage the industry and encourage investment in sustainable energy. “It’s wrong to say that divestment in and of itself is going to effect change solely based on the implications for stock prices,” said Isham. “But it might still make fossil fuel companies worry—it could mean that stock is viewed as something nobody should hold, which happened in tobacco. Divestment is an attempt to give the industry a black eye.”

The divestment movement “is something college students can latch on to,” explains Isham. “They understand their campus, they’re on their campus, and they are very keen on making a difference in the world, not only around climate change, but also around poverty and human rights. This is a way they can make change on campus.”

Indeed, Middlebury students have pushed for the upcoming panel discussions to incorporate representatives from student organizations such as Divest for Our Future and the Socially Responsible Investment Club. “If there is true intent to listen to student voices, the administration should provide avenues for students to engage in these issues,” said Koplinka-Loehr. “We need the opportunity to engage in critical dialogue on equal footing with the administration if we are to be successful.”

The Link Between USC and Garment Worker Factory Fires

The human toll of sweatshop abuse has proved severe in recent months. The Tazreen factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh in late November claimed the lives of 112 workers, and two months prior, a factory fire at Ali Enterprises in Pakistan killed 289 workers, laboring overtime to meet deadlines for the holiday shopping season. Ali Enterprises’ death toll doubled that of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City. Since 2006, more than 600 Bangladeshi garment workers have burned alive in factory fires while sewing clothes for companies like Gap, H&M, and Walmart.

After the Tazreen fire, members of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, an affiliate of United Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Southern California, held a vigil commemorating the workers who perished in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Students lit candles, read worker testimonies, and called on their university to take action against sweatshops by affiliating with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent organization that monitors factories producing university apparel. The students’ appeal responded to recent revelations that one of USC’s four apparel monitors failed to address the fire safety hazards that led to the blazes at both Ali Enterprises and Tazreen, and the death of the hundreds of garment workers trapped inside.

When Sweatshops Became Deathtraps

The problems underlying the proliferation of factory fires in the garment industry are twofold. First, fire safety costs money, and most brands are unwilling to foot the bill. The WRC estimates that it would cost companies like Walmart less than 10 cents per garment to make their contract factories in Bangladesh safe. Yet, in a 2011 meeting of retailers in Bangladesh, Walmart opposed safety improvement proposals, suggesting that because “corrections on electrical and fire safety” would require “extensive and costly modifications…it is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

Second, corporate-funded apparel monitors have failed at their stated mission to protect workers. For instance, just over two months prior to the factory fire in Bangladesh, multiple investigations were conducted at Ali Enterprises in Pakistan by corporate-funded monitors. One of those monitors, acting on behalf of Social Accountability International, awarded Ali Enterprises with SA-8000 certification, giving the factory a clean bill of health just weeks before 289 workers were unable to escape because doors were locked, windows were barred with iron grills, and fire exits were nonexistent.

USC’s Links to Corporate Monitors

USC contracts with four corporate apparel monitors for the production of its apparel. One of these monitors, UL Responsible Sourcing, was tasked by KiK, a German brand, to make sure Ali Enterprises in Pakistan was protecting worker safety. Despite conducting three audits of Ali Enterprises, UL Responsible Sourcing failed to detect and fix fire safety hazards at Ali Enterprises, resulting in the death of almost one-fifth of the factory workforce.

UL Responsible Sourcing also inspected the Trazeen factory prior to the fire on behalf of Walmart, however this was discovered only recently after a cover sheet from the monitor was found inside the factory. UL Responsible Sourcing refuses to release the contents of its audits despite calls from labor groups to do so. Worse of all, even if UL Responsible Sourcing found fire safety violations in the factories, built-in confidentiality clauses prevent its audits from being made public -- meaning that workers can go for months in factories that are vertiable death traps without even knowing it.

Accordia Global Compliance Group, another USC-approved monitor, is responsible for a large number of Walmart’s supply chain audits. According to Walmart, Accordia found no problems at CJ’s Seafood – the Walmart crawfish packer in Louisiana that was fined, shortly thereafter, a quarter of a million by the US government for numerous labor rights violations. Five of the Tazreen factory’s 14 production lines were dedicated to Walmart apparel before the fire decimated the premises. However, because of the lack of transparency within the shadowy world of corporate monitoring, we don't know if Accordia also conducted an audit of the Trazeen factory.

USC’s apparel program is one of the largest in the world, and, like other universities, USC has multimillion-dollar contracts that it can leverage to force brands to be accountable to their workers. However, when USC contracts with corporate monitors like UL Responsible Sourcing, it props up a broken model that has cost the lives of hundreds of workers.

The Potential of Independent Monitoring and Brand Accountability

But there is an alternative. Over the last two years, the WRC has joined with USAS and the International Labor Rights Forum to press brands to sign comprehensive fire safety agreements, requiring worker and union input, transparency, fair prices to factories, and legally binding commitments to protect workers. PVH, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger, and Tchibo, a German retailer, have already agreed to sign on to this life-saving fire safety program, while other brands like Gap and Walmart have refused any legally-binding commitments to workers.

Beyond this initiative, the WRC’s investigations have led to groundbreaking victories for workers rights. In 2009, Russell Athletic agreed to re-open a shuttered union factory and implement union neutrality throughout its plants in Honduras following a WRC investigation and a campaign led by USAS. Most recently, four universities have committed to end contracts with Adidas following the WRC’s finding that Adidas refused to pay $1.8 million in legally owed severance to its 2,800 former PT Kizone workers in Indonesia.

Ongoing Struggle at USC

Just this summer, the University of Texas—the largest university apparel licensor in the world—joined the ranks of the 180 universities who have affiliated with the WRC. Students at USC have fought for over a decade to persuade their university to align with the independent monitor, but to date, USC has refused.

In response to the Pakistan factory fire, Matt Curran, USC director of trademark licensing and social responsibility, noted that UL Responsible Sourcing did a one-day compliance assessment of the factory for KiK and that the assessment took place nine months before the fire occured and was the only time UL Responsible Sourcing audited the factory. Curran also pointed out that “the factory does not produce any USC products.” However, a representative of KiK, the brand that contracted UL Responsible Sourcing at Ali Enterprises, subsequently stateed in an email that there were actually three independent audits done. And in any case, the fact remains that UL Responsible Sourcing was hired to monitor both Ali Enterprises and Tarzeen, and it failed to prevent 401 workers from burning to death. By supporting corporate-funded monitors like UL Responsible Sourcing, USC is perpetuating a system that threatens the lives of workers everywhere, including workers in factories producing USC apparel. 

Gun Violence In American Schools Is Nothing New


Candles with the names of shooting victims written on them sit at a memorial near Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

This article was originally posted at the invaluable Studentactivist.net.

We’re seeing a lot of suggestions today from the right side of the political spectrum that events like the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school are something novel in American history — that they’re a reflection of the fact that we took prayer out of schools, or that our society has lost its sense of morality, or something.

Well, a couple of years ago I did some casual research on the history of American school shootings. A conservative scholar on a blog I read at the time had said that he’d looked for evidence of such shootings in the 1940s and 1950s, and found none, so I fired up the search engine for the archives of the New York Times, looking for articles published between January 1, 1940 and December 31, 1959 that included the words ”shot” and “school.”

The search returned 4,940 results.

Most of these weren’t actually articles about school shootings, of course. Many were stories about gun violence that happened to refer to a school that a perpetrator or victim attended. A significant number were sports coverage — articles about target shooting competitions, or shot-put records, or even teams that the Times believed to have a shot at a state or national title.

But as I made my way through the articles, I found that eighteen of the first two hundred were reports of school shootings in which one or more people were killed or wounded.

There were three suicides and six homicides among these eighteen incidents. More than half involved a student perpetrator, and at least three were accidental shootings on school grounds.

Reading these stories, each of which I’ve excerpted below, suggests a world in which gun violence was anything but rare in the school setting. There were premeditated killings alongside instances in which tempers flared or caution was absent, and the Times seems not to have been terribly surprised by any of it. (In March of 1949, for instance, when a student at New York’s elite Stuyvesant High School accidentally shot one of his classmates with a 38-caliber revolver, the story got just five short paragraphs on page 30, and the shooter was charged only with “juvenile delinquency.”)

Anyway, here’s the list of eighteen. Remember, this is only a small sampling of the shootings that occurred — the result of a spot check of about four percent of the hits on a search on one metropolitan newspaper’s archives.

  • May 23, 1940: “Infuriated by a grievance, Matthew Gillespie, 62-year-old janitor at the junior school of the Dwight School for Girls here, shot and critically wounded Mrs. Marshall Coxe, secretary of the junior school, on the first floor of the building this afternoon.”
  • July 5, 1940: “Angered by the refusal of his daughter, Melba Moshell, 15 years old, to leave a boarding school here and return to his home, Joseph Moshell, 47, of 252 East Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, visited the school this afternoon and shot and killed the girl, according to the State Police.”
  • November 18, 1942: “Erwin Goodman, 36-year-old mathematics teacher of William J. Gaynor Junior High School in Brooklyn, was shot and killed in the school corridors on Oct. 2 by a youth whose hand he had clasped in thankfulness for acting as peacemaker a few minutes earlier.”
  • February 23, 1943: “Harry Wyman, 13-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Wyman of Port Chester, NY … shot himself dead tonight at the Harvey School, a boys’ preparatory school.”
  • June 26, 1946: “A 15-year-old schoolboy who balked at turning over his pocket money to a gang of seven Negro youths was shot in the chest at 11:30 A.M. yesterday in the basement of the Public School 147 annex of the Brooklyn High School for Automotive Trades.”
  • November 24, 1946: “A 13-year-old student at St. Benedict’s Parochial School here shot and fatally wounded himself tonight while sitting in an audience watching a school play.”
  • December 24, 1948: “A 14-year-old boy was wounded fatally here today by an accidental shot from the .22-caliber rifle of a fellow-student … the youth was shot in the head when he chanced into range where Robert Ross, 17, of Brooklyn, was shooting at a target near a lake on the school property.”
  • March 12, 1949: “A 16-year-old student at Stuyvesant High School, 345 Fifteenth Street, was accidentally shot in the right arm yesterday afternoon by a fellow student who, police said, was ‘showing off’ with a pistol in a classroom.”
  • July 22, 1950: “A 16-year-old boy was shot in the wrist and abdomen at 10 o’clock last night in Public School 141 … during an argument with a former classmate. They were attending a weekly dance sponsored by the Board of Education.”
  • November 27, 1951: “David Brooks, a 15-year-old student, was fatally shot as fellow-pupils looked on in a grade school here today.”
  • April 9, 1952: “A 15-year-old boarding-school student who shot a dean rather than relinquish pin-up pictures of girls in bathing suits was charged with murderous assault today.”
  • November 20, 1952: “Rear Admiral E. E. Herrmann, 56 years old, superintendent of the Naval Post-Graduate School here, was found dead in his office with a bullet in his head. A service revolver was found by his side.”
  • October 8, 1953: “Larry Licitra, 17-year-old student at the Machine and Metal Trades High School, 320 East Ninety-sixth Street, was shot and slightly wounded in the right shoulder at 11:30 AM yesterday in the lobby of the school while inspecting a handmade pistol owned by one of several students.”
  • October 20, 1956: “A junior high school student was wounded in the forearm yesterday by another student armed with a home-made weapon at Booker T. Washington Junior High School.”
  • October 2, 1957: “A 16-year old student was shot in the leg yesterday by a 15-year old classmate at a city high school.”
  • March 12, 1958: “A 17-year-old student was indicted yesterday for carrying a dangerous weapon. He had shot a boy in the Manual Training High School March 4.”
  • May 1, 1958: “A 15-year-old high school freshman was shot and killed by a classmate in a washroom of the Massapequa High School today.”
  • September 24, 1959: “Twenty-seven men and boys and an arsenal were seized in the Bronx last night as the police headed off a gang war resulting from the fatal shooting of a teen-ager Monday at Morris High School.”

Interns' Favorite Articles of the Week (12/16/2012)

For the past four months, The Nation’s 2012 Fall interns have looked past flashy headlines and cable news talking heads to bring you alternative voices. They bring you one last roundup, as a new batch of interns awaits the start of the winter 2012 session. This week: a haunting piece from Aleppo, a debate in the trans community and much more.

Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.

The Land of Topless Minarets and Headless Little Girls,” by Amal Hanano. Foreign Policy, December 11, 2012.

This week, a different kind of Syria piece. This one doesn’t have any political analysis in it, nor does it contain any prospects of things to come. This is simply a piece by a Syrian writer about her city, Aleppo. Before the revolution, Aleppo was known for its diversity and grandeur. But today, Aleppo brings to mind images of death and destruction. In a beautiful yet melancholy piece, Amal Hanano writes about how she watched her city’s slow death from abroad.

Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.

Off the Record | December 7, 2012,” hosted by Tim Skubick. WKAR, December 7, 2012.

Last week, Chad Livengood of the Detroit News, Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press and Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio joined veteran political reporter Tim Skubick on the Michigan public television show Off the Record to discuss the sudden passage of right-to-work bills in their state. Scott Hagerstrom, spokesman for the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, also came on the program to take the reporters’ questions about the legislation and AFP’s vision for Michigan’s future. For insight into labor’s perspective on the issue, see the previous week’s episode, when Mike Jackson of the Michigan Carpenters Union was a guest.

Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the presidency and China.

The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control),” by Jeffrey Goldberg. The Atlantic, December 2012.

When I first saw that Jeffrey Goldberg had written this article, I couldn’t help but wonder if The Atlantic was pulling a Newsweek, and attempting to grab headlines with a “thought-provoking” alternative approach to gun control. After reading the piece (and obliterating it with comments in the margins), I am of two minds. To begin with, I thought Goldberg’s arguments were sometimes half-baked or contained false equivalences, which detract from the more-cogent and valid elements of the piece. He focuses a lot more on the “More Guns” part and much less on the “More Gun Control” side of his proposal, but nevertheless does offer an alternative position. And he’s not wrong to suggest that for America, “it’s too late” to ban guns entirely. This article will undoubtedly provoke debate, as I’m sure was intended.

Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media and East Asian affairs.

Rebekah Brooks took £10.8m compensation from News Corp,” by Dan Sabbagh and Lisa O’Carroll. The Guardian, December 12, 2012.

This has been another noisy week for Fleet Street, now a year and a half since News International was caught engaged in wide-scale phone-hacking. Agreements over press regulations crumbled. Another high-profile editor stepped down. But perhaps most infuriating, it turns out Rebekah Brooks—chief of News International during the height of the scandal—left her company with £10.8 million in compensation ($17.4 million), which is £7 million more than what was originally reported. Brooks healthy reward for overseeing a criminal press culture is an egregious affront to justice and a slap in the face of accountability.

Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.

Normalising death: The business of drones,” by Charlotte Silver. Al Jazeera, December 7, 2012.

As drone warfare expands, it helps to understand the context that perpetuates it. Charlotte Silver lays out how the United States and Israel are defining the landscape of drone warfare. Rather than compete with each other over drone technology, the staunch allies largely cooperate. Both countries practice targeted killing, particularly with drones. While Israel is the world’s largest exporter of drones and pioneered the technology, the US carries out far more drone strikes than Israel in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Israel, meanwhile, has carried out drone surveillance missions in Gaza and along the Lebanon border, along with deadly drone strikes during the November assault on Gaza. Domestically, there is pressure from the drone industry within Congress to increase the US’s drone arsenal and strikes. Part of the reason why the US, like Israel, launches so many drone strikes is because there are powerful factions that benefit from it—politically and economically.

Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence and regulatory capture.

Michigan Passes “Right to Work” Containing Verbatim Language from ALEC Model Bill,” by Brendan Fischer. PR Watch, December 11, 2012.

For all the well-known offenses of Michigan’s new “right-to-work-for-less” legislation—the governor’s hypocrisy, the Koch/DeVos money, the accelerated legislative process, and, of course, the content of the bill itself—there is also the generally overlooked fact that key parts of the legislation have clearly been cribbed from an American Legislative Exchange Council “model.” As one sees in this side-by-side view from the Center for Media and Democracy (a Nation partner in the ALEC Exposed project) the Michigan bill reads as if blatantly plagiarized by—dare one suggest it?—a lowly Rick Snyder intern.

Annum Masroor focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Tracing Hate,” by Nadeem F. Paracha. Dawn.com, December 13, 2012.

The political role that religion has historically played, and many times enjoyed, is no secret. Throughout the world, various churches, seminaries and religious establishments have used their spiritual powers to influence political outcomes in their respective nations. Since its inception in 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has battled an internal struggle to define its religious nature. Can a country founded for Muslims, on the basis that Muslims enjoy the freedom and equality that they lacked in colonial India, be secular by nature? Today, the question has evolved into whether or not Muslim minorities—those Muslims who still follow the Islamic faith but do so according to a different sect or creed than that of the predominant Sunni tradition—are welcome in Pakistan. Nadeem F. Paracha traces the roots of this question back to 1953 and later to 1974, when former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto effectively signed the religious persecution of Ahmadis into law, by declaring them a religious minority “excommunicated from the fold of Islam.” These years exemplify the process by which the Ahmadis were sidelined for the political purposes of various political parties. In typical fashion, the parties themselves suffered alongside the Ahmadis they persecuted, as did the rest of Pakistan. In trying to strengthen themselves by pandering to religious extremists, they weakened an entire nation by depriving it of any semblance of plurality, justice, and peace.

Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.

In ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ she’s the hero; in real life, CIA agent’s career is more complicated,” by Greg Miller. The Washington Post, December 10, 2012.

Sharing a big part of the responsibility for Osama bin Laden’s death apparently isn’t enough to get you set for life—at least not in the CIA. Since America’s target number one was dispatched by a team of Navy SEALs, the intelligence officer who served as inspiration for the female protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty hasn’t seen an easy day in the agency, having been denied a promotion in that time. While her involvement with the film’s production and reported attitude problem may have something to do with it, she’s the woman who found Bin Laden! Talk about a glass ceiling.

Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.

Debating ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ and Justice for Trans People,” by Chase Strangio. Huffington Post, December 5, 2012.

Former staff attorney at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project Chase Strangio weighs in on the recent changes to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM), altering the previous diagnosis for trans individuals from Gender Identity Disorder (GID) to Gender Dysphoria (GD). Strangio questions the instinct to celebrate the change and looks more closely at ableism that informs the stigma of disorder and mental illness.  Strangio writes “it is helpful to think about what we want from the law and discrete benefits systems and advocate from that standpoint centering the most vulnerable in our communities rather than looking to those systems to reflect our identities back to us in ways that is most affirming.” As Strangio emphasizes, it is crucial to consider that ways in which changes to the DSM can impact trans folks who are low income, incarcerated and people of color in specific and often highly detrimental ways.

Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.

Across nation, unsettling acceptance when mentally ill in crisis are killed,” by Kelley Bouchard. The Portland Press-Herald, December 12, 2012.

In the 1980s, funding was gutted for large, public psychiatric hospitals, many of which were already failing to provide adequate care for crowded patients. Instead of institutionalizing those with mental health problems, we started incarcerating them. In many cities, including my hometown of Seattle, Washington, police’s interaction with mentally ill homeless individuals results in tragedy. This report from the Portland Herald-Press in Maine shows the deadly toll of our criminalization of mental illness, and what happens at the intersection of poverty and mental health without a viable social safety net.

Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.

A Breakdown of Trust.” The Economist, December 8, 2012.

The Economist critiques President Dilma’s economic policies. The critique, founded on the prediction that Brazil will grow only 1.5 percent this year, calls for a new economic team and more investment, as it warns against excessive government intervention in private business. It portrays Dilma as a potential detriment to all the economic work done by her predecessors, Lula and Fernando Henrique, who managed to “slew inflation” and pull millions out of poverty. Dilma responded with indignation: “Don’t they know that [the Europeans’ and Americans’] situation is worse than ours since 2008? No one here went bankrupt like Lehman Brothers. We don’t have a problem of debt.… We have 378.000 millions of dollars in reserve.”

Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.

Gangnam Style Overshadows Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” Bill In Cable News Coverage,” by Carlos Maza. Media Matters, December 12, 2012.

In the past few weeks, the re-emergence of Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill—which would make “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment or death—has been a growing subject of international criticism. In the past, numerous threats to drop international aid have prevented the anti-homosexuality proposal from passing, but, while that same international pressure is currently leveraged against Uganda, renewed support and the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga’s promise to pass the bill as a “Christmas Gift” is pushing “Kill the Gays” closer to passage. Despite the implications of legalizing discriminatory persecution and the bill’s strong ties to US evangelical organizations, according to MediaMatters, both CNN and Fox News have giving substantially more airtime to covering Korean pop star Psy’s chart-topping “Gangnam Style.” While major media organizations certainly can’t cover every issue all the time, the comparison here is both a laughably outrageous insight into the US media’s poor coverage of world affairs and a perfect example of why independent media is so essential.

Lawmakers: STOP Accepting Campaign Cash From Sallie Mae

Over the past 10 years, Sallie Mae has spent more than $25 million lobbying to deregulate the student lending industry, essentially working against the best interests of countless student borrowers and the US taxpayers.  

Much of Sallie Mae’s lobbying effort has urged draconian legislation, such as the removal of bankruptcy protections for private student loans.  In a leaked memo, Sallie Mae officials list preserving the inability of borrowers to discharge student loans in bankruptcy as their second most important goal.  Why would this be so important?  With bankruptcy protection removed, coupled with Sallie Mae owning their own collection companies, the company is able to to make far more money once people default.  

Currently, students are graduating with an average of $26,000 in student loans, while 1 out of 5 are defaulting on such debts. Sallie Mae,  on the other hand, has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in profit off the backs of these students and also received billions in bailout money.  A process, Andrew Ferguson of the conservative Weekly Standard, refers to as “a classic case of crony capitalism or (if you prefer) corporate socialism.”

Fed up with companies like Sallie Mae fleecing the taxpayers?  Then take action with StudentDebtCrisis.org. We just launched a brand new petition: Lawmakers: STOP Accepting Campaign Cash from Sallie Mae. Within just 24 hours, over 25,000 people rallied to sign and the number of signatures continues to rise by the hour - will you be a part of history?

NYU Divest Calls On President Sexton To End Fossil Fuel Investments

This piece was originally published on NYU Local, the independent news blog of NYU. It was re-posted here with permission.

Last year, Occupy Wall Street was making headlines at NYU. We saw infamous walk-outs, elaborate and ridiculous drama over students visiting the protestors, and an episode of presidential back-talk never seen before.

Now, a new group of activists is looking to NYU President John Sexton in a movement that has the makings and spirit of a young Occupy. NYU Divest: Go Fossil Free!, a coalition of students, faculty, and alumni looking to end the university’s investments in fossil fuel companies, has been gaining momentum on campus. With the tagline, ‘President Sexton, Go Fossil Free!’ it is clear that the group is eyeing large-scale change directly from members of the administration.

“What the ‘Divest’ scheme is asking for is asking is to take all of NYU’s investments out of the fossil fuel industry directly within the next five years,” said Dr. Julianne Warren, an ecologist and professor in both Liberal Studies and Environmental Studies at NYU. “After that, we want to make efforts to reinvest in things that would help promote a solution to the problem.”

Divest NYU has many ties with OWS activists, and considers itself a subscriber in much of Occupy’s greater philosophy.

“Both Occupy and 350 [the organization that Divest sprouted from] understand that fundamentally, domination doesn’t work,” said Warren, who has working with a team of activists and students to draw up the demand divestment from the NYU administration. “Whether it’s of the earth by fossil fuel companies, or other whether its from dominating each other—economically, socially, politically.”

The crusade is a local offshoot of a larger movement founded by Bill McKibben, activist, prolific author, and eco-celebrity who established 350.org, an organization working to end American dependence on and emissions from fossil fuels. A few weeks ago, hundreds crammed into the Hammerstein ballroom on 34th Street to hear McKibben speak.

The ballroom, which is more often packed with fans of Nicki Minaj and Eminem, was filled to the brim. Beneath the ornate sloped arches of the 12,000-square-foot venue, the audience cheered, danced, laughed and chanted. But they weren’t there to see Drake or even the annual NASCAR award (which have, strangely, been held there). The room was instead packed with activists, students, scientists, and environmentally concerned folk in general—all to support a cause whose supporters are nearly as passionate as J. Biebs (maybe). They were cheering and shouting for climate advocacy, and Bill McKibben was their rock star.

“Were not certain that were going to win,” said McKibben, a tall, slight man whose every sentence incited whoops and cheers from the crowd. “But we’re certain that were going to fight!”

McKibben has lately been gaining global recognition for his 350.org campaign. The effort aims to reduce carbon emissions globally and bring the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down to 350 parts per million—the number that renowned NASA climate expert James Hansen has declared a safe upper limit to avoid irreversible effects induced by climate change. 350.org and McKibben’s ‘Do The Math’ tour, which recently wrapped after a 21-city journey, focuses on the need to target the fossil fuel industry in order to have real impact on the problem of climate change.

“We really do want an end to their business model,” Naomi Klein, an author and political activist who also spoke on the tour, said.  “Not because we hate them, but because our survival depends on it.”

350.org has of late called on colleges and universities, who hold over $400 billion nationwide in endowments, to be the leaders in the plea for divestment. NYU, which has an endowment of $2.8 billion, has been one of the first victims of the impacts of climate change on a large scale, after Hurricane Sandy left thousands of students without electricity and heat and cancelled classes for a week.

“You all should not have had to go through what you went through with Sandy,” said McKibben, who postulated that the disaster might have been the ‘wake-up call’ that New Yorkers needed.

With NYU Divest gaining traction on campus, it remains to be seen whether the university will respond to the call.

“It [Divest] is the biggest thing going that I know of that involves everyone,” said Warren. “It has the power to transform.”

[Image via]

How to Strike Back: A 14N Dispatch From Madrid

Photo by Flickr user Sergio Rozas

The insistent thrum of the helicopters patrolling overhead began early in the morning. The sound has become familiar in Madrid, a stand-in for the police surveillance and repression that has increased in tandem with the austerity-steeped city's newfound penchant for regular, raucous protests. On this particular morning, though, the government had reason to worry: it was the day of the eighth general strike in Spain’s democratic history, and already the second one under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative government was barely one year old.

The strike was called by the main trade unions of Spain, along with the Cumbre Social, a summit of some 150 organizations including Amnesty International, Red Cross, Save the Children, and Greenpeace. Non-traditional unions, like the anarchist Confederación General de Trabajadores (General Workers' Federation), as well as members of the 15M social movement, joined forces for the day’s demonstrations.

I. HALTING THE CITY

The organizing demand of the strike did not seek specific benefits, but rather an official referendum asking the Spanish population if it agrees with the measures adopted by Rajoy's governing conservative party, the Partido Popular (PP). Do the Spanish people support projects like the so-called “flexibilization” of working conditions and recent deep cuts in social spending? The strikers wanted to put it to a national vote.

The economic steps taken were never part of Rajoy’s election manifesto, they said, which amounted to “an infringement of the electoral contract that was established between the PP and their voters.”

A straight-forward chant began the day: “They leave us without future/There are culprits/There are solutions.” The slogan was clearly borrowed from the rhetoric of another Spanish activist group, Juventud Sin Futuro [Youth without a future], the powerful student platform which turned the punk idea of having 'No Future' into a galvanizing political statement.

From the outset, Rajoy's government dismissed the whole idea, and the main conservative newspapers in Spain printed their headlines to match: “General Coercion” ran at the top of La Razón, and “Strike Against Spain” decked ABC. Streetlamps in Madrid were turned on in bright sunlight, burning needlessly in a blatant effort to increase electricity consumption for the day given that one of the clearest ways to measure a drop in industrial production—a metric of success for the general strike's work stoppage—is to measure electricity use.

According to the Sindicato de Estudiantes [Students’ Union], the strike had a massive following within several high schools. In the universities, the strike's following was inconsistent, but two of the most important centers – the Autónoma and Complutense universities of Madrid – were almost empty on the day of the strike.

By noon, assessments of the strike were predictably different based on who was doing the assessing. While the unions considered the day a success, the CEOE employers’ association called the turnout “almost null” and the strike “ill-timed and harmful.” The polling agency Metroscopia calculated that 44% of the working population went on strike, 10% of workers wanted to go on strike but could not do so, and 2% intended to go to work but were unable to.

Photo by Flickr user quiquemonroy

But was 14N a general strike in the traditional sense? Antonio G., a member of Madrid’s creative activism group Gila Grupo de Intervención, says not quite. He commented on the difficulty of organizing a general strike “in a society where people no longer work in a factory-system.” Others linked to the15M movement chimed in, saying that the general strike, as a form of protest, is an old way of fighting and does not fit with the conditions of the modern city. With an unemployment rate of more than 20% and a new labor reform that makes it easier to dismiss workers, those who have a job live with the fear of losing it.

In this context, for many, the demonstrations that took place throughout the day were more important than the actual halting of activity. Traditional forms of protest largely organized by the labor unions – such as the picket lines, marches and the strike itself – took place together with examples of direct action and civil disobedience, linked to the newer tradition of social movements. Some well-known actors shut themselves inside Madrid’s Teatro Español to display their rejection of cuts in culture subsidies. Hundreds of people spent the night inside hospitals, high schools and universities to protest cuts in social spending.

II. MOVING THE STREETS

In the morning, a march made its way to various centers of “exploitation and resistance” in Madrid, under the slogan, “From the right to housing to the right for health/If they steal our future, we block the city.”

The first stop was at Acampadabankia, a protest camp in front of the offices of Bankia, a major Spanish bank in Plaza Celenque, where protesters railed against evictions of mortgage defaulters, demanding social rent and payment in kind.

The march continued to the Princesa Hospital, one of Madrid's main public health centers. Princesa has recently been at risk of being turned into a private geriatric hospital, and has become a focal point in the fight against privatization of the healthcare system.

On the way to the hospital, the march made stops at businesses that prevented their workers from joining the strike. Marchers, insisting on the right to protest, tried to force those shops to close in what sometimes were coercive gestures. Journalist and activist Marta G. thinks that this may be a dire failure of the protest effort, because the shopkeepers, who are also enduring a precarious economic climate, bore the brunt of those actions. The strikers, she thinks, may have lost potential allies in the same political fight.

In the evening, disorganization mingled with violence and chaos. The protest group “Coordinadora 25S,” which made the call to surround the parliament building during the protests of September 25, had made the same call on November 14. The police violence and rioting of 25S was very much at the forefront of everyone's collective memory this time around. Cristina Cifuentes, the government delegate for Madrid, moved to forbid demonstrations in the area of the parliament building, which was now heavily guarded with police. Confrontations between the police forces and protesters began shortly after nightfall. A Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and a La Caixa bank office near the area were set on fire. The glass windows of McDonalds were broken, and various groups set rubbish containers alight, to burn in the middle of a main street. A six-foot-tall barricade was placed across the city's Paseo del Prado, a main artery lined with museums and shops. A scene like this had not been lived in Spain’s capital city for many years, and some people see in the scent of smoke a shocking similarity with recent protests in Greece.

Photo by Flickr user Juan.Plaza

Journalist Ana Requena Aguilar, from eldiario.es, thinks that the distance between trade unions and social movements was reduced on the day of the strike. Unions have radicalized their discourse in recent months, and some weeks prior to the strike major unions held a meeting with the group called “Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca,” or “Platform of People Affected by Mortgages.” At the level of their administration, the unions and the indignados of the 15M movement have completely different tactics: the unions conduct dialogue with government institutions, while the indignados mostly operate within tropes of direct action and civil disobedience. But at the level of their organizing, the overlap between the two is steadily growing. Many union-affiliated people who did not particularly identify with the radical rhetoric of their 15M counterparts took part in protests and forms of action that go beyond the discourse of the trade unions they belong to.

This is most strikingly apparent in the existence of groups called “mareas,” or “tides,” which anthropologist Adolfo Estalella sees as a radically new form of street protest. Demarcated by specific colors, each “tide” defends a sector of the endangered welfare state, and show up periodically at large marches, each supporter dressed in the group's representative color.

A sea of healthcare workers dressed in white mobbed the street on 14N, chanting “La sanidad no se vende, se defiende,” or, “healthcare is not to be sold, it is to be defended.” Four days later, on November 18, this white “tide” began a series of marches that coincided with days of strikes at hospitals and health centers. The Asociación de Facultativos Especialistas de Madrid [Madrid Association of Specialist Doctors] has called for an indefinite strike until the regional government halts its privatization plan.

Public education is defended by the green tide, who have adopted a similar slogan: “la educación no se vende, se defiende.” Early in the day, a group of students dressed in green managed to temporarily blockade Madrid’s A-6 motorway.

At Madrid's Universidad Complutense, one of the most prestigious universities in Spain, there is particular interest in this tide: Complutense faces impending government intervention.

Photo by Flickr user quiquemonroy

Meanwhile, the central government says it is not going to change any of its policies. However, the strikers in Spain have seen small victories: a new law on house evictions keep the most vulnerable families in their homes for two years, and (at least for the time being), the privatization process of Madrid's Princesa Hospital has been put on hold. Many consider these measures to be insufficient. But they are something, and Paris R. is still hopeful.

“It feels like we are living in a historic moment,” he said.

Recently, a group of activists in Barcelona met with Nicholas Mirzoeff, a professor of media culture at NYU. Asking how he could translate for Americans the animating sentiment behind the events of 14N and Spain's recent near-perpetual state of protest, the activists responded: “Tell them we are defending what you could have: public healthcare, public education.”

Interns' Favorite Articles of the Week (12/07/2012)

The media have been grappling with some big questions this week: Is it a cliff or an obstacle course? Is she or isn’t she? She is? Will it be a boy or a girl? Meanwhile, violence continues in Syria and Pakistan, and Republican lawmakers in Michigan pushed through lame-duck anti-labor legislation. Check out the Nation intern roundup of the most important news below the fold.

Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.

As Rebels close in on Damascus, Obama warns he’ll Intervene if Chemicals are Used,” by Juan Cole. JuanCole.com, December 5, 2012.

A short, but comprehensive blog post by Juan Cole sums up the situation in Syria at the moment. Two things are happening simultaneously: the revolutionaries are closing in on Damascus, while Obama ups his rhetoric by threatening intervention if chemical weapons are used in Syria, after an intelligence report claimed that the Assad regime was preparing its chemical weapons stockpiles for use. Given these events, it is clear that we are now reaching a critical and decisive stage in the Syrian crisis, and we may be nearing the Syrian endgame.

Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.

Michigan right-to-work bill expected Thursday; Dems promise fierce fight against it,” by Paul Egan. Detroit Free Press, December 5, 2012.

As early as December 6, GOP lawmakers in Lansing are expected to submit a bill that would make Michigan the twenty-fourth right-to-work state in the country, and the second in the industrial Midwest. Labor groups protested the action, with hundreds gathering in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday to voice their opposition. Republican governor Rick Snyder, who has previously said that right-to-work was not on his agenda, signaled earlier this week that he was open to considering such legislation during the lame duck session, which ends on December 20.

Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the presidency and China.

Mr. China Comes to America,” by James Fallows. The Atlantic, December 2012.

Fallows is one of the best journalists writing about China these days. In his latest long piece for The Atlantic, he presents a picture of the changing manufacturing environment in China, and offers a surprising argument: that as China’s workforce becomes more demanding, some manufacturing jobs could come back to the US. I’m a little skeptical, but it’s a well-written, interesting piece filled with insight and plenty of context, from a reporter who spent a couple of years living in and travelling around China. The same issue also has a companion piece, “The Insourcing Boom,” by Charles Fishman, that also argues for the return of manufacturing to the United States.

Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media and East Asian affairs.

Bradley Manning Gets No Love From The New York Times,” by Eliza Gray. The New Republic, December 5, 2012.

On charges of leaking millions of classified documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning spent five months in solitary confinement, facing humiliating, potentially illegal treatment from security guards. Regarding the implications on how we treat whistleblowers in this country, it’s hard to argue against the newsworthiness of Manning’s trial. Yet  The New York Times chose to sit this one out. Eliza Gray notes the egregiousness of the paper’s decision, especially considering how much it benefited from WikiLeaks last year. NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan has since conceded that they should have had a reporter present at Mr. Manning’s trial.

Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.

US Commandos’ New Landlord in Afghanistan: Blackwater,” by Spencer Ackerman. Wired, December 5, 2012.

Remember that mercenary company Blackwater? The one infamous for massacring Iraqi and Afghan civilians and stealing guns from US weapons depots in Afghanistan. Well, Blackwater, now known as “Academi,” owns and operates a ten-acre forwarding operating base outside Kabul called Camp Integrity (somewhat of an oxymoron, considering their history). This base will house the US’s most important special operations force in Afghanistan—Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan. The unit, which has about 7,000 troops, will stay in Camp Integrity until they move to Bagram in summer 2013. While US conventional forces will leave Afghanistan by 2014, special operations forces and private military contractors will remain for some time. The fact that a private military base, owned by a company with an atrocious record, exists in Afghanistan is an example of this.

Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence and regulatory capture.

Obamacare architect leaves White House for pharmaceutical industry job,” by Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian, December 5, 2012.

Glenn Greenwald is the only person to read—besides conservatives like Timothy Carney at the Washington Examiner—for a consistent, principled critique of the Obama administration’s regular use of the revolving door. This week he draws attention to Elizabeth Fowler; in reading her resume one can actually hear the door spin: Max Baucus’s healthcare adviser, healthcare industry lobbyist, Max Baucus’s healthcare adviser, special assistant to the president for healthcare and, now, healthcare industry lobbyist. “It’s difficult to find someone who embodies the sleazy, anti-democratic, corporatist revolving door that greases Washington as shamelessly and purely as Liz Fowler,” Greenwald writes. Shenanigans like this are “what demonstrates that corporatism and oligarchy are the dominant forms of government in the US.” That such blatant examples of corruption are so infrequently covered in the nation’s respectable media shows that the same can be said of them.

Annum Masroor focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

About those who survived,” by Murtaza Haider. Dawn.com, December 5, 2012.

When the words “terrorism” and “Pakistan” are found in the same sentence, they are usually in reference to the Pakistani military’s behind-the-scenes relationships with terrorist organizations. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that little media attention is paid to the Pakistani victims, both dead and injured, of terrorist attacks. In the US, the debate is often centered on “control,” Afghanistan, radical Islam, foreign aid and the occasional push for “diplomacy.” In Pakistan, the news of Pakistani casualties from terrorist violence is either ignored or swiftly mentioned in a hyperactive media cycle. But is there more to Pakistan’s seemingly quiet reaction? Maybe the country is experiencing nationwide PTSD, and such horrific news has lost much of its shock value. As Murtaza Haider points out, “The ubiquitous violence in Pakistan has left 45,000 dead in the past decade alone,” with an equally large number of Pakistanis injured. He goes on to describe the psychological and financial difficulties that victims and their families have had to endure, from trying to find food to no longer being able to afford a decent education. These findings address one of the gravest consequences of the current state of terrorism in Pakistan: that its survivors, plunged into the poverty gap, remain its victims for years to come.

Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.

The Hawkeye Initiative puts our favorite archer in superheroine poses,” by Kevin Melrose. Comic Book Resources, December 3, 2012.

I personally love it when the girls in comic books look like total babes. But that just demonstrates how geek culture is pretty sexist and terrible, which the instantly successful tumblog, “The Hawkeye Initiative,” aims to prove. Scrolling through the images should give even the most neckbearded nerd pause and highlight the ridiculousness that many comic artists force their female characters to endure.

Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.

Who’s Afraid of Black Sexuality?” by Stacey Patton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 3, 2012.

Patton traces the development of the academic study of black sexuality, from its relatively recent non-existence to its current state as a burgeoning (but still at times fraught) subject of inquiry. Although this chronicles specifically academic considerations, it has wider resonance for ways in which the media looks at black sexuality and black bodies and how these often unexamined attitudes play into broader representations of cases such as Anita Hill’s, public health issues and AIDS, state support systems and “welfare queens,” as well as Michelle Obama’s appearance.

Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.

Proposal to drug test welfare recipients may gain steam in Kansas,” by Brad Cooper. The Kansas City Star, December 5, 2012.

Legislation is under consideration in Kansas that would require anyone seeking welfare or unemployment benefits to take a drug test before they qualify for support. The clincher? Applicants would have to pay for the test themselves, which could set them back roughly $50. “If their test turned up negative, the state would have refund the expense in a ‘timely manner,’ ” Cooper writes, which sounds like yet another bureaucratic nightmare for those in need of assistance. It’s no coincidence that the proposal comes while legislators are debating how to balance strained state budgets. Though supporters claim it is to encourage welfare recipients to “get help,” such regulations are about saving money by finding any excuse to cut people off from vital social services.

Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.

Oscar Niemeyer: a life in architecture—in pictures.”  The Guardian, December 5, 2012.

Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian modernist architect, died last night at the age of 104. Most famous for his near-utopian project in Brasília, Niemeyer took inspiration from Le Corbusier and the “machine for living,” but designed an architecture that was distinctly his, marked by organic form and structural lightness. As a member of the Communist Party, Niemeyer faced obstacles during the Brazilian dictatorship and even here in the US, during the Cold War, but continued to create and build until the end of his life. Though his architecture did not engender the just society he envisioned, it was not a futile goal, and neither should it be forgotten. As Dilma put it, there are who “few dreamed so intensely, and accomplished as much, as he did.”

Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.

Has-Maher-a! The Not-So-New Depths of Bill Maher’s Delusion and Depravity,” by Nima Shirazi.

As a self-identified progressive, I constantly find progressives in the media who firmly grasp one element of the equal rights cause, and completely dismiss another without thought. Bill Maher’s recent interview with the Jewish Journal is no different. The interview is a deeply troubling look into a man who, despite his penchant for being an outspoken critic of inequality and religious extremism, holds thoughts on the Israel-Palestinian conflict that rest somewhere between staggering misunderstanding and complete racial bigotry. This excellent piece by writer and Middle Eastern analyst Nima Shirazi explains some of the more confusing, dismissive and occasionally Zionistic statements Maher has made in his career, and effectively addresses why its troubling for progressives when such statements don’t diminish the credibility of a mainstream liberal commentator and entertainer.

The Untold History of the US: Part One

As Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blogged, Oliver Stone's "ambitious ten-part documentary series tells the behind-the-scenes stories that have shaped our country and the world as we know it today."

Narrated by Stone, this new one-hour Showtime series features human events that at the time went under-reported, but crucially shaped America's unique and complex history. The first chapter explores the birth of the American Empire by focusing on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Through examination of key decisions during World War II, discover unsung heroes such as American Henry Wallace and explore the demonization of the Soviets. Watch it now!

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